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Civic Education for the Young Generation

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

Fattepur, 24 November 2008

Fattepur, a small town in the Chure foothills on the western banks of the Sapta Koshi River, is one of the places where Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies recently organized any kind of discussion for the first time. The town is gaining significance because of the hub it is developing into, especially after the Sapta Koshi floods forced the authorities to open up an alternative route through it for crossing the river.

Local opinion makers, teachers, political activists and journalists were invited for a discussion on 'Civic Education for the Young Generation' to be held at a local school. The discussion series on the subject, being run with cooperation of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany, has generally been able to enthuse people from different walks of life into active participation because of the nature of the topic. Although the discussions are held for a specific purpose, namely to gather feedback for the upcoming book on civic education which is likely to be part of the higher secondary curriculum, the mix of participants ensure that the opinions expressed are reflective of a more complex set of concerns affecting the local people. Even in these circumstances, it is easy to see that most of the problems seen in the public sector all around today find the younger generation at the centre of everything. "If there is any improvement to be seen in the future, one must pin their hopes on this generation", is the common theme of people's varied opinions wherever one goes.

In Fattepur, the seminar began straight off with NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha introducing the organization, its objectives, the topic of discussion and the presenters. It did not even follow the usual formality of choosing a chairperson for the function. The discussions needed to be concluded for the school to resume its classes. Srestha's address was followed by Shivaraj Dahal who made his presentation on the theme of the seminar. In it, he explained the various social, economic and political deviations afflicting the nation and justified the need for the younger generation to come forward and rein them in. Vedraj Regmi made his presentation on the 'Handbook on Democracy', an FES publication, to explain the different dimensions of the polity which lays the groundwork for all that can be done in the public sphere and how to mend the ways of those exhibiting apolitical behaviour by remaining within the system.

During the floor discussions, participants had little to disagree with the presenters except that they wanted the civic education field to widen to include the politicians, not just students. Some wanted the education to be given to smaller children than envisaged by the government's school curriculum while others stressed the need to provide civic education for politicians more than for the students. A participant even went as far as to say that the democracy that we have today is not for the people but for the politicians themselves and that it needed to change so that it could be oriented to meet popular aspirations.

Excerpt of the Seminar

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies has been organizing discussions in different parts of the country as we have tried not to be Kathmandu-centric in our approach. It has already been about a decade since we have been organising these discussions. Our focus is on the younger generation in this series.

Why the focus on the youth? This is because we want to help make them aware about the need to prepare for their future leadership roles. They can have an impact on the development activities and political developments. They should not necessarily be party men, but they must be politically aware. Depending on the present political leadership is not doing us any good. For political stability, the younger generation must act. At the present, they are being driven away from home to other countries and away from politics. It is these issues that the working paper will try to highlight. Please try and contribute through your comments as we value them. Those comments will be published as books. This is an important aspect of the discussions as our strength is in publications that have been widely used in the country's universities and abroad. The publications also reach decision makers. This is our focus and a major objective of the Foundation. Please contribute actively.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Ananda Srerstha: The objective of this seminar is that we are trying to collect feedback for a textbook that we are developing. We also want participation from different quarters on how to teach civic education to the youth. Therefore, we want a mix of participants, not just the youth.

Vedraj Regmi's presentation

All the way since the referendum to the establishment of loktantrik republic, we have lost a lot of lives in the name of democracy. We still see people being displaced from the plains to higher reaches of the country. All this because of conflict. One conflict has given way to more conflicts. People have been forced to seek safe shelters after being displaced from their ancestral homes. We seem to be suffering from sadism and enjoying the sufferings of others. There is domination of the strong. If we allow this to continue, democracy will just be a mirage and we will face greater conflicts in the future. And, until we change our mindset, the prospect will never be brighter. We have proof that this is a strong possibility. Remember, we said that the 1991 constitution was the best in the world and now we have discarded it? We should be able to transform our thinking faculties and change our behaviour by changing our mindset.

The reason for taking up the topic for discussion is that we want to make the younger generation aware of their political surroundings as it is them that are the future. This is possible through civic education.

Strengthening of democracy requires the rule of law to be established. Rules of individuals have been the norm so far in Nepal. We need the rule of law to give continuity and strength to democracy. We do not have it today as there is no rule of law. Human rights, proper division of power are other aspects that must be focussed on. Also, periodical elections are an essential factor that give continuity to democratic practices. This gives political stability and security to the people in general, quite unlike today's habit of organizing strikes and shutdowns almost everyday.


