Language Planning in Nepal: A Bird’s Eye View

Kumar Narayan Shrestha

Kumar Narayan Shrestha

Introduction

Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious and multicultural country. According to the latest census (2011), there are 123 languages and 125 castes and ethnic groups. However, Lewis (2009) and Yonjan-Tamang (2005) claim that there are 126 and 144 languages spoken within the territory of Nepal (as cited in Rai, Rai, Phyak & Rai, 2011). Although, languages are sources of knowledge and icon of identity, the majority of indigenous languages spoken in Nepal are endangered due to various reasons.

There were recorded ten different religions viz.  Hindu, Bouddha, Islam, Kirat, Christian, Prakriti, Bon, Jain, Bahai and Sikha. Similarly, there are four llanguage families/genetic: Tibeto-burman, Indio-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic/Munda, Dravidian (Kansakar, 1996, p.1). But Rai (2016) says there five families (Kusunda no family ye), fourteen scripts.

According to (CBC, 2011), the major five mother tongue speakers are as follow:

 

1. Nepali 44.6%
2. Maithali 11.7%
3. Bhojpuri 6%
4. Tharu 5.8%
5. Tamang 5.1%
6. Newar 3.2%

 

According to Yadav (2007) many indigenous languages of Nepal have spoken form only. Rai (2016) says there are 14 scripts: 1. Nepali 2. Lepcha 3. Kirati 4. Tamang 5. Sherpa 6. Newari 7. Santhal 8. Gurung 9. Maithali 10. Bhojpuri 11. Magar 12. Sunuwar (Koich) 13. Dhimal 14. Muslim (Urdu)

According to Yadav (2007,10) Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Maithli, Newari, Sherpa, Tamang, Tharua and Urdu have all kinds of publications, whereas Bajjika, Chepang, Danuwar, Jero, Kumal, Lohorung, Nawa, Nuhbri Ke (Larke), Santhali (Satar), Surel, Tokpegola/Dhokpya and Uranw/Kudux have no publications and other languages have some publications available.

Language Planning and Methodology

Language planning is inevitable for any government since it is associated with the notion of national language. Language as an identity can be a source of national unification as well as source of dispute in a country. Therefore, in the multilingual situation like in Nepal, proper initiative needs to be adopted to build a unified nation.

For the first time, the term ‘language planning’ was coined by Einar Haugen in the 1950s to elucidate the process of language development. It is “a government-authorized, long-term, sustained and conscious effort to alter a language’s function in a society for the purpose of solving communication problems” (Weinstein, 1980, p. 56.). Conclusively, following Cooper (1989) it can be understood as deliberate efforts to influence the behaviour of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes” (p. 183). Mostly, language planning is carried out by authorized agencies but to restrict it to the work of authoritative institutions is to be too restrictive (Cooper, 1989).

Different scholars suggest different stages of language planning. Such as, Haugen (1966) proposes four aspects of language development: selection of form, codification of form, elaboration of function and acceptance by the community. On the other hand, Cooper (1989) suggests three stages of language planning: corpus planning, status planning, and acquisition planning.  The stages mentioned by Cooper (1989) can be described as follows:

Corpus planning

Corpus planning deals with the reform within the language structure. Most commonly, a language or one variety of a language is picked up by the government to standardize it. Cooper (1989) states it as the “the creation of new forms, the modification of old ones, or the selection from alternative forms in a spoken or written code” (p. 31). It focuses on the internal condition of a language or language variety. It aims to standardize a variety of language and change its condition. It generally includes the development of orthography, new sources of vocabulary, dictionaries, and literature, and the deliberate cultivation of new uses so that the use of language can be extended to government, education, trade and link language and so on. It may include creation of new forms in spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. As Corpus Planning of Nepali language, British Scholars such as J.A. Ayton (1820) and Sir Ralph Turner (1931) began the standardization process by producing grammar and dictionaries of Nepali. (Kansakar 1996, p.3)

Status planning

Status planning changes the status of a language either by raising or degrading the status of a language. It may deprive or allow the speakers of a minority language to use it in government, education, and trade. It deals with efforts undertaken to change the use and function of a language. It is the allocation of new function to the language in question. Conclusively, for Cooper (1989) it refers to ‘changes in the systems of … speaking’, ‘changes in a language’s functions, ‘language use’, ‘use of language’ and ‘organization of a community’s language resources’. It is concerned with the relationship between language rather than changes within them.

