English Medium Instruction (EMI) in Nepalese Education:Potential or Problem?

Can be cited as: 
Sah, P.K. (2015, August). English medium instruction (EMI) in Nepalese education: potential or problem? [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Retrieved from<http://eltchoutari.com/2015/08/english-medium-instruction-emi-in-nepalese-educationpotential-or-problem/>.


Pramod Kumar Sah

Pramod Kumar Sah

Many non-native English speaking countries have taken on English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) owing to the growing need for developing communicative competence in English that may fulfill  the increasing demand for English language in order for socioeconomic and sociopolitical development . The rise of English as a global lingua franca seems to be further forcing non-native speakers to learn English and many countries are trying to drastically overhaul their education system in favour of English in order to meet the challenge of global integration.  The rapid change to EMI in developing countries, for example Ghana and Rwanda, unprepared for such a vast change is causing havoc in some educational systems.  EMI, therefore, has become a much-hyped issue today and it attracts a wide range of studies globally.

Nepal, one of the developing countries, that has not yet been able to sustain a single educational policy with full effects is now implementing EMI education in public schools.  The decision of introducing this huge change is made with no proper plans; however, some mere studies are on track. It has been evident that some countries, such as Ghana, Turkey and Rwanda, have failed to continue EMI education because of the lack of educational infrastructure, teachers’ proficiency in English, proper teacher education programmes, and in-service professional development (Tylor, 2010). If we have a close look at the present Nepalese situations, the Ministry of Education (MOE) does not seem to be well prepared to meet the basic requirements for the successful implementation of EMI. Questions would thereby arise as to why the MOE has opted for EMI education over Mother-tongue based multilingual education.

EMI policy has also benefited many contexts, namely India, Pakistan and Spain, with suitable outcomes. They, however, used appropriate plans and principles (Marsh, 2006). Some countries initially failed to receive the set objectives and further developed plans that could lead to a successful implementation of EMI education. One of such contexts is a Ghanaian context where they introduced ‘bilingual transitional literacy programme’ and ‘Bridge to English’ in order to build up suitable situations for the implementation of EMI education.

EMI is therefore an interesting topic to discuss and is consequently receiving a huge attention from language policy researchers.  This article draws on global issues in terms of the adaptation of EMI education. It also attempts to discuss whether EMI is a radical need for Nepalese education, or it may pose further problems. The issues related to possible effects of EMI in Nepalese public schools are further accounted for with some recommendations for a successful execution of EMI.

Do we need EMI education?

The switch to English medium education is a subject of considerable debate internationally because it impacts the acquisition of young people’s national language and the future development of the national language itself. Nepal is a home of 123 indigenous languages, and unfortunately a large number of these languages are dying. It was 1990 when the constitution outlined the provision for mother-tongue education in primary level, following of which Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) produced textbooks in 18 different local languages. This had showed some possibilities for promoting local languages and creating more opportunities for cognitive development in children through L1, on the other hand. There is evidence that some countries rejected EMI policy in order to protect home language such as Bangladesh, Israel, Senegal and Venezuela (Dearden, 2014). Moreover, SLA studies show that learners benefit from using their home language in education especially in early grade years. Thus, would it be advisable to protect home languages and ensure children’s effective learning through L1 instruction? Multilingual education, in addition, was launched in 2007 and studies claimed it to be effective in terms of language and content learning. However, with the termination of Finnish Government’s technical assistance, the programme could not sustain. This thereby questions why the concerned authority did not choose to continue multilingual education with their own sources of funding and resources rather than seeking to implement new programmes, namely EMI.

The MOE is implementing EMI policy to ensure quality education in public schools and increase the number of students by considering Nepalese parents’ perception of having of their children’s better future. Sultan (2012) drew on national examinations in Indonesia that children from English medium schools outperformed, which can also reflect Nepalese situation, and they proactively involved in learning English. Paulsrud (2014), in the similar vein, revealed from a Swedish context that the EMI learners were more motivated and confident academically. It is a common perception among Nepalese people that children will have better future prospects if they have English medium schooling (Aryal, 2013). A similar context was also realized in Pakistan (Khan, 2013). There is no doubt that EMI is associated with socio-economic realities that English is largely needed for global employment and higher studies. The need for English can thereby not be ignored; however, questions arise whether English medium education enhances quality education and performs a pathway out of poverty in developing countries like Nepal.

Wagle (2015) argues that if about 150 Nepali medium schools could outperform in School Leaving Examination (SLC), the medium of instruction may not be responsible for poor quality education in public schools.  The MOE can advisably look at other aspects such as quality teachers, teaching materials and resources, curriculum and syllabus, and school management.

There may not be much harm to go for EMI education provided that the MOE can ensure the availability of qualified and proficient English speaking teachers, in-service professional development courses, teaching materials and resources, technical support to schools, and proper plans and principles. If teachers do not have high level proficiency in English and a lack of suitable materials, general education can be detrimentally affected. Poor educational quality will adversely affect all national indicators including health, social wellbeing and economic performance. Such a scenario would be a tragedy in Nepal, one of the developing countries in the world, and suffering the after effects of a catastrophic earthquake. It can hence be suggested to teach English merely as a subject rather than implementing a bad EMI.

What if EMI is preferred?

The implementation of EMI education can be welcomed if the MOE intends to bridge the gap between private and public schools in terms of ensuring quality education and addressing the perception that English is needed for better future prospects.  This may increase the number of students in public schools and provide with an opportunity for children from lower economic status to be educated in English medium- so called a ‘standard education’.  However, it is primarily important for the MOE to develop plans for successful implementation of EMI.  It is equally necessary for them to identify the conditions that can lead to success. The attention of the MOE, concerned teachers and institutions should be drawn to the following issues:

  • Inquiry from the existing EMI situations

Before EMI is executed in schools, there requires inquiries to be focused on collecting information on different facets of EMI, for example  potential challenges, effects , attitudes  towards EMI, from the schools that have already adopted EMI.  The information can be from the policy level to implementation level.

