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CIVIC EDUCATION: ROLE OF YOUTHS IN LOCAL SELF- GOVERNANCE

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

19 October, 2003, Kathmandu

Keynote address by Dev Raj Dahal


Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS) initiated the civic education programme series several years ago to play its part in strengthening democracy in Nepal. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung of Germany has been the main supporter of the programme series under its 'democratization' initiative in the newly democratizing countries. In that sense, NEFAS has been the forerunner in organizing civic education programmes in the country and has already held more than a dozen discussions with teachers, politicians, journalists and people of various other walks of life in different parts of the Kingdom, from the east to the west. Today, several other organizations have started to work on civic education in Nepal as well.

A text-book for higher secondary students has already been developed and has been widely used by students to fill the textbook void in their civic education curriculum. The attraction of NEFAS programmes for civic educationists is that their output has always been taken seriously and even published. The textbook mentioned above has in fact undergone several metamorphoses just to include as many suggestions as possible. Every edition has incorporated the discussions of the seminars which has again been taken to the teachers for additional inputs. That process still continues.

It is in this process that NEFAS organised the discussion in the civic education series on 19 October, 2003 titled "Civic Education: Role of Youths in Local Governance" in Kathmandu. This seminar is a milestone in NEFAS' attempts to facilitate civic education in Nepal as it has begun to merge sectoral concerns with the main topic. Local Governance was chosen for this one. Since democracy is itself multifaceted, future seminars will keep adding to the list.

Local governance experts, teachers, political party workers and academicians were assembled in the capital for the discussion. The discussions started without the usual seminar fanfares with the executive director of NEFAS, Ananda Srestha welcoming the participants and Dev Raj Dahal highlighting the topic to be discussed. Ananda Srestha in his welcome address said that the objective of the workshop was not to impose some imported ideas on the participants, but to gather opinion of people from different walks of life. He hoped that the traditional values would guide the participants towards a meaningful discussion. However, he welcomed other issues of socials importance if they had relevance to the topic being discussed. DevRaj Dahal for his part said that the objective of the seminar was to find out ways to include youths in local self-governance. "Why do we need to do this? Since a paradigm shift has taken place regarding running the affairs of the state, from government to governance, every section of people need to be included in governance. Again, since youths make up a vital part of the population, they too need to be accommodated in governance. Only democratic governance tries to include all the sections of the populace," he said.

After the brief addresses by the two, the working sessions began to discuss the issues of the day. The seminar was divided into two sessions, the first was chaired by Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, a sociologist. Ram Kumar Dahal a political scientist, made his presentation on "Role of Youths in Local Self-Governance".


SESSION I

"Role of Youths in Local Self-governance"

Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan: Chair

Presenter: Ram Kumar Dahal

Ram Kumar Dahal said that there were plenty of roles for youths at the local level through which they can make governance participatory, clean and sustainable. He listed the tasks that youths could take upon themselves for the purpose. He said that the Constitution and the legal measures adopted for decentralization had opened the way for them to do so, but that there were hurdles still.

FLOOR

Samira Luintel: The paper seems to put too much burden on youths by giving them every public responsibility that can be imagined while the paper itself says that youths have not been given the right to participate by the Constitution.
Regarding conflicts, we see that youths themselves have been involved in creating conflict. Still, how will they resolve those conflicts and social problems. Just shifting the responsibility to youths without telling them how to go about it, could further the existing problems.
In terms of the interference by Bretton Woods institutions that you mention, our priorities should be defined by our own government and then allow external support to fulfill those priorities. All our problems should not be blamed on the International Monetary Fund or World Bank. You talk of social capital, but where is that social capital?

Chet Pariyar: I feel that our country desperately needs development and youths have a heavy responsibility regarding that. Other minor issues can be ignored for the moment. We need to rationalise our priorities regarding resource exploitation, For example, in the water resources sector, the first priority should go to drinking water, then irrigation and then power. Secondly, regarding human resources, we see that the best students take up the technical sector, while the lesser ones take up the policy making positions. Similarly, the healthiest of the youth are taken by the British Gurkha, lesser ones by the Indian Gorkha and the leftover go to the Nepal army and then the police. The paper should have talked more about discrimination in the society.

