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Civic Education for The Young Generation

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

21 September 08, Nijgad

The first seminar that Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies organized on civic education in 2008 was in Nijgad, a small village that owes its existence, not to mention its sustenance, to the East-West Highway that runs through it. The locale is made up of people engaged in farming in the area and is fast developing into an urban hub. Several schools in the small town have adopted the civic education in their curriculum and, hence, a suitable place for NEFAS to hold the seminar. Schoolteachers, local political party workers, media persons and other personalities of the town were invited for the discussions which would form part of the input to the working paper on Civic Education for the Young Generation. This series of discussion that NEFAS has been organizing with cooperation of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany has formed the backbone of the civic education curriculum in schools.

The methodology adopted thus far has been to organize seminars in places where civic education is taught and seek comments from concerned stakeholders on the issues facing the youth today and ways to turn them into responsible citizens. These comments help as further inputs to the working papers presented at the event. In Nijgad, Shivaraj Dahal presented the paper on civic education and Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal on the various dimensions of democracy. These presentations came immediately after Executive Director Ananda Srestha welcomed the participants and briefed them on NEFAS activities. He requested them to come forth frankly with their views so as to enrich the presentation that were going to be made. Shivaraj Dahal's paper talks about the eroding faith in the public space among politicians, a bad example for the younger generation. This is not only making the younger generation a handy tool for any vested interest to use them at their will but is also robbing the Nepalese youth of all the opportunity that should be naturally available to them. As a result, hey are turned into political cadres of politicians too early in their life, those that escape that do not find gainful employment forcing them to seek opportunities abroad resulting in massive brain and muscle drain. This at a time when the country needs their hand the most. The minority that escape these trends are found in activities that are not socially acceptable, e.g. drug abuse. His approach for a solution is to educate the young about their rights and responsibilities as a citizen and to train themselves for leadership roles that is bound to be thrust upon them as they grow older.

Prof. Dahal on the other hand used the Handbook on Democracy being distributed by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in different parts of the country to explain the fundamentals of democratic life. This is a vital issue for Nepal at the moment as it not only is closely related to the subject at hand, viz. Civic education, but also because of the fact that the nation is gearing itself to draft the first constitution through a popularly elected constituent assembly. It also fits in well with NEFAS' own objective of carrying out activities that lead to democratization and consolidation of democracy in the country. Apart from the elements of democracy, the professor also explained to the participants the hotly debated issues of federalism in the context of local autonomy and good governance.

The participants for their part were more interested in knowing about the current trends in democratic thinking like the differences in the terminologies, for example, loktantra versus prajatantra and the different kinds of federalism being championed by the respective political parties. However, many did talk about involving even smaller children in civic education, not just the higher secondary level ones that are doing so at the moment.

After the question and answer session, the seminar ended with Shivaraj Dahal giving his vote of thanks to all those involved in making the event a success.

Excerpt of the proceeding

Gauri Shanker:Chair

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies welcomes you heartily to this discussion. Let me make a brief introduction of NEFAS. It was set up in 1990 with an objective of conducting discussions on relevant national issues. The modality we pursue has been to take the discussion to different parts of the country. The discussions that we conduct are recorded in book form. Around 40 books have been published so far, many of which have been adopted as course books in schools. In that sense, our objective has been met so far. Today's discussion on "Civic Education to the Younger Generation" is not a new topic for us, but a part of a series of events that we have been holding in different parts of the country. The comments generated in the discussions will be an important input in the book that is yet to be published. We think that the exclusion of the younger generation from leadership roles in different aspects of public life has brought crisis in the public affairs in the country. We believe that their inclusion, their awareness, is a must for any kind of reform.

The presenters will highlight the issue of civic education and talk about the democratic process in the country. Please point out the weaknesses in the papers so that we have a more mature publication when it finally comes out.

Shiva Raj Dahal's presentation.

Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation:
The topic I am discussing is nothing new. I am only trying to repeat things for your discussion. Political education has been taking its own course in Nepal. Political parties have been doing things regarding this aspect as they see fit. But civic education is different. Its requirements are not met by political education. We see political cadres going diametrically opposite to cadres of other parties leading to frequent clashes. They do not even speak to each other in many instances. This means that the two have not received any civic education. No organization has been set up to take care of the issue-- to bring them together where necessary. On the contrary, today, we are in such a situation that if we do not forge a consensus to chart out the nation's future course we are doomed.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela championed the ideas of economic development to downplay political differences existing there. We must toe similar lines to chart a future course for Nepal. Even aid agencies have been stressing on good governance. And, good governance is based on accountability, responsibility and transparency. Legitimacy of the government that comes through an impartial election. Participation of all the different groups of people are equally necessary in the governance process. Rule of law must be enforced for any kind of governance to occur, let alone good governance. Independent judiciary is a must in a good governance. The public sector must be managed efficiently. Democracy is indeed a rule by the majority but the minority too should be respected. If that does not happen, trouble spots appear. This is happening in Nepal today and it is the result of disrespect to good governance shown by the democratic governments of the past. The government should treat all the citizens equally. That is why we mare talking of inclusive democracy.

Human rights is an import aspect of a democracy. The issue is getting widened today with international rights conventions being signed by the country and the activists talking about further rights, like right to development. There is a need to accept international conventions when we need to be a part of the international community. The balance of power among the judiciary, the executive and the legislative must be respected. Local governance must be strengthened. It has been strengthened through consecutive acts and laws in Nepal. We may need to widen the scope of autonomous governance even further in the future. We are even talking of federal rule and there is a lot to be discussed on the issue before coming to a conclusion. An election process must be impartially conducted. Democratic institution building should be given priority, the civil society must be promoted.

We are currently talking about a federal structure of government. It is a form of dual governance- the central and provincial tiers of governance with clear delineation of authority and responsibility between the centre and the province. But I do not believe our political parties have done enough homework on the kind of federalism that we want. Instead, each party has come out with its own separate form of federalism. The debate is about the amount of powers to be allocated to the province as opposed to the centre.

Ordinarily, the foreign policy, monetary policy and defence policies are the monopoly of the centre while the other powers are left for the local authorities to exercise. Our intention to discuss these issues is not to oppose federalism but to try and prevent the weaknesses from doing any harm in the future and ensure that all the holes are plugged. The principle of federalism requires that it reserves the right of secession. We need to discuss whether Nepal should or should not allow this right to exist with the provinces. The right to self determination does get a place in federalism. But where is the limit of self-determination? Does it include the right to secede? We should be able to make it clear that the right to secede should not be meant by the right of self determination. It is time that we define it in a way which excludes the right to secede. There is also the need to address the issues of weakening nationalism and increasing foreign interference. This should include a policy on the use of foreign aid.


Sanu Babu Khanal: What is the difference between prajatantra and loktantra or even jana ganatantra, as we have been using different terms to denote democracy at different times?

Khadga Shrestha: The function could have been more interactive with intermittent questions being addressed simultaneously. You should not have left the commentators for the end part of the function. The NGOs and INGOs appear to be only using seminars and functions for their own ends, but do they actually empower?

Durga Koirala: There are younger people with whom you could have interacted more. Please do that as young students need it. You have also treated us as students. You could have let us ask questions during the lecture for us to benefit more.

You talk of foreign employment. But why are the Nepalese being attracted to it? You should have provided employment alternatives before talking about discouraging it.

Shanker Chimauli: Please tell me the kinds of governance and the kinds of constitutions that exist in the world.

Binod Raj Naurali: How many countries are ruled by the kind of federalism that our country is talking about? Please also provide examples of the successes and failures. It will give us a picture about the kind of federalism we should have.

Secondly, one of the reasons for the youth being marginalized in Nepal is because of drug abuse and AIDS. The Africans suffer from AIDS and the Europeans from drugs. We suffer from both including alcohol abuse. How can constitutional safeguards be built to manage these?

Shanker Chimauli: What are the fundamentals of a state?

Khadga Shrestha: The role of youth has been seminal in political movements. But the governments have not been forthcoming as much with regards to providing them the leadership role. Can NEFAS play a role in institutionalizing then role of the youth?

Rima Parajuli: Why do you talk of only the youth? Do you not need to include the smaller kids.

Sanu Babu Khanal: What constitutes a citizen of the country? Please define. Only then can we talk of civic education. Please also talk about the kind of agencies that need to be set up to impart such education.

