Exploring patterns in conceptions and enactment of democracy by secondary school teachers in Karachi, Pakistan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Professional Development Centre, Karachi


The concept of democracy is a set of contestable yet elastic notions about human interaction in a diverse and ever changing socio-political set up. Like many other socio-political concepts democracy has also been used ambiguously by political as well as non-political elements to serve their own vested interest. However, there is a general agreement that the democratic practices of deliberation and participation by the people can be strengthened through education.

In this study, I focus on the school as an institution that has been used as an instrument to promote certain ideologies and forms of regimes ranging from democratic ideals and participatory norms to orthodox military and religious ethos. The basic purpose of this study is a critical examination of teachers' conceptualisation of democracy and its enactment in secondary schools in the context of Pakistan. In other words the study attempts to unpack and explain the teachers' theoretical and practical positioning' about democracy and how such positioning is mediated by curriculum directions and pedagogical trends in government and private sector schools.

The study involved a multi-method design of data collection and analysis, starting with a survey method and then to deepening understanding by using critical ethnographic methods. For the purpose of the survey a questionnaire was developed using a 5-point-Likert scale ranging from 'strongly disagree' through 'neutral' to 'strongly-agree' along with five open-ended questions. The survey study spread over a period of two months covering 80 secondary schools from government and private sector in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. The overall response rate was 80% as 320 teachers out of targeted 400 completed the questionnaire.

The Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was used to extract 'factors', which were interpreted by computing factor loadings, mean score, and standard deviation values. In addition, responses to the open ended questions were analysed using frequency distribution and percentage scores to identify major trends. During the second phase of the study, critical ethnographic methods of semi-structured interviewing, observations, and document analysis were applied to generate data with the participation of four teachers from selected government and private sector schools. The study was completed in three stages; first compiling the primary records for preliminary reconstructive analysis and second a dialogical data generation and reconstruction of theories. At a third stage, results obtained from the survey and the ethnographic interviews and observation were synthesised to elicit findings and conclusions.

The study demonstrates that the teachers' conceptualisation of democracy originates from a complex and paradoxical claim of compatibility between conventional democracy and Islamic democracy. The paradox is embedded in the dual interpretation of the notion of 'political authority' and principles of freedom, participation and equality. The teachers conceptualise a people centred notion of governance and participatory decision-making, however it is contradicted by claiming Shari' ah as the supreme law over all kinds of human-made laws. It is further argued that due to heterogeneity in the interpretation of the Islamic injunctions the notion of Islamic democracy becomes even more complex.

The study demonstrates that the teachers' paradoxical conceptualisation, dual interpretation of democracy in the textbooks, authoritarian school structures and culture as well as the larger social, culture, economic and political factors identified by the teachers as hindering democratization shape the classroom discourse and practice in both the government and private sector. Hence, the prevailing discourse and practice reflects authoritarian and exclusion based approaches and interpretations offering less for the promotion of democracy.

The study informs that in order to promote democratic principles and procedures the teachers would need to ensure that strengthening of democracy becomes an explicit objective of classroom teaching. In keeping with the objective teaching should promote in addition to knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant to democracy and democratic citizenship.

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