All posts by sharmashyam

Writing a Writing Education in Nepal

Shyam Sharma, PhD

One of the most common activities that we do on a daily basis, and do it in increasingly more ways for more purposes, is writing. But writing for us is also like water for fish. “What water?” one fish might ask another fish that starts talking about water, unless the latter has been thinking about or deliberately observing water surrounding it. Likewise, most of us don’t pause to think and talk about writing. It is just what people do, and they have habituated, often fossilized, thoughts about it or have nothing to say. That means it’s important for us as educators to think about how we are going to meet the increasing academic, professional, and social demands of writing in Nepal. 

In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts and experiences, and a particular vision, about how Nepalese academe could adopt and advance writing as a discipline and pedagogy, as a profession and vocation within the academic context. I am not thinking about creative writing, the writing done by the special “writers” within the humanities, or the writing done by a few “scholars” in other disciplines. Nor am I thinking about writing done by journalists or other kinds of professionals who write for a living. I am thinking about writing as a subject, like social studies or math in secondary school, and like compulsory English or particle physics in college. How can we advance writing as an independent subject that is taught by academic scholars or teachers who have studied it as a subject? How can we advance scholarly conversation and research about writing, in its academic and professional forms, for improving its social and economic applications? How can we develop writing as a field of study and practice, as a matter of curriculum and policy, as an issue of public awareness and demand? How can we help our schools and universities adopt systematic teaching, research, and training of teachers and other professionals around writing as a foundational part of secondary and higher education, as a vehicle for professional development? How can we write a writing education of our own?

We do currently have a writing education of sorts. It exists in many forms, many contexts, many manifestations. It is not a separate subject/curriculum taught to students across the board; there are only a course or two within disciplines like English Education. Writing should be a distinct subject, or at least a part of “writing, research, and communication” skills course. Instead of considering writing as one of four language skills and taught within English or Nepali language courses, we must add academic writing as a foundational course in high school and college. We must offer specialized and/or discipline-specific writing courses, such as professional writing to help college and university students prepare for different professions, scientific writing and technical writing to help students write well in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and engineering, and writing courses for students who want to pursue academic careers in social science and humanistic fields. We also need academic and professional writing as a set of courses that form undergraduate writing major. And in order to produce writing teachers and scholars/researchers, we need writing degrees at the Master’s, MPhil, and Doctoral levels. We need departments of writing. We need conferences, journals and professional organizations for writing teachers and scholars.

One key question is what discipline is going to adopt writing, whether a new group of scholars are going to emerge and advance writing as an independent discipline, what shape our version of the discipline and profession of academic writing is going to take? Indeed, how do we characterize the courses/curricula and professional expertise in writing that we already have? Are the writing teachers, most of whom do not have specialized degrees or extensive training in the teaching and research of writing, going to lead this charge? Should they be connected to the broader community of writing scholars in the outside world? Are they and their new discipline and professional community–if such things are emerging or emerge in the future–going to be housed within another discipline, such as English Studies, English Education, or Applied Linguistics? Should a discipline and pedagogy of academic writing be limited within the context of English or Nepali for that matter? If so, what do the disciplinarity and linguistic identity of those other disciplines mean to the advancement of writing as a (sub)discipline and to the development of scholars/teachers with a distinct professional identity?

While putting in writing the chain of thoughts above, I was also thinking that we are yet to develop a significant understanding about writing–whether in our conferences and journals, blogs and other professional discussions or through curriculum change and teaching practices. As I indicated at the beginning of this post, Nepalese academe seems generally vague about academic writing, perhaps because it is not interested in this subject and only pay attention to it when there is a crisis. Writing is like a machine that people only talk about when it breaks down. Teachers talk about students “poor writing” when students fail in exams i.e. if they don’t assume that the students would have written perfectly if they knew what to write but writing mediates and can make or mar both the process and product of learning and assessment. It can open or close doors to the profession and often social success. Writing is not only a means of assessment in our education system–in fact, too much so–but also plays increasingly important professional functions. It is a means of democratic deliberation and participation, playing increasingly important roles there as well in a young democracy. And writing goes beyond professional application and social/civic action to empowering the individual in an era of rapid technological advancement and globalization where we conduct more work and communication through writing. So, it is time to challenge and reject problematic beliefs about writing in their place, teach and advance better understanding about the roles that writing plays in practice in today’s society (as well as academe). For instance, if we look at the so-called “genius” students, it is often because they know how to express and organize well what they know, through writing. They have a better grasp of the connection between reading or research and writing. They read and write rhetorically consciously. But these facts are lost on teachers and institutions alike because of the prevalence of many myths about writing.

Writing, many assume, comes naturally to individuals with a creative bent of mind. In reality, scientists who publish the results of their systematic research aren’t creative writers; nor are economists, journalists, or historians who are prolific writers. Writing is also often seen as an unteachable skill, one that must naturally emerge from regular reading, sustained practice, or just waiting until one has to do different kinds of writing in the “real world.” Learning to write happens, that is; there’s no need to teach writing. These assumptions and myths about writing take us back to understanding the nature and function of writing that we do or need. They prompt us to study the writing that our students must do, identify their struggles and failures and strengths, develop curricular and pedagogical strategies of intervention, put pressure on curricular and educational policies to recognize and integrate and support the teaching and study of writing. We must develop curricular models that will fit our own national and local contexts and needs. But we must also advance advocacy and education about writing–and that is what I mean by “writing” a writing education.

There is a need for those of us who are interested in making Nepal’s writing education visible, in promoting it professionalizing it, to come together and share our experiences and visions. There is a need for us to develop selling points, to show the exigency, to demonstrate the benefits of a more systematic and advanced writing education in secondary and tertiary education. It may not be the same discipline that we see in North America or Europe, or even in the rest of South Asia. It has to be built upon the expertise and resources we currently have, the demands and needs we can identify through research and exchange of ideas and practices. It is high time that we bring together those who are interested in and invested in teaching and advancing writing otherwise into a professional network or organization. This can help us educate other stakeholders about the benefits of teaching/learning writing more substantively, more systematically, more purposefully. It can help us show its applications that already exist, the gaps and pitfalls of how the teaching/learning of writing is currently done. We are yet to demonstrate to academe and the professions alike the importance and needs of well-developed writing skills in our students and our professionals.

It is time for Nepal’s writing teachers and scholars, in whatever proportion they would assume this academic/professional identity, to study and write the history of writing education in Nepal. We must understand and communicate what we have done well and what we haven’t. Collective action and ongoing conversation about academic and other forms of writing can also help us develop the arguments, the curriculum, the pedagogy, the practice, and the advocacy that we need for engaging other stakeholders. Together we can understand the uptakes, identify and try to overcome the obstacles. It is high time.  

Beauty and Power of Multilingualism

Shyam Sharma
Shyam Sharma

During the past year, I came across a lot of news items (including some based on scientific studies) about the benefits of multilingualism. There was so much on this issue that I sometimes wondered if the scientific and sociological studies were essentially a part of rather political responses to the ongoing redistribution of economic and geopolitical power around the world (especially in relation to the global status of the US vis-a-vis other countries like China, India, and the rest of BRICK nations). Perhaps immigration, increased global connections (virtually and otherwise), and development in other areas are contributing to it. In any case, the range of research, arguments, and perspectives on the subject was quite rich and diverse, with some reports going as far as saying that multilingualism may delay severe mental disorders in old age to others indicating that it is simply business-smart for companies to make their websites more multilingual. Living in the US, a society where monolingual policies and assumptions are (understandably) prevalent in most walks of life, I was pleased to see the emerging appreciation of multilingualism because I think this will only have positive outcomes on local and global levels.

However, every time I read the news about this issue, I was sad. I was sad that, back home in Nepal, where learning and using multiple languages is a fundamental reality of life and society, formal education is increasingly adopting the mind-boggling “subtractive” approach in relation to multilingualism (excluding/destroying some languages to improve others), in the name of education, economic opportunity, and globalization. Instead of focusing on the real challenges of education, schools and parents and experts alike are buying into the idea that simply switching to English-Only medium of instruction for all subjects and at all levels will magically improve education — when, in our special context, the opposite is far more true. Let me return to this concern after sharing a quick summary of the new studies and reports mentioned above. I will conclude by sharing some fun activities for the classroom, just so I don’t spread too many sadness bugs to you as a reader.

If you have the time and can browse through the annotated bibliography linked to this page on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, this site provides the most exhaustive list of studies documenting the benefits of being multilingual. Since even the annotations are rather overwhelming in amount, here is a brief list if you don’t have too much time. The studies show that proficiency in multiple languages:

  • supports academic success by helping individuals use critical language awareness and sensitivity to nuances of meaning, read and understand texts better for any purpose, perform better in standardized tests/exams, reinforce the learning of new languages required in school especially through two-way immersion, fine-tune the ability to hear and pay attention, better hypothesize in learning science, bolsters success in higher education in general;
  • enhances cognitive ability by helping individuals use more divergent thinking, go higher on the level of critical thinking, draw on different perspectives and think outside the box, employ greater cognitive flexibility, think better non-verbally, acquire greater metalinguistic awareness and creativity, utilize an improved working memory, deploy “more advanced processing of verbal material, more discriminating perceptual distinctions, more propensity to search for structure in perceptual situations, and more capacity to reorganize their perceptions in response to feedback,” offset age-related loss of memory and even diseases, use an apparently increased IQ;
  • improves interpersonal, social, economic, and professional opportunities for individuals by helping them boost their social skills and confidence, connect them to more people and increasing their opportunities to learn and grow, strengthen emotional and personal relationships with others who may feel strongly about linguistic and cultural bonds, give them unique skills and abilities, allow them to travel and work more successfully.

For anyone interested to learn even more about the benefits of multilingualism, here is another compilation of news, issues, and debates on a university website. Some of the sources include an article titled “Bilinguals are Smarter” on New York Times, a Wired Magazine article about bilinguals making more rational and less biased decisions, and a Ted talk by Patricia Ryan, a long time English teacher in the Middle East, who points out a number of problems, including the problem of gatekeeping in the name of educational quality. A fun-to-read article in The Huffington Post includes these benefits: better understanding cultural references, better navigate the social and professional worlds, better notice things that are lost in translation, feel better connected to one’s heritage/family and history, have deeper conversations with people across borders, make self-expression multidimensional as if one can use multiple personalities as needed.

As I indicated above, the more I read news and reports about the benefits of multilingualism, the more I wondered if, back home, educators and policy makers, schools and parents will begin to change the increasingly dominating discourse and practice of English-Only instruction. Where are we on the issue of multilingualism and what, if anything, will make us change direction? Are well-informed educators doomed to passively watch the simplemindedness of those who create and implement wrong-headed language policy (or rather don’t do anything, because they seem to have no clue) forever? What can we do if we are teachers in English-only medium schools? Should those of us who have started discussing multilingualism be worried about offending our colleagues in private schools who have a stake in English medium education, fellow parents who may misunderstand what we mean, and the people whose business depends on the mythology of “English medium = quality education”? What about those of us who are studying or working abroad (especially in an English speaking country)? Frankly, I think it is intellectually and socially irresponsible to be silent on this subject. But I could be unrealistic. The facts in favor of promoting multilingualism through education are crystal clear, but power and politics much more complicated.

Of course, English is everything its proponents say it is, and it does most of what they say. The problem is with “only” English in a society where most teachers and learners do not use it outside school, where few teachers speak it fluently and few students can master nuance even after being forced to use it for ten or fifteen years, and where there is insufficient resource to implement what schools have doggedly tried and most of them have miserably failed for decades. Contradictory as it may sound, except in a handful of good private schools in a handful of cities, English education itself will dramatically improve if teachers and students are first allowed to teach fluently and learn effectively — not to mention education in all other subjects. Now, why are Nepali-medium schools not “automatically” better? The answer is: they would be much worse (as they are going to be) by replacing Nepali and local language as the medium of all instruction. When English is imposed on teachers who can’t speak well and students who don’t have the opportunity to develop the competence needed, anyone can predict the results. English proficiency as an educational objective is absolutely necessary and we must do whatever we can to improve it; we owe it to our children to teach this “global” language. English language as an “only” medium for all subjects in our particular context at this time is a “snake oil.” What we need is freedom to use what works best at different levels of education, types of schools, subjects and teachers and students and so on. What we need is a general recognition that proficiency in English and quality education are two completely different things and we should expose the myths and lies on which the monolingual moves are based.

I am reminded of a book titled Buying into English in which the author, Catherine Prendergast, illustrates the failed promise of English in Slovakia. What made a positive difference for those who could benefit from English was not the language itself but instead their privilege or achievement in economic, social, political, and other forms. Nepal’s case may be unique in some ways, but the same dynamics apply. If students coming out of our private schools are more successful in higher education and the professions, it is because they had the privilege of schools with better resources, better teachers, richer and/or more educated parents, homes and communities with more favorable environments, networks of educated and resourceful family members, etc, etc, etc. For these reasons, I find it absurd when our educators ignore the big picture, disregard shocking numbers of failure (including failures due to English medium), and continue to sell or support the logically broken idea that English medium in itself will improve education. One should be ashamed to promote an educational situation based on and perpetuating shocking inequalities in education. English medium is a “false cause” of success before it starts becoming a real one for the minority; for the rest of the nation, when this medium is made mandatory, it makes teaching less fluent and learning less effective, and it undermines success and opportunity instead of enhancing them. Thus, for educators themselves to use the “success stories” of a minority when the majority does not have all the other privileges that go along with English medium is disingenuous, if not dishonest.

Yes, if all the other conditions of education described above are better, English can add to the ultimate outcome. But even then—and let me go one step further than I have before—students will benefit if they are taught in more languages than one, if they are fluent in more languages than one, if they can access knowledge and connect to people and think by using and . . . . Just think about adding all of the benefits of multilingualism that I summarized above to the previous sentence! That is the power of multilingualism when compared to monolingual education. That is what would happen if our private schools (and public ones that are adopting the same mythology) were to let teachers use multiple languages in the classroom. Future generations of students would be able to communicate complex and diverse ideas in more than one language, improving their learning and increasing opportunities in different walks of life and for a lifetime!

Now, as I promised at the outset, just to move away from the shock and disgust about our systematic destruction of multilingualism (because too many of us have somehow bought into, help advance, or tolerate this amazing, grand lie that using “English Only” improves education), let me share a few fun activities and conversations you can use in your classroom.

