Welcome to the June Issue of ELT Choutari: Language Planning and Policy

Language Plan & Policy

Editorial

English teachers should initiate discussion on rationales of English medium of instruction

It is common to experience different issues in teaching-learning process in educational institutions, which is not desirable but inevitable. Most of the problems can be solved through an effective communication and discussion among the team.

One of the key issues in our educational institution now is the appropriate use and practice of language/s both as a medium of instruction and access of children’s mother tongue in teaching learning. Before addressing the issue of mother tongue based multilingual education, there has arisen another key issue in teaching learning, which is the increasing use of English as a medium of instruction in our multicultural and multilingual classes. And the interesting thing is the practice of English medium instruction is merely guided by a statement in policy, which states that “the medium of instruction at school level can be Nepali, English or both. However, Mother tongue can be used up to basic level and the same language should be used for a language subject.” There is no any other policy guidelines to systematise this practice. Schools are imitating each others and the practice is increasing. In this backdrop, the communities, local governing bodies and teachers as local executives should also play an important role to make a wise decision on the language practice in the educational setting. An initiation from a teacher also can make a big difference. Therefore, teachers, especially English teachers should initiate effective communication and discussion among the team to avoid the situation from getting worse because they know more about English language and its limitation.

In the context of Nepal, the increasing shift to the English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) seems to be guided by two major factors. First, to stop the transfer of students to private boarding school and increase students in community school. Second, the belief that the English language proficiency of students can be enhanced by teaching all subjects in English medium.

There are several other factors behind the distrust of parents towards community schools, resulting the decrease in number of students. Merely introducing English medium instruction does not solve the problems but its impacts can further deteriorate the condition of school. On the other hand, schools and parents believe that the teaching all academic subjects in English can improve the language proficiency of students. But are schools only English language teaching centres? Or they have roles to deliver the academic contents effectively to students as set by curriculum. Can the existing teachers deliver the contents effectively in the new language? Are students ready for that? Most importantly, is it necessary to deliver all academic contents in English language from primary level? What is the rationale behind it? What do the researches suggest?

We, therefore, need to consider several important questions before making the decisions of language shift in schools. It is very important decision, which can affect the future of children and society but schools are taking it very lightly.

As an English teacher, we can do something to rethink and review this practice. Firstly, we ourselves should be clear that language is just a medium to deliver the information, knowledge and skills. Therefore, the medium of instruction should be the language in which both the students and teachers feel comfortable. It has been huge challenge even for teachers of English to teach English effectively around the nation and how can other teachers teach academic subjects (well packed with contents) effectively to students? Therefore, let’s teach English language subject effectively first. If only English language is taught effectively, students can achieve a level of conversational English. In the name of EMI, actually parents are asking for a workable conversational English, which is possible through effective teaching of the English language. It is not necessary to make such a big shift to attain this purpose. As an English teacher, if we only can clarify these illusions in our school management and school family, it could avoid the random practice and decisions regarding the medium of instruction.

And presenting you the June issue for you, we have tired to re/start the discussion on the language planning, policy and language practices. This issue is packaged with language planning and policy, language in education, professional development and general thoughts on education. The following lines will guide you to select the writing in the area of your interest:

In the first post, Kumar Narayan Shrestha talks about language planning and policy, and its process, and also reviews the language planning and policy of Nepal.

Similarly, Gyanendra Kumar Yadav explores the actual language practice and the issues related to language policy and English language teaching (ELT) in Nepal.

Likewise, a PhD scholar Karna Rana, shares the global need of multilingual citizens and rationales for education in children’s mother tongue.

In an exclusive interview, Dr. Prem Phyak shares his insights on the effective approach to language planning and policy analyzing the flaws in the existing language planning and policy. Similarly, he also shares the possible approach in language in education and multi-lingualism and evaluates ELT in Nepal.

In another post, to present you a different taste, Dr. Shyam Sharma urges us to reframe our perspectives and look the realities through positive lens and encourages everyone to take action from their level for language policy and quality education for all.

In the last but the not the least post, Shikha Gurung shares how teachers can continue their professional development through the three dimensional act of reflection, research and networking.

Here is the complete list of the posts in this issue:

  1. Language Planning in Nepal: A Bird’s Eye View: by Kumar Narayan Shrestha
  2. Language Practices and Food for Thought for Language Policy Makers: by Gyanendra Kumar Yadav
  3. So What, If Not Mother Tongue?: by Karna Rana
  4. Language Planning and Policy Should Embrace Inclusive and Co-learning Practices: Dr. Phyak: by Prem Phyak
  5. Beyond Beating Dead Horses: by Shyam Sharma
  6. A Three Dimensional Approach to Professional Development of English Language Teachers in Nepal: by Shikha Gurung

Finally, I would like to thank Karna Rana for his rigorous support in reading and editing. Likewise, I am thankful to Ashok Raj Khati and Praveen Kumar Yadav for their support to release this issue. Similarly, special thank goes to all the contributors of the issue.

Read, comment, share and write your own practices and send to us at 2elt.choutari@gmail.com

Happy reading!

Jeevan Karki the Editor of the issue

Jeevan Karki
the Editor of the issue

So What, If Not Mother Tongue?

Karna Rana

Karna Rana

“Probably I’m the only person here who speaks one language. I wish I could speak more languages.” – An English native.

Why language matters in our daily life becomes a hot chilli at teatime, at lunch break, on a journey and at other round tables. One day on a fifteen-minute teatime break, one of my workplace colleagues who speaks only English said, “Probably I’m the only person here who speaks one language. I wish I could speak more languages.” His statement caused laughter among the four of us who used to sit at the table, and they were from different countries. All of us except he could speak at least two languages. There were other colleagues from China, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, Samoa, Fiji, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Jordan, and some other countries. I was among them from Nepal. He was the only English native in the group of about fifty-five people excluding the supervisor. Those who were from different countries could speak their mother tongue as well as English. Most of them had colleagues from their own countries and majority of them were females. The environment obviously allowed them to speak in their own  languages. There were four of us (only males) not having colleagues from our countries. The English native who used to sit beside me could only understand English. When others were talking in their own languages, he used to look at their face and smile, which was unusual for English native living in the English country.

It is an example to understand the scope of multiple languages. The place of language as a situation has a connection with several social and cultural aspects. Whether the right to language matters or not, the place where someone is, has a value of speech. The smile of the English native would not often deliver his thoughts when other language speakers used to communicate in their own languages. The situation requires a link language (lingua franca) for verbal communication between the different language speakers. It is still not sure whether the link language can fully transmit their understandings, feelings and meanings. It often happens that two different language speakers using a link language get confused and misunderstand each other. Moreover, the link language may not transmit the feelings of the speakers. When we talk about feelings, it is one of the main characteristics that makes us distinctive, i.e. human being among the creatures in the world. The human feeling is associated with the place where he or she is born and grown up. Thus, beyond than the right to language, there are other human-related important aspects that need to be understood before imposing any other language on the speakers.

“It often happens that two different language speakers using a link language get confused and misunderstand each other. Moreover, the link language may not transmit the feelings of the speakers.”


It may be worthy to write about a seminar on e-Learning and language development that I recently attended in New Zealand. Although the seminar was intended to focus on the research related to digital technology and language development of preschool children, the atmosphere gradually emphasised the socio-cultural aspects of language. A professor from Samoa used Taro (Colocassia in English and Pidaloo in Nepali) farming as a metaphor to develop language in children. His childhood story of planting baby colocassia in a wide land in the right season and harvesting thousands of tonnes of colocassia reflected that the children are the seeds of language which grow in a wide range. When he focused on the right season to plant, it indicated the age of children when they start their social life and acquire language. His words ‘harvest tonnes of colocassia’ represented the growth and development of language. His metaphor was sufficient for us to understand how we can save several indigenous languages in Nepal. In the seminar, the further interaction emphasised that the children’s cognitive development depend on their culture. Another professor remarked that the children conceptualise in their own language other than English in the classroom. She added that the children think in their language and communicate. She suggested that it is necessary to promote the children’s mother tongue from personal, community and national levels. For knowledge, New Zealand has a number of immigrants from different countries who have their languages.

