ELT at Tertiary level: Perspectives from Far-West Nepal

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Lal Bahadur Bohara

Background

I was grown in a hill district (Bajhang) of far western region. I completed my masters from Tribhuwan University. When I joined a TU affiliated campus in Bajhang, I had some different experiences in teaching English and working with students there. Students’ perspectives toward English language learning, their expectations and efforts made me rethink about my way of teaching and working with students. It made me further investigate the perceptions of ELT professionals and challenges they are facing in far-west region. In this blog post, I am presenting the voices of ELT professionals from this region. It is just a presentation of preliminary data for my paper in Kathmandu University.

Introduction

I taught English in rural areas of far western Nepal for a decade. I think teacher is an only source of motivation for students to learn English in our context. In my case, the way I deal my students sometime motivate them and some other time demotivate. The experience of teaching English in this region, made me further investigate in the area of ELT. This piece primarily discloses the perspectives of English teachers in relation to prescribed English courses in B.Ed. level, common strategies teachers employ in the classroom and challenges they face while teaching English. I had a talk (not structured one) with five English teachers teaching in B.Ed. level in far western region – they were from Bajhang, Bajura, Kanchanpur, Achham and Dadeldhura. They were teaching English in different campuses under the affiliation of Tribhuvan University.

Now, I present the preliminary findings of my study on four major themes. I shall be analyzing the findings and share in future issues.

Gap in contents

I found that academic courses are de-contextualized in relation to contents and culture. In other words, it is found that the contents at bachelor level are de-contextualized with particular reference to the respect to society, culture, age and prior knowledge of learners. Hence, there is a gap between the local reality and the contents in the syllabus. In this regard, a participant put his voice this way:

The prescribed courses are not harmonized with the level of prior knowledge of students in bachelor level. Further, the prescribed books do not incorporate the culture of far western region, even if they were written by Nepali scholars.

Most of the academic contents were from other culture which does not appropriate the socio-cultural background of students in the far western region.

Increasing use of technology

I found that English teachers make of use of the internet, Google and several ELT Webpages. The trend is increasing in urban areas. A teacher mentioned that:

               I use Facebook and make use of several ELT groups and pages. The                               discussions over these venues assist me to facilitate teaching of English                             and keep me up to date in the area. Similarly, webpages such as Learn                           and Teach English of British Council and other ELT resource sites are                             quite helpful for me. Certain mobile applications have also been                                       supportive to me.

It shows that increasing use of technology has added advantages to teach English at tertiary level and the trend is growing in this region.

Teacher centered strategies

Except in a few cases, all participants agree that teachers basically follow lecture method, the conventional method of teaching English. A participant states that:

Without using translation method, the students do not understand the contents. They seem to be happy with translation in Nepali and local dialect. In the classroom of compulsory English (language subject), the number of students is large and teacher primarily depend on lecturing and GT method. In compulsory English classes, some students are from poor language background.

The study shows that in urban areas teachers are, to some extent, more resourceful and innovative than in rural areas. They also agree that students join the English stream with inadequate basic standard in English. However, a participant reports that he sometimes uses project work, group work and problem solving techniques while teaching English.

Use of L1

Next revealing phenomenon is that teachers and students use maximum Nepali and local languages in English classroom in this region. Another participant articulates this practice this way:

Without using local and Nepali language, students can understand nothing. During the lesson, Nepali is a medium of instruction. I often try to use English but students just listen to me, they don’t respond or interact. Then I have to immediately switch to L1.

Participation of students

It also shows that learners’ participation in classroom is very low. Most classrooms are heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of students. Therefore, the one prescribed curriculum from the top does not capture their interests and different motivational orientations. Here is what a participant expresses:

Majority of students neither complete their assignments nor actively participate in classroom activities like pair work, group work, and dramatization. Most importantly, they tend to be highly absent in classes.

Therefore, the study shows that multi- level classroom, students’ irregularity and hesitation to speak English are few reasons to mention for the low participation of students in teaching-learning activities. Likewise, many classrooms do not have sufficient teaching materials which better facilitate language learning. The study also reveals that teachers mostly depend on the textbook. They do not have any internet access.

Conclusions

Teaching English language in non-native context is a challenge for several reasons. Most academic contents were from ‘the other’ culture which may not be suitable for the students in the context of far western region of Nepal. Teachers basically follow the same route, an easy job – lecturing in the classroom. Maximum use of Nepali and local languages can be observed on the part of both teachers and students. Classrooms are heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of students. Students generally expect class notes from teachers and there is low participation of students in teaching learning processes of ELT in the classrooms. In the same way, classrooms are under-resourced, except a few classrooms in urban areas like Dhangadhi and Mahendranagar. However, increasing use of technology by teachers could be an additional advantage to teach English at this level in various ways. Preliminary findings show that the situation of English language teaching is not so encouraging in this part of country.

Mr. Bohara teaches English at Jaya Prithivi Multiple Campus, Bajhang. He is currently pursuing his MPhil in ELE from Kathmandu University.

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