Ask students to translate the word “beauty” into Nepali (and/or other languages they speak). In the case of Nepali, hoping the English-only madness hasn’t completely destroyed this language among all students in class, someone will say “sundar.” Ask students if that word is associated with females or males in Nepali. The answer, in Nepali, is male, right? In English, it is typically used to describe females, with the adjective “beautiful.” What is “beautiful” in Nepali? “Sundari?” Probably not! Well, yeah, some students will say. Then ask the class to translate the word “sundari” back into English, or imagine what image“beautiful” conjures up in their minds. Again, if at least some of them have a good sense of the connotations in Nepali, they might say things like “nakkali” or someone “who tries hard to look pretty.” In any case, the connotations in Nepali are not positive—unlike in English, generally speaking. Guess what, if any of your students are good in Nepali, they will also tell you that “sundari” means a female monkey. And so the conversation will continue, just using one key word and two languages, showing you the beauty and power of multilingualism. Good luck with the rest of the conversation, whichever way you want to wrap it up.

Let us take another case of hard-to-translate words in different languages. Here is one of the many websites that provide lists of such words from languages spoken around the world. Take any number of these words to class (or pull them up and show the accompanying images on the screen if that is possible), and then ask students to write words from their home or other languages that they don’t think have accurate translation in English. This activity will also help your students refine their translingual skills, taking one more step in the direction of achieving many of the benefits of multilingualism described above. What does a word and especially its connotations say about the society (context, culture, lifestyle), about changes over time, about worldviews, etc? What are the personal, social, and professional benefits of continuously developing vocabulary, range of syntax and idiom, and sociolinguistic competency in more than one language?

To keep this post short, let me sign off with a link to a blog post that I wrote for a professional group named Transnational Writing here in the US. In this two-part essay, I have discussed some of the practical/classroom strategies and activities for engaging students in translingual communication (a hot button topic here in the US these days).

I look forward to reading your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

The author:  Dr. Sharma is currently working in the capacity of an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University, New York in the USA

Too many knowers?

SHYAM SHARMA

I came home from school one day to find my father and uncle Padam sitting beside the beautifully decorated Tulasi platform in the front yard that my mother, sister, and I had built the day before.

Uncle Padam [speaking to my dad]: Brother, you have such great artistic skills, you know. Look how beautiful that muth is!

Daddy: [smiles and continues to smoke]

Me: No, uncle, dad didn’t build that. Mom did, and sister and I helped her decorate it.

Uncle: Hey, phuchche [little kid], don’t be a janne [knower]. Go to play.

The social condition where some people are expected to be “knowers” and others are not—which I call socio-epistemic structure—has drastically changed in our society today. Thanks to democratic revolutions, increased education, and most recently and perhaps most significantly, the rise of alternative social spaces where (seemingly) anyone can say what they like, Uncle Padams aren’t likely to be able to shut down twelve year olds (or others with less power/privilege in society for that matter) that easily anymore.

Unfortunately, as I argue in this piece, the disruption of the traditional socio-epistemic structure has not always translated into general productivity of knowledge, benefit to social institutions such as education, and the enhancement of social justice in areas such as gender equity and intercultural harmony.

In the traditional society, the priest was literally called the knower (janne, who knew the scriptures, rituals, and higher learning). The shaman was another janne (who had direct knowledge about the cause of people’s sickness, as well as their past and future) from the gods. Older people were supposed to be jannes in front of the youth; men were jannes in the presence of women; rich men in relation to the poor; and upper caste in relation to the lower. More recently, the teacher in formal/modern education systems (even if the person is not an older, upper-case, richer) has been added to the list of jannes (though the word is no longer explicitly applied now).

By contrast, in our time, traditional jannes have lost their exclusive privilege over knowledge. Some of them (such as members of the upper caste) now acknowledge the knowledge of others as legitimate, and yet others (such as men, relative to women) don’t seem to have visible advantage in certain domains and contexts. Disruption is in the air today. The new democratic environment, the alternative virtual spaces, the communities of discourse that cross national and cultural borders, and newly visible groups (such as the LGBT community) have all contributed to the disruption of the socio-epistemic structure of Nepali society. Children learn from many more sources than school, college students can create their own purpose-driven communities, and people involved in political and social action can reach out to many more people and make far greater impact with what they know. In a society that leapfrogs from word of mouth to microblogging in a matter of a few years, the bypassing of socio-epistemic order is fast becoming the new norm. While the affordances information technologies provide are also new in developed societies, their impact on the socio-epistemic structure is much more striking in less developed societies like Nepal.

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Photo: Republica

The most obvious scenario where we can see the uncertainty of benefit from the disruption of socio-epistemic structure is social media. As research on social media use has shown in other societies, increased access to alternative avenues of knowledge and knowledge-making does not in itself translate into social consequences. For example, Facebook hasn’t made people “connect to the world” as many assume or claim. Instead of crossing national and cultural borders to learn about other societies and cultures, and increase empathy and understanding, most Facebook users “deepen” rather than “broaden” their network and may become more entrenched in their worldviews. Indeed, the company has rolled out features that increasingly emphasize family connections, like-mindedness, and a monocultural worldview through design and content selection.

In the field of education, increasing irreverence toward figures of authority could and should have translated into more and more productive generations of scholars and professionals. But we haven’t seen such a difference. The problem here lies not just with younger people’s inability to be productive but the society’s failure to tap their energy to transform educational institutions. Schools continue to teach for exams even when they don’t have to, universities don’t allow younger scholars to lead the charge, and older men continue to dominate almost all fields of knowledge. Whatever boost in epistemological agency (or the ability to create new knowledge) that we see among younger generations, we see it unable to translate into change in the system. Instead, increased knowledge seems to lead many people into increased negativity and nonchalance.

The social and cultural spheres seem to be no exception. In place of a society based on objectionable hierarchy, discrimination, and prejudice—a society where the upper caste the aristocrats, and newly rich blatantly dominated the rest of the people—we now have a nation where those structures of power are replaced with ethnic disharmony and multifaceted conflict among different social and cultural groups. Instead of a society dominated by speakers of one language, followers of one religion, and a socio-economic minority dominating most of the social institutions, we now have a society where linguistic, religious, and social/cultural groups clash for power (rather than work together toward common national/social goals).

Often, groups that are just becoming visible (such as individuals who want to pursue their “personal freedom” of walking around with piercings and tattoos all over their bodies—and therefore evoke responses ranging from confusion to fear among the general public) reject the very notion of tolerance toward others. More alarmingly, in place of “traditional” value systems (which certainly needed updating), many groups just try to impose values from what they believe are more “advanced” societies, never considering if they could draw on the best from both sides. Their knowledge about the outside world, their irreverence for the local society and culture, and their ability to challenge tradition doesn’t seem to make them contribute anything positive to society: they just reject the local and never question the “global” (which is often local somewhere else).

Just a few years ago, when social media was gaining traction (and access to tools and networks was rapidly spreading) across Nepal, I presented a paper at a national convention of literary scholars in the US, describing the disruption of the traditional socio-epistemic structure in Nepal as a possibly ideal model of social change in the twenty-first century—one that may be worth studying. I am not so sure anymore.

The author, one of founders of ELT Choutari, is an assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University (State University of New York)

Diversity and Broader Goals of ELT

Shyam Sharma

Sitting down to write this post on diversity and ELT, I remember a story that scholar David Foster Wallace tells in a famous college graduation speech. Two younger fish ask an older one: “What the hell is water?” The point of the story is that “…the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

The point I want to make in this post is that while we are a nation of very diverse peoples, cultures, languages, and so on, we have to pinch ourselves to remember that we are diverse. I argue that as educators, it is worth pinching ourselves and our students—intellectually, that is—into realizing the value of diversity as a broader goal of education, especially in a country like ours and an interconnected world like today’s.


[This YouTube video is an animated version of parts of Wallace’s speech]

We’ve been told that Nepal has been a garden of “four castes and thirty-six shades” of people; indeed, within an area of 850 by 200 kilometers, we speak more than a hundred languages and are extremely diverse in a variety of ways. However, the garden metaphor was meant to drive home the value of unity more than diversity. The emphasis on nationhood and unity is usually a goodie goodie way to deny that there are deep divisions, structural injustices, and discrimination woven into the sociopolitical fabric of our society. So, it is absolutely time that we situate (even) the teaching of English within the context of seeking to promote respect for diverse peoples, cultures, languages, and epistemologies (even) in a small but complex country like ours.

Continue reading Diversity and Broader Goals of ELT

A Journey from Information to Transformation in ELT Professionalism

Bal Ram Adhikari

When we think about the beginning of a new year, we’re referring to the cycle of seasons changing for that many times on a particular calendar (in this case, the Gregorian calendar). In that sense, the marker of 2014 is a mere social construct. However, we do make milestones with passing years in our collective consciousness. At this blog magazine, as we bid farewell to the year 2013 and welcome the year 2014, we hope to invite many more of our professional colleagues under the shade of a tree that is growing taller and bigger and its platform widening farther. We invite you to a platform where we will strive to connect the global and local realities in ELT, to bring about positive changes in ourselves and in our field! As we make this leap, I would like to relate Choutari’s vision with relevant scholarship in our field. 

Expressing his discontent with the conventional trend of Applied Linguistics and thus appealing for transformation in the field, Pennycook (2004) proposed four types of responsibility on the part of the Applied Linguistic practitioners. They are ethical, political, intellectual, and social and cultural. In the paper entitled Restructuring Applied Linguistics for the Welfare of the Society (2012), we (Sajan Kumar and I) proposed the addition of the creative responsibility to Pennycook’s list. To escape these responsibilities is to fall into the trap of academic hypocrisies is the crux of Pennycook’s argument. The appealing element in Pennycook’s argument is his call for the transformation in the field without which one cannot fulfill the above mentioned professional responsibilities. We, teachers are supposed to bear all of these responsibilities and also many more. This calls for transformation, probably the most sought for and cherished concept in all fields, variously known as energy and transformation (Krishnamurti, 1972), quantum leap (Osho, 2001) in the field of philosophy, paradigm shift (Kuhn, 1962), New Physics (Capra, 1975) in the field of science.  Likewise, the field of language pedagogy is replete with such terms as the postmethod condition (Kumaravadivelu, 1994), innovation (Markeee, 1997), culture specific-pedagogy and so on to mean transformation. Whatever the terms employed, the essence underlying them is the call for revisiting the field in question and showing a live response to everyday practice in order to bring out the positive change. I’d like to relate the thread of transformation to Nepalese ELT and to extend the thread to the long-term goal of our Choutari.

Our goal is transformation. The appeal for transformation lies at the heart of all post-realities (i.e. poststructuralism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, postcommunism,  postmethod pedagogy and so on).  I believe that the craving for transformation in various academic disciplines has its origin in the notion of the paradigm shift as hypothesized by American philosopher and historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn in his seminal work The Structures of Scientific Revolutions (1962), and the Derridan notion of deconstruction (1967). The post-realities   bubbled to the surface most vigorously in the 1990s. We can speculate on a multitude of causes.  I leave them untouched here for the constraint of the space and the nature of this writing.  However, I cannot help mentioning the dismantling of Berlin Wall on 9th of November, 1989, and the collapse of the USSR in 1991. These two vital political events opened the window to the free world, “one where every human being would be free to realize his or her potential” (Friedman, 2006, p. 607).  These events were coincided with the end of the Panchayat era resulting in the re-establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1990. English language teaching as a globally booming profession could not remain untouched from these changes and new realities in academic and political fields at home and abroad.  The 1990s is also remarkable for the booming of ‘the dot.com market’,  to use Friedman’s term, that revolutionized the field of ELT in many respects. The field of ELT was in a desperate search for alternatives in its theories, principles, methodologies, resources and assessment.  Such a search is evident in Pennycook’s (1990) Towards a critical applied linguistics for the 1990s, Phillipson’s (1992) Linguistic imperialism, Kumaravadivelu’s (1994) Postmethod condition, to mention only a few. These post-thoughts entered the English teachers’ courses. The hope was to bring about transformation in the existing theory and practice. The existing ELT courses in Nepal too were restructured to introduce these critical and alternative perspectives to Nepalese English teaching.  Transformation in the profession echoed in the academic air blowing within and across the Tribhuvan University premises. The courses and coursebooks appeared bearing such transformation-loaded titles as New Generation English, Expanding Horizons in English, Advanced ELT, New Directions in Applied Linguistics, New Paradigm, Reading Beyond the Borders, Across Languages and Cultures and many others. Some changes in the perspective on the profession are hazily perceptible in the distance. However, to believe that transformation would be on the way on its own after introducing recent information available in the field is but our naivety.  There can be no quantum leap from information to transformation. The journey is long and on the way lie knowledge, wisdom and discretion, and application.

Though related, information and knowledge are not identical. Information is just an object that can be collected from multiple sources.  In our case, we are working with borrowed information from ELT books and articles produced in different contexts and for different purposes. No harm is there in the accumulation of information. Access to information is prerequisite for knowledge. However, such borrowed information has to be balanced against the information that has emerged from the regional/national and local experiences.  All courses prescribed to prospective teachers in Nepal are flooded with the imported information devoid of local contexts.  Courses like English Grammar for Teachers, i.e. a course on pedagogical grammar for English teachers, contain no trace of anything from the Nepalese context. It gives the impression that Tribhuvan University in its many decades of teaching English has not yet produced any expertise in the field of pedagogical grammar.  Or, it can also suggest that whatever the teacher educators have produced out of their decades of teaching experience and years of research in the field is either ignored or does not deserve to be transferred to the next generation. Several embarrassing examples can be put forward in the case of other courses too.

Most teacher educators have hardly produced any knowledge to communicate their experience and expertise. They seem to be contented with the accumulation of information from the ‘authentic sources’ and many professors have earned their professorships and wasted their students lives, a  sad fact I’d call it, by confining themselves to the information stage. Information is only a raw material for knowledge and the process of knowing.  It’s the means not the goal. Its function is to inform the seeker of something. Information is not experiential nor is it truly existential. It is only a map for the journey, not the journey itself. Unless the seeker embarks on the journey, s/he is in no way to ‘know’ the actual path and in no way to feel the pain and pleasure of journey. Information becomes knowledge only when it enters the conscious realm of the subject (knower/seeker and doer).  My being in the university as a student for one decade and as a teacher educator for seven years as well, and my formal/ information discourse with the scholars give me the impression that many of the university teachers are swayed by the false notion that the accumulation of a wealth of information will necessarily lead them to transformation i.e. the goal desired or the destination aimed at.    The Choutari team is and should be aware of this misconception. However, we are not denying the value of information collection and generation. For this, the two types of information are made available at this platform:  information generated by the practitioners, and information that we signpost the readers via the resources of the month. Our prime focus is on the generation of information rooted in our existential and experiential zones. The Choutari has served as an ever-flattening platform for the signposting and accumulation of information on teaching and learning English at home and around the globe. A word of warning, never should we be contented with the information available in the Tree that stands high at the centre of the Choutari.  The visitors to this platform have to climb the Tree itself  to  taste and test the information according to their desires and needs. The information that we have produced at and via this platform is likely to turn into knowledge only when it is humanized, only when it enters the experiential and existential zones of the seeker.