Acquisition planning

It aims to expand the number of speakers of the language in question. Following Cooper (1989) “When planning is directed towards increasing a language’s uses, it falls within the rubric of status planning” (p. 33). It focuses on the teaching and the use of language. Cooper (1989) mentions three types of acquisition goals:

  1. Acquisition of the language as the second or foreign language;
  2. Renativization or revitalization of the language;
  3. Language maintenance.

In case of acquisition planning, the learners are provided with opportunities and incentives to attract their attention. Acquisition planning becomes effective when the language in question serves all the functions desired by the speakers or learners.

Phases of Language Planning in Nepal

Weinberg (2013, p.63) has mentioned three phases of language planning in Nepal.

Periods before 1950 (As rare as snakes in Ireland)

This phase is considered to begin around the annexation of Nepal by Prithivi Narayan Shah and existed till 1950. It stretched within two absolute reigns of Nepal, absolute Shah before Ranarchy and Ranarchy itself. The use of then Khasa language has become Nepali language now which was supposed to germinate politically during Shah Regime in Gorkha. This very language was nurtured by Ranas later. However, “The Rana rulers were not interested in developing the feelings of nationalism that often inspire the imposition of national language policies” (Burghart, 1984 in Weinberg 2013, p.63). They were also opposed to widespread education therefore there was no need to set language in education policies.

First language policy in Nepal was made in 1905. Then, Nepali language was made as language of law and government. However, Hutt (1988 in Weinberg 2013, p.63) claims that no documentation of this declaration has been published.

On the other hand, though Nepali was only permissible court language, Rana (Janga Bahadur) wanted English-language education for his children. He established Durbar School for Rana family. It was the first government-run English medium school in Nepal. However, Hindu Pathshalas and Baudha Gompas were using Sanskrit and Tibetan respectively as medium of instruction from the time immemorial in Nepal.

Later, Dev Shamsher opened 200 Nepali language schools. Likewise, in 1905 Chandra Shamsher started a Nepali-medium school to train civil servants. In 1934, Nepali was declared as the official language of education (Caddell, 2007 in Weinberg, 2013, p. 69).

Padam Shamsher’s regime is marked as a turning point in the history of language policy of Nepal. He proposed ‘vernacular’ schools inspired by Gandhi.

The first post-secondary educational institution in Nepal was Trichandra College, established in 1918. In this college, language of education was English. Its purpose was to shelter students of Durbar school and to prevent them from going abroad (India). His underling purpose was to prevent Nepalese from getting radical ideas which could be dangerous for them.

From 1950-1990 (Panchayat Era: one language one nation)

After 1950 for the first time, Nepal’s government became interested in cultural unification. According to Rai et al. (2011) Panchayat government imposed their political goals through the slogan of ek bhasha, ek bhesh, ek dharma, ek desh (one language, one way of dress, one religion, one nation), which attempted to spread Nepali, Hinduism, and other symbols of nation throughout the country to create a unified national identity. Its goal was to assimilate people of different culture and linguistic background into a Nepali identity based on the cultural practices of elite, high-caste hill Hindus (Onta, 1996a, as cited in Weinberg 2013)

Education was taken as a tool for teaching the end. After the introduction of democracy, new educational language policy was formed considering the recommendation of Nepal National Educational Planning Commission (NNEPC). The report of the NNEPC strongly supported Nepali as the medium of instruction for schooling, largely for purposes of national integration. The report advocated the use of Nepali language not only in classroom but also on playgrounds and in all spheres of life. It states:

The study of a non-Nepali local tongue would mitigate against the effec­tive development of Nepali, for the student would make greater use of it than Nepali – at home and in the community – and thus Nepali would re­main a “foreign” language. If the younger generation is taught to use Ne­pali as the basic language, then other languages will gradually disappear, and greater national strength and unity will result. (NNEPC, 1956, p. 97).

