Nepali Times
Children of the revolution


The pre-monsoon rains had created puddles on the muddy playground of the Martyrs' Memorial Model People's School in Bibang.

Established four years ago during the height of the conflict, the school is on a ridge overlooking Thawang, the cradle of the Maoist revolution here in Rolpa. Most of the pupils lost one or both parents in the war, and they still run to hide when they hear a helicopter overhead.

"The old regime runs education like a factory for unemployment," explained teacher Mohan Budathoki. "We emphasize practical education that upholds the interests of the proletariat." However, flipping through the text books that the children were learning from, it was clear what the Maoists mean by their "people's education."

The chapter headings included: 'Our Party', 'The Great Martyrs' and 'The Biography of Comrade Chairman'. One page contained a graphic description of the Maoist attack on the army base at Ghorahi in 2001.

The English alphabet was taught with 'A for army …G for gun …R for rifle ….' and the text was full of words like 'enemy', 'bomb' and 'weapon'. A section of the text book drew a distinction between murder ('the act of killing') and execution ('the act of carrying out capital punishment'). All this in a book for primary school children.

When the students were asked, two years ago, what they would like to be in the future, they had replied that they wanted to join the PLA and kill their parents' killers. Today, when asked the same question, eight-year-olds Aruna and Sapana said without hesitation that they wanted to avenge the deaths of their parents.

With such a militaristic curriculum, a response like this is hardly surprising. The books glorify war and violence even though the conflict ended two years ago. The ideological orientation is blatant, encouraging children to grow up with hatred instead of weaning them off violence.

The teachers at the Bibang school said it was the war that had caused psychological trauma in the children, not the curriculum. But how can perpetuating a feeling for revenge and be justified when there should be peace and reconciliation? What effect will such an education have on the personalities of the children when they grow up?

Like all citizens, children have the right to adopt and practice any political ideology deemed right by their conscience. But brain-washing them at such an early age through text books that are full of party slogans and jargon will hamper the free intellectual development of the children.

When Pushpa Kamal Dahal rails against the media and threatens them for criticising his party, his attitude has resonance with the kind of education system the party is propagating through its revolutionary curriculum. Such indoctrination can be counter-productive for the party that propagates it. When opposing views, ideas and criticism are not respected, and when free expression is limited to the one-sided utterances of the party, the only outcome can be totalitarianism.

Teacher Budathoki said the curriculum could be modified, but added: "We will never surrender to bourgeois education." No doubt the existing education system needs to change, but is this the alternative?

To be sure, there are positive elements to the school: it is progressive, pragmatic and realistic compared to similar government schools. It acquaints students with social realities and inculcates a sense of duty. It includes agricultural science and other life skills. And the party was taking care of the orphans of its martyrs with free education.

But the war is over, there is a peace accord and the children deserve better. The new Maoist government must now try to channel the fear, anger and violence of this war-affected generation into something positive for society and not use them as the party's political weapon.

Rubeena Mahato is a student at Kathmandu University.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)