Knowledge functions in the realm of logic. Logic is syntax and the most preferred property in grammatical  and mathematical analysis. Each language classroom has its own rhetoric and silence too. The rhetoric of the classroom often struggles to move away from the syntax imposed from the ready-made methods, techniques, and conventional expectations of experts or supervisors. Thus I think it would be naïve of us to expect the teachers to stick to certain methods, techniques, and the steps mentioned in their lesson plans and follow them mechanically. It is because of this, many well-documented lesson plans or well-articulated methods fail in the ELT classrooms. The undue inclination to logic might mar creativity and liberty in the teaching learning process. Logic can be cunning. It can prove something  theoretically sound and appealing which might be pragmatically harmful. The taboo of the mother tongue use in English classes as promoted by private schools in Nepal can be a case in point. Practically, the strategic use of the mother tongue or the use of translation as one of the several techniques in the English class has more benefits than harms. Communicative competence is another myth that has been ‘Holy Writ’ for we information-collecting ‘intellectuals’. We are hardly aware of the fact that all the models of communicative competence proposed so far suffer the poverty of knowledge component (Adhikari, 2013). Hence, the Choutari aims at awakening the ELT practitioners to such theoretical taboos and myths that have stood as barriers to successful teaching in their specific contexts. We want them to experiment with their own strategies and share their experience with their fellow beings. Failure of certain methods or techniques borrowed from outside does not mean that we have failed. This means now we need to turn inward for our own sight which we call insight and intuition. It means it is also the time to “move from intellect to intuition, from the head to the heart” (Osho, 2001, p. 98) in our teaching.

The Choutari platform welcomes informal writing, spontaneous and ‘non-academic writing’ from ELT practitioners, for we value intuition and insight of those who are directly facing challenges in the actual field of ELT.  When out-tuition (teaching from outside) fails, we need to turn to intuition. The mystic teacher Osho, once university professor of philosophy, has brilliantly put it as ” You know the word tuition– tuition comes from outside, somebody teaches you, the tutor. Intuition means  something that arises within your being; it is your potential, that’s why it is called intuition (2001, p.13).   Learning by intuition is a lifelong process. It’s integral to our professional development too. Intuition ruptures the body of knowledge that we have accumulated in the formal setting and paves a way to the process of knowing. The Choutari as always welcomes the insights from the practitioners and share their insights with each other. However, someone’s intuition is mere information when it is communicated with others. We can inform others of our intuition but cannot transfer and infuse into them. Intuition is all experiential and existential at the individual level. It calls for self-reflection, inward journey in our professional life and also the ability to distance our mind from the pile of information gathered from multiple sources.  The fusion of knowledge with intuition and insight bears the flower of wisdom and discretion.  Then only we can go for application.

I believe that such a theoretically informed and intuitively aware application of theories, methods, techniques and activities might bring about  transformation in our professional life. This journey from information to transformation, though looks a seemingly longer one, might usher us in the landscape of post-method pedagogy as envisioned by Kumaravadivelu.

In passing,

Let the branches of the bodhi tree

Planted at heart of NELTA Choutari

Spread farther and wider, and rise higher and higher

Let all the wayfarers of ELT come and rest

Under its cool canopy with novel zeal and vigor.

May they move from the mere accumulation of information

To the higher goal of transformation.

Happy New Year, 2014

References

Adhikari, B. R. (2013). Restructuring communicative competence from the perspective of translation competence. A paper presented at 34th annual conference of LSN, Nepal Academy.

Capra, F. (1976). The Tao of physics. London: Flamingo.

Friedman, T. L (2006). The world is flat. England: Penguin.

Krishnamurti, J. (1972). Tradition and revolution. India: KFI.

Kumar, S. & Adhikari, B. R. (2013). Where does applied linguistics truly lie in the architecture of Nepalese Academy: Restructuring the discipline for the welfare of the society. A paper presented at the opening seminar of Nepalese Association for Applied Linguistics, Kirtipur.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The postmethod condition:(E) merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. Tesol Quarterly28(1), 27-48.

Markee, N. (1997). Managing curricular innovation. Cambridge: CUP.

Osho (2001).  Intuition: Knowing beyond logic. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Pennycook, A. (2004). Critical applied linguistics. In Davies, A. &  C. Elder(2004) The handbook of applied linguistics. Blackwell: Australia.

SLC, ELT, and Our Place in the Big Picture

Shyam Sharma*

When School Leaving Certificate (SLC) results were published earlier this month, quite a few of my friends and family members posted happy messages such as the following on Facebook: “Congratulations to our nephew ___ for securing 8* percent!!!” But whenever I come across such messages, I am reminded how privileged these friends and families are (including my own family). I am reminded of one person in particular whose SLC-related story I can never forget.

I have told Ramlal Sunar’s story on this blog before (please see comment section) so I won’t repeat it, but to recap what it is about, this young man was one of the “jhamte” candidates for the SLC who sought my help because he and the other young men and women in a village in Gulmi had been failing in English, some of them for many years. I had only completed my IA at the time but for them my private school background made me look like a savior. But tragically, Ramlal and most of the other students failed again even after my three or so months of tutoring. I probably helped them improve their English a little, but that was not what they wanted.

Until that experience, I had always believed that everyone who “studies hard” (like I did) would be academically successful. But now I began to think what happens when a whole education system lacks grounding in the local reality of students’ life and society. I could see that the young people were not failing because they were stupid. They were failing because the SLC did NOT test the intelligence, skills, knowledge-bases, and value systems that constituted and had value in the students’ LOCAL social, economic, cultural, and occupational lives. And the students would fail SLC if they failed any course.

Nepalese educators, especially those in fields related to English studies or English language, are often good at talking about postcolonialism, hegemony, and so on. But few of them seem to realize the irony of how they are perhaps most actively (though it may not be consciously/deliberately) involved in the gradual destruction of what used to be at least a slightly more organic system of public education, one that was delivered in the local language, one that encouraged a more locally based curriculum and pedagogy. That is, when Nepalese intellectuals leave Ramlals behind in their villages, they also seem to leave their responsibility to think in terms of the nation as a whole, a nation where Ramals are much more representative of the broader reality than those whose names we see on Facebook.

When I met Ramlal many years later, he didn’t even want to talk to me very much, because by this time I was already in my master’s degree, teaching at a big private school, with all kinds of gaps ever widening between him and me.

But this year’s SLC results reminded me of Ramlal again because I thought again how  those of us who have the voice and venues for raising public awareness about the numbers are also not very interested in talking about the national challenge in the first place. Just give it a try even as the furies about SLC results are still flying high, and someone is likely to ask you, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

The pendulum of failed percentage wildly swung back into the 60s again this year, after a small relief since 2004. As the media highlighted the numbers for a short period of time, among the regulars 58.43% students failed; among the exempted, a shocking 93.24% failed. That was a total of 343230 (yes, 3.4 lakh!) regular students and 98911 (yes, one lakh!) reappearing students whose friends and family didn’t get to post happy Facebook updates—or whatever equivalent social networking they use. That was a total of almost four and a half lakh students’ careers being sacrificed in an absurd national drama that we call education.

For a few days, people talked, and then they forgot. In fact, even when the discussions were visible on the interwebs, few educators seemed to share any ideas, assessments, soul searching, and solutions to this national crisis. The community of educators that I am closest to, English teachers, seemed less bothered by the situation than others within and without the education sector.

I try to think about why many people aren’t even surprised. It’s possible that they are being more optimistic, looking at the full half of the glass while I focus on the empty half. However, a glass that is almost 60% and more than 93% empty is a little too empty. And because we are talking about people rather than water or wine, it is too painful to even talk about it. It is also painful because this involves a society—its teachers, its policy-makers, its city-dwellers who don’t have to send their children to where the majority of parents do—that seems to have inured itself to the tragedy of closing the doors to the majority of children, a society where those whose voices have most impact are mostly quiet and smug because it doesn’t affect them directly. There are exceptions, but those people are hard to find.

Where does it all go so wrong with our education? News reports post-SLC indicated that “government spending on education increased from 27 billion rupees in 2006-07 to 63.91 billion rupees in 2012-13.” There was actually a silver lining—if you call this a silver lining (I call it a sign of disaster for the nation at large)—that the pass percentage at private schools has been above 80 in the past decade. But students in public schools, from which between two thirds and four fifths of students take the SLC, the pass percentage has been in the 30s, often below that. According to Teach for Nepal,

[I]f 100 students enroll for grade one, by the end of grade ten only 15% will have remained in the school system. The future prospects for these children are severely diminished. . . . of the students who fail their SLC, 90% fail in the core subjects such as Mathematics, English and Science.

Hard data is difficult to find (I would appreciate if someone could please add in the comments section below), but the subject taught by most of us on this blog, English, is evidently the lock on the “iron gate” of academic and professional careers in Nepal.

It is not easy at all to assess the situation with public versus private education. As serious researchers have often pointed out, because families tend to focus just on their children, the public tends to overlook the very definition of education–that it is most importantly a matter of social good. Most people do know that the current educational situation is creating a new “caste” system where those who attend the more expensive private schools have an unfair advantage over those who did not from the get go. But in the rush toward giving own children better chances than their neighbors they don’t pause to think that even in the most economically advanced nations, public schooling is guaranteed and even the richest people send their children to public schools. Added to that are the dynamics of power and resources, which in matter of about two decades have turned education in Nepal largely into a commodity in the market. Needless to say, English has increased opportunities for a few already privileged communities to participate in the global march of personal progress, but “English education” has also played a much more significant role in having a functional education (albeit one that needed much improvement) replaced with a myth about both language learning and about education at large.

But public education did not weaken just due to the lack of social responsibility that it needs. Social forces are dangerously aligned in one direction. For instance, there are forces such as these: the self-fulfilling myth that cost equals quality, English equals the promise of successful careers, and  private schooling equals prestige in society. Consequently, more educated, more motivated, better paid, better travelled and experienced people mostly gravitate to the private side; even those who theoretically oppose the destruction of education as a social good send their own children to private schools, and parents who have to send their children to public schools are literally ashamed. In fact, even among the most informed and educated people in our society, there is the myth of “English” education. Most people don’t even pause to think that in reality, there is just good education, which can be provided by any school, including the likes of Samata School–where students who pay only a hundred rupees a month were more successful in SLC this year than those in most of the lakh-rupees-a-year schools (Samata’s quality education had nothing to do with the medium but everything to do with a reality-based vision for the learner, the community, and the society at large). For a more critical/careful comparison of private and public schools, see the section starting at page 30 in the dissertation by Amrit Thapa, a Nepali researcher at Columbia University.

As Amrit Thapa shows by citing Tooley and Dixon’s findings, “private schooling as a solution to failing public schools in developing countries is not as straightforward” (p. 83). It is not just that it is ludicrous to not think about the overwhelming majority of parents who cannot afford the cost of private schooling; the very foundation and culture of private schools as they are today makes it unlikely that this sector will rise above the business model and become an organic part of the social structure that serves the need of the ordinary families. Whether we like this reality or not, private schools are usually run by individuals or groups who do not involve parents and community in governance, who treat teachers and students autocratically (See Thapa, linked above, p. 31), and who have little or no interest in long term visions of education for social good. This is not to say that we should dislike private schools altogether. In fact, we should expect private schools to be focused on profit motives and to contribute to education as a social good while trying to make profit, not as a primary objective. But that is why we can’t expect this mechanism to address the overall need of the nation given the economic status of the majority. The society and its serious educators and policy makers must think about how to make the private sector better align with the broader goals of education for social good.

So, where does a better understanding of the complexities leave us as English teachers most of whom have made our careers, or are making it, in the private sector? What do “we” have to do with the public schools when most of us teach in private schools where 80% pass the SLC, which looks fine? (No, actually, even the failure of 20% is not fine, but let’s leave that aside for the moment). As colleagues in this forum have also tried to articulate (e.g., here’s a discussion on a post that I wrote back in 2009 when we had just started Choutari; other editors have written in this tenor since the beginning), we can be more than just English teachers; we can be citizens, scholars, human beings who think about the nation and world at large. We as members of a professional organization, and as scholars who have spread around the world but try to contribute to research, scholarship, and professional development at home, are not doing fine. Because the big picture is our picture as well, it is time that we start confronting the deplorable overall state of education in our country–at least in our discussions. Why?—-because we have greater opportunities to write, to conduct and publish research, to start public conversations. 

Shocking majorities of Ramlals are still failing across the country, and talking and writing is essentially what we do, right? Talk is how we start getting ourselves and other to think and act. Next time, when someone asks us what we are going to do about it by just talking about the tragedy, let us say, “Talk. Do you want to join?” 

—————-

* Dr. Shyam Sharma is an assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at Stony Brook University, State University of New York. A former lecturer of the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, he teaches and studies writing in the disciplines, the intersection of culture with literacy and technology, multilingualism, and academic transition of students from different backgrounds.

Teach English, Speak English, Why? The Importance of Conversations on Choutari

Dr. Shyam Sharma
Stony Brook University, New York

Choutari is now in the hands of a brilliant new group of NELTA scholars, and I am excited about that. The old and new teams who were working together for a while in order to make this conversation under the shade of this forum even better had to go through a somewhat difficult time during the month of January—it’s a story that may be worth telling someday, perhaps years from now, and it’s a good one—but we also had a wonderful opportunity to further realize the tremendous value of promoting professional conversation in this great community. With the talent and enthusiasm of the new team, I am sure that we are going to see in the years to come great strides in the work of welcoming, encouraging, urging, prodding us to give back in the form of ideas and inspiration to our society. This work of building our scholarship from the ground up is extremely important to us as educators in a struggling nation right now and it will be, for different reasons, for generations to come.

Among the reasons we started this blog, one was to make our professional conversations serve as useful resource by making them open and accessible. And that’s what I want to write about in this reflection today.

Since I promised the editor of this month, my friend Bal Ram Adhikari, that I would contribute an entry for the issue, I’ve been trying to write about something that has kept me professionally “awake,” so to say, since I started teaching in a primary school in Butwal almost 20 years ago, something that I continued to ask for the next 12 years in grade schools and eventually at TU and then when I decided to switch from English to Writing Studies. And that something is a whole range of questions, which used to often discourage me while I taught at home: Why am I teaching what I am teaching? Does teaching grammar help students learn language? Why are we asking students to speak in English only? The teaching of literature seems to contribute to students’ personal development quite a bit, but how far does it contribute to their social and professional lives and the society at large? Why do we do little more than giving lecture in the name of “covering” the content of the course and helping students prepare for the exam—and what if there are better ways to achieve these same goals and also make education more worthwhile? What do we mean by “English education”?

