Throwing the Baby Out of the Bath Water: the Context of EMI in Nepal

Juliet Fry

Juliet Fry

 Juliet Fry is a national director of professional learning of secondary teachers’ of English language in New Zealand. She works for the Ministry of Education. Recently, she had been to Nepal in order to support a teachers’ training program in Khumbu region voluntarily. There is a practice of English Medium Instruction (EMI) for last six years. Our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki, who is carrying out a research on English medium instruction (EMI) in Nepal, has managed to talk with her in relation to EMI in community schools of Nepal.

You have delivered English Medium training and interacted with teachers recently in Khumbu region. What’s your observation and evaluation on EMI in this region?

Well, I was encouraged by finding the high level of English, of may be one-third of the teachers. It was good to find that some of the teachers have a really very good English and would be capable of delivering the curriculum in English medium but I still have concerns about the fact that some of them are not really strong enough to deliver the curriculum really effectively in English medium.

So why do you think there is such a craze for English?

You know I’ve read quite a lot why there is such a craze. In my view it is because of the international opportunity and also the fact that private schools are delivering education in English and get high SLC score. So other schools (community schools) want to deliver education in English in order to retain students. There is also one benefit of English medium as it can keep the children in the region as they actually get to experience local culture, and they grow and learn with their home languages. Therefore, somewhere it is good that they are attracted to English language and stay in their own community. So they learn Sherpa at home and English at school. Then I’m worried about their Nepali language. So my concern is that they grow without having any language really strong.

What is the medium of the instruction in the sate-owned schools in New Zealand?

Well, I’ve been fortunate to work with the people who’ve come through the New Zealand education system in English medium. But the case of Maori is different. Their parents were also not allowed to speak Maori at schools, they had to speak English. Consequently, the generation lost Maori language. Now adults have decided to learn Maori language as a second language. On the other hand, the people who are now teachers, let’s say younger teachers, some of them learnt Maori as a second language and now they are working hard to bring out their children speak in Maori because in south island they’ve lost the native speakers of Maori language. All the adults have learnt Maori as the second language and their children are now at Maori medium schools.

Are there separate Maori medium schools?

Yes, there are separate Maori medium schools and so they are really working hard to regain the language which was nearly lost. And I’m worried that will happen here as well because the English is such a dominant language that it has the effect where after one or two generations the children most speak English and they won’t speak the home language.

How many local languages are there in New Zealand?

Only one, but there are different dialects. The south island dialect nearly died out and they are trying to regain but the other dialects are also fragile in all the areas. The language is quite endangered.

What is the official language in New Zealand?

Both Maori and English.

But in the context of Nepal, the official language is Nepali and we’ve got more than 100 other languages.

Yes. It’s quite different here. Nepali is lingua-franca, which is different from English as well. So it makes so complex because I can see that Nepali isn’t the native language of people in this region (Khumbu region). So, what I am trying to think as the solution is you can have multilingual education system which can really foster students’ learning in several languages.

What challenges do you see in implementing English medium instruction in the community schools in Nepal?

Well, one challenge is that not all people are fluent in English. Another challenge is that the measure of the success of schools seems to be SLC exam. That means quite a long time to actually know whether English Medium (EM) has been successful or not. It could be another challenge that you could be putting students in danger of not being successful without really knowing the result of EM until several years down the track. I think the process is too long leading the children vulnerable.

In the school system, what do you think is more important- the contents we are delivering or medium of language?

The purpose of education is not necessarily contents or language. Actually, language is means for gaining and I think obviously you need to have contents. But they are the part of developing curricula. Wonderful students would come out of the schools whims. So I think both contents and language are means for building strong students.

You said that in multilingual countries, the teachers also are not strong in English and children are from different linguistic background. In that context, what would be outcome of such practice?

Perhaps, the best thing is to have Nepali for the first few years, which is the lingua franca, the language that the most teachers would be competent in. Then to build with the teachers, who are competent in English to build from subject to English as they go through using the competency of other teachers in the schools like if the Mathematics teacher is not competent in English. Could they do Mathematics in Nepali and Social Studies in English? I don’t know if that would be possible. But I know in Europe at the moment that is one kind of idea of developing that you might do one subject in one language and other subject in the other language. Just for that you’ve the opportunity to develop academic language well that may be in one subject area.

What impacts could EMI bring in the children’s mother tongue or others language?

Another aspect I think is having a policy to incorporate useful mother tongue especially in early childhood situation, where you might have community members being involved in early childhood using those mother tongue languages. Similarly, it could be something that I’m thinking about New Zealand schools as well because we have many different students from different languages, who come as migrant to New Zealand. How do we support them within an English medium context and how do we really value their languages is very significant. I don’t think we do it very well. So here I’m talking about doing it better in Nepal and I don’t think we have got it well sorted in New Zealand. What I’m trying to put across is to demonstrate those languages are valued in classes, for instance, you can have students to write up their languages on the wall, so you can identify the existing languages in your class. Then you can positively say that they can discuss in their languages, come up with ideas and bring it back in English for discussion. It shows that you’re deliberately valuing those languages and allowing students to get success in those languages in the national assessment because that is the battle. The government has to try everything and I think there should be assessment, which allows students through many languages to do something, which might be giving the texts in different languages and answering in English or something. You can’t do everything but it’s something trying to value those languages inside the education system. And our curriculum by the principle talks about valuing the languages at the top level but it’s not clearly articulated in detail, so I think there is a bit of struggle.

English is a global language and there is a craze of English everywhere. If you have good English, you are saleable in global market. In this context, what about having one global language like English or something? Is it really necessary to have other languages, when you have one global language?

