Peripheral Classrooms: Reflections of English Teachers in Nepal

In community schools, teaching and learning of English has always been taken as a ‘difficult’ task. Teachers and students confess that it is a difficult subject to teach and learn respectively.  As a teacher, do we reflect on our own classes? Do we ask ourselves how are our classes going? Reflection upon our own classrooms certainly assists us to improve our pedagogical practices.

In this connection, our Choutari editor, Ashok Raj Khati has asked to five English teachers to reflect on their own English classrooms from different regions of Nepal. In the context of English language teaching, they briefly express their ideas in relation to resources, participation of students, use of English and L1, their best practices in English classroom and challenges they face.The five secondary level English teachers are: Babu Ram Basnet (Solukhumbu) Chandra Singh Dhami (Ramechhap), Kamal Raj Basyal (Palpa),  Durga Prasad Pandey (Dang) and Khagendra Nath ‘Biyogi’ (Bajhang).

562665_685671534783323_943408360_nBabu Ram Basnet                                                     Mahendrodaya Secondary School, Salyan, Solukhumbu

Teaching English is not always a fun but it is a very tough job in this part of country. We do not have enough resources, like the internet and other supportive materials, to facilitate English language teaching. Therefore, students do not get enough and authentic exposure in English. I have to read out listening text myself as we do not receive cassettes in time. There are 65 students in grade 10, which is a large classroom in our context. In the same way, the large classrooms are a barrier to many participatory activities. There are many activities to be done and performed by students such as drama, simulation, games and role plays. I am not able to do all these in such a large class which ultimately affect their learning achievement.

Students come from different socio- cultural and economic backgrounds, they usually speak in Nepali language among them. They are generally good in writing but hesitate to speak in English. They have fear to lose face among their friends if they commit any mistakes. So that, I am not satisfied with their fluency in English. To some extent, I am applying traditional method while teaching English. It is often challenging to correct their home assignments in a class of 45 minutes. I use group and peer correction technique several times. I conduct class test in regular interval to know how they are doing. The most challenging part of my teaching is developing speaking skill on the part of students.

15174624_1208623562564901_1405021138_nChandra Singh Dhami                                                       Manthali Higher Secondary School, Manthali, Ramechhap

My classroom in tenth and ninth grades are large, which contains the students with mixed ability. Likewise, students come from diverse socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds. We have a ‘media’ hall equipped with different facilities such as internet, speakers, tape recorder, dictionary and projector. I often make them watch movies, biographies of poets, popular TV show and show activities related to English language learning. For instance, while teaching English sounds, I often download native speakers’ accent for them to practice. I regularly conduct unit and monthly test. It provides me timely feedback on the areas to improve. We have cassette players, charts and other daily use materials. Students sometimes prepare charts in different lessons.

Majority of students try to speak in English in the classroom. I often use group work and drilling. I make them write in group as a process writing. Students also speak in Nepali language particularly when they do not understand reading texts. I encourage them to speak in English even outside the classroom. Students also take part in speech and debate competitions. I use shorter expression. Even if, students have positive motivational orientation towards English, I am still not satisfied with the progress. Many students do not have same pace in learning English and it can’t be. However, the challenge for me is to cope the students with different levels of English language proficiency.

15239253_735504923267147_1974166001_nKamal Raj Basyal                                                                 Krishna secondary school, Peepaldada-Jheskang, Palpa

There are 56 students at grade 10 in my school which accommodates 29 girls, 26 students from Magar community and 5 from Dalits. Three language use can be observed there in the classroom – Magar, Nepali and English. They are from low income and mostly from middle class families. Their socio-cultural background is not much trouble for me while teaching English as they have positive motivational orientation toward learning English. Likewise, we have whiteboards, electricity, audio-tape/cassette players and necessary charts in English in the classroom. But, we do not have the internet facility in school.

I have found that my students are active in different learning activities in English class where I try my best to use English only and inspire them to use it. I believe it maximizes exposure in English. Next I have generated weekly discussion on certain topics related to the course. In regular interval, I conduct several contests like debate, spelling and quiz in English. Regarding teaching technique, I generally use group and pair work and role plays to facilitate English language learning. I also encourage them to go to library and read books. Therefore, teaching English has always been a fun for me. I am satisfied with their progress. I specially enjoy teaching grammar and vocabularies. However, I often find myself challenged while teaching listening and free writing. So I need to be well prepared to deal with listening and writing activities.

1931541_925213197563390_775367134454601593_nDurga Prasad Pandeya                                               Padmodaya Public Model Secondary School, Ghorahi, Dang

I work in a government funded school having the classes from grade 1 to 12. It has around 87 classes and 5, 000 students. Generally, the student- teacher ratio is one to 50-78 students. Therefore, we teach in large classes. We have irregular internet access and the multimedia projector is only in the audio visual room and students have very less access to them. We also have a smart board but there is no skilled man power to operate it but white boards are available in each room. Teachers make charts and posters for the upper classes and use printed charts the lower/primary classes.

When I reflect on my English classes, my students work very happily in pair and groups particularly to practice speaking skills and some project based tasks. Many of them are found excited and interested to work in group or pair but a few are found reluctant to do all these activities and they prefer individual tasks. I instruct them both in English and Nepali languages. I particularly need to use Nepali as they understand me and are unable to respond in English. They are also not encouraged to converse in English. Another challenge of teaching English is being unable to create English speaking environment in school, which is the result of the low exposure of English in lower classes. It eventually affects their performance in upper classes.

11178286_1427707574212674_9151478527758031773_nKhagendra Nath ‘Biyogi’                                                   Bhairab Higher Secondary School, Jhota, Bajhang

I as an English teacher in this rural area, find myself encouraged in the recent years. Although the classroom is large, we have some minimum resources to facilitate English language class such as tape recorders, computers and other necessary materials. They are taken to computer room to play various language games. Similarly, I make use of laptop and the internet in the classroom. Students prepare charts of CVs, wild life reserve, language functions and so on inside the classroom. There are many different charts in schools, student make use of them in English class in different ways. Many of them use Nepali language inside the classroom. However, I inspire them to speak English. Every day, I ask them a question (as a part of general knowledge), related to English and they enjoy it very much. (For instance, how many words can you make from the word ‘examination’?). I also conduct quiz, debate and speech competition. Regarding the participation of students, they normally work in group and pair. Students are always invited to the front of the classroom to work or present the task assigned. Few students also feel shy to do so.

In the same way, I am selective on using methods and techniques in my ELT classes. Most importantly, I reflect back on my classroom activities to figure out what is working and what is not. Students are found improving the skills of English language these days. It might be the result of increased exposure of English through technology and social media. Another important activity that I do is to visit students’ parents (nearby school) once a week. I talk to them about their children’s progress. While talking with them, I figure out four types of students – outstanding, excellent, good/average and low achiever. The most challenging task for me is to teach and work with the low achievers. Some of them cannot read and write properly. Therefore, it is always challenging to find the strategies to support them.

Choutari team sincerely acknowledge teachers who shared their valuable reflections in this interactive article. They have particularly highlighted the diverse pedagogical practices and issues while teaching English in peripheral parts of Nepal. Now, we request you to feel free to share your thoughts and reflections after reading these reflections here.

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

Mahendra Kathet

Mahendra Kathet

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

Rationale for Community Schools adopting EMI

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

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

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

EMI in Schools of Mt. Everest Region

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

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

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

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

Why EMI is important in community schools?

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

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

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

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

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

Suggestions for implementing EMI

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

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

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

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