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Seminar on The Role of Youth in Civic Education

Organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

2 April 2007, Dhunche


The northernmost part of Nepal that Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies has reached so far to organize a seminar in its civic education series has proved to be Dhunche, headquarters of Rasuwa District. The objective was to collect varied feedbacks from as varied places in the country as possible so that the book prepared by NEFAS on civic education could be updated to suit the changing needs of teachers and students alike. Two presentations were made by Shivaraj Dahal and Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal on civic education and political awareness among the youth respectively before opening the floor for discussion.

This little tourist town, where academic discussions are a rarity, provided both sides of the divide-the participants and the organizers-a unique experience to go by. The participants were not very forthcoming in their comments as happens in other places, perhaps an insight into the life of the people in these parts of the country. But this did not deter the committed ones to talk about the difficulties they have been facing in the task of educating. The seminar was chaired by Tir Bahadur Gurung, a teacher in Dhunche.

The seminar kicked off with NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha welcoming the participants and introducing his organization's activities and the rationale of the seminar to the participants. He said that the youth must be able to make their contribution to public life if democracy is to be sustained and promoted in the country. It is this that has prompted NEFAS to embark on the mission of energizing the youth through civic education, he said, and called on the participants to make their contribution through active participation.

This was followed by Shivaraj Dahal's presentation on the Role of Youth in Civic Education. He painted a picture of the present-day youth and compared it with the potential that they had. There is a lot that the youth can be made to contribute, he said and added that by giving them proper education, this energy in the youth can be unleashed for a better tomorrow.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal gave an outline of the political issues being debated today before moving on to say that awareness on the issues is a must if you are to participate in the public life and want to make a difference to the nation and its people. His presentation dwelt on issues like the electoral systems prevalent in the world today, the kind of governance that Nepal could adopt and the need for awareness on such topics by the ordinary people. These he said are to do with long-term national scenario and they should be treated with care. Without proper knowledge of the issues, their adaptability in Nepal cannot be worked out, he said. And, if they cannot be suitable adapted, as happens when done without studying the local context properly, there will be more problems than those we started with.

During the floor comments, participants thought that it would have been better to talk about the different kinds of education systems being debated as well-for example, the Janabadi education. The issue of the age group that needed civic education was also debated by participants among themselves. Some said that smaller age agroups need to be tapped for this kind of education, given its significance, while others said that too young a group would mean that they would not understand the concepts and the issues involved. Another participant came up with the idea that civic education should be introduced at the lower levels in schools but followed through steadily and in greater detail as the age of the student progresses. One participant went on to suggest the need for an academy on civic education. A teacher was concerned about the varied topics included in the civic education curriculum. His question was how to have teachers teach civic education which consists of so many different specialized subjects. He suggested that adequate trainings be organized in different parts of the country for the teachers of the subject.

The seminar came to a close after the two presenters furnished replies to the queries raised and Chairperson Tir Bahadur Gurung made his concluding remarks thanking the organizers for the rare opportunity to have such fruitful discussion in the remote town.

Proceedings


Chair: Tir Bahadur Gurung

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: Ours is an academic organization dealing with research and discussion which are later published. We carry out these activities not only in Kathmanmdu but have an aim to reach all districts of the country. We have already reached 35-40 places. It is in this process that we are here in Dhunche today.

In spite of the democracy that we have had, the political activities that we have witnessed and the anarchy that we are faced with makes us think about what democracy actually is. Is it because it is a long term process or is it because something has gone wrong? Our conclusion is that the role of youth in supporting democracy is lacking. We think that we need to energize them through civic education.

We have presented a book on the subject which needs regular updating. Please contribute your part in updating the book through your feedback to the working paper being presented today. Our goal is to publish the book like we have done so many times in the past. The book will be a part of regular curriculum.

We are a non-profit organization and publication is our mainstay.

Shiva Raj Dahal's presentation

Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation
We see in various walks of life that the youth are deprived of the decision-making role they are entitled to. Even during the political changes that we have had, in spite of their contribution, they do not seem to be playing an effective role in deciding on the changes.

Today's political debates are about federalism vs. central rule where we see demands for constituencies based on population. This may create problems for the northern regions. This has led to conflict, with the issue of regional self-rule coming up to the fore as well. The northern reaches suffer from anxiety about a declining population. This brings to the fore debates on how the lines should be drawn- north to south or east to west. This puts us into thinking about what federalism is, and what kind of federalism can be practical in our context. Debates are needed to come to the right conclusion. For this, the weaknesses and strengths must be debated. These debates must be carried out so that the youth can become aware about these issues for the vital energy to be unleashed in having and sustaining a proper system.

Similar debates can be held on republicanism vs. monarchy and the like.