Gurnath Chaulagain: I think you talk of discouraging foreign employment but at the same time also talk of training workers to send abroad. I think you should retain trained manpower.

The young generation has been at the forefront of all political movements but has not been mentioned in the paper. Please also talk of self-employment of the youth.

Nima Lama: You may already have your own kind of federalism in mind. Please tell us.

Sanu Babu Khanal: Can we also use the younger generation for economic development by extending your own argument about raising their political awareness.

Madhav Kal:.The Nepalese go abroad for study and remain there to work. If that knowledge could be used for Nepal's development, we would have strengthened nationalism. How do we stop this trend?

Ananda Srestha: We publish books and it is for policy makers to study them and implement what they see fit. We do not press the government to enforce our ideas.

Shivaraj's reply
We include your ideas as feedback and publish them with FES' help. The publications are used by students. If the politicians use it for their benefit, fine, but if not, we do not apply political pressure for enforcement. The papers we presented for a seminar several years ago were published. We found that it was used as school curriculum without our doing anything. Class 12 has been using it today. We began updating the book using you comments. There are other books that are being used by the universities as well.

We also have a mind to prod people to think about the kind of Nepal we are going to build for the future. We should remain vigilant even after elections. Let us be sensitive to popular needs and let nationalism not be weakened. You also have a role in raising awareness of other people that you meet.

The differences you are seeking regarding loktantra and democracy does not exist. There is a connotation of [a king and his] subjects when we use the word prajatantra. What actually counts is an effective democratic process and not terminologies.

I agree that the seminar should have been lengthened. But resource constraints also count.

Binod Raj Lauda: I believe that loktantra came to Nepal via India. In India, it was Mahatma Gandhi who talked about good governance to define it.

Shiva Raj: I have discussed the issue with university teachers and I have not seen an6y difference if the democratic process is followed.

Binod Raj Lauda: But loktantra is more progressive than prajatantra and the former also smells of monarchy.

Durga Parajuli: The term came to hoodwink the people as people were already fed up with the misdeed that took place during prajatantra. Now we hear about state failure and our political parties still lack vision and have not even begun to talk about forging a consensus to develop Nepal.

Shiva Raj: Durgaji's question talks about the flight of youth. There needs to be political stability to do so. Tourism and trade and industry must be implemented to provide them employment. Work permits, micro hydels, and political empowerment helps.

A citizen must abide by the alws and keep tab it.

Gurnath Chaulagain: I understand that there is no difference between loktantra and prajatantra. [Maoist leader] Prachanda had warned that he would go for jana gantantra if he was angered by the NC and the UML.

Shiva Raj: I do not see any difference even with jana ganatantra. But those who use the term should define it.

Ram Kumar Dahal's reply
Let me tell you the difference between loktantra and prajatantra. When the king became too active, some of the politicians started talking about transforming the praja into citizens. They also talked about absolute democracy. This was a roundabout way of talking about a republic.

Durga Prajuli: Let me intervene. The political parties should too learn their lesson while tainting the names of others. Now they have begun to realize that the real enemy has been India and America. The civil society too should begin to disseminate the truth from now onwards.

Nima Lama: You talk of Indian expansionism. Should not the civil society talk about these issues?

Ram Kumar Dahal: I agree. They do have a role to play here. But let me clarify what I was talking about earlier. The condition is such that we have a holiday on prajatantra day and the loktantra day. I hope the day will come when we will have only one holiday for both.

Secondly, there are different models of federations- the US has one, Switzerland has another and India has something else. We should also talk about the different kinds of presidential systems. My complaint is that these issues are so huge that we have not been giving commensurate time to discuss them.

I do not believe that the political parties are willing to relinquish their powers for the benefit benefit of the younger generation.

We are not here prescribe the model of federal structure that we need. But we do not see the needed sincerity on the part of the stakeholders. I hope they work on it.

We are talking about non-resident Nepalis showing their interest in investing. But they do not find a conducive atmosphere. They are our own people who have earned money to and are interested to invest here, but we are not allowing them. Forget about people going abroad and staying there. I think that the civil society has a role here. Obviously, if we send trained manpower instead, they would be better off.

Shivaraj's vote of thanks.

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