Citizen and Civic Learning in the Digital Age

Mengulas pemikiran W. L. Bennet, C. Wells, & A. Rank tentang ‘Young Citizenship and Civic Learning: Two Paradigms of Citizenship in the Digital Age’


Research Cluster of Education and Social Transformation has held regular discussion on 24th March 2017 which was discussing a study of W.L. Bennet about ‘Citizens and Civic Learning in the Digital Age’. The speaker was Ario Seto. He led the discussion into a more specific case concerning youths, education, and civic engagement in both online and offline realms. The discussion was sectioned into two sessions; presentation session and discussion session.

Presentation Session

According to Bennet, the speaker emphasized that there are paradoxes regarding to youth’s engagement and participation on political activities. First, youth’s participation in political activity is decreasing, meanwhile their participation on non-governmental-related activities (voluntary works, consumer activism, etc.) remains increasing. Second, in the online realm youths are more active to engage in political activities, but they are not much involved in the offline political activities.

The speaker continued that what might has taken place contributing on the “disengagement” of youth in the “offline” political activities, broadly in civic engagement, is that the failure of education institutions to provide civic education. As the speaker cited, Bennet at least spotted three major problems in civic education; first, schools are depended themselves on ‘book[s]’ (provided by the state) as the sole source of civic education, meanwhile such book[s] is problematical in the sense of its “conventionality” and it is unidirectional. Second, most of education institutions are resistant to [social] change. And lastly, the incapability of the teachers to provide such civic education.

Another factor is that there is no place “in the heart of youths” for TVs and newspapers where political discourses are provided. Since the world’s getting more digitalized and “networked”, youths are exodus to online-based social platforms.

However, despite youths are becoming “inactive” in the offline realm, in the online realm youths are still engage to certain issues, not to mention political and/or civic issues. Indeed, in some occasions, youth’s online activity can generate social movement in the offline realm. As the speaker exemplified, one of the most popular movement in Indonesia generated by online activity is ‘Koin untuk Prita.’ Yet, is it sufficient to justify such movement as part of civic engagement? The problem is it’s unsustainable in the sense that they tend to stop the movement when they think it’s done, the problem’s done.It is because, as the speaker argued, they only cover and aim to tackle the surface of the problems; not the core. So, Prita might “won” over the hospital that sued her because of she complained about its service, but the core problem, that is the fragile consumer’s rights, hasn’t been solved. The speaker added that youths-generated movement mostly didn’t end up in a firm discourse in the public realm. Thus, according to the speaker, it’s difficult to classify or to say if it’s part of civic engagement.

Bennet proposed that school must provide a teaching method whose focus on problem-based discussion to tackle such problems—in the other words, civic education can be best attained by school generating problem-based discussion in the class. But, the speaker argued that the problem is each of one in the class, both the teachers and the pupils, has its own basis or background of knowledge which is distinctly different in which sometimes, if not most of the times, the discussion will imply to conflict.

At the same time, proposing civic engagement via online-based platformsis considerably problematic, such as the following;

  • If online media is dominated and controlled by the state, how can young citizen participate?
  • Online media tends to be misused, for example it is used for accessing pornography sites.
  • Online-media-based applications are problematical in the senses that the users or the rating will dramatically decrease as time goes by.
  • Click activism; that is one-time participation by ‘clicking’, for example, the online petition. The activity will be decreasing in the following weeks or months.
  • Elite circulation; that is the activity within the online media is only managed by the elites.
  • Old politics kill young citizens.

Discussion Session

Despite the presentation presented by Ario Seto depicted lack of optimism in the capability of both education institutions and online-based digitalized platforms to provide civic education therefore youths will be able to engage actively in the offline political and/or civic activities, but it was seemingly most of the discussants still believe in education institutions as the best mean to achieve the ideals of civic education itself. However, they also admitted that education institutions still need to be changed in a better way. One of discussants for instance, Jimmy Ph. Paat contended that schools must be able to prompt civic actualization, in this regard schools must be “empowered” (improved). In the other words, as Paat argued, teachers are the ones who need to be improved instead of the pupils, this is because the teachers who will implement civic actualization upon the pupils.

One critical note given by I.R. Irawati Pattinasarany that it’s important to put class analysis in discussing civic education among youths since during the discussion we seemed ignore this analysis. She argued that youths are distinguishably different in terms of social class. “We have to look to their stratification”, she said. Youths form middle – upper class, for instance, perceive civic engagement as part of their life styles and means to achieve status. It would different for economically poor young people in perceiving civic engagement in which their struggle might be real.Pattinasarany stressed on the importance of the inclusivity in learning and engaging in civic activities/education. Hence, she proposed that learning citizenship can actually be achieved by, for example, solving ‘the daily life problems’ in which youths from any backgrounds can equally contribute and participate. She exemplified one case from Singapore where one of its national serious problem, water problems, has been introduced to its citizens since kindergarten. The kindergarten students will be positioned as a citizen whose obligation to tackle their national problems. She tried to show that it has nothing to do with their class positions, religion, gender, and other social backgrounds, to participate to tackle their beloved country’s national problems. This is what she meant as inclusive civic education.

In the other hand, Lucia Ratuh Kusumadewi argued that the core problem relies on the lack of cultural literacy (the ability to identify, to analyze, to reflect, and to create “knowledges”) among youths. She saw that youths have no reflexive spaces—meanwhile such spaces can be obtained from books. In accordance to digital realms, she believed that there are positive impacts from digital realm and online-based platforms to provide youths reflexive spaces.

To conclude this discussion, as I mentioned earlier, the discussants have reached one understanding that education institutions are still the best medium for “teaching” civic education rather than in the digital realm. However, it’s not sufficient to justify that education institutions as the sole solutions since most of experiences show the failure than the successful stories in enforcing civic education. Eventually, youths need other options than only “education institutions” such as schools. So, this is not impossible to reconsider again digital realm as “the other options”. But of course there will be so much challenges that state, and other stakeholders, has to face to organize this so-called digital realm so that it can function properly to enforce civic education among youths.