We’ve seen in New Zealand, some problems that come with colonization, where the people’s language and identity is disregarded. Some franchises have lack of power and also associated with loss of land and other things. So, it’s a complex issue that comes about possibly through colonization. However, Nepal is in a different situation, which has never been colonized. It means there is not loss of power that comes with the loss of language but then there is this kind of neo- colonization in a way that English has become a language of commerce. And are we selling ourselves or the power of our country to other countries? Like there is a big drive of going and having job in another country but what about building up Nepal itself? This whole globalization, workforce and everything, I’m not sure where it’s going! But are those people who go away to other countries to work then come back to Nepal? Is that the way the economy wants to build in long run or does it want to build in another way. English is obviously tied up with that the opportunity to work. And the important question is does Nepal want grow its economy by drawing income from other countries? Nepal is in between two growing world economy i.e. China and India. So is it better to learn Mandarin or Hindi in future?

The teachers in schools are very much convinced by the power of English and are practicing EM in community schools, what could be the role of organization working for professional development of teachers?

That’s a good question. I think it is important to deliver the teachers’ training in English so that their English reaches up to the level, where they will be able to deliver curriculum in English. I think, alongside the teachers’ training, there should be some researches on how are the students of year 3 and year 5 in English medium comparing with the students of same grades in Nepali medium schools? What is the level of students in this region comparing with the students in another region studying in Nepali medium? Is there equal level of students being able to articulate and understand ideas? That would one interesting thing to look at and I also think it would be interesting to look at the impact of two dominant languages Nepali or English language. Or if you are learning in English language, what’s happening to local languages? Are there any different impacts on local languages, when students learn in Nepali comparing with English?

What could be the better way of practicing EMI in the context of Nepal?

I still think that multi-lingual approach would be a better way because you have Nepal as a country and language is a part of identity. If you bring up a whole population without culturally located and linguistically connected then what will be the situation of children when they grow as adult like who haven’t got feet on the ground but you can still have roots in English. Therefore, in the early grades, there should be more than one language, where you have multi-lingual education. I think that would be wise. There is a phrase, “throwing the baby out of the bath water.” You don’t want to throw away all the learning and knowledge that teachers have in Nepali and respect English. So I think the wise way is to look at multi- lingual education.

Thank you so much for you valuable time, ideas and sharing experiences around the world!

It’s my pleasure!

Juliet has also taught in Auckland secondary schools-in several learning areas, as well as being an ESOL specialist and coordinator. She has also been an ESOL and Literacy advisor in the top half of the South Island for several years. She has had advisory roles with Ministry of Education.

2 comments

  • Ishwor Kadel

    I just read the interview of Juliet. I was surprised in some extent reading it.
    I am Ishwor kadel. I work in Project NIITE as a master trainer from British Council, Nepal. We are working in 3 main districts (pilot districts).
    I should tell you all something regarding EMI. This refers to English as a medium of instruction which itself makes readers very clear regarding what it is. It does not mean teaching school children totally in real classroom using only English language. But many people yet think so.
    EMI focuses teachers to use classroom language in English and instruct in English language so far as possible.
    As a EMI trainer, I do not use English language totally in the training sessions. We also use L1 and tell the teachers to use mother language so that the students will understand better the content a teacher teaches in classroom.

    I, as a trainer of EMI, would like to make all the readers clear that EMI does not mean using English all the time in class. But it means to use English language also while instructing students.
    If you visit our training sessions, you will realise the fact. We ourselves speak in Nepali along with English. As we are competing with English medium schools, it has become mandatory to bring the use of English language in class from primary level. In the beginning, our focus is in Classroom language that a teacher and students start communicating in English. We mainly focus on skills, techniques and activities a teacher can apply in classroom.

    For all´s concern, the topics we prepare our session plans are as follows-
    1. classroom management
    2 lesson planning
    3. teaching young learners
    4. checking understanding
    5. assessing students
    and many more.
    please tell me where we talk about high use of English language and not the skills a teacher should equipped with.

    Naturally, we focus on learner centered activities and the trainees are more satisfied with EMI than other similar kind of trainings they already have attended.
    Thank you Juliet. Thank you Jeevan ji and thank you ELT Chautari.

    Ishwor
    Freelance ELT Trainer
    Project Niite
    British Council, Nepal

  • Shyam

    Frankly, the interviewee offers the most to-the-point assessment of language policy in Nepali education that I’ve read in years. Unfortunately, no stakeholders involved in our increasingly absurd English Only instruction is going to listen or understand these common sense ideas.

    If the owners of the absurd “buding iskuls” were to learn from the advice of Ms. Fry, they would stop hurting teaching and learning of millions across the nation. But, of course, admitting that English Only instruction doesn’t benefit education would disrupt their business of snake oil. The second party who should be learning from the observation of experts like Ms. Fry would be our education/government officials — who, sorry for the French, are usually brain dead. I haven’t read or heard a smart thing from them in my life. The third group of people to learn these good ideas would be our own self-described “language educators” — but their very name is an absurdity (there’s no “language education” in English Only, which is a monstrosity in an EFL situation, but these folks have neither the moral courage to accept this simple fact nor the ability to really understand it). Finally, it is also too much to wish that parents/public understood the farce of English Only instruction in Nepal — because globalization, opportunity, and rata makai. Nothing is going to change. We’ve written about this issue for two decades already, and most of us are giving up. English Only instruction will continue to destroy the quality of teaching and learning.

    That said, such clear assessment of our situation by a guest scholar gives us a ray of hope — or, rather, a desire to punch in the face of all the dishonest people involved in keeping the status quo of English Only and making it worse by the day.

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