I recently visited Linwood College ( a secondary school with year 13) in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was my second visit to the school to observe the classrooms with a group of Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI) project trainees from Bangladesh. In the interaction with the principal,  head of English Language Learning and other three teachers, Navjot, the head of English  Language Learning, briefly explained about the school environment and classrooms. She stated that the school had students from 21 countries including Nepal. She further explained that the children from different countries and socio-cultural backgrounds speak their languages. However, they have to speak the next language ‘English’ and write in English. She specifically focused on their two different varieties of English, that is, heard language and eye language. She added that the children from different language backgrounds in her school also learned English in their communities or countries. However, they faced difficulties to understand native English at the initial stage. She gave an example that the immigrant children have eye language as they learned English by reading books in their countries. She said that the children learn English from the books, but they think in their mother tongue and try to express in English. It was an example for me to understand why second language learning and speaking becomes so complicated. She also mentioned that her school encourages the immigrant children to use their language. She said, “I encourage them to speak their language and strengthen their language. Use the language as much as they can.”

When I stand on the socio-cultural ground of Nepal, I see a number of indigenous communities, their cultures and different languages. The census of 2011 recorded 125 languages excluding dialects in Nepal. We know that Nepali is the primary language in school education where English is the next language in the community schools. However, the private schools, as well as some community schools, have imposed the English language as a medium of learning and instruction. It is wise not to criticise against the schools’ English language policy without in-depth study in this field in the country. However, it requires the government authority to consider mother tongue as a language of thought and expression, as well as the right to the mother tongue. It is the only way to save the culture, community and the national identity.

Does the above example suggest the education planners in Nepal consider school teaching in those dominated languages in Nepal?

Mr. Rana is a PhD Candidate in School of Teacher Education College of Education, Health and Human Development University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. 

He can be reached at karna.maskirana@pg.canterbury.ac.nz

Language Planning and Policy Should Embrace Inclusive and Co-learning Practices: Dr. Phyak

Teaching English as a language is different from using English as language of instruction

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak (a PhD from the University of Hawaii, USA) is a lecturer, at department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. His area of PhD is Second Language Studies, with a focus on multilingual ideologies, policies and pedagogies. His research areas cover identity, agency, and social justice in the intersection of language, space and education.

Our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to Dr. Phyak on the area of language planning and policy in the context of Nepal. 

1. Welcome and congratulations Dr. Phyak for your fresh doctoral degree from the University of Hawaii. What are you doing these days?

Thank you, Jeevanji. It took me sometime to settle in Kathmandu. I spend most of my time teaching at both Masters and M.Phil./PhD programs at the Central Department of Education, Tribhuwan University.  Besides, I am working on a project Art, Language and Public Space. I am looking at the enactment of multilingualism in public space of Kathmandu and exploring both the reproduction and resistance of monolingual ideologies through the use of languages in city space.

 2. As we know, one of your areas of interest is language policy in education. For our readers, can you explain what language policy and planning is and why does it become crucial in Nepal, a multilingual country?

Yes, my research draws on interdisciplinary approaches to language education.  There are multiple perspectives of language policy. Traditionally, language policy has been defined as what different bodies of government decide about the use of languages in various agencies like education, mass media and government offices. This perspective is top-down and constructs language policy as a normative (establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm) practice, which may not necessarily recognize complexity of linguistic diversity and multilingual practices in real life situations.  But my perspective on language policy is bottom-up approach. For me, language policy is what and how individuals, communities, and institutions practise languages in their real life without any censorship and symbolic dominance. From this perspective, each individual is taken as an agent of language policy. Since each individual and community can decide, what language should be used where and for what purposes. It is important to understand on-the-ground language practices. More specifically, language policy is simply a legitimacy of actual language practices on the ground. This perspective goes beyond language-policy-as-text idea to language-policy-as-practice.

“Language policy is simply a legitimacy of actual language practices on the ground.”


In Nepal, language policy discourse is dominantly guided by a top-down and normative ideologies. In other words, government tends to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach in the creation and implementation of language policy. Yet, such a policy does not work in multilingual contexts where languages across their boundaries and practices become fluid and dynamic. Therefore, language policy should be grounded on multilingual ideologies as experienced by bi-/multilingual speakers and epistemologies of language minoritised people.  For me, language policy is ‘plural’ and ‘multiple’ and should recognize language practices of all individuals and communities; it should not impose monolingual ideologies in the guise nation-state and neoliberal ideologies. This perspective on language policy is crucial in a multilingual context like Nepal for two reasons. First, this perspective recognises bi-/multilingual identities of each individual. Second, while taking language policy as a multiple and agentive process, this perspective challenges normative boundaries between language that create hierarchy and unequal power relations among languages. Most importantly, it is necessary to situate language policies within local language practices in various domains, particularly at home and an immediate community of interlocutors.

3. So, regarding the language in educational planning is concerned, do you think Nepal is following a right model? I make a reference here, many children start their early foundation of schooling from English in Nepal.

A great question, Jeevan-ji! Yet, I should be careful when I say ‘a right model’.  The notion of ‘right model’ in language-in-education planning can be hegemonic and may reproduce linguistic inequalities. Developing one ‘right model’ of language education planning may support a deficit view of language education that considers particular languages, mostly minoritised languages, problem while giving educational value to other languages. Rather than saying ‘a right mode’, I would like to use locally appropriate and linguistically sensitive approach.  This approach to language education planning recognises all children’s language practices as resource for learning, both language and academic content.

“We should embrace locally appropriate and linguistically sensitive approach for the language in education.”


Nepal’s current language education planning is extremely narrow and unable to embrace real multilingual practices. Although there is some level of awareness of the importance of multilingualism in education, at macro level, both language policy discourses and pedagogical practices reproduce monolingual ideologies of language. For example, I had an opportunity to attend two language policy-related discussions in the last five months in Kathmandu. Both discussions were attended by linguists, teacher educators, government officials and teachers. Although those programs were organised to analyse issues concerning multilingual policies in education, the discussions could not challenge rather reproduced monolingual ideologies. Mostly because the discussion questions were framed by upholding monolingual perspectives, the panelists could not go beyond linguistic boundaries and neoliberal language ideologies. For instance, most often, in one discussion, the panelists were asked to express their opinions about the use of English against multilingual education. In another discussion, panelists were focusing on a ‘trilingual policy’ (English, Nepali and one ‘mother tongue’) and analyzing that the use of minoritised languages in public domains (e.g., education) is a problematic. Both perspectives see multilingualism in education as problem and construct binary oppositions between languages. For example, in the first discussion multilingual education is presented as anti-English language teaching while the second discussion, which was intended to discuss legitimacy of ‘mother tongues’,  simply wrongly interprets ‘trilingual policy’ as multilingual policy. Such discussions invite tensions, but do not lead us to decision-making processes that are informed by academic research and on-the-ground language practices and meaning-making processes.

The increasing use of English as medium of instruction and its teaching from the pre-primary level should not simply be celebrated as a panacea, as seen in the current language education policy discourses, rather it should be understood as a part of broader ideologies, pedagogies and policies of multilingualism. I don’t mean multilingual education is anti-English, but it is, as studies have consistently shown, an incredible resource for learning English and any other languages. More importantly, it is important to understand that teaching English as a language is different from using English as language of instruction. Our policies have given space to teaching English as a compulsory subject from the first grade. Teaching of English and any other languages is not a problem, but reproducing monolingual English ideology is a grave issue.  The body of literature from language learning and teaching from multilingual contexts have identified that using students’ prior linguistic knowledge (home language) in classroom pedagogies has a transformative impact in student learning. It is important to understand that students’ communicative and academic literacy knowledge in their home language plays a foundational role in learning new languages and academic content. In the current policies and ideologies of English language teaching, we have not been able to embrace students’ multilingual competence. While embracing outmoded the-earlier-the-better and the-more-the-better ideologies, the current language policies and practices are supporting subtractive model of language education. This model eventually leads to multilingual students’ lack of access to knowledge.