Sushma Acharya: We should think of ourselves as all young. Youth is in the mind, not physic. Secondly, are we producing manpower according to our need or are our plans being led by others to meet their priority? Today's youth have an inferiority complex which is one of the main reasons for our backwardness. This, in spite of the economic backwardness we are already entrenched in. Our textbooks should be able to overcome the inferiority complex. Students are given theory, but no practical skills to do anything. This is also the reason for massive unemployment.

Anuj Mishra: You should not patronize the youths and say that they have an inferiority complex, it is the system that discourages youths from coming forward. This patronizing culture has come from our ancient feudalism. Youths have the capacity in every way. So the question is how to involve them in national tasks. Politicians have been monopolizing power and there is no entry for youths. Social scientists have been involved in protecting their own small circles and entry is not given to others sapping all life from it. They do not want their own children to enter social science as it is not a vibrant sector.

Usha Tiwari : We have people around us who want to prove their intellectual capabilities or policy makers or theorizers who do the same. We hear people criticizing others in a negative way. For example, we see people criticising politics for preaching intolerance, but we do not go to find the reason why politics is like that. Probably the minuting of all party meetings of the past 12 years may have to be studied for that, but that has yet to be done. The paper appears to be big on words and terminologies that are hollow in meaning. I would have been more interested to see comparison between the Panchayat and today's situations. We have been abandoning the positive and taking up only the negative. The culture that the media and textbooks are promoting does not show multiculturism and democracy, but a monopoly of only one school of thought.

Rudra Upadhya: The paper is excellent, but lacks an action plan which may not have been given understandably because of time constraints. I agree that development should be self reliant and youths should play their part in resource management. Visionless, heartless, cruel and dead leadership would be more appropriate than 'virtually dead' leadership that the author uses to describe our leadership. Village Development Committee buildings should be turned into multi-service centres. VDC officials should be given a targetted plan and then appointed. Planning officers of the village should think of the resources available and how self-reliance can be achieved. Village tourism has multifaceted benefits which could be used by villages.

Krishna Poudel: Youths need to be mainstreamed in Nepal. The paper lists a lot of tasks for the youths, but lacks a method for accomplishing them. Globalisation has led to cultural encroachment and the vehicleused for that encroachment are the youths.
Every profession has an age ceiling, but why not politicians? Political socialization should also determine the age in which the socialization should be done. Even children have been exploited and brainwashed into politics or into militancy.

Sri Krishna Yadav: Instead of spending energy talking only of the negative aspects, we can divert that spirit to seek solutions. What is needed is positive attitude. We need to talk of the process of bringing about that positive spirit. This is not limited to youths only, but all individuals. At least the Panchayat had taken the youths as a parliamentary constituency. Even in a multiparty democracy we do not have the youths as a constituency.

Parashu Ghimire: Youths need to be given not only political and economic responsibility, but their capacity should be defined in a multi-disciplinary approach, not only political and economic. Please do not use the term 'culture' with corruption, e.g. culture of corruption. Similarly, alienation and frustration cannot be used together. You also say that civic education has nothing to do with politics, where in fact every thing about civic education is politics.

Gunanidhi Sharma: Nepal's Constitution has given due importance to youths, as 18 years has been defined as the eligibility age for vote. Society, however, is not made only of youths. When we talk of youths, we do not want to talk just of any youths, but effective youths. There are also intergenerational issues that need to be attended to. Most of the youths have moved out of track and do not want to get into bureaucracy. And, the most capable people need to be included in the bureaucracy which means the curriculum and the entry tests need to be designed to do so. Otherwise, the bureaucracy becomes lethargic. The same logic holds true in politics as well.
Education is promoting the value of money as the only thing that matters. This needs to changing.

Saket Bihari Thakur: If the figures of youths working in the VDCs and DDCs were given, I would have been happy. The paper should have also dwelt on the role of youths in the People's Movement, their role in NGOs and their contribution in bringing issues of the marginalised groups to the fore. Should local governance units also be de-politicised, just as you propose to do for youths?

