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Seminar on The Role of Youth in Civic Education

Organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

20 March 2007, Charikot


Charikot was the second venue for this year's seminar series on The Role of Youth in Civic Education. Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies has been organizing the series of discussion on civic education in different parts of the country to seek feedback on a book that it has prepared on the subject for school students. NEFAS had sought a window of relative quiet to continue its programmes by organizing the seminar in the midst of a very politically active time in the country. When it found one, it immediately set out from the capital to initiate its task. But once there, the usually docile business sector came out in the street to protest the manhandling of their lot. The protest took everyone by surprise. The NEFAS team was in Charikot then and it looked like it would be stuck there for some days. But quickly the passions died down and road traffic was allowed to resume. Although this did ease the concerns of the NEFAS team, it did little to bring the participants, particularly those who had to travel some distance to the seminar venue, for the discussion.

The result was that the seminar hall was not crowded as expected. Still, the lessening of numbers did not mean that it hampered the required gender mix. The seminar in Charikot followed the conventional format where NEFAS first introduced itself and the theme of the discussion. This was followed by Shivaraj Dahal's presentation after which Prof. Gunanidhi Sharma provided some economic inputs to allow the participants to get a more holistic picture of the current status of youth and the possible alternatives. The seminar was chaired by Dr. Pradip Manandhar, Chairman, Tribhuvan M. Campus, Charikot.

Ananda Srestha gave a brief introduction of NEFAS activities and the rationale behind them saying that the main focus of the organization was academic and that the seminar being held was part of an ongoing series of discussions being held in different parts of the country. He asked the participants to be forthcoming in making comments so that they could be incorporated in the updated version of the book on civic education.

During Shivaraj Dahal's presentation that followed, the author of the paper on The Role of Youth in Civic Education described the state of the young generation in public life. He listed the plight of the youth from absence of motivation to the rapid muscle and brain drain sapping the country of its vitality. For a turnaround, they must be infused with civic education so that their participation in every walk of life can be positive for the rest of the country.

Prof. Gunanidhi Sharma's presentation concentrated on the economic dimension of the problems and solutions that Dahal's thesis presented. Prof. Sharma said that focus on the diversity that Nepal possess is not positive as everyone seems to be looking at the negative aspects that such diversity presents. He said that the diversity is a resource which very few other countries have. It must be used for the benefit of the nation, he said.

During the floor discussions commentators talked more about the education system in general rather than solely focusing on civic education. They complained about the poor conditions that exist-from inconsistencies in the curricula to the political challenges facing the education system as a whole. Even the approach to education is different among political parties, they said. Some of the participants, like in many other past discussions, raised the issue of moral education and its necessity in the Nepalese context. The Charikot discussions did not dwell on the political issues that affected the day, like it happens almost invariably in seminars.

After some of the queries dealing with the presentations were answered by Dahal and Prof. Sharma, the chairperson of the discussion, Dr. Pradip Manandhar, made his concluding remarks saying that the transition times of the day faces huge challenges, but that a kind of general deviation from their purpose was observed among the youth. He said that civic education could give them that necessary direction to follow the right path. Before closing the discussion, he thanked NEFAS for bringing the discussion to Charikot.

Proceedings

Ananda Srestha: NEFAS has been involved in carrying out research and holding discourses on academic aspects of issues. This is part of our discussion series on democracy. We have been to over 40 places in the country creating awareness about civic education and democracy. Our focus is to have civic education as part of the school curriculum and the discussions have been contributing to the development of a textbook on the subject. These discussions have also been acting as feedback for regularly updating of the book.

Publication is our ultimate goal, as a means to contribute to the academic sector. Please contribute you ideas in this effort of ours.

Shivaraj Dahal: The working papers in the seminar series have been included in the book that we prepared. The one I am presenting is on the role of youth in civic education.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Gunanidhi Sharma: The diversity that Nepal possesses is a national resource. But today's Nepal appears to be misled. We see dissatisfaction and dissent taking over the traditional tolerance we have so far had. Our desire is to restructure- the traditional institutions towards building a new Nepal.

The paper presented by Shivaraj Dahal tries to encompass the sentiments necessary to build the new state structure and to show the direction towards progress. The role of youth in this project is highlighted in the paper. We know the role of youth in history, not only in Nepal but also in Indian independence or, even globally, during the Second World War.

Although the definition of youth could be a matter of debate, as an economist I would say that economic viability defines youth. If you are economically active with the capacity to take the country towards prosperity, then you belong to the youth category.

We see that the various changes in Nepal had been the result of the energy provided by the youth to press the leadership to move towards change. Even today, remittances are being provided by the youth to prop up the ailing economy.

In spite of all this, we see that we are not actually providing them the opportunity to do more. Their desire is to build a society that is mobile, technologically advanced and make the traditions pay off by making the necessary modification. If they do not have the required space to do so, their desire is not fulfilled.

Today, they are looking for change in the traditional structures to make them more decentralized. In designing a state restructure, inclusiveness, representation and participation are a must regarding all the natural resources. All the resources must have the opportunity to participate in national development, in accordance with the concept of right to development.

But this should not lead to adversely affecting national sovereignty. In development policies, the urban-centric attitudes regarding planning and programming must be deconstructed to making it more equitably distributed.

And, until there is economic redistribution to suit social justice, there is going to be political dissent that could lead to disintegration as was shown by the Madhesi agitation in recent times. But politics plays the leadership role in making all this come about.