4. While having research on medium of instruction, I had a talk with some of the parents from Sherpa, Rai and Magar community. I asked them what if there was a provision of educating their children in their mother tongue in schools, they said there was no scope of their language for the future of their children and hence they were not enthusiastic about what you called ‘students home language in classroom pedagogies’. Therefore, if the community feel that multilingual approach to education is not necessary for them and even not possible, why do we need this? 

I think the problem lies in how we frame our questions about language, but not with what parents and communities think about language. The problem lies in power relation constructed in our language education policies that have reproduced the dominance of particular languages, backed up by political and economic reasons for long, rather than educational and socio-cultural relevance. As you have said, parents are often asked whether they see the relevance of their home languages in relation to Nepali and English. They are asked which language(s) they prefer to be used in education. Such questions create a binary relation between languages and are deeply influenced by a monolingual ideology. But we have not asked parents what multilingual education actually is nor have they been engaged in understanding what multilingual education actually is. We have not asked an inclusive question about language and discussed with them how multilingual education is relevant to supporting quality and effective learning of all children. In other words, our questions make parents think that their home languages do not have value in education. It is not uncommon for parents to have negative attitudes towards home languages in the context where language education policies are guided by political economic rather than educational rationale.

5. The national and international policy documents assert the use of Mother-tongue-based Multi-lingual-Education. However, the practitioners say, it is next to impossible to practise it in Nepal, where more than 125 local languages are recognised. Therefore, what can be the practical solution for it? Or has the time come to look for another alternative approach?

I don’t think ‘practitioners’ are saying that multilingual education is ‘next to impossible to practice’. Indeed, in the context like Nepal, what is impossible is not to have a multilingual policy. I know that there is a dominant ideology, based on 18th/19th century European monolingual ideology, which portrays multilingualism as problem in education and other public spheres. However, as multilingualism is our reality, it will be costly, from both educational and socio-cultural perspective, to imagine and impose monolingual policies and pedagogical practices in education.  The argument that multilingual education is impossible to implement due to a greater number of languages is fundamentally flawed and reproduces a deficit view of language education. More importantly, such a view is ill-informed and not supported by any educational and language learning studies, but it is politically motivated (supporting status quo and maintaining power relations among languages). What is true, as I have mentioned above, we have not been able to engage in informed discussions and decision-making processes. Seeing multilingualism as problem in multilingual country is the byproduct of ill-informed discussions. There are schools, communities and states, around the world, that have been using multiple languages in education successfully.

Although multilingualism in education is indispensable to support effective teaching learning, the existing multilingual education policy has two major issues. First, the transitional bilingual education model which gives space for using students’ home languages (other than Nepali) up to Grade 3 only does not support students to develop academic competence in multiple languages. This model, which eventually focuses on learning of dominant languages, does not contribute to develop multilingual competence of students. Second, the policy does not provide clear guidelines towards adopting multilingual pedagogies. We can see that, both in policy documents and pedagogical practices in schools, the existing multilingual education, unfortunately seems to support monolingual ideologies. For example, I have observed that most teachers and government officials interpret multilingual education as teaching of three languages—Nepali, English and one mother tongue—separately in school. While embracing this kind of separatist ideology, teachers are discouraging the use of multiple languages for pedagogical purposes in the classroom. Teachers are not educated and empowered to use multiple languages to achieve pedagogical goals in a planned and systematic way. My point is that we have to discuss what alternative pedagogical approaches, which embrace basic principles of multilingualism in education, that do not support a separatist ideology rather embrace an inclusive and co-learning practices could an effective approach. Two-way bilingual education programs, content-integrated multilingual education, inquiry-based learning and translanguaging pedagogies are some of the alternative practices that could appropriate in Nepal. These pedagogical approaches recognize linguistic and cultural capitals of all children in teaching-learning processes. Rather than considering multilingualism as a problem, these pedagogies take all students’ languages and language practices as integral part of learning language and academic contents. While saying this, I would not argue for a one-size-fits-all approach rather I focus on the need for working with teachers, students and communities in developing pedagogical tools that best address their linguistic, cultural and educational needs.

6. How do you evaluate the English language teaching (ELT) policy and practices in Nepal? What kind of policy should be developed to fit our context?

ELT policies and practices are unplanned and deeply shaped by global neoliberal ideologies. I have always argued that learning English is necessary; however, the construction and imposition of monolingual ideology as panacea for addressing educational issues is counterproductive for both ELT and learning academic contents. Second language acquisition and literacy studies have clearly shown that students cannot learn both language and academic content effectively if they are taught in a language they are not fully competent. In this regard, there are two major issues concerning ELT in Nepal. First, a dominant misconception takes ELT and the use of English as medium of instruction (EMI) synonymously. Considering ‘compulsory English’ (as a subject of teaching from the first Grade) insufficient, there is a growing trend to adopt EMI policy to teach content area subjects such as science, mathematics, and social studies. This policy is grounded on the assumption that students learn English better if all subjects are taught in English. However, what is lacking is critical and informed discussions and analysis whether or not this policy contributes to students’ cognitive and academic investment in learning processes. A growing body of literature has suggested that teaching students in a language they are not fully competent leads to lack of access to knowledge, cognitive investment and creativity in classroom.  So the current monolingual view on ELT should be critically assessed and adopt a multilingual approach to English language pedagogy. In doing this, it is important to engage teachers in pedagogical planning to create space for multiple languages for an effective learning process, while achieving the goals of lessons.

“English is necessary; however, the construction and imposition of monolingual ideology as panacea for addressing educational issues is counterproductive for both ELT and learning academic contents.”


7. Finally, what do you suggest to a critical mass of scholars in the field of linguistics, applied linguistics and language education and ELT in Nepal?

I would like to highlight two major points. First, linguists, applied linguists and language educators, including ELT practitioners, should engage themselves in discussions that are informed by theories and findings from second language acquisition, language policy and illiteracy studies. This engagement includes understanding of both policies and practices from other multilingual contexts and critical assessment of whether or not language policies and practices are supporting students’ agency, identity and existing linguistic and cultural capital. This kind of engagement is necessary to make informed-decisions in language policy and develop alternative pedagogies in language education. Second, it is important to engage teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders in analysing language ideologies and pedagogies in order to raise their awareness of multilingualism and its importance in language education. For this, concentrated efforts should be invested in developing pedagogical tools and materials in collaboration with teachers, students and communities and implement in the classroom. Doing this will shift our attention towards embracing multilingualism as an integral aspect of education. For this, we should discuss how teachers can use multiple languages in the classroom in a planned and purposeful way. I would argue that rather than reproducing monolingual ideologies—both in policies and practices—our emphasis should be how to bridge gap, created by separatist ideology, between languages and discuss in what teachers can tap in students’ existing language competence. In sum, there is a need for reframing our language policy discourses and focus more on learners and their identities in language education.  

 

Beyond Beating Dead Horses

From Frustration to Actions on Language Policy and Quality of Education for All

Shyam Sharma

Shyam Sharma

A couple of days ago, while I was video-chatting from here in New York with a cousin in Nawalparasi, the conversation turned to education. This thirty some year-old brother said he had discontinued education since we met a decade ago, gone to the Middle East to make money, returned home to start a wholesale store (which wasn’t doing well), and wasn’t sure what else to do. He didn’t have the desire to return to college: he didn’t see any point in pursuing higher education. “Higher education, especially if you can’t go to super-expensive private colleges, doesn’t lead to opportunity in this country,” he said. “Not anymore.” I did not know how to respond as he went on to generalize. As a fairly successful “product” of public education, I found the education part of the conversation depressing (in spite of all the joy of connecting and chatting with him about many other topics).

