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Revisiting education to safeguard national interest

Citizens’ distrust in the state, eroding self-respect and the plight of those working abroad constitute security threats for Nepal

Revisiting education to safeguard national interest

In numerous instances, former President of Nepal Bidya Devi Bhandari has underscored the interconnectedness of the country's education policy with its overall security. The security issues of Nepal are mentioned within the realm of national interest in the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

Article 5 of the constitution states, “Independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, autonomy, self-respect, protection of rights and interest of Nepali people, protection of boundaries and economic progress and prosperity shall be fundamental subjects of Nepal’s national interest.”

President Bhandari's assertion that undermining a country involves compromising its education system prompts an exploration of its security implications for Nepal. 

While territorial integrity relies mainly on military defense, the broader facets of independence and sovereignty include the citizens' psyche, national perception and global image—elements constituting non-traditional security concerns globally. Against this backdrop, there exists a compelling rationale to consider the education curriculum, system and policy as integral components of the state's security policy. 

On Oct 7 this year, when Hamas attacked Israel, numerous foreign citizens, including 10 Nepali citizens, lost their lives. Many were initially stranded in the crossfire but have since been rescued and safely brought home. Unfortunately, one Nepali citizen is still missing and believed to be in Hamas’ captivity. The emotional toll on their families is unimaginable. In the aftermath of this tragic event, it became evident that citizens tend to hold only their country of citizenship accountable for their situations.

There is palpable resentment against the government and the state, not just for their perceived lack of strength in responding swiftly, but also for the fact that Nepali citizens are compelled to outmigrate for job opportunities. Recently, six Nepali citizens died fighting for the Russian army in the Russia-Ukraine war, and some have been reported as taken captive by Ukrainian forces. Many Nepali citizens are drawn to join various private army groups globally for employment opportunities.

While these instances represent literal war scenarios, the broader narrative involves a multitude of Nepali workers facing perilous conditions abroad, especially in West Asian countries. Their plight is no less than that in a battleground. The Nepali diaspora of about 2.2m bears witness to a growing trend of migration, primarily for jobs.

Since a majority of this workforce is unskilled, they have no option but to work in a precarious environment. The inherent link between job migration and national interest, as outlined in the charter, reveals a critical situation. Nepali citizens forced to seek opportunities abroad often face perilous conditions, prompting reflection on the state's responsibility in providing adequate employment domestically. The assertion that education is a non-traditional security concept gains traction as it becomes apparent that the state-provided formal education system does not cater to the needs of the society or the present job market. 

Examining the case of Nepali citizens migrating to Israel for work in agriculture underscores three dimensions of non-traditional security issues: Food security, acute dependency on other countries and a widening gap between societal needs and the workforce produced by the state. Despite having a significant agriculture-based economy, Nepal's import of food items worth over a billion dollars annually raises concerns about food security. According to the National Agricultural Census of 2021, the cultivated land has decreased by 300,000 hectares in the past decade, making it clear that a substantial portion of cultivable land has been lying fallow. Consequently, our citizens are seeking opportunities abroad as agricultural workers and students.

While bona fide defense systems address traditional security threats, there is a notable gap in tackling non-traditional security issues in Nepal. Citizens' distrust in the state, eroding self-respect and the well-being of those working abroad constitute security threats for Nepal. To address these challenges, Nepal must employ non-military strategies to bolster the population's capacity and build a resilient economy, with education curricula and the education system emerging as a plausible defense system.

Although no explicit references of countries designating education policy as part of their security policy has been found, resource-rich nations with vibrant economies prioritize research and feedback to shape education systems to align with the society and the economy. In the light of this, Nepali policymakers, educationists and security strategists should revisit the curricula. Considering education as a tool to defend Nepal's national interest and as an integral part of the national security policy could provide a forward-thinking solution to address the evolving challenges facing the nation.