Bharat Pokharel: The paper should have not mentioned the Constitution that is lying in a coma. The points listed should be done more methodically. Statistics are partially and inconsistently used. For example, literacy rate has been given a different figure each time it is used. Spelling mistakes also occur giving different meaning to the same word. Bretton Woods institutions should be linked to America, not Britain. When the health science is a mistaken one, how will an individual's health improve? When civic education is wrong, how can you expect politics to be right?

Rajan Bhattarai: The paper assigns tasks to youths, but does not mention whether the situation exists for them to do those tasks. Even if politics has gone off track due to lack of participation by youths, what about other sectors that have gone off track too?
We should also try to find out why the students we taught are going off-track today. Introspection would lead us to find solutions.

Ghanshyam Khatiwada: Two local elections have already taken place. What was the kind of representation of youths in the about 4,000 local bodies in the past 12 years? Such issues should have come forth in the paper. If youths are not included in local activities, soon an unthinkable situation will arise. Already, only the elderly are left behind in the village today. Youths are getting irresponsible regarding their duties towards their elders. Local bodies are in a state of chaos with many buildings destroyed. The decentralization Act remains improperly implemented. Local representatives have been shunned when selecting MPs. How will such a system promote the role of youths at the local level? Even today, youths are not being nominated when elections are not held. Only the old people of the Panchayat days are being nominated today.

Birendra Shrestha: The paper suffers from fallacies and intellectual slavery the author himself defines. We are afraid to accept change but advocating mibilization of youths. Our discussion has shown that we fear change. Democracy is going the way it should. There is no problem with democracy. It rather went against the interest of Girija Koirala and Surya Bdr. Thapa. Democracy has not bucked its own trend.

Prem Sharma: The paper appears to be focussing on politicising youths in the name of civic education. A comparative study between two countries would have been more contextual. Youths are not such an organised lot. Therefore, how can we talk about mobilizing them so effectively. The paper appears more subjective than objective. I know that the author has always been prescriptive, not only today.

Author's reply

Many of the comments have been complementary to what I have been trying to say. I will include the suggestions in the paper later on.

Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan (Chairman's remarks): Defining youth is a tricky subject. Every country defines it in its own way. In Nepal a mere child starts early job of herding animals and other household chores. These are jobs for the adults. Cultural, linguistic and ethnic contexts complicate the matter of defining youth further. But politics and administration do need an operational definition.
Sons become adults as soon as they are born, from the inheritance perspective, while daughters do not. Previously the citizenship and voting ages were different. Regarding local governance, the Autonomous Local Governance Act has been a means to misuse decentralization. Right to self-determination (without cessation) should be fulfilled by the Constitution, in spite of the Maoists pledging to give the right of cessation as well. We need to build a conceptual framework while discussing the role of youths. I suggest that youths reclaim democracy, one that is inclusive. And the role of the youths should be primary. We should move towards genuine autonomy to avoid conflicts in the future as well.


SESSION II

"Civic Eduction for the Young Generation"

Ananda Srestha: Chair

Presenters: Khagendra Prasain and Shivraj Dahal:

Khagendra Prasain made the presentation and dwelt mostly on what had gone wrong with today's politics. He blamed it all on lack of civic education which would have given the political workers the right political perspective. He said that the way parties are functioning today is by putting a lid on political workers' faculty of critical thought. Civic education, he said, would provide that critical faculty. He dwelt at length on the subject provoking some heated reactions from the floor.

FLOOR

Prem Sharma: The paper should have concluded with some recommendation for what the youths should do. There should also be additional explanations of terminologies and concepts presented by the authors.

Ram Kumar Dahal: The quality of leadership that you have mentioned are not enough. Some more qualities need to be added to suit the Nepalese context as well. Leadership seems constituency oriented at the moment, without any national, let alone global perspective.

Pushkar Gautam: The paper is confusing regarding knowledge especially with its relations to politics and political behaviour of politicians. I would have liked it to be elaborated further. Since I have worked as a party worker, I know the difference between party directives and practical behaviour of political workers. If you do not obey party orders, will not the party disintegrate? Whether you like party directives or not, obeying orders is necessary as long as you yourself cannot reach the position of ordering. If the soldier does not obey, the army does not function. I think force is necessary to make the state do what you want it to. It is one thing to talk about deficient leadership but quite another to be able to actually lead. You might be able to criticize the leadership according to the knowledge you have, but leadership needs a few qualities that knowledge alone cannot give. Why else would knowledgeable persons go to these deficient leaders and beg for public positions (to be sent as ambassadors etc.)?