These are issues where people must know what they have and what they want to have. Awareness programmes are needed for that to happen. The youth have an important role as they can contribute the most. If the youth can be allowed to contribute to making movements a success, or to carry out successful strikes and bandhs, we can also use their contribution to doing something good for the society. They must reach the decision-making circle for that.

The electoral system or the secularism vs. Hindu identity debates are others which also need to be understood in the present context by the youth. The need for changes, the weaknesses and strengths of the electoral systems to be adopted or even the mixed electoral systems are all matters of debate that need resolving.

FLOOR

Shiva Raj clarifies the rationale for the presentation saying that the presentation was made to provoke some debate so that issues come to the fore which would be useful to be included in the book on civic education.

Tsoa Tenzing Lama: The topic is proper, but the choiuce that we have today is between janabadi education and vocational education. It would be good if you include the issues in the paper. I think rather than Class 12, it should be a high school subject.


Chair person Gurung: I want to add that the high schools can have more detailed civic education. But the lower classes too need to be introduced to the subject, if it can be contextualized to their needs. The complex issues can be avoided for them. Also, a compulsory civic education subject would be better than optional.

Tshang Tempa Tamang: Not just students, but all the citizens must be imparted with civic education. I think that some of the subjects, especially regarding the structures of the state would be helpful for all of us. If the government sets up a youth academy this can be done.

Only the youth can shoulder the necessary economic and political manpower burden.

Bhadra Rajbhandari: I think the role of women needs to be stressed. Especially, their property rights issues. Please clarify the seasonal activism of NGOs that you make an issue of.

Shiva Raj's reply: What I mean is that there is a tendency by women [running NGOs] to exploit the women themselves. They have also been contributing to the disintegration of society. We know that the problem of women is genuine, and that they should begin practicing their preaching at home. Seasonal means movements are launched only when money arrives. When money comes to them from the opposite direction, they shut up. This is the tendency that I am trying to point out. Let me give you an example. I know of a case where a movement was stopped by a factory owner regarding pollution.

Shambhu Kumar Dahal: You talk of civic education, politics, economics, and social movements-all included in one subject. Which manpower will be involved in teaching the subject? This is a vast subject for which we may not have the necessary manpower.

Shivaraj Dahal: In five years, about 500 teachers have been trained in different parts of the country.

Shambhu Kumar Dahal: You may also need to train the essential manpower.

Bishnu Hari Dhakal: You talk of youth, but do not raise the issue of the elderly. Do they remain quiet after they reach their sixties? We see that politics is being run by the elderly. We see that the contribution and sacrifices are done by the youth but the decisions are made by the octogenarians. I understand that you are for the youth to take over. But what are the technical support necessary and who provides that?

I too feel that the subject should be introduced at a lower level.

Karsang Temba Tamang: I would like schools to be set up and taught in the languages spoken in the region.

Rubina Tamang: You talk of women in social justice. What kind of women are you talking about? Should they be taken as one group or should they be differentiated into different groups?

Shivaraj: I am talking about all those left out.

Shambhu Kumar Dahal: You have raised issues of awareness, but there are issues related with practice. But people are backward in their awareness levels in many parts of the country. It would be good if students can be taken to such areas to practise what they learn. In other words, a more practical civic education.

Shivaraj's reply
The paper I presented is a summary of all the issues raised in the book called Contemporary Society.

Let me tell you that we are not involved in the development of curricula. We have produced good materials in our publications and those in the education sector felt that the important issues in our books can be used by them. This shows that in spite of us not being the authority involved in education, our contribution ahs been valuable. It is in the course of our search for material that can be used by others that we are holding these discussions. Your inputs are part of this process.

Our goal main is to contribute to the democratic process and awareness. We would like to contribute our part to institutionalize and consolidate the assets that Nepalese diversity possesses.

Civic education is necessary also to revert the militant culture being developed by the parties among their party workers. Only democratic practices can raise tolerance levels regarding interaction among parties.

Civic education is necessary to develop civic sense among people.

Over 2.5 million people are outside Nepal, 1.8 million in the Gulf region alone. This show the dependence on the remittance economy. But again, the British are trying to retain the Gurkhas in Britain. All this creates problems as we lose a lot of youth manpower. This is complicating the problems that we have regarding employment opportunities.

Chairperson's remarks
We heard the need for civic education and made suggestions. We even talked of a youth ministry, the curriculum and even training of teachers for the subject. The rationale for civic education appears to be all pervading as it trains people to live in a society.

We did have a subject called civics during our school days where we learnt the rights and duties of citizens. That subject disappeared later on.

Now, we see that Class 11 has the subject once again. Obviously, the need for the education at lower levels has also been understood. I wish you success in applying pressure for that to happen.

Please also talk about janjati women or Dalit women, not just women in general. I thank you for organizing the discussion in our place.

Shivaraj's vote of thanks.

 
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