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Civic Education for the Young Generation

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

Katari, 23 November 2008


Nepal is undergoing momentous changes, not just in the political sphere but in its development landscape as well. With the East-West Highway now complete, linking the whole country together, there are road networks being built to connect the remote northern areas with the more urban south. One such recent construction links the different districts of Sagarmatha Zone and this link road is being constructed through Katari, a town in the inner-Madhes, or a valley in the eastern region that lies between the Chure and Mahabharat ranges. Visitors to Katari see the changes taking place because of its strategic location that is geared towards capitalizing the movement of the people through it.

A seminar "Civic Education of the Younger Generation" was organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies, with cooperation from Friedrich Ebert Foundation, in November in this town for the first time. It was held at the local chambers' building where a large number of teachers, students, local politicians and journalists were invited to join in the discussions. The discussions were chaired by Rajendra Prasad Niroula, the headmaster of Tribeni Higher Secondary School, which teaches the civic education subject.

After the initial formalities of seating the chairperson, NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha briefed the participants on the activities of the organization. He explained the objectives of the seminar saying that he needed active participation so that the opinions expressed could serve as valuable feedback for the publication that NEFAS had in mind on the subject of civic education. This was followed by Shivaraj Dahal's presentation laying bare the inconsistencies and lacunas in public life of the Nepalese eating their way into the very fabric of the nation state and its capacity to deliver goods to the people. The second presentation was made by Vedraj Regmi, a university teacher, who explained the different dimensions of a democratic system and urged the participants to be agents themselves in spreading the message about how a good democracy should function. Both the presenters stressed the need for the younger generation to take up the mantle of leading the nation into the future in a more aware and educated manner.

The floor discussions showed how starved the participants were of functions like these. Instead of being forced into passivity with mere negative thoughts about everything going wrong they can indeed be illuminated into thinking what is possible. Almost all participants expressed their gratitude to the organizers for bringing such discussions in a small town such as Katari. They were also generous in their comments particularly about the roles that the youth could play. Some of them talked about the need for political parties themselves to be democratic before talking about democratizing the society. Some blamed the politicians for distroting the political system to suit their own needs while others said that it was merely a tool for them to remain in power. They were almost unanimous about the failure of the leadership to deliver the goods to the people.

Excerpt of the proceedings

Chair: Rajendra Prasad Niroula, headmaster, Tribeni Higher Secondary Schoo

Ananda Srestha's welcome

I want to welcome you all and let me tell you something about Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies. We have been organizing seminars in different parts of the country. The proceedings are published which ate readily taken up by universities and schools as a teaching material for their students. Today's discussion is titled 'Civic Education for the Young Generation'. The working paper Shivaraj Dahal will present will be soliciting your comments. Please provide your comments and help him make the paper more complete by including them in it. We will be publishing it later. We have been doing the same thing in many different parts of the country. Please participate actively in the discussions.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation.

We have prepared about a dozen papers on civic education for the young generation. My paper on civic education will make the second chapter in the book being prepared for the higher secondary course in the country. [goes on to read the paper]

Dr Bedraj Acharya on the 'Handbook on Democracy'

Regarding youth, the nation is facing two grave issues. Those taking up technical subjects are seeking greener pastures in foreign lands. About a thousand of them are leaving for western countries every day. Family members encourage the trend. Secondly, there is the less qualified youth who leave for menial jobs in the Gulf countries. The remittance is being made out to be something worthwhile. People talk about them earning a lot of money. They point to their purchase of properties in urban areas. But calculations show, according to experts, that the amount they purchase in the cities does not actually add up to the amount they earn. The property added is in fact the amount sole in their villages for meeting the expenses to travel abroad like preparing the necessary papers. In sum, they do not earn anything at all for themselves to make up for the losses that they had undergone earlier. This is a sad state of affairs.

Another trend that we see is that people are being pushed out because of the ongoing conflicts. Roads and highways are shut down everyday and everywhere. People in the Tarai villages are forced to sell their property and migrate to the mountainous areas. This is a situation that we find ourselves in after sacrificing so many lives. What must we do to live more secure lives? What did we achieve after so many struggles and changes? We are seeing ethnic distrust instead of harmony. This is a depraved interpretation of ethnic rights and identity politics. This is not what we fought for, for so long.

It is these issues that civic education addresses. The search should be for happiness and ways to share it with others.

To strengthen democracy, there are some fundamentals that we must follow. Human rights must be protected and promoted, rule of law established to replace personality based politics and division of power devised to produce the right checks and balances in the power structures.

These days we are debating the issues regarding federal rule. Since we have yet to come up with the right model, it would be safe for us, at present, to talk about the importance of local governments in a democracy. And, federal provinces are nothing but a form of local government. Local government must be allowed autonomy to run local projects with popular participation while national projects should be handled by the centre. This should be the essence of local governance. Local government should be able to strike deals with the industries and business houses in their jurisdiction including multinational companies. They should seek accountability in the use of, and employment opportunities for, their local resources and the like.

There is a need for reduction of militancy in the political culture and it should be replaced by a culture of cooperation and trust. The civil society must be promoted and protected. The objective should be for a democratic political culture.

Democracy should be able to capitalize from trends like globalization of the economy or culture.

The right mix of rights and responsibilities must be sought after.

