May Special Editorial: Re-envisioning ELT/Choutari in the Aftermath of Great Earthquake
Dear Readers and Contributors,
We apologize for the hiatus in May — as you know, the entire nation was stunned by the major earthquakes that took the lives of thousands and affected those of millions of others in Nepal.
As we start gathering and rebuilding hope, energy, and enthusiasm as educators and citizens, and as members of the profession across national borders, we realize the need to ask new questions. Our questions must be situated in the new context of rebuilding the nation, as well as reforming education.
English Language Teaching (ELT) has always been a means for achieving social goals, and not an end. This is the time to think about what that end, that purpose of ELT and of education at large is. This is the time to reconnect ELT and education at large with challenges, changes, and opportunities in life and society. This is the time to embrace new ideas and perspectives, methods and technologies, people and cultures.
ELT is a means to prepare students for society, professions, and successful lives. We must now reframe the teaching of English language and literature (and all the knowledge and people that they connect to) within the vision of a new Nepal. A Nepal that rises from the rubble. A Nepal that took a disaster and turned into a new journey.
At times, it feels as if work that like this only serves to reinforce the inequity in the society, that it best serves the already privileged. Those of us who run this blog are teachers and scholars mostly living in cities; we use technological platforms that are not available for the majority; and we focus on a foreign language that, for many, is only taught and learned to pass exams (which are deeply discouraging and can drive many away from future careers in learning altogether). This feels like we are driving little scooters around a few cities in a country where doing so will only reach a quarter of the population; half of the nation is only reachable by buses and tractors, and the other quarter is unreached by any vehicle so far. Who are we doing all this for? Are fellow teachers across the country able to join conversations like this, conversations that are framed on the terms of those whom they cannot relate to? How far can technologies go in engaging teachers in vastly different contexts and situations across the country? And, most significantly, what is the new vision for the relatively few connected scholars/teachers after the national crisis, this rising from the dust? How can we leave behind our old modes of thinking and develop new visions, new alliances, new strategies?
ELT is one of our links to the rest of the world. It is also a link between many disciplines in our education. And it is a link between education and many professions in the world. English as a lingua franca links our young generations to bodies of knowledge and other nations/cultures, and to professions like diplomacy and development, business and journalism in the broader/global context. But English has also created bottlenecks in opportunities, hope, and confidence for generations of communities that are already disenfranchised in other ways.
So, especially in the aftermath of this national disaster, how can we expand the scope of opportunities above while disrupting the bottlenecks? How can we pause to think about the many ugly realities of inequality, marginalization, and irresponsibility of the privileged that the disaster has exposed–and how can we start using education (including ELT) to start addressing the problems and building on the opportunities?
At a more practical level, because Nepal is prone to different types of disasters (including earthquake, floods, and landslide, which take thousands of lives every year), how can we re-envision ELT curricula, pedagogy, and resources in order to help prevent damage of infrastructure and loss of life in the future. It is not enough to stand akimbo and say that these are issues that the engineers will take care for the society. No doubt, we cannot prevent them; but the community must be aware of three R’s of disasters — readiness, response and recovery — before, during, and after natural calamities. In this sense, everyone can and should be partner-engineers of social vision, of thinking and communicating new ideas, of forging a new future.
Incidentally, it was saturday when schools and colleges were closed when the first earthquake jolted the nation. Even the second earthquake occurred during daytime at a time closure of educational institutes were already announced in the aftermath of the disaster. Otherwise, casualties, especially students and teachers might have been worse. It is high time for teachers, practitioners and education experts, including ELT communities, to contribute to raise awareness among children and youths in schools and colleges about disaster management. Education is the most effective means to disseminate such knowledge and skills in the community.
We hope to raise broader issues of education in the days to come. We invite you to contribute your blog posts to this venue, encouraging you to write about a broader range of issues, including classroom practice and the emerging issues of the day. During the month, please consider joining ongoing conversations on our Facebook page.
Let us envision rebuilding our society, and education an ELT can be important tools. You can be an important agent. Let us rise from the dust and leave a legacy of resourcefulness and resilience for future generations.
Praveen Kumar Yadav and ELT Choutari Team
(with contributions from former editor Shyam Sharma)