EMI in community schools: A case from Mt. Everest region

Mahendra Kathet

Mahendra Kathet

In this blog post, I begin with rationale behind community schools adopting English as the medium of instruction (EMI) in Nepal, and a case of Schools with EMI from Solukhumbu district followed by importance of EMI and some suggestion for its effective implementation in schools.

Rationale for Community Schools adopting EMI

Since formal school education has introduced in Nepal, English has been included in the curriculum as a compulsory subject. Even English was later introduced in early child education and development (ECED) or pre-primary level. However, high school graduates from community schools have failed to develop their proficiency in English in school level. Whereas, proficiency level of the same graduates from private schools are better than of community schools. When analyzed the gaps, the only tangible difference between private and community schools is medium of instruction. The private schools have been using English as medium of instruction (EMI) while Nepali is the medium of instruction in community schools. The impacts are visible on the performance of the school graduates in higher education as a whole. When they pass SLC, and join the college to further studies, they find it difficult to cope up with teaching and learning methods. Only the bright and ambitious students can pursue their college studies while others face English language problem. Lack of adequate knowledge in English has left many of the students feel inferior and lag behind in higher studies in comparison to the students who come from English medium schools. The poor performance by community school graduates in higher education home and abroad has made children, guardians and teachers attract toward the private schools with EMI.

Families with strong financial backgrounds have started sending their children to expensive English medium schools. The children from financially weak families have been bound to continue going to community schools with poor English exposures. Even some of English teachers teaching in community schools are unable to conduct classes in English in remote parts of the country. Those with bachelor’s or master’s degree in English seldom communicate in English. The absence of English speaking environment has further deteriorated their English speaking skills. In many cases, they teach ‘English’ in Nepali language.  I have found that many lower secondary and primary school teachers can hardly read English texts with correct pronunciation. These days, many master’s degree holder teachers in the community schools are feeling awkward as they cannot communicate in English properly. Here, teachers’ inability to communicate in English means students lagging behind in higher education and job opportunities in the competitive world.

As a result of the justifications mentioned above, community people of Mt. Everest region (Solukhumbu district) in eastern Nepal have come together to adopt English as Medium of Instruction (EMI) in their village schools.

EMI in Schools of Mt. Everest Region

 With the beginning of academic session of 2011/12 A.D., EMI was adopted and are now practice in Khumjung Secondary School and Mahendra Jyoti Higher Secondary School along their four lower secondary and six primary feeder schools. However, a serious challenge came forth was teachers, who were not confident and reluctant to adopt the EMI despite their basic knowledge in English. The teachers were needed to enhance the teachers’ English knowledge and get them ready to teach in English.

 In 2011 and 2012, with the financial assistance from Himalayan Trust Nepal, we coordinated with Rato Bangala Foundation (Patan) to organize a month-long EMI training. This training solely aimed at increasing and improving communicative skills of the teachers in English language. A total of 40 school teachers were the beneficiaries of the training program. However, large number of teachers have remained deprived of EMI training. Then in 2013, REED Nepal, a non-governmental and not-for-profit teacher training organization took the responsibility of training the remaining teachers with EMI. The REED has started EMI training in the district since 2013 in co-ordination with DEO Solukhumbu and NCED .

I believe that hard working teachers, who practised the language seriously with colleagues and students during the training, have improved their English knowledge and skills. Some stiff teachers are still struggling to improve their skills to teach in English. In addition, classroom support programs and school based trainings are proving effective to help them learn as well. Ironically, some students are found far better than some of the teachers in terms of communicative skills in English.

As the teachers are always the key figures to impart quality education through English language to the students. If the teachers are not competent enough, students certainly lag behind and cannot achieve their expected goals. This vision prompted Himalayan Trust Nepal to grant financial support to 12 EMI schools in hiring competent teachers to teach in English medium.  Although there is not much sufficient exposure and English speaking environment as expected, students, especially children from poor financial backgrounds, are benefitting from this program.

Why EMI is important in community schools?

Earlier for thousands of years the world was so huge that people had only few ideas and hypothesis about it. Gradually, the human intelligence explored the world making access to it much easier and simpler. Remarkable human inventions of transportation and communication technologies has transformed the whole world into a global village. English language, which is the most widely spoken language, made communication possible at any part of the world. English language transformed the gigantic world into a small community.

English Language is an enormous medium of world knowledge and affairs.  Most of the world’s popular books and literatures are written in English. Ability to comprehend English means an easy access to the works of world’s most famous writers.  It is the dominating language as used in science and technology. Medical doctors, pilots, engineers, university professors can hardly develop their career in the absence of English knowledge.  Majority of the web-pages are written in English. Knowledge of English skills, therefore, allows us to enter into the world’s ruling intellectual resources. The knowledge of English opens the door to boundless opportunities including works in foreign countries.

Careers that involve lots of travel and international exposures such as the airline, tourism, film industries, etc. use English language  as their  official language and many  employers  in these sectors  demand a certain  level of  proficiency in English. The proficiency in English broadens social networking and increases our chances of getting a good job in foreign countries.

Most importantly, English has occupied a place of primary language in world business. It is a must for international business persons to learn and speak English. A lot of English speaking multinational corporations with offices in Nepal use English language to communicate.  They often use English in business meetings, customer services and sales, and marketing and  communications.

English is widely regarded as the language of higher education. It gives us access to the world’s famous and best universities. The academic proficiency obtained from such renowned universities opens up opportunities to find respectable job anywhere in the world. Learning English really can change our life. People all over the world study English as their second language in their school syllabus and children start learning English at a young age.

Suggestions for implementing EMI

Trends of community schools shifting their medium of instruction to English are high in different parts of the country. Although learning English is quite challenging and time consuming, many remote village community schools are taking the risk of implementing EMI. Lack of communicative skills in English in the teachers is one of challenges that the schools are facing with the change in their medium of Instruction.

Collaborative and consistent efforts in the part of teachers and management body are a must to improve English language learning environment for the EMI. The teachers equally need to be hard working and studious to cope with the change. The hard working and energetic teachers can also arrange self-learning opportunities, develop English language lab, teach English in an interactive way, develop self-learning package, build English language development centre and work together to develop their communicating skills. They can stimulate themselves to watch English program on TV, and listen to radio talk programs in English.

Another suggestion for facilitating effective implementation of EMI is making speaking English environment in the school premises. The teacher trainings should be based on classrooms communication English. The school authorities should also hire and appoint competent teachers, who will be the great asset for effective implementation of EMI. The authorities should also organize English learning sessions and encourage and facilitate other teachers to improve their spoken and written English. Enabling teachers for developing communicative skills in English will contribute to the success of EMI in schools and help students for their better performance in higher studies and better opportunities ahead.

The author was the former head teacher of Khumjung High School, Solukhumbu and teacher trainer at Himalayan Trust, Nepal at present.

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