The dissent today is taking the ethnic and caste dimensions which is not a long-term and viable way of restructuring. This leaves those already out of the caste and ethnic system like inter-caste marriages out of the state equation.

FLOOR

Rakesh Shrestha: Regarding local management, we see that hydropower is under the control of the hydro ministry and the related businessmen. Local towns exercise authority over the utilization over the sands on the river banks while tourism ministry handles rafting and other water sport on the river. Now, when the whole river is under the control of the businessman, how do the youth play their role here?

Deep Shanker Chaulagain: The young generation is being enslaved because of the absence of intellectual property. The foreign education system that we have adopted does not meet our needs. We know you want change in the system. I agree.

You also talked of traditional rights. We know that local people here are living in the dark in spite of a lot of hydropower being produced here. Our young people here should make the appropriate noise.

Gita Shivakoti: Students think only of the education system as a means to acquire a license. They appear to be losing their respect for tradition and moving away towards wrong behaviour. I think they should be given some moral education. The situation is so bad that the trends we see in their behaviour is frightening.

Kalika Pathak: Regarding the curriculum, we have shortcomings which have resulted in the lacuna that Gitaji talks about. There was a time we did not have civic education, and it seems to have resurfaced today.

This is also related with politics. We hear that there are those with political orientations who do not believe in this kind of education at all, blaming it for being of the bourgeois variety. We need more people who can think before drawing curriculum plans.

On the one hand, we have not been able to employ those we have educated and on the other, they are being led towards rebellion. The state is specializing in acting only when it is too late. This has given us a feeling that the conflict is being perpetuated deliberately. All these are pushing the younger generation to desperate means like going abroad for jobs.

We have not made the local people aware of the need to have their local resources managed locally. We talk about giving them some concessions and something they have acquired it as their right.

The language in the paper needs to be streamlined.

Kiran Lama: Ours is a poor country but at the same time we have been a member of the WTO. There are also those against the WTO? Please comment.

Deep Shanker Chaulagain: The education system we have does not teach students to come out with the right solutions when we are faced with problems. Even the curriculum contents are full of mistakes. Civic education must be given to all.

Shivaraj Dahal's reply
A seminar in 1996 led to the call by participants for inclusion of contemporary issues in school curriculum. But when the subject was introduced, mistakes were made, like teaching the wrong topics thus resulting in the failure of most students during exams.

We know of countries with diamonds living in the most squalid conditions while those like Japan, without natural resources, are prosperous.

The book that we have contains several papers appearing as separate chapters. They deal with issues related with the curriculum and deal with the issues raised here. The presentation I made is only on the role of civic education.

We are developing a militant culture among political workers and teaching intolerance. We teach them how to displace the other for our own greed. Civic education would help them to behave better. This is also an exercise in socialization that is helpful for the society.

The issues related with civic education are political in nature. And, we have bad politics that has been playing havoc with all sectors. Politics has been given a bad name. Industries are being marginalized and imports are being given a boost. If we can strengthen democracy we can act according to our needs.

There is a difference between civic and moral education. Civics is concerned with contemporary issues while moral education deals with ideals.

Babu Kaji: You talk of more people leaving abroad for work today than in the Panchayat years. This would have other meanings as well.

You also talked of one teacher working in many colleges. Do you not want them to work to their capacity?

Gunanidhi Sharma: This has to do with the distribution of opportunity among people. Few people are trying to monopolize the few available job vacancies. This is the trend that needs to be corrected.

Also regarding local resources, the centre makes the decision at the cost of the local settlements. Hydro resources are sold to foreign power companies, robbing at times even the drinking water rights of the locals. Such decisions must be decentralized.

Since we are restructuring the state these sentiments will be incorporated. Nobody can stop this process now.

Regarding the WTO, we wanted membership for Nepal for the sake of national economy, while others did not. Whether it is investment, or production, there must be national priority. But people have opposed us. We do not need change that destroys and disintegrates the nation. The WTO membership does benefit us from the perspective of technology as we need new technology. We need the partnership with the world community for that. The membership with the World Bank and IMF gives us room to demand the rights available to members. But instead there are those who think it is a begging bowl for them.

Also, we need the WTO to diversify our trade.

Babu Kaji: You also blame politicians for not having education. I do not believe that to be all true. We also see the academic people who change colours like anything. The issues must be analyzed further.

Shivaraj Dahal: I agree with you 100 per cent. Even doctors do not carry out the duty they are supposed to do. So are teachers. We must give them civic education. This problem permeates to the grassroots.

Chairperson's remarks
There is political transition taking place. There is social deviation. And the paper tries to incorporate many issues. It may not include everything that we want; this is not possible either.

The civics we studied before disappeared in later years. This resulted in deviations in every sector.

Today we talk of rights. Civics taught us to acquire both rights and duties. This involves some thinking. It was the absence of such education that has resulted in dissent and dissatisfaction resulting in the conflicts that we see today.

Civic education makes us less dependent on others and more responsible for our own actions.

The youth has not been able to contribute its potential. The change we needed has not come about in spite of so much upheaval. All this is the result of our inability to contribute. And, this is because of the lack of civic education.

Revolution will not come about through speech, but through a revolution within self. Today's Social Studies has not met the need for civic education. The contribution of the young generation can only materialize through civic education, otherwise not. I would like it to be part of the curriculum at al levels of education.

Shivaraj's vote of thanks.

 
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