Exam-oriented Nepalese ELT
An Interview with
Professor Chandreshwor Mishra
Professor Chandreshwor Mishra is the new Chair of English and Other Languages Education Subject Committee, Tribhuvan University. He has succeeded veterans Professor Shishir Kumar Sthapit, Professor Shanti Basnyat and Professor Jai Raj Awasthi. Having been involved in teaching English for the last 30 years, Professor Mishra is a Ph.D. in ELT from CIFEL Hydrabad. The post of Chair is challenging in the sense that there are a lot of issues to be resolved such as taking the mission initiated by predecessors to the destination, leading Nepalese English Education in the right direction, standardizing thesis writing, departmental autonomy etc. I tendered a few questions-some personal but academic, others departmental. Find his observations in his own words below:
1. Professor Mishra , You are the new Chair of English and Other English Languages Education Subject Committee. How challenged do you feel? How do you plan to proceed in the days to come?
I have taken the chairmanship of the English Education subject Committee both as a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a challenge because there is a huge demand for effective implementation of newly designed course throughout the country. It’s an opportunity because my predecessors have built a strong foundation of English education to go ahead. I think in order to bring more developments definitely there is a great need of skilled manpower in the country. As you know one swallow does not make a summer. I feel the cooperation from my predecessors and continued efforts of the ELT distinguished personalities will of course energize me to work. I will be working in collaboration and consultation with all teachers throughout the country for the development of English education in Nepal.
2. Departmental autonomy has long been desired in order to introduce more specialization courses instead of core courses such as Foundations of Education, Psychology and Curriculum. How do you rationalize the need and how do you think you are going to take this issue to the concerned?
The talk of autonomy has been raised since long. I remember during the days when Professor Tirth Raj Khaniya was the Head of the Department, he had raised this issue very seriously. But because of non-cooperation from the concerned agencies and authorities the issue of autonomy was foiled. Luckily the present system of education is in the favor of decentralization and autonomy of the departments. I think it is the high we started hammering the nail into the right at the right time. What I feel is that the quality development as well disburdening the rising administrative cost of education under TU system can be facilitated with autonomy of the departments. TU and the Government of Nepal is no more in a condition to pay off the entire cost of education. Autonomy would be a boon to academic promotion of TU as well as the department of English education. As there is an acute shortage of people with high caliber in the field of ELT and Applied Linguistics, granting autonomy to the department of English Education would be a significant step to bring about desired changes and qualities in the field of English Education. At this point I would like to state that Department of English Education is well equipped with necessary manpower to handle the autonomous department quite successfully. As the chair of the subject committee, I will be raising my voices to the concerned authorities continuously. I am sure that I will be able to convince the need of autonomy to them.
3. Most of our practical exams and project works (e.g. Foundations of language and linguistics, English for Mass Communication, English for Communication etc.) including practice teaching have virtually been reduced to a ritual. How do you think we can improve it?
I do admit that there are some challenges in the implementations practical examinations throughout the country not only in the English education courses but also in all the other subjects. The practical exams, as reported from various campuses and by teachers, are not executed in the true spirit of the courses. However, it is not because of the structure of the course but because of a large number of students as well as teachers’ unprofessional approach to handle these courses. First of all, we, all the teachers need to realize the ethical issues of your professionalism. Secondly, there should strict follow-up and monitoring mechanism from the Dean’s office and other examination related offices. Besides, the remunerations for practical examinations should be substantially increased so as to stop people taking it as a ritual.
4. Nepalese students learn English for fourteen years but still most of them have problems in expressing in English. Does not it conclude that our ELT has failed and therefore needs to be subverted?
So far as I have experienced for 35 years, teaching English in Nepal has remained only as an exam-oriented and completion of the course. There is hardly any interaction and discussion among the students in the teaching and learning process. Teaching of English should not be considered as teaching of other subjects. It is taught as a subject but not a language which is unfortunate for us. We still see that students are learning English through rote memorization which results into a handicap to express their ideas in English in different social and academic contexts. I think first of all teachers should be trained on how to teach English as a language not as a subject. Second, the patterns of questions asked in the examinations should be changed. Questions that require creative and critical thinking of students should be asked so that they are discouraged to memorize bits of information from textbooks, teachers’ notes and guidebooks. I do not think that ELT has failed at all but the objectives have been mislead and unintentionally misinterpreted.
5. There has been a voice from some corner that our thesis writing has remained more mechanical and less academic? Do you agree with it? If yes, what changes are you going to introduce in order to improve it?
First, the issue of thesis writing is to be understood from the right perspectives. All the students are not either capable or in need of taking up thesis writing genuinely. As thesis writing is a rigorous and very serious academic exercise which calls for extensive readings, research skills, and academic writing ability, I feel that all students do not qualify for this. But in the past there had been a convention that all the students were expected to go through it. I think now we should give more emphasis on the qualitative approach of research. Thesis writing has become more mechanical because of its rigid nature and quantitative approach. However, the freedom and creativity of ideas manifested through language is always possible in the body of the thesis. I feel that all teachers should also keep themselves abreast of the latest development in the field ELT and Applied linguistic research works. This will of course benefit the students as well as the society they live in.
6. Latest revision of the courses reveals that we are in consonant with the wave of change in ELT around the globe. But global changes and local realities are poles apart. What do you think is the middle path to take?
Our new courses are undoubtedly quite updated and no less than the quality of courses in the world class universities as commented by Professor Numa Markee, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA. In this regard, we all should be grateful to Professor Jai Raj Awasthi who led the challenging job of designing new courses. As local needs throughout the world are against the global needs it is natural that we have to be cautious of it. But I do not think that the courses ignore the local needs and realities. We have adopted a balanced approach in which both global changes and their contextualization in local situation have been given a noticeable space in all the courses. However, what we should not undermine is that although the courses are quite challenging, the teachers who are responsible to translate these courses into practice may not be in tuned with the spirit of course. Therefore, I strongly urge the Dean’s office to take up immediate steps to reorient the teachers to handle the courses.
7. What do you think could be the ways to collaborate Department with NELTA in order to resolve ELT crises?
Yes there are many areas where we can go together hand in hand. At present we are working with NELTA to host Senior English Language Fellow(ELF), who is training teachers of English (both campus and school levels) throughout the country. In fact, NELTA is the most vibrant forum to promote ELT in Nepal. Since we have same mission, we can work together on teacher training, designing the courses for teachers, developing materials for short and long-term training course. We can also exchange our expertise and share our ideas and experiences from time to time in different events organized by NELTA and Department.
8. What directions do you think Nepalese ELE should take? What efforts are needed?
First, the policy of English language education should be restructured and redefined in line with the challenges that the students and society have to face. We have to plan for effective teaching of English but not the populist views of English education. We should also look at the needs and realities of the students, parents and other stakeholders. Even if we have introduced English from Grade 1, due to lack of competent and professionally motivated teachers, the teaching of English has simply become a ritualistic practice. Although the government claims that more than 80% teachers of English are trained, we have not seen substantial changes in their approach and motivation resulting into a poor performance of the students who miserably fail in their School Leaving Certificate examination. This indicates that we should rethink about the way we are teaching English, the way we are training teachers and the way we have been designing courses and developing textbooks.
Thank you very for your time and contribution.