NNEP followed Hugh B. Wood’s personal view and practice of his country (English as medium). Another educational policy was proposed by National Education System Plan (NESP,1971). It advocated the use of only Nepali in administration, education and media. Stressing the need of monolingual situation, it states the goal of education as”

“to strength devotion to crown, country, national unity and the Panchayat system, to develop uniform traditions in education by bringing together various patterns under a single national policy, to limit the tradition of regional languages…” (Ministry of Education, 1971, p.1)

Throughout Panchayat era Nepali language speakers got privilege as the goal of education was to unify nation under one language and one culture.

Schooling After 1990: The Right to Education in the Mother Tongue

After the restoration  of democracy in 1990, for the first time new constitution recognized Nepal as a multicultural and multilingual country. The Constitution of 1990 states “All the languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are the national languages of Nepal. (His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, 1990). For the first time language in education policy was stated in the constitution. It paved a way for running school in mother-tongue and even teaching at least up to primary in mother tongue.

In 1993 a commission for formulating policy for national languages was formed to promote national languages and their use in local administration, primary education and media.

Rai (2016) claims that as a result of ‘Education for all (2015) campaign’, textbooks are published in twenty two indigenous languages. Quite recently, the constitution of Nepal (2015) has provisioned the right of language under fundamental rights and states, “Every Nepalese community residing in Nepal shall have the right to get education in its mother tongue and, for that purpose, to open and operate schools and educational institutes, in accordance with law. (The Constitution of Nepal, 2015, Part 3, Article 31)

The School Sector Reform Plan, 2009-2015 provided supported use of mother tongues in grade one through three (Ministry of Education, 2009). The government has approved a set of guidelines for implementing multilingual education and commissioned a report on teaching Nepali as a second language to speakers of other languages in Nepal (Yonjan-Tamang, 2012 in Weinberg, 2013, p.67).

Conclusion

Language planning tries to develop the uses of the country’s national language for the purposes of education, trade, technology and so on. Language planning is ideally based on language policy. Language planning mainly embraces corpus planning, status planning and acquisition planning. In the history of language planning in Nepal has gone through many ups and downs, from monolingualism to mother-tongue rights which still lack feasibility and ground based reality in planning and implementation. Since it is the era of local identity, the government has accepted its spirit through linguistic inclusion.

 

Kumar Narayan Shrestha, M.Ed. and M.A., is a faculty at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is an M.Phil. scholar at Kathmandu University. He has been associated in teaching for seventeen years. He has published articles in different journals and presented papers in national/international conferences. His professional interests include ELT, research and translation.


References

Central Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Statistical pocket book of Nepal. Kathmandu: Author.

Nepal Gazette (2015). The Constitution of Nepal (2015). Kathmandu: Author.

His Majesty’s Government, Nepal. (1990). Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 2047 (1990). Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Kansakar, T.R. (1996). Language planning and modernization in Nepal. Nepalese Linguistics, 13 .1-13.

Ministry of Education. (1971). The national education system plan for 1971-76. Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Nepal National Education Planning Commission. (1956). Education in Nepal: Report of the Nepal education planning commission. Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Rai, G. (2016, August 26). Ojnelma chaltika anya lipi [Other prevalent scripts in shadow]. Kantipur, p. 11.

Rai, V.S., Rai, M., Phyak, P. Rai, N. (2011). Multilingual education in Nepal: Hearsay and reality? A report. Paper commissioned for UNESCO. Kathmandu: UNESCO.

Weinberg, M. (2013). Revisiting history in language policy: The case of medium of instruction in Nepal. Working Paper in Educational Linguistics, 28 (1), 61-80.

Weinstein, B. (1980). Language planning in francophone Africa. LPLP, 4 (1), 55-77.

