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Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance

Seminar organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

11 Sept 2010, Chatara

Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung organized a one-day seminar in Chatara, a holy site on the Chure foothills near Dharan, Sunsari on "Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance". It was held on 11 September, 2010. Among all the seminars organized by NEFAS so far, the one held in Chatara will be remembered by the organizers for long time to come. Heavy rains the night before had resulted in flash-flooding of the road and the organizers had to take a two hours long detour to reach the seminar venue. This piqued the participants who had arrived in time only to wait for the organizers to arrive. They had to be clamed down with profuse apologies.

After the apologies for arriving late, NEFAS Executive Director Prof. Ananda Srestha said that NEFAS had been involved in organizing academic debates on various issues of public importance ever since its establishment and that the outcome of those debates were published for wider consumption. He told the participants that the seminar being held on civic education too had the objective of publishing a book and that he welcomed everyone's contribution in it through comments on the presentations.

C.D. Bhatta of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung said that FES had been a brainchild of the first German president and that it was engaged in promoting the ideals of social democracy throughout the world. He said that, apart from equality, FES also promoted freedom, solidarity and peace. He said that there were a lot of popular issues that needed to be included in the constitution being drafted in Nepal today. People need to express their concerns for them to be adopted in the national document and, for that, the people must be aware of the issues surrounding them, he said. Bhatta said that only civic education could make them aware of their surroundings.

After the welcome addresses, Shivaraj Dahal made his presentation on the topic of the day, "Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance". The paper talks about the need for public officials to act in a public fashion rather than one who think that the public sphere is one's own private turf. For people, and the public officials like politicians, to understand their public duties and rights they must be imparted with civic education, he said. The nation was facing political problems and economic decline because of the absence of civic education among the people, according to the paper.

Prof Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation of an FES publication titled "Handbook of Democracy" was focused on explaining the systematic structure of the ideal of democracy. The book is on the different aspects of democracy that are pivotal for the ideal to be practiced by any people. They include the government structure in a democratic society, the processes of forming the government, the rule of law, the protection of personal freedoms and the like.

Bedraj Acharya talked about economic problems facing the country, particularly those brought about by the inability of policymakers to utilize national resources. He said that the resources are being drained from the country. He pointed at the natural resources like sand and aggregates being shipped to neighbouring India almost for free and at huge environmental costs for Nepal. He also talked about brain drain affecting the country and suggested that the workers be trained before sending them abroad so that they bring in more remittances.

The presentations were followed by comments from the floor. Some of the participants were of the view that the wrongs committed by public officials was not because of lack of civic knowledge. They cited cases where the government had refused to act in spite of huge public pressure. Corruption was another issue eating the minds of some while others thought that the education system in place and the teaching methodologies were flawed. One participant even said that teachers were imparting partisan knowledge on students from a very early age. The discussions came to an end after the chairman thanked everyone for making the function a success.

Excerpt of the seminar

Chair: Om Sharma

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: My sincere apologies for arriving late. The objective of Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies is to hold discussions on topical issues and publish the outcome of those discussions. Our focus has been to hold such discussions in different parts of the country. University students and others interested in the subject have used these publications.

We have held a series of discussions on civic education in different parts of the country. The presentations being made today will seek your input through comments. These will provide the feedback for the papers so that they can be improved before publication.

Most of our publications have been used as university curriculum in the country and outside. A university in Denmark also uses our publications. Since we do not represent any political party, we have limited influence in the political course of the country except make people aware through our publications. In that sense, we are purely an academic organization.

C.D. Bhatta: Friedrich Ebert was the first German president. He was a labour leader. He wanted education to be given to the Germans early in their childhood. It is his wish that resulted in a foundation that carries the social democratic message to people all around the world today. The foundation aims to promote democracy in different parts of the world.

We have seen conflict between freedom and equality from the very beginning. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung wants to fill that gap. We want to see a democracy that provides the people the opportunity to participate in decision making. Participation is needed. Representation alone will not be enough. These ideas are is known only through civic education.

We are talking of adopting federalism in Nepal today. Civic education can bring together all the various social groups into a single national identity.

Civic education is provided by schools, political parties or NGOs. Civic education is different from political education. It is usually used to provide a national basis for solidarity like in the United States. In the US, various nationalities that migrate to that country, will have to be woven into a single US identity.

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation on "Handbook of Democracy".

Bedraj Acharya's presentation


Gyan Bahadur Pandey: You talked about the data dispute regarding poverty. Do you have a standard poverty definition that is applicable everywhere?

Purushottam Dhungel: Education is indispensable. We see that the founder of education, Dronacharya, has been monopolising education even to this day. Dronacharya taught not only the Pandavs but also the 101 Kauravs. He even taught the son of a Nisad, a Majhi, for one day. But the Nisad was shunned by Dronacharya. That policy continues to this day. Until that policy changes, citizenship will always be a problem in Nepal.

Kamala Maden: I would like to thank Mr. Shivaraj Dahal for his presentation. The paper incorporates a lot of things. I want to know what is nationality? How would you define it?

Pralhad Bhattarai: You talked of including civic education in the school curriculum. I do not agree that wrongs are committed in the absence of knowledge. Obviously, the knowledge imparted by civic education is already there in the curriculum, but remains scattered in many subjects. Civic education would only bring everything in one palce.