In rhetoric and writing courses, I teach students that effective communication depends on analysis/understanding of context, audience, medium, and purpose (CAMP). When my cousin gave me a mini lecture on education, I thought about my context (distantly chatting with a relative after a long time), audience (someone whom I didn’t want to disagree with, given his experience), medium (a video chat where the quick back-and-forth of an informal conversation didn’t facilitate deeper engagement), and purpose (it made no sense to try to challenge him on the subject of education in general). What he said was probably true for him, and it was probably true for other people in his situation or mindset. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how I as a scholar could have communicated better about education. I certainly wasn’t effective (unless giving up was an effective thing to do) and I also thought that people like me aren’t good at engaging members of the public about complex issues about education.

When I hung up and I returned to writing this post, I couldn’t help drawing analogies. Knowing what I know about the context, audience, medium, and purpose of this writing, I couldn’t find much enthusiasm to write it. I am writing in a context where many people like me have written about multilingualism as an asset, about the lack of language policy in the country, and about the dangers of monolingual instruction in the name of “quality” education. The audience, which will include mostly scholars/teachers of language and ELT, many of whom have also written many times about fundamental realities regarding language and language policy. The medium of a blog and this particular venue didn’t look like the best way to achieve my purpose (or, rather, desire) of making any impact in how the public and policy makers think about multilingualism and language policy in education.

Regardless of what a few scholars/teachers say, private schools are going to continue to sell English language (a medium) in the name of “quality education” (the objective). The Ministry of Education will remain being the dog that the mythical tails about English will continue to wag. And, even more depressing, even scholars of language will continue to repeat superficial nonsense about English. Just scroll through Facebook and you will find our most informed scholars repeating the platitude that English is “the world language”; don’t tell them that more Nepalis need Hindi and Arabic to find opportunities in the world beyond our borders. Go to fancy conferences and nobody will show exactly how teaching in English somehow magically improves education; don’t ask those who are making grand arguments with all the grand assumptions if they have research evidence since some British guy did a study in the 1980s (surprise, surprise, he found that because there weren’t enough teachers who could use English fluently, it was hurting learning). Don’t ask our scholars why they still don’t oppose English “only” as the medium of instruction in private schools, why they don’t talk about education at large, why they conflate the currently terrible situation of public education with the inevitability of public education as an approach to educating the public in a country like ours.

Like it was pointless to challenge my cousin about the value of higher education (he had figured it all out, for himself and for everyone), it also seemed to make little sense to write one more time about changing course, formulating new policies, rethinking dominant assumptions . . . regarding language teaching, language policy, and multilingualism. More broadly, I thought about how unfashionable it seems for Nepali scholars to defend and seek to improve public education, and that made me almost give up and say sorry to the editor whom I had promised a blog post for this issue.

So, what’s the point of beating the same old dead horses?

Then it dawned upon me that I was looking at the situation only through a pessimistic lens. I was failing or refusing to look at more positive things. By focusing on persisting problems, I was unable to recognize more promising developments in society. Maybe I could redirect my energies if I want to contribute more than I now do? Urging a similar shift in perspective for us as a group of language educators and public intellectuals, I would like to share some thoughts. I think that we should reframe our conversation after nearly a decade (on this forum) of focusing on realities and challenges about multilingualism and language policy in Nepal. What can those of us who are not at home contribute best—how can we better partner with colleagues on the ground? How can those of us on the ground affect policy and public opinion even better? As we strive to keep the conversation alive, what new directions could we take?

First, while we may be concerned about persisting mythologies of monolingualism and the absence of well-informed language policy, let us also recognize positive developments. People are more conscious today about the dangers of monolingualism, especially those of suppressing minority languages, than before the democratic revolution. Nothing may have happened in terms of government policy or even seriousness among scholars who could reshape language policy, but it seems to me that the questions and debates are out there in the mainstream today. Building on whatever progress we see, let us keep working to emphasize them. Let us keep calling out intellectual laziness, pointing out logical flaws, and acknowledging complex thinking about language policy. Let us continue the conversation, writing in venues that reach larger and larger audiences. Let us network with people in positions with policy or even political impact. We owe it to society to inform them—far beyond just complaining about them.

Second, let us work with the private sector to improve quality of education, to implement common sense language policy, and to use the leverage of their resource or willpower toward affecting public education as well. For example, there are a lot of private schools whose administrators and teachers are willing to invite public school teachers and administrators into training and conversations. There is a lot of goodwill (as well as desire to market brands) in the private sector. Many educators who are in the private sector also work in the public sector; many of them came from public education and they have a deep sense of loyalty and responsibility to protect and improve access to quality education regardless of financial ability of their fellow citizens, now and in the future. Many of us attack the villains in the private sector—or, rather, we see villains and ignore the average, hardworking educators and education leaders in them. This is a problem I need to overcome a little more myself :). I think we must partner a lot more than we already do with private schools, contribute our expertise, engage their leaders, and listen to them more carefully.

“We must partner a lot more than we already do with private schools, contribute our expertise, engage their leaders, and listen to them more carefully.”


Third, we should do our best to help the society stop blaming the victims—which we can start by directing our own energies from attacking the villains to appreciating those who do it right—in the public sector. For example, a lot of well-meaning intellectuals working in education (as well as people working in different professions) are angry with public school teachers for engaging in politics, for being lazy and dishonest, for their irresponsibility and unprofessional attitude. The problem with focusing our energies on what is wrong is that we may end up aggravating the problems while doing nothing toward solving them. What if we look at public school teachers as the victims and products of a certain social and political condition? What if we can contribute toward shifting their energies from politics to professional development? In some of the professional development webinar series that I did with a regional public university, I have felt very strongly that we were able to greatly encourage professors who wanted to stay away from politics and leverage the power of knowledge and change that they could affect through teacher training and professional networking. One of the most politically aggressive teachers came on board and emphasized how eager he is now to join the professional development initiatives.

Fourth, let us shift attention from discourse to practice. Of course, we should not create or reinforce false dichotomies between theory/discourse and practice: we are in a profession where talk is our trade. We talk to teach students, to train teachers, to engage the public, and to build and expand professional networks. But we should think more clearly about the outcome of our talking and writing: do we want teachers to go to class with a different mindset about language, administrators to change the current language policy, institutions to listen to us more because we speak to them? How can we develop training programs, modules, materials, and teams that can shift the focus from outdated views about language and multilingualism to practices that will empower students from different linguistic backgrounds? We can turn conversations on social media into series of webinars that involve educators and academic administrators in conversations about policy and practice.

“We can turn conversations on social media into series of webinars that involve educators and academic administrators in conversations about policy and practice.”


 

Fifth, let us reach beyond the city. Technology now allows us to expand the reach of our conversation, networking, training, and resource-sharing. I remember my cousin telling me: “If you don’t want to forget your brother, you don’t have to anymore”—telling me that he was speaking to me from a nearby petroleum pump where there was wifi. It is important, however, to be patient and realistic—both about technology and about what we want to achieve. It takes time and willingness to change our own perspective (and gain patience) when working with people in new contexts. Last year, when I landed in a small town in western Nepal after having run a yearlong webinar series on how to integrate writing across the curriculum (a series that later shifted focus into “how to implement the semester system), I was shocked to find out how bad wifi and data bandwidth were on the ground. While I was working online for nearly a year, I had only seen the few determined colleagues on the ground who must have done everything possible to find or create a fairly good connection before they talked to me: I had assumed that the same kind of connection must be available for most people. As I sat on one particular flight of stairs of a hotel in Surkhet where wifi worked—in total darkness, attacked by a thousand mosquitoes, after midnight when the connection got better—to try to answer any important emails from my university in New York, I was humbled to the point of tears. At that time, I was not as angry at the mosquitoes as I was with myself, when I remembered saying, “For future meetings, let us make sure in advance that we have good connection so that our conversation is uninterrupted.” It turns out that my colleagues would prepare for good connection but no amount of “preparation” would guarantee good wifi. These days, I am much more patient when someone isn’t there, when technology doesn’t work, when new participants need to be brought up to speed, and so on. If we keep expanding our conversation and our commitment and patience for it, we will be able to look back with pride in ten more years—both regarding language policy work and regarding the quality and impact of education at large.