Yadava, Y.P. (2007). Linguistic diversity in Nepal perspectives on language policy. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/ 237459920

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.

 

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.]

School Resumption Brings Smiles to Children

IMG_2382

NIRJANA SHARMA

 

Attendance was encouraging on the first day children returned to school Sunday, 37 days after the devastating earthquake rocked Nepal.

The month-plus unscheduled holidays have come to an end. But the tremors have not. Amid aftershocks striking every single day, children in most Valley schools not only managed to bring smiles back to their faces, but also boosted the confidence of their teachers about continuing with the classes.

a

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Arman at the center

Five-year-old Arman Khan had gotten admission to nursery class at Durbar High School in the first week of Baisakh, when the new academic session started. But his first day of classes took place only on Sunday. No one asked him to read or write anything. All he had to do was sing and dance along with other children.

At this oldest school of the country, the children paid no attention to the collapsed infrastructure and instead enjoyed the cultural program at the Temporary Learning Centre set up by the school.

Rojina Lama, 13, and her 11-year-old brother Kumar were witness to many old structures collapsing in Thimi on April 25. And their home in Dhading district is now only a memory. But all that was not enough to keep the siblings away from their Adarsha Secondary School at Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.

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“We are happy to come to school and hope to resume our studies soon,” they said while walking in the streets of Thimi.

School teacher Roshani Shrestha at VS Niketan Montessor shared that those who came in the morning crying also seem to have forgotten everything and were playing happily.

For eight-year-old Younish Shrestha, it was a little different. The paper-made ‘smiling’ hairband did not match his expression. About the reason for his sadness, he said, “I enjoyed the holidays and wished they could be extended for more days still.” Roshani explained Younish’s attitude in terms of general child psychology and the tendency to keep avoiding school when there has been a long gap.

Sixth grader Rahul Yadav of SOS School, Sanothimi says he found the earthquake-related information at schools quiet boring.

“We have been facing earthquakes every day and watching the awareness messages on TV and the internet and it was boring to see the same things repeated at school,” he said. Rahul’s mother Bina nodded and suggested that the schools impart quake-related education in a more interesting way.

Less than half of students attend at most Valley schools

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Around 70 students made it to Durbar High School where the enrollment was around 225 during the last session. Out of 1,000 students, hardly 350 reached Nobel Academy at New Baneshwor.

Nobel Principal Rishikesh Wagle said most of the students who have gone to the districts with their families are yet to return.

“It is mainly children who have gone to their homes outside the Valley who are yet to return,” said Wagle.

At VS Niketan Montessor at Tinkune, 87 out of the 200 toddlers managed to come, whereas 250 out of 500 students at Suryodaya School attended.

PABSON, an umbrella organization of private and boarding schools, said that around 40 percent of students came to school. But the numbers are expected to increase gradually as the guardians see more and more children doing so, said PABSON Chairperson Lachhya Bahadur KC

PABSON has estimated that around 15 percent of the children might not return to the Valley following the quake. KC said this was no bother for private schools, which would soon begin classes in full form as per the interest shown by students.

“The senior class students have shown interest in returning to full-form classes,” said KC. If the aftershocks become milder, schools would resume formal classes for grades 9 and 10, he mentioned.

The Department of Education (DoE)said that most of the schools managed to gather students in their makeshift classrooms for amusement and extracurricular activities, as earlier planned, to help them overcome the post-quake trauma.

“We have received good vibes from the badly-devastated districts and this has encouraged the government to gear up for full fledged classes soon,” said DoE Director Khagendra Nepal.

Stressed guardians wait outside for children

fThough some schools such as St. Xavier’s at Jawalakhel restricted media from the school premises, guardians were allowed to accompany their children to the classrooms.

Some of the schools engaged the guardians also in their activities, and in most schools the guardians waited outside for more than two hours until the school wrapped up for the day.

At the premises of Suryodaya School at Dillibazar and at Maitidevi-based Universal Academy, which was damaged by the quake, the guardians could manage a smile on seeing their children singing and dancing.