When we started Choutari, I was happy because this platform allowed us to ask questions like the above as part of a broader professional conversation among hundreds of other scholars and teachers who may have similar questions, different perspectives, better answers. In this post, I want to build on a recent conversation that took place (and at the time of this writing is still ongoing) inside NELTA’s Yahoo mailing list that many of us are subscribed to. I responded briefly there, as it fit that medium, and I want to explore the issue further here, from broader educational, professional, and social perspectives. I request you, dear colleagues, to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A fellow NELTA member, Umesh Shrestha, asked in the mailing list recently whether we, as English teachers, should communicate in English beyond the classroom and school (because, the writer seemed to imply, we don’t practice what we preach). This was a very thought-provoking question (and among other colleagues, Suman Laudari has responded with some great ideas on the list). Let me get into the relaxing mood of choutari and share some thoughts—for the beauty and fresh air of early spring is returning to the hillsides and I am truly excited by the arrival of a whole group of gaunles under the shady tree.

The question of whether we, even teachers of English, should speak English everywhere, as well as require our students to do so in school and encourage to do so outside is not new. And I happen to have strong views not only about whether even our students (forget about us) must be required to speak English at all times in school (if not beyond it!) but also about whether we should use English as a medium of instruction and for what purposes, if at all.

Let me take a step back and ask a more basic question: “Why” is it that English is the increasingly dominant, increasingly popular, increasingly unquestioned medium of instruction in Nepal? Is there a straightforward “ELT” answer to this question? Does the use of English as “the” medium of instruction raise the standard of our education overall? Does it make classroom teaching and classroom learning more effective?

First, if the answer to questions like the above is more of a “no” than “yes,” then should we make it our professional lives’ priority to make the answer “yes”? Or, should we instead pause and think why the answer is “no”? That is, if using English rather than Nepali and/or other languages of instruction—at least in certain subjects, grade levels, regions, etc—does not have an “ELT” answer (which I presume it doesn’t), then why are we insisting that “English Only” must be the medium of instruction? If imposing English as the only medium of instruction does not raise the standard of our students’ education, then how have we come to embrace the delusion (sorry, but that’s what I think it largely is) that English “is” education (as in the phrase “English education”)? Is there, in the world of reality, such a thing as “English” education (one that is of a different order of intellectual significance than education acquired “in”? another language?)– or have we just created a feel good phrase to describe “English language education/learning” by dropping the key word in the middle?

To stay on the yes/no questions above, I would readily say NO, there is absolutely no doubt that IF requiring only English as the medium of instruction, communication, and jus being in school had ZERO SIDE EFFECTS, then the benefits are so many, so significant, so long term, so attractive… that we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. I would whole-heartedly support the use of English as the “only” medium in/throughout school. I’m not joking about this, but IF our students were to come out of high school speaking fluent English while ALSO writing effectively (whether that’s in English or not, please note), demonstrating critical thinking skills at par with their peers in other nations, being able to pursue and generate new ideas on their own, excelling in math and science and technology, etc, and IF the “medium” of English was a significant reason for our students’ elevated standards in all the above areas, then NO we would not have this conversation either. We would just call the adoption of English as the “only” medium of instruction as a straightforward, non-political, purely pedagogical decision. But that’s not the case. We know for fact—and we have been in denial for a few decades now—that the English medium that we have imposed in the name of improving the “quality” of education has VISIBLY affected the effectiveness of just too many teachers’ teaching, thereby their students’ learning, the teaching and learning of math and science and social studies and economics and environmental studies and agriculture and you name it. The English medium is certainly justified for teaching the English language—although even in this case, I have a hard time understanding why we teach it for 12-16 years and our students’ English is not as good as the Nepali proficiency of my Christian missionary friend who has been in Nepal for less than a year. Yes, our students’ English proficiency—and indeed our own as English teachers—may be too low. And it is for us as teachers (plus scholars) to develop solutions by having serious curricular, pedagogical, and educational discussions. But our good intentions to solve a problem don’t justify just “any” means. For instance, it would be terribly absurd for us as English teachers to tell our colleagues teaching social studies and math and physics and chemistry and their students who are solving algebra problems or playing khopi or eating samosa in the canteen that they must use English because— oh, wait, I forgot what I was about to say! English, you know, English, and like English education. Like globalized world. Opportunities. The internet. Facebook…. Okay, I can’t think anymore. Let me do something different. Let me tell you a story.

I have a nonnative English speaking (Chinese) student named Bao in my “intermediate college writing” class (here at the State University of New York). During the first class meeting in a one month long intensive writing workshop, while I was describing one of the assignments, a “rhetorical analysis” of a text that students would choose, Bao raised his hand, with his face looking like he was terrified of something, and said: “Professor, I don’t have the ‘professionalism’ to criticize the author’s writing style….” Bao’s English language “speaking” proficiency was so low that I couldn’t help thinking how many of the international students (15 out of 20, from 6 different countries, with different extents of exposure to “native” English speaking communities) were going to pass. Bao’s case was particularly striking: he not only struggled to express himself in English, as a student who had just come from a sociocultural background that doesn’t value “challenging” or even “analyzing” the ideas and expressions of established writers and scholars, he was saying that he neither could nor would like to “criticize” how a scholarly article was written. I gave a short answer and invited Bao to my office for further discussion. During the first discussion I realized that Bao was “confusing” his low proficiency in English with his lack of “knowledge” about what “rhetorical analysis” means; so I gave him a text (an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech), a sample rhetorical analysis that he and I found online, and a long list of questions with which I broke down the assignment (as supplement to the assignment description). Long story short, the rhetorical analysis that Bao wrote within the first week of class (before the class moved to another project) was in many ways better than the writing of most other students in class, including the native English speaking students (some of whom, by the way, implemented what they had already learned in high school and turned in their papers, and their papers showed little new learning). One of the things that Bao had done was to copy, adapt, and echo the rhetorical analysis “moves” made by other writers in the many samples that he had gone on to find: he deliberately avoided looking at rhetorical analyses of the text he was analyzing so he was not plagiarizing. When he submitted the finalized analysis, I had to start by asking whether and to what extent someone else had helped him write the paper and/or he had copied from another writer’s analysis of the same text. He had not, as I found out that he had done what I just described.

So, it was not because Bao mastered the “medium” (indeed, it was “in spite of” the medium that still lagged significantly) but because he was engaged with ideas (a highly thought-provoking text), because he had an unyielding commitment, because he learned how to learn, because of his commitment and motivation that Bao was able to do what seemed so impossible. Even as he imitated and echoed and adapted and ventriloquized sentence structures and phrases and worlds from the samples that he gathered from all kinds of sources, Bao learned a whole new “discourse,” indeed a new language, in his incredible one-week long learning journey, thereby tremendously improving his overall English language skills (including skills for critical thinking, analytical reading, and composition). When I read Bao’s final draft, I questioned some of the conventional teaching wisdom that only rare situations like this make me ask, only situations like this can so beautifully blow up in the air.

Reading the question about how great it might be if we too were speaking English all the time, I was almost depressed to think about the state of our education—I mean about the learning part, the part where the nature and content of education matters, the part where our students are being prepared (or not) to become intellectually and professional capable of navigating (and indeed competing in) the complex, connected, global world that they live in and need to be even better prepared for.

Let us (of course) develop practical solutions for practical problems. But let us do so without being so naive as to think that we can be more effective at doing so by eschewing the larger context of education–motivation, rationale, fairness, etc–in the name of being practical. Let us not allow the politics of denial (or the claim that one is not being political in order to stay above the discussion when the issue is politically significant) to justify an active forgetting and overlooking of the larger purpose of teaching English, or social studies or science for that matter. It is only within the larger social context that our problem-solving of any ELT issues—the questions we ask, the answers we seek—will make sense.

And to connect that to what I was saying about the importance of joining and promoting such conversations like this in choutaris like this, I have the same old, humble request for you. Dear colleague, after you read a post, or two, maybe all, please do not forget to add a line, or two, or many lines, sharing your idea, experience, feedback… as encouragement to the writers and good example for other readers.

Editorial, January 2013

Shyam Sharma

I hope that 2012 was a wonderful year for everyone and I wish everyone a Happy New Year, 2013!

Nelta Choutari’s fourth year was a great one. And as a new–younger, more enthusiastic, more resourceful–team of scholars takes over the role of editors for the blog-zine after this issue, we, the outgoing team, are excited.

As we present you the first issue of the new year, we share our reflection about the year behind us (which has become a kind of tradition); one essay by Bal and Prem and another one by Hem present that reflection. As usual, we have also asked our readers to share their comments and feedback for the blogzine toward improving it further in the new year. Similarly, we also pause to urge you again to join the conversation, thanking you for your contribution in the past year.

Personally, Choutari has been a wonderful mode of connection with a professional community back home, a community I love very deeply; I know that the same is true for my fellow editors and many readers, wherever we are. I call Choutari a “wonderful” platform because our communication here is based on substance; it helps us as a community build knowledge out of the work that we do, the challenges that we face, and the ideas that we share. Because we don’t have many venues for sharing ideas, like academic journals, and because even those that we do have are not easily available across the country and the world, I cannot imagine in what other ways I would be able to read the ideas about ELT written by younger scholars across Nepal; in fact, this blog might have served as the most available and accessible venue for those scholars to share their ideas with the ELT community.

That said, we as editors do not want to claim that Choutari is a “high quality” online magazine or anything like that. Our idea of quality and of scholarship is different: we value the voices of the novice teacher over whether their submission is “academically significant” or professionally polished, and instead of maintaining “standard” by rejecting materials that don’t meet the criteria, we try to support writers toward making their work accessible and interesting to the readers. Within the flexible guidelines that we have developed, we try to run conversations that are thought-provoking and useful. We are sure that the new team will build on the spirit of support and encouragement that this platform has created for fellow teachers/scholars ranging from those who have limited experience to those who have a lot of it. We are also sure that readers will continue to encourage the writers (as well editors) by joining the conversation regularly.

The outgoing team will be stepping aside and not away from the blog; we will be contributing entries, posting comments, promoting the blog, and providing  support and mentoring as needed to the new team. And we wish all the best to the new team as they take their turn at running this wonderful professional forum.

Here are the entries for the month:

  1. Introduction to the New Team of Choutari Editors (compiled by Shyam Sharma)
  2. Critical Thinking in Language Classroom, by Prem Prasad Poudel
  3. Event Report from NELTA Lalitpur, by Dinesh Thapa
  4. Have Your Say (Readers’ Views and Comments), compiled by Praveen Kumar Yadav
  5. Nelta Choutari’s Four Year Journey, by Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak
  6. A Site-Generated Statistical Overview of Choutari’s 2012
  7. Wish for a Bigger, Better Choutari, by Hem Raj Kafle

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE WONDERFUL FOUR YEARS OF VERY PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATIONS IN ELT! Please do not forget to comment, share, like, or submit a new post. This forum will be greater when YOU share your thought with the community. 

Happy New Year again!!!

-Shyam Sharma
Stony Brook, New York

On behalf of Choutari’s Outgoing Team
(Shyam Sharma, Bal Sharma, Prem Phyak,
Sajan Karn, Hem Kafle, Kamal Poudel)

Introduction to the New Team

Let us welcome the New Team!

Praveen Kumar Yadav is a Development Coordinator at the Child Rights and Youth Promotion Projects in Community. A near-graduate from Tribhuvan University’s M.Ed program (plus MA in Rural Development), Praveen is a self-motivated, enthusiastic, creative scholar in English language education, a subject that he creatively combines in his work in community development and social mobilization. Praveen is working on his M.Ed thesis which happens to be on the subject of “professional development in Nepalese ELT through blogging” and he focuses on this blog, Nelta Choutari. Praveen has organized a variety of events in both fields of ELT and community development. He is a technologically savvy worker and scholar in both fields. Some of the many other experiences that Praveen was involved in during his highly productive professional career include teaching at the Institute of Community Health and Technology, grade schools, and the Consular Office of India. Praveen has a number of publications to his credit.

Madhav Kafle is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Linguistics at Pennsylvania State University in the United States. He was quite fascinated with the previous issues of Choutari as they cater to multiple tastes that he wishes to rejoice to. The quality of the scholarship and the commitment of the current editors to the profession has amazed and encouraged him to join the ongoing conversation. He thinks that building on what has been already established is quite crucial. He has been on both local and international ELT rivers for at least 10 years. He is a member of Penn TESOL East, Big TESOL, IAWE, AAAL, & NCTE. His major professional interests include globalization and ELT, academic literacies, and critical pedagogy.  He is also interested in language policy and education, and advocacy for minority students. Currently he is exploring how international students in the US negotiate vernacular and academic literacies. When not doing academic work, he loves to go trekking and interact with the people in the rural areas of Nepal. Although he is currently studying abroad and might not be quite familiar with the contemporary state of ELT knowledge in Nepal, he still believes that we can come together in Choutari to show the rest of the ELT world that we DO exist. He hopes that despite various challenges, people across different regions of Nepal as well beyond will exchange their tales and travails so that we can, as Shyam sir says, grow collectively.

Lal Bahadur Rana is a lecturer of English language education at Surkhet Campus (Education), Birendranagar, Surkhet. He has been teaching English at the campus over the last seven years. Besides teaching, he is interested in trekking. He was involved in NELTA from 1996, the time when he was studying at campus in Surkhet as a general member and from 2004 he has become the life member of NELTA. Mr. Rana is also a life member of Goreto Nepal and CT Society Nepal, both of which have been established in Nepal with a view to imparting quality education through critical thinking.

Suresh Kumar Shrestha is From Birgunj, Parsa. He has been a language instructor for over 18 years and is currently teaching at Birgunj Public College, Birgunj as an English teacher and at Birgunj Access Center as an Access teacher, too. He is a B.Sc. (Maths), B.Ed.(English), and doing an M.Ed.(English/ thesis in process). He has done two online English courses from UMBC and attended different training courses, local, regional and international conferences held by NELTA. He is an executive member of NELTA Birgunj , as well as a member of the editors’ team of ‘ELT Today’, an annual journal by NELTA Birgunj He has written several articles for ELT Today and Nelta Choutari and presented a paper in NELTA’s 17th International Conference in Kathmandu.

Ushakiran Wagle is a graduate of Kathmandu University. She is teaching English at National School of Sciences (NIST) Lainchour.  She has the experience of teaching English—and of being a member of NELTA—for three years. She loves to apply new ideas to her teaching, especially by finding out new ideas and issues from her students. Teacher development and the issues related to it professionally attract her to the field of teaching. She has published one article in Nelta Choutari and conducted research studies for her academic work, including an action research whose result was highly beneficial to the students and teachers of a school where the study was conducted. She has also been presenting at NELTA Conferences, as well as working as a volunteer during this conference. Beside the NELTA she is also a member of IATEFL. Usha was drawn to Nelta Choutari because she not only found a lot of useful information about NELTA and issues about ELT on this site, she could also use materials in it for her academic work. She observes a lack of sufficient venues for students and scholars to share their ideas with broad communities in Nepal; so she finds Choutari a place where younger scholars can share their ideas. She looks forward to stimulating the conversation on the blog as she takes on the responsibility as one of the editors.