Finally, let us not be afraid or shy to speak our minds. We have seen a lot of negativity against scholars who tried to share their ideas, even when they didn’t challenge established power structures. I don’t know where all the leg-pullers have gone, but we have seen those who continued to share knowledge thrive and grow and make bigger and bigger impacts on society. If you have ideas and energy, come join the conversation here; contribute to other venues if your ideas better fit there; comment and like and repost and having fun learning and sharing ideas on various blogs and other social media. We must invest more of our energies for maximum impact, and one of the ways of doing that is to keep writing and connecting and supporting others. Since we started this humble venue in 2009, I have observed how many contributors and facilitators of this forum have realized their potentials—especially by contributing to the potentials and progress of others.

Let us keep giving back to the profession, the society, and the world! Thank you for reading this post, and hopefully for writing (more) for Choutari in the future.

 

Children Taught Me English language

Karna Rana

Karna Rana

When I was a cowboy going to high school in the late 1980s, there was no educational mission in my life. Born in a poor economic background, even thinking of high school after primary school (Year Five) was just like imagery. Almost all the primary school graduates used to travel to India for work after primary school education in our locality. This came to me too in the long run of schooling but my illiterate (cannot read and write) mother and two elder brothers (who could not complete even their primary school due to loss of father) insisted me to join high school which was/is at the distance of three and half hour walk from home. After learning English alphabets at grade four and five, my journey to learning English in high school started in the mid-80s. That used to take whole morning to reach the high school after crossing dense forest, river, and walks up and down the hills via three villages. Over three hour walk in the morning and the same distance back home after school every day was more than enough to make me very tired. The dreams might be away from the sleeps but the real dream of life i.e learning English and speaking like professional was alive even in the sleeps, every walk and work throughout the high school.

Although there was no English learning environment in my school, the thought of learning English emerged listening to the rhymes of the kindergarten children of private school and looking at a couple (both teachers) of the school. I wished I could speak English like those couple teachers who were running that kindergarten school. There was no any English language learning centre around the school. Otherwise, I would have possibly joint the class. Gradually, I completed my high school with almost ‘no learning of English language’. I could just read words without understanding what the text meant. However, I passed SLC by memorising the texts, especially teacher’s notes. I must thank those high school teachers for their intensive teaching of English grammar that supported me to learn English in university later. Apparently I could not speak English even if I had every day English class from primary to high school.

This is a common sense – Nepal was/is not a ground of English though the neighbour had been colonial land of English for hundreds of years. I must thank the earlier generation of Nepali who saved Nepal and the diversity of over 125 languages that exist in Nepal even today. Though I could not learn proper English in high school, I learned formal English during my university education. How I learned English is quite interesting to share here. In fact, I learned almost no English from university classes but I learned English speaking and writing from my teaching profession at private schools in Kathmandu. Thank God, I got a job at private primary school where I used to teach kindergarten children. Actually I was learning more than teaching those kids in the school. The English language began with ‘May I come in, sir? May I go to toilet, sir? Come in. Go…’ Wow! How lovely the children were, who taught me English speaking and writing which was really helpful to study English on campus. I could speak general English in the very first year of my teaching profession. That teaching was reflected in the result of my I. Ed. English papers when I got very good marks. Therefore, I always thank those kids who taught me English language.

Let me continue the issue of professionalism in English language. Since 1995, the beginning of my university education and teaching profession excluding high school, I have been learning English. When I was almost at the scratch level even after SLC, I thought of developing English in me. I could develop English to some extent from my teaching profession as well as university education. I was always keen to develop my academic English proficiency throughout I.Ed, B.Ed and M.Ed. That was the main reason I selected English as major subject in the university. Sometimes I used to feel wretched when I could not understand native speakers’ English on TV or movies. Of course I had been teaching English at different English medium schools and community campus in Kathmandu for about eighteen years before travelling to the United Kingdom for my second Masters in September 2009. However, language is observed in communication and academic arts. One of the reasons behind going to study MA in Education in the UK was the same to develop English language in me.

Let me tell my real story in the UK. I could mostly understand the people in the university but it was quite different when I had to communicate with customers at my work. I used to work in service oriented company where I had to speak over the phones and face-to-face with local English people. I don’t know how many mistakes I might have done in the very first month due to misunderstanding of people’s language. There I realised what the real English is. This reminded my linguistic theory that I learned in B.Ed and M.Ed classes in Nepal ‘Language is human specific.’

I believe this reflective story is worth sharing with teachers, policy makers and English language learners. Only running after English language may be killing our innovative and productive life. At the same time, it should be understood that language is/not universal phenomenon and it should be realised in the education policies of the nation. As an emerging researcher, I have been reading education policy of Nepal and other countries, there is a gap between socio-cultural values and English language education in Nepal. As I said earlier Nepal was/is not the land of English where over 125 languages still exist with their socio-cultural diversities. Quite significant, most of the developed countries are gradually adopting migrant languages to reflect their diversity, inclusion and preserve their socio-cultural values. When we lose our languages, our socio-cultural values also die with the language. One reality that we have to understand is that language is not solely education. This is just the vehicle of education.

Lastly, I am writing this from the land of English (i.e. New Zealand). Just a reminder, I have realised very lately that English is just a language for communication that anyone can learn from the environment. This is similar to one of the 125 languages in Nepal. Now I speak and write English but I wasted my valuable time of life just running after English language and ignoring life skills. Now I think, I should have learned how to cultivate a beautiful flower in a pot that would give me handsome earning in any part of the world.

Mr. Rana is a PhD Candidate in the School of Teacher Education, College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Editorial (July 2015 Issue): EFL teachers in ‘super-difficult circumstance’

Namaste and welcome to the July 2015 issue of Choutari!

We hope you enjoyed our June issue which also focuses on education and EFL teaching in Nepal’s post-disaster situation. You can read the issue here.

In this issue, we have three blog posts and a photography project. In my own article, I have discussed the preliminary findings of the survey on the role of EFL teachers in Nepal’s post-disaster situation, which I call “super-difficult circumstance.” The teachers’ responses reveal a multitude of difficulties (e.g., psycho-social, educational and economic challenges) caused by the recent earthquake. Most importantly, the findings of the survey reveal the “transformative agency” of EFL teachers who transgress the “schooled pedagogy” and can create their own “pedagogy of disaster” to help their students recover from the traumatic experience.

In the second post, Nirjana Sharma, an education journalist based in Kathmandu, shares a featured news story based on her observation of the schools on the resumption after a month-plus unscheduled holidays following the earthquake. 

July Issue of ChoutariIn another article, Dinesh Thapa shares with us his own involvement in the relief and recovery operations in the earthquake-affected areas. He begins with telling his own story and discusses empirical findings about how people are affected by the earthquake. His article is a testimony to redefining the role of “teacher-as-researcher” and an important material for EFL teaching.

Praveen Kumar Yadav’s post focuses on his own classroom experience teaching his students after the earthquake. His story documents the importance of teachers’ role in facilitating the earthquake-related discussions in EFL lessons. More strikingly, the way in which he has framed the devastating stories in his “world literature” course resonates what I call the “pedagogy of disaster.”

The Choutari team always explores new ways to promote pedagogical discussions among EFL teachers. We have initiated a “photography project” for EFL teaching. Influenced by the Critical Photography Theory” (Wells, 2015) and the “Critical Art Pedagogy” (Cary, 2011), the goal of this project is to promote the use of photos/pictures in EFL teaching.

Table of contents
  1. From ‘schooled pedagogy’ to ‘pedagogy of disaster’: The role of EFL teachers in the super-difficult circumstance of post-disaster Nepal, by Prem Phyak
  2.  School resumption brings smiles to children, by Nirjana Sharma
  3. The impacts of the earthquake on education: Contemplation of an EFL teacher, by Dinesh Thapa
  4. I survived and have a story to tell, by Praveen Kumar Yadav
  5. The photography project’: Pictures in EFL teaching, by Choutari Team

I hope you enjoy reading this issue.