Engineer Shambhulal Kayastha took his eight-grader granddaughter Bhumika to Nobel Academy from Koteshor. This was the third time Kayastha has been to the school within a week.

“The green sticker at the building did not reassure me untill I examined the infrastructure myself,” 60-year-old Kayastha told Republica while waiting for Bhumika at the school premises.

Nobel carried out yoga, meditation and cultural programs alternatively, dividing the students into different groups. Guardians witnessed similar activities from a distance at VS Niketan as well.

Like many, Sunita Maharjan said that fear of strong tremors during school hours prevented her feet from leaving the school area.

The author is education journalist with Republica English National Daily in Nepal. She originally published it in Republica and blogged for ELT CHOUTARI.

The impacts of the earthquake on education: Contemplation of an EFL teacher

Dinesh Thapa dtathapa@gmail.com

Reminiscing the day!

A large circle of Early Childhood Development (ECD) teachers–mostly female teachers–are joining their hands. Two facilitators in the hall, one inside the circle and the other at the corner, are observing the activity. Saturday, after the morning meal of 12th Baishakh 2072 (April 25, 2015), the second teacher training session of the day was in progress. The teachers were preparing for an introductory language game which requires them to perform a chant by clapping hands. Sometimes they needed to walk back and forth. Everybody was engrossed in how to perform game the best; they were excited with the easy tips and activities to teach the ECD kids in a better way. They were attending to every bit of the sound, the rhythm and the art of performing a circle-time activity in ECD classes. Then the facilitator in the center began instructing the participants for the refined repetition of the activity. When the participants had just started moving in the circle, the entire building trembled, and the whole earth shook so badly. Nobody could stand upright. Everybody started stumbling to the main gate of the hall. Earthquake! Earthquake! They cried. Soon, a pool of people from all around the vicinity arrived at the open ground in front of the hall, gasping up and trembling. They were praying for safety, for themselves, for their relatives and for their houses and property. In a minute, the exuberance of the training was converted into a formidable catastrophe and a deep serenity resided compelling people to give up all their arts and skills for the sake of life and bodily safety. It was indeed a mega earthquake disaster that had wiped out all the beautiful dreams instantly. Everybody attempted desperately to connect to their families; the entire atmosphere was then terror- driven by an unimagined might of the mother earth. In a minute, news reports about the fall of the Dharahara and many other heritage places were broadcast. TVs showed the damage of lives and buildings; soon, the whole country was mourning in the loss of dearest ones. Hospitals were crumbled, and there was a crowd of the injured outside hospitals. Scores of schools that cheered with the aspirations of the millions of future citizens were damaged; several public and private structures were flattened onto the ground. In a minute, most of the central part of Nepal was deserted. The Kathmandu valley lost several world heritages; the beautiful tourist destinations in Gorkha and the business hubs in Tatopani were completely damaged. People feared the most what they long forever- the hard earned resident buildings. Indeed there was a complete standstill of normal activities. This terror continued for over a month; it still haunts all those who were directly and indirectly affected. The country is thus under a dreadful situation hardest-hit by the earthquake.

Disaster situation in Nepal

Nepal is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. Some of the disasters such as floods, landslides, cold waves, fire, and lightings are a common occurrence in Nepal. Every year, Nepalis are facing the problem of flood, landslide and fire particularly in the hot and summer season. It is reported that Nepal stands at the 11th and 30th position in terms of earthquake and water induced disasters respectively in the world. The vulnerability to disaster also continues to increase annually, particularly as a result of rapid population growth together with the unplanned and poorly regulated urban planning. The people of Nepal face a variety of life-threatening hazards. The recent earthquake of 7.8 magnitude and thousands of aftershocks have caused an insurmountable devastation in different parts of the country.  Although the actual data about the human casualty and injuries and physical and economic damages are yet to be confirmed, the Ministry of Home Affairs has declared over 8500 casualties, and about 21,000 human injuries.  The government has declared 11 districts as the most afflicted areas in terms of human and non- human damages. Informal observations and inquiries suggest that hundreds of human settlements (including houses and property) have been completely or partially destroyed. The roads, water supplies and electricity have been interrupted. Basic service centers such as schools and health centers and police posts have been dismantled. In a sense, a vast segment of population in the earthquake hit regions is living in a complete middle-aged-like-darkness at present.