Usha Tiwari
: Human rights definitions do reflect bias forced by circumstances. There should be a bridge built between the layman and the intellectuals. The main weakness is in parties themselves for not exercising democracy, not in workers who are unable to defy party orders.

Parashu Ghimire: Civic knowledge, and civic attitude need to be imparted by civic education. Since attitude reflects knowledge, that component needs to be added in the paper.

Tika Bhattarai: Papers are supposed to list problems and then make recommendations for a resolution. This paper looks like an exception. We see that people are still against action against the corrupt. This is the type of civic education we have been having.
Political workers need to accept party statute to remain a member of the party. If they do not want to obey orders, they can leave the party. The greatest challenge is to impart positive attitude in people towards politics. We also need to make politics more accountable.
The larger parties still depend on nominations, not competitive politics, to fill leadership positions.

Saket Bihari Thakur: The spheres of influence of globalization, big powers, political parties, ethnic diversity and money need to be taken into account while trying to change behaviour. Can you fight these spheres of influence? Added to this is a social hierarchy that is feudal. How can a civil society that is so feeble fight all these odds? You have raised fundamental rights issues, something the Constitution has already made provisions for.

Bindu Pokhrel: Regarding poverty, people have been forced to make compromises for their livelihood. How will this problem be solved?

……: If indeed there is no alternative to democracy, what is wrong with our system? Gender gap, the state's inability to come out with people-centred policies and rampant poverty have not been addressed by the paper. Positive discrimination is necessary to bring the marginalised to the mainstream. The paper should also list the method of bringing civil awareness with civic education.
The system should have an inherent hierarchy that promotes capable people to leadership positions.
Why not have civic education at the university as well?

Bijay Karn: How will you contextualize the concepts you have given for Nepal? The paper does not list the reasons why civic education was stopped and restarted in Nepal. It was there in the Panchayat days and was stopped and again restarted recently. The whip is a system to bring the Parliament to order. But whips are not strict during parliamentary committee meetings where MPs discuss outside the party line. Party orders should be obeyed and there should be provisions for a forum for party workers to discuss outside the order as well.

Bharat Pokharel: I am hoping the paper will help us resolve problems arising from politics gone astray. Countries like Britain have been criticizing their prime minister as foreign minister or ambassador of the US. We should strive for such a capability to criticize.
Which of these is a greater internationalist- Che Guevara who was born in Argentina, did politics in Cuba and died in Bolivia or today's globalization?

Samira Luintel: The paper is unclear on the kind of leadership and the type of critical thought that need to be promoted. It only criticizes what is prevalent today. Indeed, how do we get out of the traditional shackles in promoting critical education?

Min Bahadur Singh: I have not seen a clear definition regarding civic education. Several organisations are working to promote civic education and Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh had defined it more than a hundred years ago. There seems to be confusion regarding social studies and civic education; there should not be as both are distinctively different from each other.

Ram Karki: What is the change that will result after imparting the civic education we are discussing today? What do we expect out of it?

Bhuwan Thapaliya: The problems we are facing today is largely the result of the practices of the thinking class of the past. They were supposed to help us avoid all these problems. A national perspective needs to be developed by the intellectuals and impart moral education to students.

Author's Reply

Critical thinking should not be hindered by taking party orders as an excuse. Change is not possible without critical thinking.
Political party meets should allow all voices to discuss issues, not just six months ahead of the party meet. Parties not practising intra-party democracy cannot promote democracy.

Ananda Srestha (chairman's remarks): We had planned to take the feedback from the discussion and include it in the paper before going to other places outside the Valley. That, we will be doing. Saket Bihari Thakur's contention is that civic education appears to be covering too wide an agenda at the moment. The problem we had been facing was how to initiate civic education and we have done that. Now that it is done, we can go on discussing the issues involved for a long time.

 
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