We say that we need vocational education but we have yet to decide on abandoning the philosophical type of education that we have. I think the focus should be on education policy. During the Panchayat years we had civic education and even a book on the Panchayat System. But that did not prevent the system from falling. We also had moral education some time ago, although many were opposed to that. The question is: did that education make us moral in our character.

We should be stressing the rule of law. If that can be guaranteed, citizens will not only get civic education but many other things.

We have many different kinds of nationalism- Castro's nationalism or Hitler's nationalism or Gyanendra's nationalism. I think the terminology needs to be defined in an international context.

We criticize imperialism but seek aid from the very countries that we criticise. There is indeed a degree of dependence that we must accept.

Uddhav Neupane: The paper does not make any recommendation to break the network of corruption. Our society preserves and protects the corrupt by honouring them. A custom official is praised for earning more than other straight civil servants.

We know of many cases where people tried for corruption but none of them punished for being corrupt. I recently heard one person jailed and fined for corruption [an official from Nepal Oil Corporation].

The most corrupt are the police and courts. Both these institutions are supposed to provide justice. How can we have social justice in such a situation? The courts should not only be independent but also corruption-free.

The corrupt officials are protected by their bosses. Some are known to be protected even by institutions that are supposed to punish them.

Shyam Sigdel: I think the citizens did their duty in the case of packaged juice produced by Dabur Nepal. But the administration has kept mum so far without taking any action. Who should be taking up the issue now?

Reply by Bedraj Acharya

Poverty can either be absolute or relative. Absolute poverty is related with our basic needs-if you earn less that 150 rupees a day, do not have free education up to the primary level and the services of an Assistant Health Worker with a health post then you are an absolute poor. You do not have absolute poor in rich countries as the state guarantees that. Welfare states also guarantee people their right to health and food.

Uddhav Ghimire: There is something called the "reservation quota". I would like to know what costs and benefits the system entails.

Santosh Gupta: You arrived late and when we came here, there was no one. When we came here, a light was on here in the room even during daytime. But no one seemed to care about turning it off. Teachers are supposed to give us knowledge. We are witnessing the politician's character everywhere. Should all this be happening?

I have found that teachers are pushing partisan knowledge, from the very childhood of their students They used to be a respected lot in ancient times.

I do not think we will ever be able to progress with such an attitude.

I think people from the grassroots should also have been included in this function to educate them.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's reply

Our constitution talked about free education but not compulsory education. We should also make education compulsory. Obviously there is the question of affordability.

I agree that nationalism should be defined in the international context.

I too agree that the judiciary and the police are corrupt, although saying so may be a "contempt of court". A judge once said that if the whole body is cancerous the head cannot be free from its effect. The problem is that we cannot say so.

Political parties are indeed creating problems, but then there is no alternative to political parties in a multiparty democracy. The only way out is to educate these partymen, whether they want to be educated or not. This does not mean we are opposed to political parties.

Bedraj Acharya

Quota is good in the sense that all marginalised group get access. But the bad aspect is that the meritorious are marginalised.

Rabi Rai: You are trying to say that democracy must be supported by civic education and raise serious issues-you even question the loktantrik culture and say that it may be working towards marginalizing nationalism.

Let me recommend to you that you hold a seminar for individuals in the judiciary, legislative and the executive.

The bureaucracy is not able to provide necessary services because the civil servants do not want to be posted far away from their homes. They do not want to go to rural areas. For this, they go to the politicians and surrender themselves to these politicians. Such a tendency has brought many dangers to the fore.

Civic education is needed to end the problems created by politics as these problems are related with human values.

You appear to question the ability of the loktantrik system to preserve Nepal's nationalism. For example, you seek consensus at least on national issues. You say that loktantra is not a monopoly of a particular culture or group.

You say loktantra becomes strong if the civil society is strong, but I think this is more related with the people's basic needs. If they have hand-to-mouth problems, loktantra will always be questioned. One or the other ideology will always be there to oppose that. If so, then should some other form of civic education be devised for such a competing ideology?

Shivaraj Dahal's reply

I do not think that talking philosophies alone will strengthen loktantra. For that, employment must be created. We have entered the World Trade Organization regime, which means that we must build our infrastructure to prevent the brain drain that is taking place.

Impunity must end. The state has no monopoly over punishment for crimes and taxes these days.

About two million foreigners have received citizenship while the Nepalese are being turned into refugees in their own country. The number of unemployed educated is on the rise.

The state must provide equal protection to the pluralism existing in the country.

I agree with prof. R K. Dahal's answer. But, in my point of view about nationalism, nationalism is corporate sentiment, a kind of spiritual feeling, a way of thinking and living or mutual sympathy relating to define a home country. It provides achievement to glory and suffering.

Ravi Khadka: 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.

Shivaraj Dahal: Khadka'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.

Chairman's remarks

I am grateful to NEFAS for holding the function here in our school. We are happy to welcome Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal, a renowned political scientist.

The paper talks about inclusiveness. We have corrupt officials and we see their pay scale beinbg increased by 200 per cent at one go. Even then, the country still runs.

We also have intellectual slavery. If anyone does well in studies, that person will go abroad for jobs.

We have fertile grounds being turned into building sites while building areas left abandoned.

In India ministers own up the mishaps that take place. Related ministers resign when road accidents take place. We too must promote moral responsibilities in our society. The paper makes a bold attempt to correct these issues in the country.

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