Bal Ram Adhikari teaches at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University where he has been teaching for the last seven years. He is a graduate with MA and MEd from Tribhuvan University. He joined NELTA as a life member in 2000. To his credit, there are a dozen publications in English grammar for students and teachers, and translations in English and Nepali. He has contributed to textbooks prescribed by the University for its B Ed and MEd students. His research-based articles have appeared in Nepalese Linguistics, Journal of NELTA and Nepalese Art, Literature and Cultures published by Nepal Academy. His areas of interest include teacher training, translation and editing and creative writing. Chautari has been a locus of his interest, especially because of its role in providing a forum for Nepalese ELT practitioners in sharing their experiences and knowledge. How we can bind varied Nepalese ELT experience and knowledge with theoretical strands will be his prime concern. He thinks that we need more readers and critical observation from them to make the Choutari initiation more relevant and success.

(compiled and edited by Shyam Sharma)

Critical Thinking in Language Classroom

                                                                                                            Prem Prasad Poudel

Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University

Learning is the continuous process of obtaining knowledge and skills. Language is the medium for learning and thinking. As Vygotsky said that learning proceeds from pre-intellectual speech that includes crying, cooing, babbling, bodily movements to the complete production of the linguistic utterances. Children learn better through sharing and playing. This is also true for language learning. There are various methods that focus on learners’ participation in the learning process. Children as well as adults learn through cooperation. In the countries like ours have inappropriate classroom management, which do not support learning through communication and cooperation. If the classroom situations and teachers help in learners thinking, they may develop decision and judgment skills.

Webster’s New World Dictionary (1988) defines the word ‘think’ as the general word which means to exercise the mental faculties so as to form ideas, arrive at conclusion, etc. If teachers foster thinking environment in the classroom, the learners will be the top class beneficiary. The most successful classrooms are those that encourage students to think for themselves and engage in critical thinking (Halpern, 1996, Kurland, 1995, Unrau, 1997). We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment that results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation and inference as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. Critical thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, critical thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life (Facione, 1990). Critical thinking has become a hot topic of discussion in the field of education today.

Critical thinking allows learners to think about their own thoughts and the reasons behind their points of view. It means that they reflect on their own ways of making decisions or solving problems. Thinking like this means that their thoughts are consciously directed to some goals. Their  thoughts and ideas are not only based on their biases or prejudices but also on logical or information they might gather and filter from many sources. As they think critically, they are always mindful of what and how they are thinking. When they detect an error or a different way to think about a problem, they explore it eagerly. Students who think critically are typically excited about their learning. They see challenges and opportunities for learning in even the most difficult intellectual tasks. Critical thinking methodology is useful in all the subject areas and it has been very much influential in the area of language teaching as well.

Language teaching classroom must foster critical thinking on the part of the learners. Some think that critical thinking is useful for only the adult learners, but there are a number of chances that we may engage children in wide range of thinking activities. Thinking activities depend on the objectives of teaching. The type of objectives and type of questions create active learning and thinking in the students. They may ask questions ranging from very lowest level to the highest level. The following list includes categories of question and objectives that range from the lowest level (simply remembering) to the highest level (creating).

Lower level activities:  drawing and coloring,  copying, reading aloud, silent reading and watching, memorizing, revising, simple comprehension, looking things up, etc.

Higher level activities: imaginative writing tasks, collecting evidence, problem solving, deducing, reasoning tasks, application tasks, analysis tasks, synthesis tasks, evaluation, creation, summarizing, etc.

In my reflection of my own teaching experience and observation of other language teachers’ (novice and experts) classroom presentations, I found the following problems-

  1. Teachers  don’t encourage students to think
  2. Their students do not want to spend time for thinking, if their teachers ask them to think for one or two minutes, they take it as a waste of time or an opportunity to make fuss.
  3. Teachers are not worried about students learning.
  4. Classrooms are not resourceful. The available resources are even not properly used.
  5. Most of the classroom situations do not favor group work or pair work activities.
  6. Teachers find difficulties in forming groups appropriately.
  7. The teaching is focused on some students only, teaching doesn’t cover whole class.
  8. Some students (especially shy and slow learners) get frustrated, humiliated and develop inferiority complex because of the class domination by some quick learners.
  9. Teachers teach the content more than the language. They do not realize ‘language focus’ in language classes.
  10. Students and teachers most often spend more time in single activity.
  11. Some teachers conduct group or pair work activities but they are ill-managed, not organized, etc.

To minimize most of the above mentioned problems, the critical thinking based activities will be more supportive.

Activities for generating critical thinking in the language classroom

  1. 1.      Jigsaw technique: Jigsaw is one of the highly influential techniques for generating students’ cooperative learning in the language classroom. This technique requires students to help each other learn some grammar topics or vocabulary items. It is equally useful in teaching listening, speaking, reading and writing. That means it can be used when students are reading a text, listening to presentations and even while carrying out a group investigation. This strategy of teaching learning employs both home groups and expert groups. This helps all the students to study and learn all of the materials. The learners may become experts as they teach each other parts of the material. Each student thus has an active role in teaching and learning and experience deep understanding and higher order thinking.

 

Procedures

–          Teachers prepare beforehand. They review the learning materials, write questions to guide students’ learning.

–          Teachers assign students to groups. The students count the number one-two-three-four-five- six and students counting from one to the other number (the number may depend on the number of the students kept in a group)stay in one group. Other groups are formed in the same way. Each group includes the reasonable number of students. Groups are formed based on the nature of learning material and availability of the resources. The groups comprise of the boys and girls, more capable and less capable students.

–          The tasks are assigned, the tasks may be ‘reading stories, writing paragraphs, summarizing paragraphs, solving problems or project works’, etc. Each group is given a different task of the same teaching lesson.

–          Student work in their groups, they select their leader. Teachers need to control during the nomination of the group leader. In every next learning session, there will be a different leader so that all the student may be participating and working as a leader.

–          The teacher invites expert group and instructs the group about the activity. The  experts go to their respective group and help others do the task accordingly.

–          Students complete the task, come with an outcome within a stipulated timeframe. They become expert in the task provided to them.

–          Teacher monitors, assists and makes sure that they are engaged in the task assigned.

–          The students remix to form another type of group. The students counting number one stay in one group, two in another group and this continues until the last group is formed. Here, all the groups include the students having knowledge on the different task assigned to different groups before. There is information gap. They discuss each other and make complete information of the whole learning material.

–          Group leaders make presentations of the tasks one by one, other members of groups  comment on the presentation and finally they consolidate the learning outcome.

Let me discuss about a lesson I presented using this technique at grade eleven. The presentation was on reading a story that included five paragraphs, the number of students in the class was 32.

I prepared one day before I taught. I prepared separate reading texts breaking down the story into five paragraphs. I divided the student into five groups. Three groups consisted of six students and two groups consisted of seven students. In the class I asked the student speak out the numbers from one to five and asked students with the number one to five in one group and another one to five into another group and so on so the five groups were formed. After formation of the group, I asked each group to select one student to be an expert. I invited five experts in an expert group, instructed them about the learning task (the task that each had to do- it was reading a paragraph). The experts went back to their home group and instructed others about the task. They read the paragraph assigned to them. Again I asked each member of the group to form group of the similar numbers. For example, group A was formed of the students who had the number ‘one’. In the similar way, other groups were formed. Each group included students who were experts of all the paragraphs of the story. There was information gap among them. The student from the first group shared the information of the first paragraph; the student of second group shared the information of the second paragraph and so on. Finally the new groups made understanding of the whole story. If any of the members was confused, they discussed again in the group and finally came to the teacher with the summary of the story. There was a quick write exercise to check if they understood the story. Some comprehension questions were designed and they were further suggested to answer working in the pairs. Their queries were answered. They were also asked to make critical judgment of the story.

 

From this activity, I found that students experienced being teachers and also had developed a sense of being responsible for learning and sharing. They were more empowered and had to speak at least something. While sharing, they had good confidence and all of them were very much attentive and active in the learning process. From this activity, I found jigsaw to be useful for teaching language skills and vocabulary too.

  1. 2.      Pair reading-pair summarizing technique:  This technique is mostly used to practice reading and speaking. It can be used in the very beginning classes and the advanced levels also. The nature of the reading text will be different accordingly. This technique also allows students to take more initiative in their own and each other’s learning. It may take times more than simply reading aloud but there is more chance of making comprehension of the text more closely. It could be used in the large classes also.

Procedures

–          Teachers choose more informative text with short paragraphs. If paragraphs are not available, they may indicate the limitation of the text for each pair to read.

–          Students pair up.

–          One student of the pair reads one paragraph or marked section of the text and provides summary of it.

–          Teachers ask some cross questions to other students in order to check understanding, some of them may report the summary they heard from their peer.

–          Other students are asked to make questions related to the paragraph if they have confusion.

–          The same procedure continues till all the paragraphs are finished and all pairs do the activity. If the text is short, some pairs may read and summarize and other pairs may re-summarize, ask questions and give opinion on what was mentioned in the text.

My own experience of using this:

I used the same procedure in class eight (it was a class presented as a model class during teacher training). At first students were hesitant doing this. They thought that they will be unable to do the task. I encouraged them and finally they did it. There were 46 students. I made 23 pairs. The pairs were heterogeneous. There was a reading passage of 35 lines. I instructed each pair read three to four lines. Once a student of the pair read the text, s/he immediately summarized. Other student of other pair summarized the text again, and another student of another pair asked questions related to the text. I asked other interested students to deliver their own opinion on the text information mentioned on the text too. It was very much interesting because students were acting and reacting, making judgment and giving their own logic. In the similar way, reading all the paragraphs of the text was finished successfully. Finally I asked all the students to summarize the whole story working in groups of five for five minutes. I requested two groups make presentations of the summary of the text. They shared and other added more information that were missing. At the end of the session, they said that it was really good way to practice.  

 

  1. 3.      Read- summarize-question technique: This technique of teaching and learning is useful for practicing reading, listening and speaking skill simultaneously. It also develops their thinking too. People find it more difficult to use at the very beginning level. It is certainly fruitful in the upper grades.

Procedures

–          Teacher selects the reading passage or paragraphs.

–          S/he clarifies the way it takes place in the classroom.

–          One student reads the text, s/he points another student to summarize what    he read, the student summarizes it after making close listening to the       paragraph read by the first student and that student again asks another             student sitting little further in the class ask questions about the text    read     and summarized  before. The answer of the question may be given by          somebody other than those who participated.

–          This process continues until the whole task is finished. The teacher monitors            and guides in order to make sure that all students took part in the learning   process.

My experience of using this technique

When I used this technique in the classroom, my students were very much attentive on what was going on. They were so because they thought that they might need to say about it at any time. This worked well in the classes like ours where the benches are fixed in such a way that sometimes there is no space for the teacher to move around. Once I clarified the process, students themselves conducted it well. Finally I summarized the text following some questions asked to check their comprehension. To develop their higher order thinking skills, we may modify the questions and activities and relate them to synthesizing, evaluating and creating.

 

Conclusion 

Thinking activities develop learner’s motivation. There are many other activities that generate critical thinking on the part of the learners. If the teachers are well-known and prepared, they may design their own activities that help the learners  develop lower level to higher level thinking skills. The three techniques I mentioned above develop integrated learning of language skills of aspects. All of these activities enhance learners’ readiness, feeling of responsibility and sharing. Finally they will be the critical thinkers. Many of the present classroom related problems could be solved and some of them could be minimized.

NELTA Lalitpur holds district conference


Dinesh Thapa

NELTA Lalitpur organised a district conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) amidst a grand gathering of ELT practioners on Dec 29 and 30, 2012 at Kitini College Godawary, Lalitpur. There were about 180 participants including guests and presenters in the program. The theme of the conference was ‘Promoting English in Local Context’.

The program was presided over by Mr. Nabin Mahat, president of NELTA Lalitpur while Senior Vice President of NELTA Ms. Meera Shrestha was the chief guest of the inauguration ceremony. They jointly inaugurated the conference by kindling a candle. Former President of NELTA Centre Mr. Ganga Ram Gautam, Kitini College Chief Mr. Narayan Prasad Banskota, PABSON Lalitpur Chair Mr. Nawaraj Mahat, DEO NELTA Focal Person Mr. Damodar Timalsina, Mr. Rameshwor Lamichhane from District Education Office, Associate Editor of Shikshak Monthly Sudarshan Ghimire, President of Science Teachers’ Association Nepal and Resource Person Mr. Babuhari Marasini and other guests were present in the ceremony.

Following the inauguration, Ms. Shrestha delivered a key speech on the conference theme. Similarly, Immediate Senior Vice President of NELTA Centre and Associate Professor of Kathmandu University Mr. Laxman Gnawali facilitated a plenary session on ‘English Teachers’ Dilemma’. Similarly, Mrs. Madhu Neupane, executive member of NELTA Centre facilitated a plenary on ‘Teaching English as an International Language’. Another interesting plenary ‘Handwriting and Creative Arts in the English language Class’ was hosted by Mr. Bamdev Yogi, Creative Arts expert. Teachers from Lalitpur and across, ETAs and former ETAs were chiefly the ones to give their presentations. The presentations facilitated in the two-day program were focused on classroom issues of ELT and hence they were much relevant and useful to the participants.

The most unique feature of the conference had a panel discussion on the beat of community schools converting their Medium of Instruction (MoI) into English. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Dinesh Thapa with the panelists as Mr. Mohan Bhurtel expert from TITI Nepal, Mr. Deepak Maharjan of PABSON Lalitpur, Mr. Thakur Prasad Upadhaya, one of the principals changing the MoI, Mr. Ashok Sharma and Mr. Ashok Raj Khati from NELTA.

The gathering in bulk was converted into the AGM in the last session of the second day. Following a discussion on the existing committee’s reports, a new executive committee of 11 members was formed. The newly formed committee consists of Mr. Dinesh Sanjel as Chair, Mr. Bharat Babu Khanal as Vice- chair, Mr. Gokul Sharma as Secretary, Mr. Dinesh Thapa as Assistant Secretary and Mr. Hari Kafle as Treasurer. The presenters, participants, sponsors and volunteers were recognized duly with vote of thanks, certificates and tokens of love. The program ended with the immediate past committee handing over the responsibility to the newly formed committee. The new committee held their first meeting and an interview with the team was broadcast live by local radio station Jana Aawaj FM for 30 minutes. Let’s not forget that it is the third district conference NELTA Lalitpur has organized. It was, indeed, a grand successful, wonderful and historical event of NELTA Lalitpur.

2012: A Statistical Review of NeltaChoutari

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the report generated by the site wordpress.com:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 46,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Wish for a Bigger, Better Choutari

Hem Raj Kafle

I remember seeing Shyam only once in one of my NELTA conference sessions in 2004. I get to see Sajan once a year. I know Prem well but we used to meet on rare occasions before he flew to pursue the doctorate. I have known Mr. Kamal Paudel for the last 15 years, but our regular communication is limited to Facebook chats and telephone conversations. Bal and I have never seen each other.