Happy readings!

Prem Phyak (Guest editor)

(With Praveen Kumar Yadav)

From ‘schooled pedagogy’ to ‘pedagogy of disaster’: The role of EFL teachers in the super-difficult circumstance of post-disaster Nepal

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

Introduction

The memory of taking classes in a temporary shelter made up of bamboo and tin after the 1988 earthquake is still vivid in my memory. The two-story building of my school on the slope of the mountain village in eastern Nepal was very badly shaken by the earthquake. We could not take classes in the old building. The villagers, teachers, and students worked very hard for many days to build a temporary shelter and run classes. I still remember that in the shelter we used to read aloud “Hello Sita, Hello Ram. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock” to let our teachers know that we are engaged in doing our tasks. Many times, we could not take classes due to rain and storm. I don’t quite remember how our teachers helped us recover from dreadful experience from the disaster, but the Friday cultural programs and the outdoor activities including field trips were part of fun activities. I wish I had a camera or a cell phone to take the pictures of classes in the shelter during that time. Nobody in the village had these devices then. The situation now has changed a lot. The villagers have cellphones to take pictures and upload them on Facebook to share with wider audience about the updates from the village. We have seen the “social media power” during and post-disaster stage of the April 25 earthquake.

The 7.8 magnitude (April 25, 2015), followed by hundreds of aftershocks including the 7.4 magnitude (May 12, 2015)– took  more than 9,000 people’s lives  and destroyed more than 510,762 homes. Various news reports show that more than 25,000 classrooms of 8,000 schools have to be rebuilt. BCC estimates that more than 90% of schools are destroyed in the hardest-hit districts such as Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Ramechhap. The government estimates the costs of $7 billion, a third of the country’s gross domestic product, to rebuild the damaged physical infrastructures. However, what is missing from the discussion is how to help about two million children who are directly affected by the disaster. While the school dropout has been a thorny issue even before the earthquake, this disaster might further contribute to the increase the dropout rate. UNICEF estimates that more than 1.2 million Nepali children (5-16 years old) are out of school and warns that thousands of children may not join school if appropriate measures are not developed in the post-earthquake stage. Since many children from rural villages have to be relocated in other safe places, they may not find a conducive environment and support to go to school and fully participate in educational activities.

In this blog post, I present the preliminary findings of an ongoing survey research on the role of EFL teachers in the “super-difficult circumstance” of the post-disaster Nepal.  I am using the term “super-difficult circumstance” to embrace the multitude of issues connected with the recent earthquake. I argue that this disaster is not just an earthquake but the convergence of other cascading disasters such as landslides, flooding, and food shortage that directly impacts on children’s educational activities. Moreover, the super-difficult circumstance not only includes lack of physical infrastructures (e.g., school buildings, furniture), but also, and most importantly, complex socio-cultural, economic and political ecology that affect smooth operation of educational activities in the post-disaster situation of Nepal.

The language of disaster: What should EFL teachers know?

Disaster, which affects our daily lives, society, and economy, has never been the focus of English language teaching. Due to the disciplinary boundary, disaster has often been taught as a content of science, geography/social studies, and environmental/population studies. However, the global occurrences of disasters (e.g., hurricane, typhoon, earthquake, flooding, drought, and glacial lake outburst) is increasingly affecting our lives. The world has already experienced numerous disasters in which millions of people died. The Tōhoku Earthquake/Tsunami (2011, Japan), East Africa Drought (2011, East Africa), Haiti Earthquake (2010, Haiti), Pakistan Earthquake (2005, Pakistan), Hurricane Katrina (2005, USA), and Indian Ocean Earthquake (2004, Indonesia), among others, have already taught us so many lessons about disaster management and humanitarian assistance. Should EFL teachers be aware of such disasters and their impacts? How can they contribute to responding to such disasters through teaching?

Of course, EFL teachers should be aware of various types of disasters and help their students become more resilient to cope with traumatic experiences from disasters. The first thing that EFL teachers can do is to incorporate and help students understand various disaster-related concepts in their lessons. The integration of the disaster-related topics definitely enriches vocabulary and the content level awareness of students.

“Disaster” is not easy to define. It literally refers to a sudden event or calamity that causes physical destruction and human suffering. Although there is a debate on the meaning of the term “disaster”, the near consensus definition is: a situation or event, which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to national or international level for external assistance [The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)]. Other terms such as “catastrophe” and “calamity” are also used to describe disaster. Two important points we should be aware of are: a) disaster can be used as a cover term which includes all kinds of incidents or events that cause human sufferings; b)  as Enrico Quarantelli, a famous scholar of the  sociology of disaster, argues, disasters are not always “natural” but  a “social phenomenon”. Quarantelli and his colleagues argue that disasters are deeply rooted in the social structure; the location of the people, their sociopolitical and economic status, and the type of governance. Although EFL teachers may not contribute to the technical aspect of disaster, they can be instrumental in addressing social issues surrounding disaster.

The recent “Nepal earthquake” has revealed a number of sociocultural issues that EFL teachers can discuss in the classroom to help their students develop “critical language awareness.” In the previous issue of Choutari, Charlotte Benham analyzes various lessons that EFL teachers can learn from the recent disaster. She argues that EFL teachers can learn how some people are unequally affected by the recent disaster and engage their students in a critical analysis of social inequalities as seen in the relief and recovery operations. A number of scholars from other disciplines (such as anthropology, political science, sociology, education, and economics) have highlighted the need for a social justice approach in the “relief”, “rehabilitation”, “recovery”, and “rebuilding” stage of disaster. In the same issue of Choutari, Rojita Adhikari, Neha Shah, Anuradha Sharma, Chetan K Timilsina and Jeevan Karki present on-the-ground experiences and lessons learned from the disaster. EFL teachers can learn many important lessons from their stories. They all highlight the role of teachers as a “change agent” and a “resilient actor” in the post-disaster Nepal.

On a positive note, the recent earthquake has given us rich corpus of language that EFL teachers can use in the classroom. Local, national, and international newspapers have paid a due attention to the Nepal earthquake and documented it in different forms (text, audio, image, and video). Teachers can easily access these materials and use in the classroom. Some key vocabulary words that are used in newspapers include: magnitude, rubble, reeling, avalanche, aftershocks, tremor, epicenter, victims, donors, mitigation, rebuilding, temporary shelter, relocation, resistance, settlements, perish, assurance, high-rise building, trigger, death toll, rescue, emergency, charity, trauma, jolt, shocking, resume, tent, makeshift, ravage, woe, grapple, volunteer, soaring, wipe out, desperate, devastating, injured, limp back , decease, massive, strike, drone, chopper etc. Teachers can use these words in their lessons in multiple ways. Other words/phrases that promote students’ critical thinking include: poverty, corruption, caste-system, untouchability, social exclusion, unequal distribution, poor, rich, urban, rural, overhead costs, rotten rice, discrimination, leftover, (lack of)access to power, NGO-graphy etc. These words/phrases can be used as a base for critical language awareness in EFL classes. However, this requires teachers to transgress “the schooled pedagogy”–the scripted pedagogy adopted in school curricula–and be aware of sociocultural issues connected with the disaster. This “pedagogy of disaster” is collectively built on the life experiences of students, teachers, and communities.

The preliminary findings of the survey

I am receiving encouraging responses from the EFL teachers; out of 100, 25 EFL teachers have already responded to the survey. As an ongoing research the final results of this survey will be shared in the future issues of Choutari. In what follows, I present the preliminary findings.