Iswori Prasad Nepal: You talk of qualification of the members of parliament. I like the point you make. These people are supposed to draft policies. I agree. The irony is that we seek qualification of people implementing the policies, like the bureaucracy, but not those formulating it. Secondly, the sense of impunity being promoted by politicizing crimes, like murders, must end. Political parties organize strikes and shutdowns that seriously affect the life of the people. Giving suffering to people for political gain is not an acceptable thing. Such practices should be declared a crime. Commitment must be sought from political parties that they will refrain from making people pay for their benefit. Thirdly, let me propose that a provision seeking at least 50 per cent participation of the younger generation in every sector be included in the constitution.

Civic education should not be limited to students, but also the political leadership.

Shivaraj Dahal: Our society is slowly orienting itself towards modernity from mediaeval practices. We have been used to a tradition that does not look at the youth in a good light. Secondly, we want our children to take up technical education. We allow them to study political sciences only if they do not get enrolled in any other subject. A doctor can only preserve the lives of a few hundred people, but a good political leader can save an entire nation. Hence, not just the politicians, but our society is also to blame. Civic education is needed for us too. We should be able to check the politicians as well.

Regarding the rule of law, even if an organized criminal gang takes up a political slogan, it is legitimized as a political party. This is the state of impunity affecting the nation today.

Chandra Shhekhar Chaudhari: The topic of the seminar should have been 'civic education for politicians'. You point out all the deviations in the society. How did the all these deviations begin? It was not the youth that brought us to this. It was the politicians. We have ethnic tensions today. Who did this? It is the prime minister of the day who initiated it.

Shivaraj Dahal: We are seeing the development of a militant culture. Dependence and dictatorship is being imposed upon us.

Kishor Kumar Shah: Nepal is a whole nation that needs to include all the ethnic and linguistic groups under one umbrella. We see political contractors creating instability in the country. You should teach civic education to the politicians. These people are spilling our blood to suit their interests. People are leaving for foreign lands to escape all this. Had we been able to capitalize on this manpower instead of draining it, we would have a better political environment today. But the political contractors will not allow that to happen. How can this trend of impunity be reversed? Rule of law must be imposed strongly.

Iswori Prasad Nepal: If you are able to organize weeklong trainings in villges like Fattehpur instead of just a one-day seminar, we would really benefit from it. This is a good topic and would be really helpful.

Kripananda Roka: I too feel that this education is needed for politicians. I believe that it would be more useful that way. I am just a management graduate and I see that the proper manpower is not allocated to their respective posts. Engineers are named bank chiefs and the like. This trend is on the increase these days. Qualification is not being respected and political priorities take precedence over qualification.

Shivaraj Dahal: I agree. But we do not have any means to attract these politicians to our discussions. Hence, we want to ask the teachers to teach the youth, so that they will not do the same thing in future.

Murari Karki: You seem to blame everything on politics. I think that there are other things as well. I like the idea of teaching the young generation civic education. This has given me hope regarding the future. Politics is merely a black hole. Our policies have been the same throughout, but our mindset has not been able to change. It is our mindset, not just politicians, that is to blame The Chinese want to give us cheap petrol, but we are ignoring that offer and still buying more expensive products. Why? Why do we, the people, not rebel?

Shivaraj Dahal: Politics holds primacy over everything. That is why we have been focusing on it. Hence, when we seek change, we should see change.

Prem Kumar Subba: The civic education course is fixed for higher secondary schools. Can we not have it for our schools here?

Shivaraj Dahal: We are not any official agency on the subject. But we do have the course books and if you contact us we can help you with some.

Tirtha Raj Upadhya: Let me point out, unlike Lincoln, that democracy is not for the people but for the politicians.

A lifespan can be divided into childhood, youth and old age. The youth is the most significant group. They need training. They are leaving the country for lack of jobs. Civic education should be given to them. Apart from those who have left the country, we see those staying back fighting each other. There must be work, worship and wisdom for people to progress.

Shivaraj Dahal: We will try and include the comments that we have received so far. There is a need for all of us to work for then nation in a sincere manner. It is the duty of all of us.

Vedraj Regmi's vote of thanks.

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