Nelta Choutari brought all of us to personal and professional intimacy.

I became a part of Choutari because of my audacity to ask for more work.  I first expressed the intention to join the team in the 2010 Nelta International Conference, at Little Angels’ College, Lalitpur. A webinar conducted by Mr. Paudel, Prem, and Sajan, featuring Shyam and Bal from USA during their late nights was something for epiphany. The advocacy for professional networks, and of the use of Web 2.0 among the English community, and the mention of Choutari and what its team had by then done gave me a sense of elevation. This happened to be a time while I was almost surreptitiously maintaining a couple of personal blogs, and while only a handful of academics in Nepal were beginning to take note of the worth of owning a platform of this sort.

The Team readily accepted me as an administrator/editor as early as April 2010. But I had only little zeal for stereotypes, and proposed to the Team that we could reach out to people beyond the English community to talk about English and its disciplinary worth. In my first editorial for Choutari (May 2010), I made an invitation to work ‘beyond the ritual’, to “come challenge our smug culture of sharing very little or nothing.”

Choutari gradually became an inclusive space with areas as diverse where English played a part as literary criticism, scientific research, travel writing, and teaching. There was little qualm about this multiplicity and the publication of the seemingly extra-ELT texts. But we had agreed upon the value of exploring the human as much as the professional, teacher and learner. Working mainly on the oral history project was the memorable experience in this direction. The interviews sought to bring out the personal stories of English teachers, which at times might have failed to appeal to a wider audience. With what I could collect it was not easy to satisfy certain type of people, the type that expected to hear certain type of English and certain type of opinion. But it was meaningful to have on board people like Gammbhir Man Maskey (Kathmandu) Rajendra Bimal (Janakpur), Prem Subedi (Morang) and Ekku Pun (Dhulikhel).

Choutari literally gave me a company of endurably cheeky and competent friends, who did not observe ritualistic courtesies in matters of quality and keep quiet in the urgency to speak. This quality I had developed already in the company of the ‘youngsters’ in the Society of Nepali Writers in English and Literary Association of Nepal. At times, the Choutari Team together thought we hurt ‘senior’ contributors by trying to put things straight. Often we anticipated that some people would stop writing for us. But, we assured one another the authenticity of our collective audacity, the advocacy of openness and quality. And every contributor turned out to be readier to help us. A simple, unpaid blog attained merits of a professional resource site.

We had always been maddened by a number of other priorities. But Choutari did not fail to come later than the second day of a new month. This was the result of our friendly non-compromise for delay. We helped and claimed the right to be helped. And we clung to the principle of remaining intact till a good team of volunteers was ready to take the charge. Truly, I was the last person to join the team and nearly became the first to leave, in lack of time. But the team held me around. I am glad I did not drop midway.

A lot of people know us by our names and writings. I often happen to surprise a young ELT scholar in our first acquaintance. I feel that people have formed an impression about us different from our faces tell them. Perhaps, we don’t look the way we write and quarrel.

I am glad I joined the team of great scholars — cheeky, audacious, resourceful …. I hope the new team will check being too submissive, too compromising and too polite in matters of professional integrity. I wish you all the best for bigger, better Choutari and promise to remain a part as a reader and contributor.

Happy New Year.

How to use Newspapers in ELT

 

Praveen Kumar Yadav
praveenkumaryadava@gmail.com

 

Background

Teaching English through the use of authentic materials can prove effective, creative, innovative and interesting for both English language teachers and learners. What we mean by authentic materials in teaching is the materials that have not been designed for teaching purpose. For example, a letter written by your friend, a press release, a notice and other materials that are not meant to have developed for teaching can be authentic materials for English language classroom.  Teaching English through the use of newspapers in ESL/EFL class is one of the popular sources of authentic materials.

A newspaper refers to a printed publication daily or weekly containing news, advertisement and articles on various subjects. The NEWSPAPER has an acronym in which ‘N’ stands for North, ‘E’ for East, ‘W’ for West and ‘S’ for South respectively. That is to say, the newspapers report the incidents from all four directions of the place or the world.

Newspapers, obviously, are authentic teaching materials for English language classroom. They can be used for a variety of purposes in English language teaching. For example, they can be used to motivate students, to present new structures and practise them, for communicative activities, for teaching free compositions writing and vocabulary and so on. The newspapers include different sections and columns like editorials, news, book review, advertisements, condolences, letter to the editors that can be cut out for preparing different teaching materials for ESL/EFL classroom.

Unlike most language textbooks, this information builds from day to day—what is learned in reading a story today can be applied to an updated version of the same story tomorrow.

In other words, the newspapers are more current and updated in comparison to the course books.

Suggested Activities

  1. 1.      News in Brief

    In some newspapers e.g. Newsdigest as in The Kathmandu Post, there is a ‘news in brief’ section consisting of many short news items (one paragraph each).

–         Give each pair of learners one of these news items for reading

–         Ask them to write a headline for it on a separate slip of paper.

–         Collect all the stories and the headlines.

–         Paste them on the board or put them on a table and ask learners to match the stories and the headlines.

  1. 2.      Caption Writing

–         First of all, let the learners read the captions under the photos and learn the structures and patterns used.

–         Assign them to write the caption of some photos

–         Collect the captions written by the learners and paste them on the board to decide the one which is the best of all.

  1. 3.      Letter to the Editor

There is a letter to the editor section in each and every English Newspaper. For example, Voice of the People in The Kathmandu Post, letters to the editor in The Himalayan Times.

–         Direct learners to the letters to the editors section of the newspaper.

–         Ask them to read some of the letters and discuss in pairs which ones they find most interesting/ controversial/ easy to understand. Feedback on this as a class. There is often more than one letter in the letter to the editor section that can spark discussion or a controversy.

–         Now ask learners to write their own letter to the editor. They can respond to one of the letters on the page, or they can write about a recent news item. They must write between 25 and 75 words. When they have finished, ask them to compare letters with a partner and try to peer correct any big mistakes. Circulate and monitor. Then post the letters to the editor around the class. If someone responded to an earlier letter then they should copy and cut out the original letter to which they are responding.

–         If possible, email the letters written by the learners to the respective newspapers. If published, they will be encouraged and it would also act as a reward to them.

–         Ask the learners to read the news or article and let them write a letter to the editor responding the news and article.

  1. 4.      What’s this?

–          Cut out some photos from various newspapers (not necessarily English newspapers) of recent news items which are familiar/ relevant/ of interest to your learners.

–         Put the learners in pairs. Demonstrate the activity by holding up a picture.

–         Let them speak and describe what is in the picture (there is… there are… a man is talking… two women are walking….)

–         Speculate about what the news story could be (it could be… it must be… he might be…)

–         Ask learners to do the same with their picture in pairs. As a follow up they could write the caption for the photo on a separate piece of paper. Collect the captions and photos. Redistribute them to the learners, who now have to find the photo to match the caption.

  1. 5.      Newspapers as a prompt

We can always use newspapers as a prompt to start a discussion on a given topic. Just as we would show a picture of something to prompt discussion, do the same with a newspaper article. If our aim is discussion and speaking skills, then why not use a newspaper written in the learners’ L1 to prompt discussion? Learners will be able to skim an article much quicker in their own language, especially at lower levels. If the issue is local, all the more reason to do so.

A variation of this would be to ask the learner to read something from the newspaper in their own language and explain it to you in English (of course this works best in small classes or one to one classes).

  1. 6.      Newspaper as a prop

We can use a newspaper in class without learners having to read it at all. For some role play speaking activities give out props. For fidgety learners, having something to hold while they are speaking can help!

For example, role-play a conversation between two people over a coffee in the morning. To help them get started, give them the following options to start a conversation:

A (reading a newspaper) – Can you BELIEVE this?
B – What is it?
A – This is an outrage. Listen to this…
A – Are you listening to me?
B (reading a newspaper) – Hmmmm?
A – I was saying…

  1. 7.      Role-play the news

    Choose an interesting article or story from the newspaper and make enough copies for every pair of learners. There are often “human interest” stories in the newspaper which adapt themselves well to role play (“Man finds long lost brother”; “Lottery winner buys a house for pet dog” etc.). Ask learners to first read the newspaper and then improvise a short role play. Role plays from newspapers are often conducted one of two ways: 1) one learner plays the journalist and the other plays the protagonist of the story; the journalists does an interview, or 2) learners each take the role of a person in the story and act out the story, or something that happens before or after the story.

8. What’s in the news today?

– Distribute the newspapers, one for each group of two or three learners.

– Tell them they have a time limit with which to skim through the newspaper.

– When the time limit is up, ask two groups to get together and report to each other   everything they remember that is in the news.

They must do this in English, and cannot refer to the newspapers (this is important, because otherwise we may get one or two learners who bury their heads in the paper and don’t participate!). Do feedback as a whole group. This is a combined reading and speaking activity, although the time limit forces learners to use the reading skill of skimming.

9. Newspaper show and tell

Give each learner a newspaper and tell them that for homework, we would like them to take the newspaper home, choose an article and prepare a report on it to classmates. The report must be no longer than five minutes, and should include peer teaching on new vocabulary that the learner encounters in their article. This encourages reading outside the classroom, as well as dictionary use. Set up a schedule and have the last five minutes of every class devoted to news reports by a learner or learners and make this project part of our class routine.

10. Newspaper Quiz

Give each group of four or five learners a newspaper and a piece of paper. Tell them that they have ten minutes to make a quiz based on that section of the newspaper. Suggest different kinds of questions, e.g. How long has X been… Where is …? How many people…? What happened in …? Who is…? Who won…? How much did…pay/cost…?

In groups, learners write six questions. Circulate and monitor, checking the grammar and spelling in the questions (and making sure that questions are not too difficult!)

When the groups are finished, they pass the paper and the questions to another group. Set a time limit for new groups to do the quiz. Repeat the process if you have time. Do feedback and check the answers to the quizzes. This is good to practise the reading skill of scanning for information.

These are not only the exercises that can be used for English language teaching using the newspapers. A number of creative activities for different language skills can be prepared based on the different items of the newspapers.

Conclusion 

Newspaper is a useful tool in the ELT classroom for improving reading skills and enhancing students’ knowledge of current affairs. However, it depends on the teacher or facilitators how they work out with the newspaper materials. Therefore, they should be able to select the items that suit the need of the language learners. They should keep in mind that learners should be left free to select an article that interests them, work on it and report back to other learners. They should get learners to read outside the class as much as possible.

If we teachers can get our learners to regularly dip into English newspapers, their reading skills, writing skills and vocabulary will improve.  We can talk about reading and comprehension of English texts with our learners as well, and share strategies that they use while reading. If used in a more inspiring way, newspapers can help both the teachers and learners achieving their goals.

 

Growing Together with NELTA

Shyam Sharma, State University of New York

It was during the summer of either 1995 or 1996 when I attended my first ELT training. Professor Awasthi and Ganga Ram Gautam were in the city of Butwal to offer a one week training. In the almost two decades that followed, I have not only attended but also presented teaching workshops, training sessions, and papers. But when I think about my own growth as a teacher, I start in Butwal, with Awasthi and Gautam as the trainers. These two ELT scholars had a different way of sharing ideas: they inspired the participants to think about language teaching as a profession, as a life-long journey. They didn’t just tell us how to teach the conversion of active to passive voice; they framed their presentation of teaching skills within larger ideas of professional development. Gradually, I found out that these two scholars were among the first few people in Nepal to start a new organization called NELTA, an organization that they repeatedly told us back in those days was NOT politically oriented or influenced, an organization that was dedicated to professionalizing ELT in Nepal. What they said that week made an impact that continues to make me think about ELT, about teaching English in relation to the larger domain of secondary and tertiary education in Nepal, about professional development of the people and the organization that brings them together, generation after generation.

As I returned home from teaching  the first week of class to business studies majors at the State University of New York this week, I thought about my journey of teaching from Butwal to Stony Brook. We all have our own individual paths that are different from everyone else’s, but we also have something that we share. I share with most readers of this entry (fellow English teachers in Nepal) a professional platform, a platform from which we have all gained something and to which we have given something. I learned from the community of NELTA scholars—conference presenters, to be more precise—how to use the blackboard, how to teach vocabulary, how to integrate literature into language teaching. I don’t know how significant my giving to NELTA community has been, but I think about it, I try my best. I was not one of the most active members between my becoming a member while I was teaching in Butwal and when I left for further studies in 2006, but I actively participated in NELTA trainings and conferences. I guess I learned to value professional development through give and take with a professional organization a little late in my career. But while I might have picked up the excitement about professional development a little slowly, when I think about how my participation in trainings and other professional development activities of the first few years paved the path for the next stage (for instance when my ELT trainings made my teaching at TU more effective), I realize how important an engagement with a professional community can be.

As I reflect on my own experiences, I want to urge my colleagues—not just those who are new in the profession of ELT but also those who are my generation and older—to share, to inspire others, to engage in professional conversations and activities, and to help NELTA build scholarship from the ground up. We have a journal, and we have this blog where a substantive amount of scholarship is published; but we need much more. We need to create more, and newer types of venues for developing and exchanging professional ideas that come out of or are applicable to the particular context of Nepal. For instance, a twitter-based conversation could help us share quick teaching tips with brief text; or a more teaching-focused conversation via Facebook would help us bring more of us into the conversation. Maybe we need more journals, newsletters, and mailing lists. But for any and all of these ideas, we need dedicated NELTA members. And the larger point that I am trying to make here is that there is space and opportunity—and also need—for many, many more NELTA members to start new initiatives, to join existing forums of professional conversation, and to share news ideas and challenge our conventions.

In order to realize our potentials, we may need to change or update our approaches and even our attitudes toward professional development of ourselves and our organization. When I first went for ELT training, I felt a stark difference between the “training” that one of my cousins, who was a public school teacher, went to and the training that I went to as a private school teacher. For my cousin, the training was a source of income and a matter of some pride/ego when he returned to the village. My incentives were very different: I was excited by the skills that I learned and used in my classroom and by the difference that using those new skills made in my teaching and my students’ learning. Over the course of the next ten years, NELTA’s ELT trainings helped me become an effective teacher as I moved up the ladder of my career. Even when I left teaching in high school and started teaching at the university—a place where teaching methods had almost no place in the discussions, programs, or incentives for teachers—I continued to implement new pedagogical skills and ideas that I brought back from NELTA trainings, conferences, and publications. In fact, even after I switched my discipline to writing studies and moved to a radically different academic setting in the United States, I refused to stop asking how the pedagogical ideas and skills that I had learned in the field of ELT might apply to the new discipline. Specific idea and skill from ELT may not have been directly relevant in the new discipline, but the underlying passion for professional development that I had acquired kept me excited, eager, and passionate about learning new teaching skills. I once again bring in my personal experience because I want to urge my colleagues in Nepal—whether you are just beginning to teach or have taught as long as me (or more)—to invest as much time and attention as possible to professional engagement with this great organization.