Trauma and the super-difficult circumstance: All the respondent-teachers have gone through traumatic experiences in the post-earthquake stage. Although there was no any human casualty in their own and immediate relatives’ family, these teachers had “a very traumatic experience” as they were trembled by “the series of main shocks and aftershocks”. One teacher recounts that “all my family members were worried, nervous, confused and restless” while another teacher says he is so much terrified and could not find any “strategy to be free.” Four respondent-teachers have lost their houses and twelve teachers’ school buildings are destroyed. They have to prepare temporary shelters to run classes. Three teachers reveal that they are “financially affected” as they are jobless due to their workplace closure for one and a half months. All the respondent-teachers spent their nights in a tent for 15-25 days. The 65.5 per cent of teachers say that the earthquake has destroyed their schools/colleges/universities that cannot be used for educational activities. Twenty-eight percent of them mention that they are deeply affected by the “loss of their students”. Three teachers report that some students “have not come back” as they lost their houses. One university teacher mentions that they are running their classes in a private college in Kathmandu as the building of their university cannot be used for educational activities. Some major issues reported by the EFL teachers are as follows:

  • Less individual attention, no focus on teaching, and traumatic feelings all the time.

All students are not present in class. They have gone to Terai in their relatives home fearing the frequent aftershocks. Students are not in complete mood of learning, in a way they have lost enthusiasm in learning after the quake.

No readiness for learning. Still aftershocks are trembling them so they feel insecure at school as buildings have cracks somewhere.

  • Students fear of another quake.

Students are not comfortable in the class. School buildings have cracks so they are frightened.

Even the sound of the vehicles make them feel earthquake tremor. They do not dare to sit even in the tent.

Not all but some of them are still afraid of earthquake. For example, they are reluctant to go to their previous classroom on the third floor of the building.

Yes, they are afraid. They try to stay out of the enclosed area. They have completely forgotten their assignments and deadlines.

  • Student cannot concentrate on their subject matter while teaching (they always relate the example or substance of teaching with earthquake).

Many of my students have cracked buildings in their village and their parents and relatives are in very difficult situation. So, students are frustrated and they are not able to concentrate on their study. It’s been very difficult for them to follow the normal time table. They are still restless and worried. In addition to this, there are cracks in the college building and students feel insecure to attend class in rooms which are located in the upper level.

They feel a bit better now as they would like to continue their study after the quake but they still have a fear that earthquake might come again. The Facebook rumor of big earthquake coming has affected their psychology.

The role of EFL teachers in the recovery

The respondent-teachers have contributed to providing relief materials to the earthquake survivors in many ways. They have raised funds, collected food, provided drinking water, participated in rescue operations, distributed medicine, and made shelters for the survivors. These teachers have played very critical role to help their students recover from the deep traumatic experiences from the disaster. Some of the major activities these teachers have done in their classes are as follows:

Counseling: Most of the respondent-teachers have provided counselling services to their students after the reopening of their schools. One teacher says “we have talked to our students and suggested that they should not be worried”.  Another teachers reveals that “we have tried to look and act normal.” These teachers have shared with their students the information about the disaster and how they can remain alert. Some of the teachers have also helped to build temporary learning centers where their students feel safer to learn before they go to school. These teachers have also helped their students buy books, stationery, bags, and uniforms.

Sharing experiences: The majority of the respondent-teachers encouraged students to share their personal experiences in class.  One teacher recounts “I started the class with sharing about the experience. Also asked the students to share how they helped the more unfortunate members of the community.” These teachers also engaged students in making plans to respond to the future disaster. For example, one of the teachers says:

 We all shared our stories together in the beginning, and I talked about the Psychological First Aid (PFA) on the first day of the class. We also talked about how we helped other people in trouble and how we should be helping them in the future. I told them that disasters like earthquake are natural and they come without any alert and we need to face them.

Another teacher shares:

I have started the class narrating my story of survival in the earthquake. The theme or topic of that day’s class was “I survived & I have a story to tell”. I first told them my story and asked them to share their stories of survival. Though the students felt hesitant to share their story, I facilitated them and gave them freedom to use any language and to use any format of storytelling, which they find convenient. As a result, the class became so interesting later. The next days, I have started teaching them with flexible time without sticking to the time schedule of a session. I am not teaching them seriously like I did before the earthquake. The flexible lesson and methods as per their convenience are used in the class so that they will not feel any burden in their mind while teaching. These days, I have stopped giving serious assignments, e.g. in written form but just reading assignment. I chose more interactive sessions which I believe can help them recover from the shock.

Fun activities: Some respondent-teachers are also doing various fun activities with the students. One teacher, for example, has shared her “muktak and gajal” with the class to help students forget the deep shock and sense of fear. Another teacher does not like the idea of sharing personal stories. He believes that it is necessary to “divert their mind to other topics [by] involving them in various creative, fun and entertaining activities such as painting, music, dance and funny quizzes including games.” Some of the respondent-teachers have also used songs, jokes, and newspaper readings as part of classroom activities.

Integrating disaster-related topics in EFL lessons

The respondent-teachers did not include the disaster-related topics in their lessons in the past. But they have started incorporating them after the recent earthquakes. While responding to the question of whether or not he includes the disaster-related topics in his lessons, one of the respondent-teachers asserts that:

Not much in the past but now I do include the disaster-related topics in my lesson. Yesterday, I was teaching them Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and we discussed at quite length how we can engage the students in discussion to rebuild Nepal. My students came up with some wonderful activities that can be used in high school English class.

Likewise, another teacher says that “I frequently show them movies and videos for taking precautions about the quake.” Some of the respondent-teachers have already started engaging students in developing plans for staying safe in the future disasters. For example, one respondent has already “asked the students to draw pictures of the scene they have seen in and around their homes; to tell me stories they have; to tell me how they felt during and after the quake; to draw pictures on how they can stay safe etc.” These teachers are also engaging students in critical thinking activities and make them aware of how the disaster has affected some people unequally. For example, one of the respondent-teachers ask his students to discuss how the people in Tundikhel [temporary shelters] are living; how they manage food every day; and what they do during rainy days. At the same time, these teachers are also aware of the fact that the repetition of the disaster-related stories might keep students thinking about the devastation. For example, a teacher argues that “I do not want to continue …talking about disaster [as it] will further affect the students. One of students told me that she did not like to hear more about the earthquake as she has already been fed up of listening about it through family, media and friends.”

Conclusions

The preliminary findings of the survey show two critical points. First, it shows that  EFL teachers in the Nepal’s post-disaster situation are, going beyond the “schooled pedagogy”, focusing on the “pedagogy of disaster’ which includes multiple activities inside and outside of the classroom. By participating in rescue, relief, and recovery activities, the EFL teachers have redefined their role as a “change agent” and demonstrated profound agency to the rebuilding of the country. Second, the EFL teachers have shown their critical awareness about the issues associated with the disaster. As one of the teachers argues, the earthquake survivors should not be treated as “beggars” rather they should be considered as a source of knowledge. The storytelling activities alongside counseling and the integration of disaster-related topics in EFL lessons are important classroom strategies for teachers to help students cope with the traumatic experience from the disaster. Following Arjun Appadurai, a famous sociocultural anthropologist and a major theorist in globalization studies, I reiterate that it is important for EFL teachers to engage students to “document” the stories and experiences from Nepal’s earthquake and share them with the global ELT community. This process will not only help EFL teachers develop teaching materials and an archive of knowledge, but also raises students’ critical awareness about society, culture and education.

 

[Acknowledgement: I would like to thank all the teachers who responded to the survey.]

‘The photography project’: Pictures in EFL teaching

The Choutari team has initiated a new ‘photography project’. The aim of the project is to promote the use of photography/pictures in EFL teaching. In this project, the Choutari team members share with the larger ELT community a variety of photos they take in different times and places. We do not create our own stories out of these pictures, rather we leave it open for multiple uses (e.g., essay writing, story writing/telling, critical pedagogy, group work, participatory research)as per the need of EFL teachers . In acknowledging the importance of photos/pictures in EFL teaching, this project is influenced by the “Critical Photography Theory” (Wells, 2015) and the “Critical Art Pedagogy” (Cary, 2011). We encourage our fellow colleagues all over the world to use these pictures (of course, acknowledgement is appreciated) for the classroom purposes and participate in the discussion on various issues concerning the use of photography in EFL teaching.

To begin, we share the photos taken by Prem Phyak, our past editor, in different locations and times in Nepal.

