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Civic Education in the National Context

One-day seminar jointly organised by NEFAS and FES

10 November 2016 (Dumre, Tanahu)

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

Elongated political transition has sapped the nation's economic, political, cultural, religious and intellectual energy and confidence. The state and the people, which are sovereign and do not require electoral mandate for renewal and legitimacy, have been rendered weak while the political parties and other non-state actors, which must renew themselves through periodic election, are getting strong and upper hand, giving rise to the uncalled for foreign meddling. The ethno-centric nationalism has further exacerbate the nation building process even after having the most inclusive and democratic constitution in the South Asia. Now, the country's territorial integrity and independent existence is under threat with some political parties overtly blowing the ethnic politics to meet their vested and egregious interest at beck and call of foreign forces.

The absence of constitutional behaviour, democratic culture and ethical perspective has put the country on a powder keg of ethnic and territorial conflicts. This dangerous situation must not be allowed to unfold, and should be brought to an end with judicious approach. The civic education that promotes the active citizenship can be an effective antidote to the ethnic chauvinism. It conscientizes the people about their rights and duties and make them responsible to the society. Civic education is an intellectual tool for the constitutional enlightenment that helps the people free from the infantile attitude and tendencies. It instills the democratic, ethical and altruistic values in them elevating them into rational citizens.

Nepal stands at the crossroads of history. Its restructuring agenda has been made problematic with concoction of ethnic, regional and foreign elements. With a view to inform the people about the values of civic education and its role in building democratic culture and nation building, the Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS), in coordination with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), organized a seminar on 'Civic Education in the National Context' organised at Dumre, Tanahu in November. Speaking at the seminar, experts called for promoting civic education to free the nation from various anomalies, thereby strengthening social harmony and democratic institutions. Students need to be instilled with civic and moral values in order to take the nation on the right track. Civic education help control corruption and gain political stability, they said. Teachers, representatives of different political parties and civil society members attended the programme. Synopsis of the seminar is as follows:

Gunanidhi Sharma, Former Vice-Chairman of National Planning Commission

The Nepalese society is fast changing with intensive interactions among the people. It is also strongly craving for economic development in line with the new statute that has envisioned building a socialist-oriented economy. It is necessary to do soul-searching as to who had benefited from the economic liberalization that only triggered lopsided development and created vast inequality in the society. Happiness should be the aim of development as material hunger has no limitation.

The strong economy is the key to the nation's independence and dignity. In the past, the people were hungry for knowledge but now they are hungry for development as reflected in the new constitution. The eastern society was driven by ethics and the western one by material passions. The current economic development model has created two classes - the haves and the have-nots. It does not correspond with the needs of people, society and nature. As a result, climate change has occurred, generating various negative impacts. We have both cultural and biological diversities with immense potentials to socio-economic development. Likewise, the nation has now 57 per cent active population (15-60) but the state has not pursued appropriate policy to tap into this demographic dividend.

It is up to the state to provide health and education to the citizens. Sadly, both sectors have been privatized and the government has got its hands off the health and education. After former education minister Govinada Raj Joshi implemented the Company Act, education went into the hands of profit-making businessmen.

Ananda Shrestha, NEFA Executive Director

Over two-and-half-a-decades have elapsed since the advent of multiparty democracy but no significant change has been realized. If one screens the contents of news media, they are awash with negative news. Is that there is no alternative to the current gerontocratic political leadership? The people have lost faith in it and now the nation has pinned hope on the youth. The young generation should be taught about civic education that highlights their rights and duties towards the society.

The electoral system is defective as it lets the same old faces come to power ad hominem. Give a fair crack to the youths. The naturalized citizens should not be allowed to hold high public posts until three generations of theirs has lived in Nepal. The people should elect leaders with a clean image and the youth should join the politics to clean up it.

CD Bhatta, FES Programme Officer

The rich people insist on granting unfettered freedom to them while the poor often call for ensuring equality among the social and economic classes. There should be balance between freedom and equality.

Our religious scripts stress donating the society and helping the needy. This tradition, initiated by our ancestors, should be followed and strengthened. Peace is the key to development and stability. Nepal is the birthplace of Gautam Buddha and it is imperative for us to follow his teachings to change our heart and mind. Education is for the betterment of life and the world but the youths have been unable to get this kind of education. Education should promote wisdom. It should be for the welfare of the society. Even a doctor should be accountable to the community. Civic education is the need of the day and students should absorb its values. Nepal's diversity should be taken as strength, not liability. The Nepalese people launched many political movements that could not live up to their expectations. More the movements, more the society has become weak. The state is not in a position to fulfill altogether 31 fundamental rights mentioned in the new constitution.

