The Democratizing Effect of Education

By Maham Gillani.

Democracy has certain prerequisites, foremost among them is education. Quality education is the only tool that can inculcate democratic values in the society such as justice, liberty, accountability, transparency, and make the people more politically conscious of their rights and duties towards the state. Conversely, the citizenry becomes intolerant, narrow-minded and fanatical if the education system endorses prejudice, bigotry, siege mentality and hatred against minorities.

Quality education helps permeate democracy in the society in three ways: Firstly, it helps make individuals more tolerant, as education aids in understanding the norms of tolerance and changes cognitive functioning in a way that favours extension of civil liberties to the opposition. Education also advances individual value priorities that are conducive to openness to political diversity and pluralism. Various social research works have indicated education to be an important determinant in influencing political tolerance. Thus, more educated individuals are more likely to be tolerant and favour democratic principles, such as acceptance of rights of minorities and marginalized groups.

Secondly, there is a strong correlation between education and political participation. Almond and Verba prudently note in their book, The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Different Nations, “The uneducated man or the man with limited education is a different political actor from the man who has achieved a higher level of education.” Education provides civic skills and propagates diverse political interests, which in turn increase the likelihood of greater political participation. Increase in education level also work to favour pro-democracy groups rather than authoritarian ones since education is an important factor in motivating support for groups that are mainly driven by peer persuasion rather than direct rewards.

Thirdly, education is both an enabler and leveler and thus has the capacity to regulate power relations in a society, as without balance of power in the power relations between the state and the people, citizens can’t effectively participate in decision making processes affecting their lives. Therefore, education as both information and a tool for evaluating information is critical to choice since only on the basis of informed options can individuals make rational choices. In addition, education is an essential precondition to develop a capacity in citizens to democratically participate in processes and decisions that affect them.

Lastly, quality education is conducive to social equality. Income inequality is intimately linked with level of education attainment. Educated individuals are more likely to contribute to economic equality, increasing the chances of democratic transition and stability of democratic regimes in the long run.

Therefore, it can be conclusively stated that increase in education levels positively influence attitudes and values, lower redistributive pressures and strengthen the mobilization capabilities of pro-democracy groups. But Pakistan’s educational system is inherently anti-democratic that does not facilitate democracy in any way. Due to multiple streams of conflicting systems of education, e.g. public, private and madressah, instead of promoting class harmony and inclusion the education system of Pakistan reinforces class divisions and biases. It also suffocates space to develop out-of-the-box thinking, ask questions and think on a collective level. Such an education system impedes democratic values of liberty, equality, justice, co-existence, pluralism and tolerance.

The policymakers of Pakistan should take measures to make its education system more democracy friendly by making democratic values an intrinsic part of the curricula, in order for its younger generations to internalize democratic norms and values. In due course of time, the effect would trickle down at the societal level which would help in establishing a more humane, just and literate society capable of fighting vices of religious extremism, economic inequality and social discrimination. No practice or process other than education is capable of promoting these fundamental values of democracy sustainably.

About Author:

Maham Gillani did Masters of Philosophy from National Defence University and have previously worked with a military think tank and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She can be reached at

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