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Is Grammar a Liberating Force or an Obstacle for Communication?

Instructor of English Educational Training Center, Surkhet

Ramesh Prasad Ghimire Instructor of English,
Educational Training Center, Surkhet

 

Initiation

In recent years some government schools of Nepal are slowly moving towards English medium instruction (EMI). Some schools have started teaching all the subjects except Nepali in English. This is happening mainly at primary level (grade 1 to 5). National Center for Educational Development (NCED) has made a decision to provide training for the school teachers who are interested in using English as a medium of instruction. NCED has made MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with British Council (BC) for conduction training for the school teachers.

The project has been given a name National Initiative to Improve Teaching in English (NIITE). It is a three years project. The project focuses on training the primary level teachers (grade 1 to 5) but the main focus of the training according to Jovan Illic, the head of Programmes at British Council, is on the teachers who are teaching in grade three, four and five.

The target area of the project is all the seventy five districts of Nepal. However, the three districts of Nepal Surkhet, Nawalparasi, and Jhapa have been selected as the piloting district for conducting training for this year. These districts have been selected as piloting districts because the demand of the teachers was high from these districts. In the first year, it is aimed at training 7000 primary level teachers.

My experience

As an English trainer, I was always worried about our primary level teachers’ English. Last year I conducted EMI training in ETC Surkhet for 50 primary level teachers.  Most of the teachers’ English proficiency was very poor and my focus was on improving their English rather than equipping them with some skills and teaching techniques. I was so worried about their English. I was thinking how they could conduct English medium classes without having some proficiency in English. I even carried out an action research focusing on developing their English proficiency. I was not free from my worry throughout the year. This year too I have to train 150 primary level teachers in Educational Training Center (ETC), Surkhet.  The tormenting question that strikes me all the time is “How can a teacher teach in English without being able to use some English for general communication?”. And I hope majority of the teachers who are using English as a medium of instruction at the basic level might be worried about their own language ability.

Fortunately, I attained EMI training this year. It was master training of trainers (MTOT) jointly organized by NCED and BC in Nepalgunj from 14 to 18 March. One of the key message that I got from the training is grammar is not a thing to be worried about in communication. Grammar is, in fact, not a liberating force but an obstacle in effective communication. If you know nouns and verbs you can communicate. For example, if you are thirsty and want to drink water, you can say “Give water.” instead of “Can I have a glass of water, please?” I already had got this idea in University but it was, I think, in my subconscious level of mind.

Some of you may be worried about grammar especially with written English. But one thing that we should not forget here is that in EMI classes, grammar is less important than fluency and communication of meaning. If you are able to communicate your intended message to your reader or listener then your language is okay even if it is grammatically incorrect. Grammar develops itself in course of time if language is used for communication. This is the key of current communicative approaches to language teaching as well. If you look at how children learn their first language, you will find that they use single word or simply two words for communication and their message is perfectly intelligible for the adults. Their grammatical system develops much later in life. But it is important to have a good store of vocabulary. The lexical approach to language teaching also focuses on the prime role of vocabulary in learning a language and communication. Some other lessons that I learned from this training are:

  • First fluency then accuracy
  • Make your instruction as short as possible
  • Use very few words and much demonstration
  • Do not speak much in the classroom, encourage students to speak much in which they use whatever language they can
  • Teaching is very easy; just go into the classroom and give students something to do so that they forget that they are in the classroom.
  • Use a lot of visual aids and actions for communication of meaning

My instance

I am not happy with this government policy, however. I do not think that teaching in English guarantees quality in education.  In the name of using English in the classroom, the students should not be deprived from the basic understanding of the subject matter. Before making any new policy we need to look at our local ground realities and contexts. I personally think that we still need some years to make a jump to EMI in this county. I have observed some of the EMI classes in Surkhet and have some discussion with the teachers as well as students. I suggest dear teachers to use some Nepali or other mother tongues of the students to some extent in EMI classes. But one thing that impressed me was that the students said that they loved English classes much and they were more active smart and confident than the students who were in Nepali medium classes.

My plan

Now I am convinced that my trainee teachers who are participating in EMI training in ETC, Surkhet can handle EMI classes even if their language proficiency is not so advanced. My first action in this training will be to make my participants feel that English is not difficult and grammar is not so important in communication in this context. I am planning to make them feel this not by telling but by demonstrating.

2014: A year of crash for Nepali universities

NIRJANA SHARMA

This may not be a coincidence that the highest number of Nepali students went abroad on student visa for higher education this year, while countries four of the universities came under the scanner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on serious corruption charges.

The year 2014 painted a bleak picture on the credibility of the country’s oldest and reputed universities, keeping students in dilemma whether to pursue higher education in these universities.

After the CIAA sped up its investigation over various complaints of irregularities against the top most officials of the Purbanchal University, Mid-Western University (MWU) and Pokhara University, most of the accusations were backed up by the strong evidences. The anti-graft body had to recommend suspending dozens of senior officials after the investigation.

While the CIAA action was inevitable to expose the uprooted corruption. But the reveal of the names emptied the posts at the varsities.

In April, when the anti-graft body began investigation in Purbanchal University, involvement of around two dozen officials including the Vice Chancellor (VC), Registrar, Exam Controller and Faculty Dean was prior to their arrest later.

Again in August, officials’ suspension followed by their arrest of including the executive head of the autonomous varsity- VC, Rector and Registrar panicked around 1500 students of MWU, who had high hope from the regional varsity established in their own place in Surkhet. Later in October, 22 officials from Pokhara University were arrested.

Contrary to the students’ hope to achieve higher education from the university for the establishment of which they had struggled at MWU, the students starting moving to the Tribhuvan University (TU) affiliated colleges again.

In the wake of the exposure of corruption by officials at theMWU, dozens of students discontinued their courses and started searching for alternatives.

Quitting of the university by students in droves was sparked by the exposure of corruption and subsequent suspensions at MWU. Although the newly appointed VC and registrar have expressed their commitment to improving things, the students appear not to be reassured. Around 150 students have already left the varsity till November, said the MWU-based student unions.

Purbanchal was not an exception. And neither the Pokhara University. The Purbanchal, that failed to follow thr calander in many of the faculties, a positive impact upon the administrative and academic work is yet to be visible in the ongoing service of the VC and other officials appointed for interim state.

A popular saying made on lighter node, give a worrisome message about the Purbanchal instead. “One student left his management course in mid-session, went to India, completed a degree there and came back to teach PU students who were of his own batch there,” said Pashupati Nepal, Eastern Region In-charge of the All Nepal National Independent Student Union – Revolutionary.

With the CIAA being aggressive in its scrutiny of university, and absence of another mechanism to oversee the activities of the varsities, the future is mote worrisome, experts say.

Universities being the autonomous body, it is hard to interfere in their daily activities, whereas frequent reports of corruption in many universities does not portend well for students enrolled there.

The University Grant Commission (UGCC) cannot seize documents and take any other strict actions, which allow the universities to skirt accountability, says Bhola Pokhrel, Member Secretary of the UGC.

Former vice-chancellor of the TU, Kedar Bhakta Mathema, said that there is no mechanism within the education system to take the situation under control if the top-level varsities themselves engage in corruption.

“In order to avert crisis in the education sector, it is high time that the concept of high powered commission that can oversee the activities of universities be discussed seriously,” he said.

Can the CIAA’s action raise question over the accountability of the UGC itself? Pokhrel said that the universities do not cooperate with the commission, so its job remains limited to allocating funds.

Politicization is the real culprit, states Former VC of Tribhuvan University Kedar Bhakta Mathema. He believes that the government failed to realize the importance of making these academic institutions, like most other institutions, free of political intervention.

“Until or unless the provisions of political appointments at universities are not scrapped, Nepal´s higher education will remain weaker and may eventually collapse,” he warns.

“Picking the VC, Rector and Registrar from parties, is meant to work in favor of institution, rather they will serve their political interest”, he added.

The author is an education journalist.

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