Shiv Raj Dahal, programme officer of NEFAS

Citizens should be conscious, active and competent to make the state strong, sovereign, independent and dignified. They should be aware of their rights and duties. Civic education is the key to maintaining ethnic goodwill, religious tolerance and class balance. It is imperative for the youth to understand the universal values of democracy so that they will be accountable to the society and nation. Our politicians have deviated from their path. They have not become leader but dealer and brokers, leaving the people high and dry. It is the youth, who can punish the bad politicians and bring them on the constitutional and democratic track.

Our education has also become guided by the individualistic western values. It is time to recall and embrace the eastern spiritual knowledge, wisdom and tradition to promote moral education, which our society badly needs. It is through the civic education that the people can achieve these grand goals.

In a Loktantra, a good citizen requires following qualities and attributes:

  1. Good socialization- It is a continuous process of learning and internalizing the experiences and knowledge. This involves experiencing and applying the social values, norms and skills, language, art and literature.
  2. National identity- Nepal is the oldest independent nation of Asia but the attempts are on to destroy the national identity. Thus, it is necessary to build social solidarity and civic culture to strengthen the national identity.
  3. Etiquette
  4. Patriotism
  5. Wise civic commitment
  6. Protection of national integrity
  7. Critical consciousness
  8. Honesty
  9. Citizen's thinking and skill

Roshan Pokharel, Lecturer at the Peace, Conflict and Development Department, Tribhuvan University

Many of the fundamental rights in the constitution should be kept under the directive principles and they should be implemented only when the state becomes economically strong. The nation will be mired into new kinds of constitutional conflicts after the people started filing writs at the Supreme Court, demanding that the state implement the fundamental rights enshrined in the statute. The political influence has gratuitously dented the judiciary and the judges are working as per the instruction of the political parties. There was not adequate public participation in devising the civil code. The principle of the separation of powers should be strictly abided by in order to ensure rule of law and constitutionalism.

From the floor

Navaraj Sigdel underlined the need for adopting positive thinking. Kshitiz Lamichane noted that democracy should be for achieving prosperity and strengthening nationality. He said, "Although we are poor, we never gave up nationalism. In order to meet fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, we need political stability. Nepal never became a colony. At the same time, we never become independent when it comes to economic matters." Ram Chandra Adhikari said that the political parties show double standards- when they are in power and when they are in opposition, resulting in the instability of the country. The leaderships have failed to listen to the people's woes. Another participant said that the politics is much to blame for the current deterioration. Corruption and inflation have hit hard the people. There are bona fide people in every layer of society but they have not been recognized. Our social culture has lost its positive elements as the parties are buying votes to get their candidates elected. If one comes across the villages, they give an impression that Nepal is no longer an agricultural nation. Casting a pessimistic tone, Nirab Thapa said that brokereocracy is ruling the roost. Tribhuvan Prasai said that civic education is critical to developing positive attitude and enhance moral values in the society. Beni Bahadur Thapa said that the change should come from the grassroots. Sundar Lal Shrestha said that mercenary attitude had engulfed the education sector and the students seem to be unaware of their own history and geography. After destroying industries, some leaders are talking about industrialization. They have made the nation dependent on other nations and now we have to fight against those, who grew the country dependency. Laxmi Lamichhane said that many talent students have been deprived of pursuing higher medical study owing to the ethnic quota system.

Response from Gunanidhi Sharma

Culture is an emotion-driven phenomenon. The new education system had opened the door to modernization. Now industrious people are out of country while idlers and loafers are here. Around 69 per cent foreign investment and trade transaction come from India. No work happens as per the planning. Incompetent institutions hold command of development activities. Services should be brought to the door of the people. The problem of overstaffing needs to be ended.

From the chair, Man Bahadur Shrestha, chairman of the management committee of Chij Kumar-Bishnu Kumari Community Campus, said that it is necessary to change the mindset.
We have to be able to take the benefits of the economic developments of two big neighbours. We have a 'bread and daughter' relations with India. If we are capable and rich, no one will dominate us. The politicians are to blame for the mess of the nation. The organizers deserve kudos for conducting the seminar on civic education, which has become very important in the present context.

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