FLOOR

Kumar Singh Rai, teacher: You should have given us the paper beforehand. I also study civic education. I think talking about civics should mean talking about people recognizing themselves as citizens. People were praja and raiti yesterday. They have yet to become citizens today. Our efforts should be geared towards making that possible. Had NEFAS or the government been working harder to make people aware, people would have become citizens long time ago.

What is loktantra? As long as one is out of power one talks about loktantra and once that is achieved they appear to understand loktantra as a system where one can do what one likes. Unless we strengthen loktantra, we cannot turn people into citizens. Parties should be loktantrik and cultural and economic transformations are needed for becoming citizens. People have started talking about not feeling any change. Political parties should be loktantrik and the various organizations within them should be practicing it in their behaviour.

Self respect is a product of democracy and until that is achieved there will be no democracy and the prospect of conflict always hangs in the air. In spite of the rights enshrined in the 1991 constitution people could not exercise their rights and the result was conflict. Until we can guarantee that democracy is practiced, another conflict will arise even after we write the new constitution. This would happen if we do not change our political behaviour.

Authoritarianism existed yesterday and has continued to this day. These issues must be addressed in civic education. Please disseminate these ideas among political parties and leaders as well.

Tanka Gautam: I want to thank you for bringing these discussions at this local level. The paper appears to be looking at the negative aspects more than anything else. If the family is the first school of children, then civics may be needed for children in their first years and we should find a way to do so.

The state of affairs has been described, but there appears to be no reason given for why this happened. How is the state managing self respect, food and clothes and security? What can youths do to guarantee these three aspects?

Let me tell you a story. A Nepalese thought that he wanted to go to America to enjoy rights. He went there all right. He enjoyed walking, swinging his arms left and right to enjoy his freedom. This eventually led to the breaking of a passer-by's nose. Police arrested him for encroaching someone else's rights. But he could not understand why he was arrested in such a free country. This is not enjoying one's right. It is encroachiong upon others' to walk.

Narendra Prasad Niraula, teacher: So far, we have seen no political party or party oganization practicing loktantra.

Regarding the youth, what role can they play while drafting the constitution?

Remember, we said that the 1991 constitution was the best in the world. If we talk about the privileges for the king and the powers he enjoyed, even if it was called a constitutional monarchy, then we cannot say that we were honest about what we know. That provision was not good. But we remained silent and instead and praised the king.

We talk in negative tones a lot, but we do not provide a clear vision or alternative.

Biplav Adhikari: I like what you are saying. You are talking about making people aware about their rights. But you will leave us soon to organize other programmes. And, once you do so we forget the good things we said here. We will even begin to undermine the essence of what you have taught us. If we could give continuity to the teachings and even make the youth more oriented towards your sayings, it would be good. What you say could help us retain the knowledge that we have gained so far if we could continue to interact in a similar fashion.

Shivaraj Dahal's reply

The books that we have published have been used by different levels in the university. We have been able to provide teaching materials where there was none.

The objective of today's discussion is to promote democratic culture. This is also an opportunity to make people aware about their rights and the need to protect them through the basic law. We want to raise awareness about the need to develop patriotic feelings.

The subject is being taught at higher secondary levels and you too could begin teaching the subject soon. This discussion would thus help us all.

When a person is born he must be developed as a citizen by the state by guaranteeing his rights.

Regarding leadership characters, democracy cannot be defined to suit the needs of every political leader. But we are moving towards the stone age and the culture associated with it by organizing closures and blockading to prevent anyone from even moving about. It is related with a culture that needs to be developed. Civic education is needed for all, not just students.

The reason for the youth to leave for jobs abroad has been here for a long time. The Ranas, allowed that to happen to preserve their own power and privileges. After 1990, schools and colleges opened but no corresponding employment opportunities were created. Even those that we had, were sold off cheaply or shut down. This led to a rise in unemployment, corruption and political instability. This produced conflict in the country. Hundreds of thousands were displaced. This acted as an additional push factor for the brain and muscle drain. Add to this the displacement of our traditional technology that had traditionally been giving employment to lots of people. The youth were left out of a job market that was being taken up by more qualified unemployed manpower. The government then began promoting the trend if only to keep economic stability through remittances. One can even argue that the government took the youth as a problem and wanted to root them out by sending them abroad.

Political stability is needed to stop the muscle and brain drain, employment created by promoting small and cottage industries, village tourism, small hydels etc. We need to enforce the work permit system.

Chairperson's remarks

I want to thank NEFAS for running the show here. This was a good intellectual exercise for us. This auditorium was used for other kinds of functions and it is a rare occasion that we could have an educative function here. The present needs a lot of civic education. We have not been able to become true citizens in spite of so many struggles and movements. We are embarking on the road to drafting a constitution. Every citizen should have a role in having his rights protected by the constitution. We had talked about the 1991 constitution as a model one, but that could not stay for long. The coming constitution must be able to last longer. What we have learnt is that writing a good constitution is not enough. Those enforcing the constitution should also be qualified personnel.

We, the thinkers, are also accused of corrupt minds at times for the problems in the society. They say that we have been running after personal interests and forgetting our duty. If we start running after politicians at a time when should be guiding them, especially at a time such as this, we would not have contributed to the efforts in turning people into citizens.

The course of study of Class 12 has this subject. Those teaching should be allowed to teach what they think is right. We used to teach students to learn about the king being the reincarnation of Lord Bishnu, although teachers knew that it was not true. Such trends should end and people allowed to teach the right stuff.

Ananda Srestha: For NEFAS publications please visit us, especially if you have campus libraries or the like and we will provide them for free.

 
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