Editorial, July 2013: Local Pedagogies in Multilingual Settings

Madhav Kafle

So what happens when a place gets deterritorialized? Does the local expand beyond its borders and become global or does it evaporate all the localness because the borders disappear? And I could ask similar questions about language too: what happens when we teach a language as a separate entity with fixed meanings rather than teach Language as a dynamic semiotic process?

Evidently, both local and multilingual in the title of this issue are hotly contested categories. The term local is often tied with a boundary whether that is a rural village like Togi, my birthplace or a megacity like New York or Kathmandu. For me local used to mean homegrown. But, mainly because of migration of people, ideas, artifacts, and technologies on much broader, often global scales, it is becoming more challenging for many people to pinpoint where the local and the global meet. Easy availability of cell phones, as well as relatively cheaper rates for international calls, and faster travel have made flow of social and cultural practices even more intense. It is interesting to note that while most of us in Nepal look toward the West as the point of reference for the methods and techniques of  ELT education, we often fail to see that pre-colonial communities in our own area had such practices, although in different forms (see Bal Krishna Sharma’s article below).

To talk about the next part of the equation, the concept of multilingualism as a conglomeration of multiple languages learnt and processed separately is a myth as argued by the contributors of this issue. While it might be hard to ignore the current fact that our instructional objectives are based on fixity of multiple languages, we should also not forget that these languages were once invented (often along with the birth of the nation-states) and they have all gradually but dramatically evolved into the forms they are used today.

The articles in this issue guide us to find appropriate pedagogies when the “borders” of both nation-states and languages are getting porous. This special issue as a whole should help us to answer questions such as: what kind of  pedagogies we can adapt and adopt  in language teaching in the face of increasing globalization? Should nation-states be still the frames of references for our pedagogies? How can we possibly assist in  diminishing the divide between the hegemony of Standard and emerging vernacular practices? In terms of teaching English, are we always supposed to be norm dependent? Additionally, I believe the issue also helps in brainstorming about how we reached in the present condition where we have viewed multilingualism from the perspective of  monolingualism, and  how we draw the borderline between local and non-local practices. It also helps us rethink the power dynamics of the medium of education (language) versus the mission of education (making learning relevant).

If we are to understand the dialectics of social change,  it is necessary to destabilize the binary of local and global and better understand the shifting relations between space and place,  whether real or metaphorical, as well as recognize existence of multiple positions along the continuum. After all, as Canagarajah argues in his 2002 book Geopolitics of Academic Writing, global knowledge is basically one particular local knowledge with power that is presented, promoted, and adopted as globally relevant.  If we are truly living in a knowledge society where one’s value is determined by what one knows, what counts as knowledge is of prime importance. If we do not care to reflect upon our own practices, call ourselves a minority when in fact that is not the case, and easily buy into discourses that discredit our own identities, we are self-colonializing ourselves. The writings in this issue confront issues like this critically.

Basically the question is what should be done in today’s language classrooms where the teacher has to mediate between  global and local discourses. When the quality of education is measured by evaluating what students do not know rather than what they do know, most of the emerging voices get crushed or washed away by a system that fails to serve the majority. And I’m not speaking from an ivory tower as I have taught in rural parts of Kaski, Lamjung, and Myagdi and sadly seen nil results in multiple public schools of the country. I hope all five articles in this issue will provide us some food for thought in reimagining better pedagogies.

In the first article, Ofelia Garcia offers a vital approach to that end.  She argues that rather than language we need to be looking after translanguaging. Translanguaging refers to the process of meaning making by dynamically utilizing one’s repertoire.  The failure of nurturing emerging voices, Garcia reminds us, is in fact a global problem. By destabilizing major myths about language and language learning, she shows how multiple languages students bring to schools can be used as resources.

Along the similar lines, Rama Kant Agnihotri argues that if we were to develop local pedagogies, we should start to learn to respect the languages student bring in the classrooms. Unlike our common view of seeing them as major obstacles, Agnihotri indicates that to lessen the gap created by the private-public school divide, we can explore cross-language relations.

Another reason of not seeing our own local practices as authentic comes from the inferiority complex caused primarily by the discourse of non-nativeness.  Challenging such status quo, Davi Reis encourages all of us to attain our professional legitimacy by being cognizant of the damaging effects of such oppressive ideologies, and by dismantling the false dichotomies, by not undermining ourselves but by reaching out for help to the global community.

In a country where diversity of languages, religions, and cultures has existed for centuries, researching older practices might provide some insights even for today’s societies as Bal Krishna Sharma exemplifies from ancient Hindu texts. It is our task to study many more traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism and others that have co-existed there for years and save them from being lost, left and thwarted.  We can even develop wholeness of body, mind, and spirit and integrate teaching, learning, and evaluation as they once were in the past. Ironically, as Sharma emphasizes, we might be surprised to find that these “neglected” practices had features that we borrow today from the advanced societies.

Finally, reflecting on our assessment practices at SLC exam, one of the key stages in Nepalese education system, Shyam Sharma urges us to accept the harsh reality of how we English teachers tend to be disinterested in the big picture of education as we often buy into the myth that English medium means quality education. It seems that we are hardly successful in creating global citizens demanded by today’s knowledge economy because we are not even successful at developing pedagogies that are  socially and culturally meaningful. It has been now well argued that over-emphasis in the “Standard English” amounts to short-sightedness.

I hope articles in this issue along with lists of further resources provided by the authors will help us to reflect on important issues about the global/local dynamics in English language teaching and education at large.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

1. Translanguaging to teach English in Nepal by Ofelia García

2. What should one do in a language classroom? by Rama Kant Agnihotri

3. NNESTs and Professional Legitimacy: Fighting the Good Fight by Davi Reis

4. Hindu educational ethos and practices as a possible source for local pedagogy by Bal Krishna Sharma

5. SLC, ELT, and Our Place in the Big Picture by Shyam Sharma

Before closing, I would like to express my deep gratitude to all who made this issue possible despite their unimaginably busy schedules. And I’d like to request you to please leave comments in order to encourage writers (as well as share your ideas), to like and post entries to your social network, and to consider contributing your own blog entry to Nelta Choutari’s future issues.

On Behalf of Nelta Choutari Team

Madhav Kafle

2 comments

  • Upon going through the editorial of the July issue, I could not help writing something. Thank you Madhav ji for the wonderful collection of writings that approach the issue you have raised in your editorial from multiple perspectives. Your thematically condensed editorial awakens the readers to multiple realities of Nepalese ELT that many of us are not yet aware of.
    Those who teach English as a separate entity emanating from far-away nations and divorced from our local realities are yet to realize what you have written language is a dynamic semiotic process. Though a matter of common sense, it has far reaching consequences on how we perceive language and language teaching in general, and ELT in particular, how we perceive our students’ multiple linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and how we respect and capitalize on their learning experiences structured in and often articulated or mentally verbalized in their first languages.
    Thank you
    Bal Ram

  • Thank you very much for your kind words, Balram jee. I think the key is interaction like this where all sides can win together. I’m simply sharing what many astute thinkers have already effectively put in to words and urged us to look back to the historical consciousness. It seems that many of us are suffering from what I would like to call “historical amnesia.” We haven’t gone far enough back and realized fully the trajectories of meaning making throughout human history. While is it hard to fully negate current realities, the only way ahead is to keep being self-reflexive and share our multiple perspectives through venues like NeltaChoutari.

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