I will admit that NELTA as an organization has not always tapped into the potentials of its members very well. We see young people come in with excitement, and cool down after a while. When this happens, I am reminded of a teaching tip that professor gave me some years ago, telling me to “not” tell a student that what he/she is saying is obvious, that it has been said already by someone else. That’s not the point about learning; a learner needs to be excited first and foremost, rather than their knowledge having to be just right, relevant, substantive, etc. Let us inspire our new members to share whatever they can share, telling that they don’t have to say the most important thing in the world in our forums. Let us write to explicitly encourage and inspire them. Let us give them opportunities and challenge them. We tend to focus on “quality” at the cost of equal opportunity and respect for everyone. Often I feel like older members of NELTA don’t use the basic social skill of communicating, acknowledging, joining the conversation with especially younger members. Indeed, people with greater social status seem to be reluctant to take issues of teaching, learning, and scholarship seriously/passionately. It’s possible that in our culture at large, when people become more experienced and established, we expect them to maintain their status—which may make sense from a certain perspective but it is a terrible thing from the perspective of professional development, both for them and for the professional community at large. That is perhaps why we see many senior scholars, in any field, who do not share their ideas in writing—neither in traditional nor newer modes of professional communication—and so they lose the wonderful opportunities of continuing to develop professionally and intellectually. Other people regard them superior just on the basis of their age and status. That’s a terrible, terrible culture that needs to change.

Let me state more explicitly my objective for sharing this reflect on my journey with NELTA. First, I feel at this point that I am at a major turning point in my career. In August, I joined the State University of New York, the largest and one of the most prestigious public university systems in the United States, as an assistant professor. Though I specialize in writing studies (I moved away from ELT per se almost a decade ago), I continue to profoundly value my participation in NELTA’s various professional development activities (journal, blog, social media and mailing list, conference, personal and personal communication with members of the community) because I believe that I can give something back to a society and professional community to which I owe a lot. As I indicated above, I may be in a different kind of situation today, but I too started like any primary or secondary school teacher in Butwal or Birgunj or Taplejung is starting today—with a dream, with passion as an English teacher. I believe that if those of us who have a few ideas to share do not hesitate and share those ideas, we will inspire more new and young and resourceful colleagues to come forward. We may want to give back (as well as take from) NELTA in different ways—off and on line, in person and in groups, in formal and informal settings—but we can and should all give and take.

If NELTA grows, we will grow. Even when we go different routes off the regular path, we can help others who follow our footpaths grow and realize tremendous potentials for them, for Nepal, and for the world. And in helping them, we always get a lot back. We get new ideas, inspiration, satisfaction like nothing else. That’s a strong and sincere feeling about my growth with NELTA—from Butwal to Kathmandu to Kentucky to New York—which I wanted to share as I start a new journey in my professional career.

An English Teacher’s Dilemma

Umes Shrestha
Shining Stars Boarding School, Sanepa, Lalitpur.

This is one of the common expressions students in my school use. I’ve been teaching English in a secondary school in Lalitpur for almost two years, and here are few of the problems I have come across.

The first one – the students, both juniors and seniors, have the habit of speaking in “progressive” almost all the time. For instance:
Sir, he is beating me and taking my book.
He is pushing for me.

She is pushing for him, and beating for him. And he is crying.
(Their endemic use of ‘for’, too)

I am not so sure how the students picked up this sort of English speaking habit in the school. But I think they might have picked it from the teachers in the first place. A common logic says – students learn from the teachers. May be from the English teachers, or may be from other subject teachers.

The school system says, we need to create English environment. Everyone must speak in English, both the teachers and the students (except for in the Nepali classes). This system is followed in most of the private boarding schools all over Nepal. I don’t know how far the system has been effective. But, I can’t change the system. If it was up to me, I would give the students a choice between learning other subjects in English or their mother tongue Nepali. I’m not sure if that would work either. Until that happens, the teachers need to stick with the system and try to be better at it somehow.

Coming back to my situation, the second problem – the students speak a weird form of English; a version which is a direct translation of Nepali to English and mixed with incorrect/unusual sentence structures. Some call it “nepanglish”. Some say its okay, and that we should use English in our own Nepali context. It will even help develop a new dialect of English – a native-tied version of English, they say. Some, just like me, frown over it.

I’m facing this crisis in Class 9 and 10, every single day. I’m stuck in this strange dilemma – whether to finish the course in time and prepare them for the SLC exam or to teach them right from the basic grammar and basic English expressions.

May be the whole concept of teaching English in the schools has to be redefined. May be the system (like, English Speaking Zone) needs to be discarded. May be we’re giving pointless importance on English as a foreign language.

Or may be, we should be able to use English without grammatical errors and we need to strive for it.

May be, we don’t have to speak or write correct version of English at all and we will still do well in future. Lots of may be-s, lots of opinions.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of some “nepanglish” expressions I’ve heard students (and teachers alike) use in the school.

Homework became.
Give fast. (Fast giving.)
I am not beating him and. (Yes, they end the sentence with an ‘and’)
Book give.
Headache making.
Homework show.
Fall downing. Take outing. Get upping.
I am catching book.
Shouting much yeah?
Have must go home.
Have you pen?
Angry coming for me.
Nonsense fellow, Hero becoming?
Late became.

Well, how is it at your school?

——————————————

Umes Shrestha also runs a personal blog:
Personal blog:  www.latebecame.wordpress.com.

Editorial, July 2012 Issue

I hope everyone is having a nice summer.

Here is July 2012 issue of Nelta Choutari. This is a variety pack. The increased diversity of contributors is exciting. And we are also excited about the fact that our contributors share their experiences while discussing issues at more or less general scholarly/theoretical level.

The first piece is a reflection of one of our colleagues, Kapil Neupane, who shares his experiences about beginning to use lesson plans and improving his teaching. In an entry about corporal punishment, Atmaram Bhattarai and Praveen Yadav first describe the scenario of corporal punishment in Nepal and then argue why corporal punishment is not the solution to problems that it is supposed to solve. The authors also provide alternatives and make an appeal to NELTA as a professional organization to address the issue of corporal punishment in our schools. Tirtha Wagle writes about an issue that most of us are are not aware about, decision making before, during, and after teaching. Sometimes, we ask editors to join the conversation, so in this issue Bal has provided an entry in which he discusses how experienced teachers deal with diverse students in the classroom. Finally, we have included the second half of the interview from last month with a veteran English language teacher Dr. Rajendra Bimal (thanks to Praveen Yadav again for collecting the interview). For convenience, here is the list:

I hope that you will enjoy this issue and join the conversation as always. You don’t need grand ideas, just any response, thought/opinion on the topic, or a genuine appreciation or critique. And please remember to share it on your professional/social networks.

Thank you and happy reading!

Shyam Sharma

Importance of Lesson Plan in ELT Class

Kapil Neupane, Model Boarding Higher Secondary School, Bhaktapur

A “lesson plan” can be defined in many ways. As someone who learned the idea of lesson plans after having taught for a while, I have found lesson plans to be the most valuable asset in my teaching. Without a lesson plan, I get nowhere with my teaching. A lawyer spends hours planning a case before appearing in court, a couch spends hours planning the plays and watching the team and a director explains his film story to his actors again and again, just why? Any successful professional knows that the quality of planning and preparation affects the quality of results. So, a lesson plan is to a teacher what a calculator is to an engineer, a stethoscope to a doctor, and a packet of seeds to a farmer. A lesson plan gives teachers an eagle’s eye of view of things to be taught and learned everyday. It also helps them determine when to insert ice breaks, interesting facts, and other components of engaging learning for my students. In fact, if used well, a lesson plan can also help students’ learning by helping them know what comes when and how things are done during a class by the teacher and by them.

Now, let me share my experiences of teaching which really began ten years ago. During those days, I did not really plan and prepare what I wanted to do during a class before entering the classroom; I read the material and thought that I knew the content well enough to teach it. In retrospect, I understand that my students did not pay much attention—and some did their homework for the next class and others just seemed to wait for the bell to ring—because I did not have clear purpose and organization behind my teaching. I got many complaints about my students being noisy from the teachers teaching at another class next to mine, and I complained about my students lack of attention. Some of the students pretended to listen to me perhaps to keep me pleased.

Frankly, I too waited for the bells to ring because the classes were painfully disorganized and students’ didn’t behave well. During class time, I had no fixed time for students’ performance and exchange of their learning, and when the bell rang I would frantically try to tell students what to do for the next class. There was no time for students to ask questions about homework or revisions. I rarely went to class with teaching material other than the course book, and my only objective was to finish teaching that material. Many of my students failed their exams, and I had to explain why. In response, I was upset and I went to the extent of scolding and blaming the students for being lazy. But the problem was that most students who failed in my class did better in other subjects. There had to be a reason. And for sure, the key reason was that I did not teach with a plan and a purpose. I did not use lesson plans, did not assess the outcome, and improve my teaching.

It was when I joined the bachelor of education degree that During I studied a theoretical subject in which I got the opportunity to learn about how to plan and execute a lesson and what the benefits of doing so are. I also later got other opportunities to participate in ELT trainings and workshops.

Today, I realize that the failure of students can be indirectly the failure of their teacher. Students who are taught without a clear sense of purpose and well-designed learning activities fail more often than students others. Now I enter any classrooms only after preparing a compete lesson which allows me to visualize every steps of teaching process in advance. In addition, a lesson plan records and saves my time as I teach similar subject and lesson in the future. Although it requires an investment of time, energy, and thought, lesson planning has been more than worth the time and energy to me.

We can … without corporal punishment

Atmaram Bhattarai & Praveen Kumar Yadav
Plan Nepal Sindhuli/Rautahat

Abstract

Cruel and humiliating forms of psychological punishment, gender-based violence and bullying remain a daily reality for millions of children in schools. Such different sorts of violence adversely affect quality education and create fearful learning environment violating the rights of children to learn in a safe school environment. The short article attempts to look back to the history of corporal punishment, moves further with the consequences and reasons for such punishments and finally concludes with alternative ways to create learn without fear environment. Overall, it appeals all the stakeholders to join hands to contribute Learn without Fear campaign launched globally with an aim to end violence against children in all schools.

Scenario of Corporal Punishment in Nepal

Corporal punishment in school has become a preferred measurable tool for making children disciplined. 57.77% of school going children in the world is potentially risk of receiving school corporal punishment. A study done by Plan Nepal in different 7 districts in 2011 shows that 39.34% of children realized punished corporally by the teachers. They also mentioned that 5.34% of total school droppers are because of the corporal punishment.

The above data makes some of us cringe while it is common for some.  No doubt, we were compelled to grow up in fearful learning environment in Nepalese context. The Learn with Fear concept or method has become a culture in teaching learning activities. We need to remove the culture with our collective efforts. The present article starts with some historical background of punishment given to the learners, goes ahead with the causes behind punishing the students followed by its effects and concludes with some alternative ways of teaching.

A look at the history

Our education system from traditional age is largely influenced by our religious books such as Vedas, Purans, Manusmriti, etc. According to Tulsikrit Ramayan, Ayodhyakand, one of Hindu religious books “भय बिनु प्रिति नहोई” (which means that there can be no love or motivation that leads to success without punishment/fear). But gone are the days when there was Gurukul Education and the teacher who was known as guru used to be powerful. Today, the traditional education has shifted to new generation and the power is misused by so called gurus. As a result, children are victimized due to excessive power exercised by the teachers.

In the Western world, such punishment was used for minor judicial and educational misconducts in the past. It was the most popular form of punishment until English philosopher John Locke stirred up some controversy with his paper, Some Thoughts Concerning Education around the late 1700s. In this paper, Locke explicitly criticised the manner in which corporal punishment was central to education. But it was as early as the 18th century that European countries banned corporal punishment; for example, Poland banned all forms of CP in 1783. Gradually, the practice of corporal punishment declined through 20th century globally to some extent. However, it is sad to note that corporal punishment is still prevalent in our schools of Nepal.

Why teachers beat the students in Nepal

Corporal punishment is given to the students in the following conditions or for the causes mentioned here:

  • When the students fail to submit their homework
  • When they make a noise in class room
  • Debate with the teacher in class room
  • When learners are found fighting with each other
  • If they come to school with no uniform
  • Lose / forget to bring copy, books and other stationeries
  • Cheat and hide others’ copy, book, pencil, etc
  • When they sleep in the classroom or show misconduct
  • When they are unable to answer correctly
  • If they receive poor marks in exam
  • When they leave some classes and run away
  • If a student is absent or does not attend the school regularly
  • If students speak unpleasant words
  • When they come to school late
  • They fail to pay school fee in time

What types of Corporal punishment is given in Nepalese Schools

  • Scolding, verbal abuse
  • Making the students sit in a discomfort position
  • Locking them in toilet/other room
  • Slapping a child by his/her own classmate
  • Making them stand for long time at side of the door, corner of room, on bench and ground
  • Pulling hairs and cheek
  • Twisting the ears
  • Hitting with the objects on any part of the body (like duster over the head)
  • Throwing some objects at child
  • Discrimination of equal participation because of caste group or gender
  • Hitting with stick on palm, back, head, legs, etc.
  • Preventing students from entering the classroom for a while
  • Squeezing a pen/pencil between the fingers
  • Pinching, Hanging, kicking
  • Making them lean against a tree and tying up with the rope
  • Threatening
  • Making the students run around the school premises or playground many times

What results when the teachers beat students (Consequences of Corporal Punishment)

  • Intellectual loss
  • Increased delinquency
  • School drop outs of children
  • Mentally / physically disabled
  • Nurture violence behavior
  • Lower self esteem / lose confidence/humiliation
  • Training for children to use physical violence
  • Liable to instill hostility
  • Rage without reducing undesired behavior
  • Associate with negative outcome
  • It does not only hamper the individual development but also disturbs/ruins the social harmony
  • Suicide /Death

Why corporal punishment is not the solution

Extensive research shows that corporal punishment does not achieve the desired end – a culture of learning and discipline in the classroom. Instead, violence begets violence. Children exposed to violence in their homes and at school tend to use violence to solve problems, both as children and adults. Key research findings show that corporal punishment:

  • Some learners blow their own horn about being beaten as something to be proud of, as a badge of bravery or success.
  • Undermines a caring relationship between learner and educator, which is critical for the development of all learners, particularly those with behavioural difficulties.
  • Undermines the self-esteem and confidence of children who have learning or behavioural problems and/or difficult home circumstances and contributes to negative feelings about school.
  • Does not build a culture of human rights, tolerance and respect.
  • Does not stop bad behaviour of difficult children. Instead, these children are punished over and over again for the same offenses.
  • Does not nurture self-discipline in children. Instead, it provokes aggression and feelings of revenge and leads to anti-social behaviour.
  • Does not make children feel responsible for their own actions. They worry about being caught, not about their personal responsibilities. This undermines the growth of self-discipline in children.
  • Takes children s focus away from the wrongdoing committed to the act of beating itself.

