Global citizenship, even citizenship, is not a familiar concept to many Chinese people. Awareness of citizenship, which I interpret as a sense of claiming citizens’ rights and working for the betterment of community, is almost absent in Chinese society due to the strong tradition of obedience to authority.
However, awareness of citizenship is essential to the development of humanity and society. People with a sense of citizenship would have stronger and longer-lasting motives in their learning and career, for they have considered the realization of public interest as part of their goals. People who only focus on personal interest and have never assumed their responsibilities as citizens are more inclined to feel that their life is somehow meaningless and empty after they have achieved their personal objectives. Furthermore, without participation as citizens, the community authorities and government would not receive adequate monitoring from the public and public welfare would be impaired. For instance, middle-class residents owning expensive apartments may still suffer from damages resulting from irresponsible community property management or illegal occupation or unexpected planning changes if they have not paid attention to the public affairs.
Then what can educators do to increase awareness of citizenship? I have identified three paths to achieving the goal: knowledge, willingness and competency.
Knowledge means people obtain basic information about citizenship. Duties rather than rights are emphasized in Chinese political education, therefore citizens’ rights should be explained. Stories about how people have fought for their rights and information on how to make government more accountable would be very helpful. For example, in speeches to students I usually talk about how Chinese scholars can initiate constitutional review of laws infringing basic rights. Classic books on law and political philosophy would also be useful resources for citizenship education.
Willingness refers to the incentives to take civic responsibilities. One important way is to provide people with opportunities to experience social problems and see how disadvantaged people live and work. An urban child will not fully realize the problem of water pollution in rural areas unless he or she experiences such pollution at first hand. Readiness to act and make changes arises from personal experiences of the real world and is essential for global citizenship.
I first had the idea of serving the workers in 2004 and have worked in a labor NGO since 2010. In the summer vacation of 2004, I participated in a series of visits to factories around China. Female workers in electronic product manufacturing factories mechanically repeat the same action thousands of times per day. Migrant workers are exposed to high levels of noise and pungent fuel odor in automotive factories without any protection. Employees suffer from high temperature in distilleries. All these scenes made me wonder whether I was in another world which is totally different from what I was familiar with from newspapers and television. Since then, I had begun to focus on a public interest career. Many people are not given the chances to experience different lives. But some institutions have committed to promoting citizenship education in Chinese society, such as Plan C.
The third and the most important path is to strengthen children’s citizenship competencies. With better skills, children are more likely to solve social problems and recognize the value of civic actions.
The best way to strengthen citizenship competencies is learning by doing. When people participate in or organize an activity, they tend to learn more and understand better the issues related to the activities. Through problem-based and service-based learning, students can discover, research and solve the problems in their communities and countries, and can start taking actions with scientific, legal or other means available to them. Smaller projects are more likely to be successful and can further encourage students to continue engaging in the improvement of school environment and issues in their local communities.
Critical thinking is an essential citizenship competency and an integral part of civic education. A global citizen needs to have information literacy and is capable of detecting fallacies, evaluating the quality of arguments and making decisions and judgments based on sound arguments.
Educators need to continue raising the awareness of citizenship through the three paths. A new responsible generation is on the way.