  • Programmes in conjunction to EMI

The unplanned change in educational policy is likely to receive a number of unforeseen problems, and it may lead to failure. It is thus necessary to develop small scale programmes in relation to EMI. For example, a ‘Bridge to English’ programme can be developed that would help learners and teachers enhance the communicative competence in English. A type of complementary education programmes can be taken on in order to boost EMI education.

  • Teachers’ proficiency in English:

It is, by no means, a good idea to implement EMI unless the teachers are competent users of English language since exposing children to erroneous form of English would develop inaccurate and inappropriate English language proficiency. This would even develop frustration among children that they do not understand the medium of instruction, and eventually do not stay in schools (Cummings, 2009). This is, however, going to be a huge challenge for the MOE to ensure all the teachers have the level of competence in English language. To meet this challenge, the MOE has started intensive training for teachers from primary schools across the county (Kantipur, 2015). It is aimed that the teachers will be provided with ten-day training for all subjects, and one month training for general English. This seems to me near to impossible to develop English language proficiency and content teaching skills with these short periods of trainings. There would also be questions in the quality and ability of teacher trainers. It is suspected whether the MOE has teacher trainers who are experienced with EMI teaching principles and practices, or they are the means to read out handouts developed in other contexts. Primarily, it is of high importance to develop a set of well qualified teacher trainers, who have native level of proficiency in English language. It would also be unwise if they are recruited without a formal certification in the domain and a level of scores in English language proficiency tests such as IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE.

  • Developing appropriate instruction materials

Availability of appropriate teaching resources further plays a determining role whether EMI would be successfully implemented. Tamtom et al (2012), in a comparative study of the implementation of EMI, found the lack of appropriate instructional materials as a prominent barrier to the success of EMI in almost all contexts. Hence, the concerned authority needs to develop instructional materials for both learners and teachers keeping the unique Nepalese context in loop. This may have concern about the variety of English that the curriculum is based on, and whether it would be a partial or total immersion into EMI. By the variety of English, I refer to the issue of World Englishes- whether the curriculum focuses on a local variety or inner circle variety. Moreover, a decision needs to be made over the type of EMI immersion it required to be used in curriculum.

Can we also think of ‘translanguaging’ and ‘plurilingual’?

 Translanguaging is an approach to bilingual education that facilitates accessing different linguistics features of autonomous languages in order to maximize communication competence. In other words, learners receive input in one language and produce output in other language. For example, a learner reads a story in English and summarizes it in Nepali. It is argued that it facilities a deeper understanding of the subjects taught since if a learner can understand contents in one language and discuses it in other language, it requires a deep metal mechanism.

In Nepalese context, we experience students from Nepali medium schools often face difficulties to express the content in English although they have good knowledge on the topic because they are exposed to two different individual languages rather than mixing the two languages in a single lesson. Recently I met an Indian lady who was taught in English from her primary level. She hardly got any opportunity to learn and mediate her knowledge in Hindi, her mother tongue. Consequently, she struggles to communicate in Hindi, and therefore faces challenges to communicate with her own people who share Hindi as a common language. Translanguaging therefore can be an effective approach to content teaching and learning in Nepalese context where learners can develop Nepali and English language concurrently. However, looking at the linguistic background of Nepalese classrooms, we can find students who already know two or more languages, for example Newari and Nepali, before they start receiving instruction in English. In addition, there is another group that has an L1 such as Bhojpuri, Maithali, Gurung and Awadhi, and Nepali as an L2 that they start learning in schools along with English as a third language. Literally, the majority of Nepalese classrooms are multilingual. In this case, I doubt whether translanguaging can a better option; this can a subject of further research. Nevertheless, ‘plurilingual’- a condition in which a learner who has competence in more than one languages can switch between the languages- can be another effective approach in Nepalese context as the majority of learners are bilinguals. This does not only help learners develop their overall learning but also preserves and promotes other indigenous languages.


With the increasing demand of English language for global integration, the choice of schooling children in English has been given a major priority in developing countries including Nepal. And, in fact, we cannot ignore the need for English as a global lingua franca. However, there are very limited success stories of EMI, and the successful countries evidently based the policy on appropriate educational principles. The ad hoc implementations are very likely to be counterproductive. The overall goal of EMI is to help children acquire English language that enable them to cope up with globalization. However, a concern remains as what if other languages will replace English in future, for example Mandarin (Chinese) or French, as China is growing as the most hegemonic country in global corporate world that is obliging even English people to learn Mandarin. Moreover, a total adaptation of EMI will keep children deprived of their local languages making them lost citizens of the word that they do not have linguistic identification. Therefore, would it not be a good idea to adopt or develop an educational policy that can account for developing English language and local languages simultaneously? Translanguaging and plurilingualism are one of the other options that Nepal can opt for instead of implementing EMI on an ad hoc.


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Kantipur, (2015) Government plans teacher training for English medium classes, ekantipur.com, [online] 30 Jan. Available at: <http://www.ekantipur.com/2015/01/30/national/govt-plans-teacher-training-for-english-medium-classes/401034.html> [Accessed 16 February 2015].

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Wagle, M. P. (2015) Incorrect English or correct Nepali?, Kantipur, [online]. Available at:  <http://www.ekantipur.com/np/2070/10/22/full-story/383691.html#sthash.ys92vFIZ.gbpl> [Accessed 12 February 2015]. 

The author is one of the editors of ELT Choutari. He holds an MA TESOL with Applied Linguistics from the University of Central Lancashire, UK and M. Ed ELT from Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

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