Why ban corporal punishment

Nepal is a one of the signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which compels it to pass laws and take social, educational and administrative measures to protect the child from all forms of physical and mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.

By the result, banning corporal punishment is responded in School Sector Reform Program (SSRP-2009-14). The SSRP states that no child shall be subjected to physical punishment in any form in the school. Teacher and school found guilty of practicing corporal punishment shall both be subject to disciplinary actions that may include suspension of teacher’s grade and an official warning to the School Management Committee (SMC).

Similarly, Education Rule (sixth addendum), 2059 has added ‘no students should be physically and mentally violated’ under the teacher’s code of conduct. At the mean time, the ministry of education has approved a policy named ‘Policy Provision for Banning Corporal Punishment in Schools- 2011’.

Ministry of Education in the collaboration with the Department of Education, National Centre of Educational Development, Plan Nepal, Save the children and UNICEF launched Learn without Fear (LWF) Campaign in Nepal on 21st November 2008.  It is a campaign for preventing all forms of violence against children in schools. This includes corporal punishment, sexual abuse, neglect, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and bullying in schools.

So What?

CP crates fear among children. Where there is fear, there is no effective learning and the children can not construct their knowledge. The teacher should adopt alternative ways of CP. If teachers are to have a positive culture of learning and teaching in their schools, the learning environment must be safe, orderly and conducive to learning. There should be close relationship among teacher and children. The children should be loved and affected.

There are also those teachers who believe that corporal punishment is wrong, but they don’t always know what to use instead of physical force or the threat of it to maintain discipline and a culture of learning in the classroom. Discipline is a part of the daily life of students and teachers, but it is not a simple issue; it demands a great deal of time, creativity, commitment and resources.

A classroom climate based on mutual respect within which learners feel safe and affirmed will decrease the need for disciplinary action. By implementing a proactive approach, teachers can put things in place, which will safeguard the culture of learning, and teaching in their classrooms. Simple things like preparing for lessons; exercising self-discipline; having extension work available; ensuring that teaching and learning happen consistently; ensuring that learners are stimulated; establishing class rules with the students; making a space for time out or a conflict resolution corner; affirming students; building positive relationships with children; preparing and implementing job chart are all strategies which will set the stage for a positive learning environment and can significantly reduce problems with discipline in the classroom.

Similarly, the other alternatives ways of CP for a positive culture of learning and teaching are:

  • Providing disciplinary actions for misconduct inside the classroom: Carried out by class teacher; Verbal warnings; Community service; Additional work which is constructive and which possibly relates to the misconduct; Small menial tasks like tidying up the classroom; Detention in which learners use their time constructively but within the confines of the classroom i.e. they cannot participate in extra-mural activities or go home.
  • Adopting a whole school approach and making sure that the classroom discipline reflects the school’s policies.
  • Establishing class rules by the learners in the participatory way; be serious and consistent for implementing class rules.
  • Building a relationship of trust in which learners feel respected, understood and recognized for who they are.
  • Managing the learning process and the learning environment enthusiastically and professionally.
  • Being inclusive by using materials, pictures, language, music, posters, magazines and so on that reflect the diversity of the class so that no children feels left out or that his or her identity is not valued.
  • Giving students the opportunity to succeed.
  • Allowing children to take responsibility.
  • Giving attention seekers what they want.
  • Adopting strategies for behavioural modification like setting expectations, positive reinforcement, consistent consequences, presenting role model, etc.
  • Preparing and implementing code of conduct in school

Conclusion 

We observe that ‘pounding an animal is cruel; pounding an adult is crime and against human behaviour whereas pounding a child is a corrective measure for their proper adjustment into the social and cultural norms that the children need to respect’. Sometimes, punishing a child is considered the ‘right’ of parents or teachers. Teachers who are unmotivated and poorly trained are more likely to resort to punitive and physically violent methods of control, but this is not always the case for all teachers. But, globally, the practice of corporal punishment in school is being rejected and promoted alternative non violent discipline method to facilitate children’s behaviour and learning activities. A total of 106 states of the world have already legally banned the practice of CP in schools and care institutions. Similarly, 24 countries of the globe have legally banned corporal punishment at home either. In a society like ours with a long history of violence and abuse of child rights, it is not easy to make the transition to peace, tolerance and respect for human rights at a pace. Schools have a vital role to play in this process of transformation by nurturing these fundamental values in children.

 Our Appeal to NELTA

Most of the English teachers of school level in Nepal are known and blamed as cruel teachers as they mostly punish children in the purpose of making them success. Most of them (mostly of lower grades) are not aware that English is not learnt with corporal punishment. English can be taught using love and affection to the children in the communicative way using the above alternatives. Therefore, it is our humble request to NELTA to adopt Learn without Campaign within the network to wash the blame of cruelty pasted on the forehead of English Teachers in Nepal.

What we can do is to prepare some posters for promoting ‘learn without fear campaign’ in collaboration with ministry of Education, Department of Education, Save The Children, Plan Nepal and UNICEF and disseminate among the teachers all over the country through our branches existed in more than 35 districts. This will prove a milestone to make the campaign a grand success.

References

Education Rule (sixth addendum), 2059

Learn Without Fear Campaign Plan (October 2008-2011), a core document

Policy Provision for Banning Corporal Punishment in Schools, 2011

School Sector Reform Program (SSRP), 2009-2015

Teaching without punishment, a training manual to teachers, NCED, 2063

http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/pdfs/SchoolsBriefing.pdf

Decision Making in ESL Classroom

Tirtaha Raj Wagle
Saptagandaki Multiple Campus,  Bharatpur Chitwan
Small Heaven Model School, Aanptari, Chitwan

In any area of ELT, different approaches are available, so teachers are able to make the best decisions to suit particular situations and goals while planning, teaching and evaluating the students or themselves. But due to the lack of training, they are unable to make the right decisions. This entry attempts to raise awareness in teachers about making the right options which will help to develop their professionalism. The entry is divided into three sections: Planning Decision, Interactive Decision and Evaluative Decision. Each of the sections presents some reflective questions, summary of the topic and tasks for discussion.

Teaching English as a second language can be challenging for any teacher. But this is also a field where tremendous amounts of knowledge and scholarship exist, so teachers can learn about many different approaches, methods and techniques as they will fit their classroom. Teaching involves making a number of individual decisions which are the outcomes of reflective thinking. Since teaching itself is a thinking process, English language teachers have to think through and plan before actually teaching in the classroom. The decisions at this stage are Planning decisions. When the teacher enters the classroom, he or she starts making decisions on the spot; such decisions are Interactive decisions. At the end, the ESL teachers must make decisions about their own teaching which are known as Evaluative decisions. My concern, here, is to discuss how making these decisions effective can boost the professional development of ESL teachers.

(A) Planning Decisions

Neither a novice nor an expert can make his/her second language classroom effective if planning has not previously been made. Lesson plan is intended to help the teachers organize the lesson effectively. It usually includes description of objectives, mentions instructional materials, the activities students will carry out, time needed for each activity and teaching strategies to be used. It makes the teacher aware of possible problems and above all provides with alternative techniques to face them.

The way teachers prepare lesson plan depends upon their personal belief system. Planning of the lesson also differs in great deal on what a teacher believes about English as a second language, language teaching, language learning, language curriculum and language teaching as a profession such as,

Teacher A: I believe vocabulary is the most difficult aspect of English for its second language learners.

Teacher B: In my view, English Grammar is more difficult than vocabulary for its second language learners.

Here Teacher ‘A’ while planning a lesson for second language learners of English may focus on spelling, word meaning, pronunciation or sentence formation. On the other hand, Teacher ‘B’ tends to focus on providing grammar rules through inductive mode. His planning of the lesson seems more like teacher dominated. But, any other Language teacher with alternative belief may try to construct the knowledge in students’ mind from their previous experiences using deductive mode of language teaching. He may try to make the students more creative rather than making them passive receivers of the rules.

Teachers are generally encouraged to develop lesson plan in micro level for every lesson that they teach. Richards (1990) believes that the Planning decision is guided by the objectives of the lesson and should be mentioned using action verb. In a grammar lesson, for example, one of the objectives might include the following:

Students will be able to make a sentence in simple present tense using the structure:

Sub + V-present + Object

Objectives of the lesson lead the whole classroom activities from material use through Language practice and evaluation to homework assignment.

Planning decisions reflect the teacher’s belief about teaching, learning and the lesson plan itself. Beliefs on planning of lesson from five different teachers are mentioned below:

Teacher A: Detailed planning of lesson discourages student’s response, neglects students’ needs, avoids their interest and makes them less creative.

Teacher B: Without a detailed lesson plan, a teacher wanders off tasks in the class and achieves no prescribed goal.

The ESL teachers are suggested to consider the following reflective questions to make and select appropriate planning decisions:

• What do I want my students to learn from this lesson?
• Why should I teach this lesson?
• How should I start the lesson?
• Am I able to fulfill the professional roles?
• Do I have enough knowledge regarding the content?
• What instructional materials are needed for this lesson?
• Do I have materials needed for this lesson?
• What methods, techniques and approaches can be used while teaching this lesson?
• How should I organize the activities into different stages?
• Is the lesson too easy / difficult for this level?
• How can I deal with problematic students?
• How should I deal with students’ ability levels in the class?
• What role should I play during this lesson?
• How will I check students’ understanding?
• What will I do to manage discipline in the class?
• How will I handle interruptions to limit interference in this lesson?
• How will I motivate the students, involve them in language practice and evaluate them?

(B) Interactive Decisions

 

Since teaching itself is an interactive process, the teacher has to bring a number of changes in his planned lesson when a situation demands. Lessons are dynamic and unpredictable in nature, therefore, are characterized by constant change. The teacher has to make situational decisions to fit appropriate context of classroom teaching. Some teachers often comment that the classroom environment, while teaching, goes on changing and seems to be completely different from what it had been supposed it might be while making planning decisions. While selecting an option in planning the lesson, a teacher can not predict what may go on in real classroom.

A teacher whose teaching is solely guided by a lesson plan and who ignores the international dynamics of the teaching learning process is less likely to be able to respond students’ needs. Interactive decisions enable the teacher to access students’ response and modify the teaching strategy to provide optimal support for learning.

Parker (1984:220) observes – “Teaching- Learning contexts change, and teachers’ behavior must change accordingly: There is no one way to behave in language classroom.’ A number of behaviors are appropriate to the complexity of classroom.

Interactive decisions involve the ability of a teacher to observe the class her or himself to find alternative behaviors and select the best one to suit the specific immediate teaching context.

Consideration of following reflective questions will help the ESL teachers to make appropriate interactive decisions:

• How is my relationship with the students at this moment of teaching?
• Is my voice clear enough for the students to understand?
• Do the students understand it?
• Are the students paying attention?
• Is the class going on comfortably?• Is there anyone with hearing problem?
• Is this too difficult/easy for this level?
• Should I follow the different strategy?
• Am I out of my track?
• Is it going as I planned?
• Why is student ‘A’ not paying attention?
• Shall I ask him about his problem?

• Should I continue this task or start another one?
• Are the students interested with what they are doing or they are feeling bore?

• Do they think it is useful for them to develop certain language skill?
• Do the students have enough vocabulary to carryout this Language activity?
• Do the students need more information or it is too much for them?
• Can I meet the objectives if I teach this way?
• Am I transferring the knowledge or creating it in students’ mind?
• Am I playing the role of dictator or facilitator?
• Am I going according to my needs or students’ needs?

The following examples of interactive decisions made by two different ESL teachers are the outcomes of above reflective questions:

Teacher A: Yesterday in my grammar lesson, I planned to teach ‘Present Perfect Tense’ for grade x. When all the students were practising on – Sub + has/have + V-past participle (V3), one of them asked about contextual difference in the use of ‘has’ and ‘have’ . When I tried to reply, they got more interest in it. I immediately changed my decisions and started teaching ‘Concord’. The students were more curious to learn it, so I had to spend the whole period to teach ‘Concord’.

Teacher B: Once I planned to teach ‘writing’. To meet my objectives, I involved the students in picture description as I had planned. The picture was differently interpreted by different students. Even a single student described it in two different ways. Students became creative by themselves. When one heard the description from another, the class was lively. I immediately postponed the lesson for another day and let the students involve in discussion. I conducted only oral activities that day. I was satisfied with the consequences because all the students actively participated in language use.

(C) Evaluative Decisions

 

Teacher’s self-evaluation is an integral part of teaching which helps him develop professional proficiency. To evaluate own teaching teachers are typically based on their personal belief system on what constitutes good teaching. For e.g. a teacher following curriculum base approach evaluates his teaching in term of how well s/he explained the lesson as mentioned in the curriculum. In general teachers should make evaluative decisions on the basis of fulfillment of their objectives.

To make self evaluation a teacher should think back his objectives. He should think back his planning, presentation and decide the answers of the following reflective questions by himself:

• How did I start the lesson?
• Were the students well motivated?
• Was I successful to fulfill the desired objectives?
• What did the students get out of the lesson?
• Was my voice loud/clear enough for the students to understand?
• Did I give the correct answers to the students?
• Did the lesson arouse interest in students?
• How did I respond to the problematic students?
• Why did I shout at student ‘x’?
• Couldn’t I do something other than shouting/beating?
• Does shouting/beating bring positive change in her/him?
• Should I reteach any aspect of this lesson?
• What should I avoid and repeat in my next class?
• What were my strong and weak points in teaching this lesson?
• Should I use alternative strategies in next class?
• Were the students attentive all the times?
• Why did student ‘x’ feel sleepy/bore?
• Did all the students take part in oral communication?

After having finished the lesson, the ESL teachers should often evaluate their teaching and make alternative decisions. Following are the examples of evaluative decisions made by two different ESL teachers:

Teacher A: Once I made a plan to teach ‘Instruction’ for the students of grade x. I even got my plan approved by the expert. But, after presentation of the lesson, students could not instruct to make an omelet. I, therefore, concluded that I applied wrong method of teaching and immediately decided to use alternative method in the next class.

Teacher B: In my grammar lesson, once, I was teaching voice. My specific objective was to make the students able to change a simple present active voice into passive. But, about ninety percent of the students, after the lesson was over, could not do it. I concluded that my presentation of lesson was faulty and practice was insufficient. I, therefore, decided to reteach the whole lesson next day.

Second language teachers need to establish a reflective habit which develops the skill of reviewing, noticing, interpreting and evaluating own teaching. Above all, it guides the teachers in planning and selecting. Such reflective habit will help the teachers to face various unpredictable classroom situations in future.

References

Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classroom (Jack C. Richards and Charles Lockhart)

Language Teaching Education (John Roberts)

A Course in Language Teaching (Penney Ur)

Mentor Course (Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodoczky)