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Seminar on The Role of Youth in Civic Education

Organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

1 April 2007, Trishuli


Trishuli was a completely new venue for seminars organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies. For specialized discussion, such as that on the Role of Youth in Civic Education, new places always bring new ideas with them, but in many cases, participants usually veer off the main course and land themselves in heated political debates. But, not in Trishuli. If there was any trepidation on NEFAS' part about what the outcome might be, something that happens when you organize functions in a new place, it was soon quelled by the heady mix of participants. The specialized nature of the discussion on civic education meant that teachers of the subject should make up the backbone of commentators. And, because NEFAS happened to arrive in Trishuli at a time when several trainings were being held for teachers, all it needed was to tap this resource. It did so successfully with the help of the local contact. In fact, the number of teachers completely overwhelmed the other participants during the floor discussion.

The seminar began with introductory remarks about NEFAS activities and the topic of discussion followed by presentations on The Role of Youth in Civic Education by Shivaraj Dahal and a second presentation by Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal on the political issues that the young generation must make themselves aware, particularly during these changing times. This was followed by floor discussion and the clarification by the authors. The seminar was chaired by Pushpa Raj Lohani of the local branch of the Buddhijibi Parashid.

NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha made a brief presentation to introduce the theme of the discussion to the participants. He said that the objective of the seminar was to provide sustenance to democracy by energizing the youth to participate in the process so that they can make positive contributions. He asked the participants to contribute by providing feedback to the presentations being made so that the paper can be updated to reflect new ideas as well.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation dealt with the tendencies among the present day youth and the need to direct them towards making positive contributions to the society at large. He described the negative attitudes prevailing in the wider political space regarding youth and suggested that the new generation be given the responsibility they deserve by creating the requisite awareness.

During his presentation, Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal took up several political topics that are being debated today-constituent assembly and its role, inclusiveness, federal rule and the like-and explained the need to be aware about the issues before deciding on the course that the nation should take.

The floor discussion brought forth some comments that were valuable to any civic education teacher. As said earlier, it was largely a gathering of teachers, except several political activists, they wanted to know the methodology of providing civic education-- how we do it and what it really is. What should be the topic to be picked up by civic education? What about moral education? And, what should be the actual age of the student to impart civic education on him or her? This, they said, was an important topic as Nepal is about to making long-term decisions about which very few people know.

After the replies were furnished by the presenters, Chairperson Pushpa Raj Lohani concluded the seminar by saying: Most of us are teachers here, and a few more political activists and students would have been better for the discussion.
Secondly, the education system in Nepal has a lot to be desired. We raised some of those issues today. Civic education would be a welcome change in the changed context. The youth would then act more maturely and more responsibly.

Proceeding

Chair: Pushpa Raj Lohani [Chairperson, Buddijibi Parishad, Nuwakot]

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: NEFAS has academic objectives. Its programmes are geared towards publication of the outcomes of activities like seminars and research.

We have been going around the country, to different parts, to hold the seminar series on the role of youth in civic education. The paper that Shivaraj Dahal will present today is not a complete work and needs your feedback to make it so.

Ever since multiparty democracy was restored in the country in 1991, we have felt that democratic culture has not developed the way it should have. We felt that it was the absence of participation of youth in public life for this lapse. They should be involved in such a manner so that it gives politics the right direction. This seminar would like to contribute its part in making them aware of their duties.

Today's youth have been afflicted by frustration resulting in brain and muscle drain. If we can make them aware of their responsibilities, they could reverse the trend to contribute to building the nation and democracy.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation: Shivaraj Dahal has talked about the kind of political education to be provided to the youth. We see that we have ignored their need for such education after 1991. All the professionals are forcefully retired by politicians when they reach 65, except themselves. In fact, without youth energy, not much headway can be made in any sector, not to mention politics. We see that the older generation is not providing space for their political development. They themselves have occupied that space.

Regarding loktantra that we have today, political scientists say that democracy is government by the majority. But our system has ignored the voice of the minority thus leading to protest voices in many areas. The result is alienation and the following rebellion. We see that happening at the present. If we do not rectify the problems, we do not know what will happen. People are already talking about destroying the little that we have especially if they cannot have access to it.

Inclusive democracy should therefore be our focus. What are the groups to be included? What should the number of seats in representative bodies like the parliament? Another aspect is how many groups can we feasibly include? Answering this will be a challenging task. Hence, we need to understand that inclusive democracy will not be all-inclusive because of feasibility or viability. The essence is that although the rule must be a majoritarian one, the minority should not be ignored.

The agenda of state restructuring we have today needs to be understood by our youth as well. One is the debate on the monarchy vs. republicanism, unitary rule vs. federal, and inclusiveness. Another issue about restructuring the state is the electoral system- first-past-the-post vs. proportional representation. This especially so, because all the majority governments in Nepal have received less than 40 per cent votes. This means that they have all been minority governments. It is first-past-the-post that has resulted in this kind of skewed system. Hence, there are benefits of having proportional representation.

Still another issue is the constituent assembly. The youth must understand what it is, what it does and why it is necessary for us. If the youth do not understand its significance, we will have more problems than those we want to resolve.This shows how grave the role of youth is.

FLOOR

Ram Bahadur Thapa: No matter how good ideas the grassroots comes up with we have found that the government has been ignoring all the advice. The Nepali language needs protection, but no measures are taken to remedy the situation. Youths move abroad even if they get less pay than in Nepal. This means that people are not only motivated not to stay in the country but the government too does not appear to want to stop the trend. This will bring in new problems. We may ultimately become a nation of labourers in the future.

It should be the leadership and formal education that should make the youth aware, but they are not doing it at present. There needs to be a collective commitment to resolve this issue.

Sudarshan Mainali: The government does not want to stop foreign employment but rather to promote it. It is entering into agreements with other countries like Korea.

Binda Dhungana [UML]: What will be the role of your working paper in governance? Let it not be futile. When political leaders became disoriented in 052-053, the youth found politics to be a dirty game rather than something constructive. For that to happen, parties must restructure. Otherwise, no matter what political system, if the same persons rule, no reform will take place.

I agree that there is majority rule and the minorities remain neglected. I am for proportional representation, as a UML activist. We have found candidates garnering 18-19 per cent votes being marginalized from positions of power.

Regarding the constituent assembly, peopled do not know what it is. Even educated people are confused as there are many opinions being aired at the moment. We have only two months for the CA polls. Can we make everyone ware about what it is?

Basu Sapkota [NC-Democratic]: Repeatedly, we have been betrayed. When an institution or a person feels threatened he makes compromises, and once he attains position of strength he betrays. The youth have repeatedly defeated the forces of regression. Today, we have been able to attract the world's attention to this trend.

Your objective of making the youth aware is praiseworthy. Let me tell you that the leaders of the agitation had not believed that they would achieve such success. It is time that we consolidate the gains and institutionalize them. What should be the role of the youth in this consolidation? The message needs to reach the farthest of corners to make people aware everywhere. I hope NEFAS takes the programmes to the ilaka and area levels to carry out the awareness about the constituent assembly. The objective should be to defeat all conspiracies against the CA and develop a constituency of youth that defends a republic democracy and presses for the elections to be held within the deadline.

Devi Lal Pandit: The real meaning of civic education is to impart to the youth the concept that they are a citizen of the nation. This also means that moral education is the root of education, since this aspect is absent in all persons, not just youth.

We used to talk of religious tolerance in the past. Today we want political tolerance among youth.

We are fond of giving speech, but not in acting the way we preach. The speech should reflect the acts. Youth should be given an honest education. The urban areas have developed but the remote areas are deprived of development.

We see a lot of human rights abuses taking place at these transition times, not just in speeches.

Shanker Karki: I am concerned about the methodology of providing civic education, how do we do it, what is it, how do we do it? Who are you, and are you just an NGO?

We see the need for this kind of seminar in villages and settlements. There are a lot of terminologies like ethnic autonomy and the like. We appear to be moving towards autonomy rule in for every sub sector. What is our national identity? How should we present ourselves to the outside world? How should we define our identity? How do we deal with contradictions between subnational identities with national identity. What are the compromises to be made by both the identities? Will the restructured state be able to deal with these issues. I see the need for making youth aware on these issues.

The CA will be making decisions on the issues that have cropped up today. If they make mistakes we may not have time to repent. Hence awareness is necessary.

Policies have been made and they have failed. We have the problem of ownership. If the state cannot pacify the different groups, how will they satisfy them on major issues?

We design trainings for the lowest of posts, but none for political posts which carry the burden of responsibility of much larger things liker national interest. This is why we are frustrated with their activities.

Political culture has never developed in Nepal. Politicians have been misusing the bureaucracy to make their selfish ends meet. The result is that we had a 12-year People's War.

I see that reform is needed at the top, not from the bottom. Civic education for school students will only yield after 20 years. The leadership we have today was cultured with civic education in the past. They need to reform themselves. They do not allow the younger generation to come forth.

State restructuring should mean political party restructuring. Today's loktantrik people have drafted laws to seek property details of bureaucrats and not themselves.

Policies should be framed on the basis of demand but also to meet the needs of those that are silent.

Dilli Ram Gauli: What should the topics in civic education? I think the paper does not deal with them all. Political awareness is the basis on which civic awareness rests.

In my village, two political activists came for election campaigning. They began fighting with each other because one person was a third generation supporter of some party. We believe that we should belong to the same party that our ancestors belonged to. This is the height of unawareness.

The tendency to ignore minority voice is such that they will not hear any complaints unless demands are made. Hence our efforts should be to make people aware about what to demand and how to do so.
I have educated friends who do not know what government is, how it is run, how state agencies function, what sovereignty is. Even if they know what it is, they do not practise them. Awareness programmes should make them practise these. We know how to organize demonstrations, but we do not appear to be thinking about whose rights are being trampled upon when we do so.

You have not dealt well with the role of the press. Its role is vital for a civilized society and for strengthening democracy. Politicians are only worried about reports on their own activities and positive coverage.

Sometimes, our silence also becomes a rights abuse as it may impact on someone else's rights. This responsibility must be exercised by people.

Bhola Prasad Kusbaha: There was a lot of publicity that all the cash stashed in Swiss banks would be redistributed to the people after 1991. But we have not received any money so far.

Parties have been engaged in fulfilling narrow partisan interests. Parties have also affected social life, especially if two brothers belong to different parties.

In spite of the peace agreement, we still have a lot of problems. Even ambulances are under attack. Farmers are not allowed to take their produce to the market.

The king took over after Sher Bahadur Deuba failed to come up with the solution. Even after his direct rule ended, we see no respite today. It is only the politicians who are enjoying the present.

Payscales and facilities must be proportional to their earnings-- and not more to those who already have it and less to those who remain deprived

Pushpa Pokhrel: You can introduce civic education from earlier stage of schooling, by amalgamating the child psychology necessary with the design of the curriculum.

Shiva Raj Dahals reply

Your suggestions will be incorporated in the working paper. In 1996 a seminar was held by NEFAS which resulted in the publication of a book.. This later turned into a book used by schools in their curricula. We are seeking feedback to update the book on a regular basis.

We are also exercising democracy by holding these discussions.

Political party not practising intra-party democracy cannot promote democracy.

The academicians are the worst of the lot as instead of guiding politics, they follow the politicians and justify every move they make.

I agree that there is political militarism. Civic education is needed to calm this tendency.

Ram Kumar Dahal's reply

We saw foreign policy gaffs on the part of our politicians. Want them to learn more about governance. We see that in Denmark they have initiated training for legislators. Political leaders do need training.

Ananda Srestha: I agree with Shanker sir. We have an age limit in our profession. But why are politicians going on strong even at 85-90?

Chairperson's remarks
This is a new kind of programme that we have experienced. We thank NEFAS for that. The seminar has tried to take up the issue of training our youth on civic education. We saw politics discussed in the process. Most of us were teachers, but more political activists and students would have been better.

Secondly, the education system in Nepal has a lot to be desired. We raised some issues today as well. Civic education would be a welcome change in the changed context. The youth would then act more maturely and more responsibly.

I hope the education related comments raised by the floor will be incorporated in the working paper.

Shivaraj Dahal's vote of thanks.

 
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