Sample statistics about the impact of the disaster

Immediately after the devastating earthquake, the entire nation and several international organizations began their rescue and relief operations in Nepal. The government, charities and donors from different parts of the world joined hands to immediately help Nepal and its people to recover from the devastation. Inspired with the spirit of humanitarian assistance, I also worked with a non-governmental organization (Friends Service Council Nepal) in order to support the earthquake survivors in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts. We reached out to different earthquake affected communities with relief materials on the third of April 25 disaster. We were also accompanied by a team of volunteers that attempted to document human casualties and physical property in eight different communities. Among the 2900 supported families, 1192 were involved for a detailed survey. The survey shows a preliminary picture of the earthquake damage as follows.

Figure 1: Respondent’s VDC/Municiplity
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Jharuwarasi Lalitpur 182 15.3 15.3 15.3
Bishankhu Lalitpur 92 7.7 7.7 23.0
Ikudol Lallitpur 121 10.2 10.2 33.1
Shankhu Lalitpur 191 16.0 16.0 49.2
Chapagaun Lalitpur 71 6.0 6.0 55.1
Lamatar Lalitpur 141 11.8 11.8 66.9
Dalchoki Lalitpur 129 10.8 10.8 77.8
Maha Manjushree Bhaktapur 265 22.2 22.2 100.0
Total 1192 100.0 100.0

 

The sample communities have different characteristics in terms of the topography and development features. Two villages, Ikudol and Shankhu in Lalitpur, are located in a remote hilly area whereas Bishankhunarayan and Jharuwarashi are semi-urban settlements, near the city. Likewise, Chapagaun represents the community of the marginalized people (Dalit community) whereas Lamatar and Mahamanhusree represent to an averagely developed communities. These communities are chosen as to understand how the disaster acts upon differently built-up communities, though it has affected all Nepalis. The following table shows the present status of the respondents.

Figure 2: Respondent’s present shelter status
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Living under open sky 413 34.6 34.6 34.6
Living in tents outside 666 55.9 55.9 90.5
Living in community places 32 2.7 2.7 93.2
Living on rented homes 41 3.4 3.4 96.6
Living in own home 40 3.4 3.4 100.0
Total 1192 100.0 100.0

 

Home is the source of aspiration and physical-emotional wellbeing for human beings. When there is a threat to our home, all the hopes turn into a painful agony and frustrations. A home is the emblem of emotional attachment; it doesn’t matter whether it is a cemented or just a thatched one. Education, prosperity and futurity become mere dreams when there is an instant threat to survival. We cannot even imagine how dreadful it is to live under the open sky. It was not an adventure for them; they were compelled by the unlucky fate. It was found that more than 90 percent of the sampled families had their houses either completely damaged or unfit for living. I cannot describe the pathetic situation of the children and the elderly. It is hard to describe the shattered dreams of the adults and how the damaged souls take on for the future. Buildings can be reconstructed, but it is very difficult to regain the shattered emotions and passion attached to them. The chart below displays the condition of damage houses and property in the sampled communities.

 Figure 3: Damage of house and indoor property

damage of house & property

Along with private property, the earthquake also caused an insurmountable damage to the hard made public property. Local school is just an example. The Nepali society has a very short history of public education. Indeed, school represents the single most development indicator in many rural parts of the country. As of now, there are many places where no market places or health centers are built yet, but there are public schools to educate the children who could contribute to the national development in the future. Public schools are the only places that show the presence of the government and serve the poor and the disadvantaged. In the sampled communities the public school buildings are also flattened down; the children of these schools cannot takes classes in the past buildings. The new academic session had just started when their schools were crumbled. Reconstruction of these public school buildings is really a challenging work in the present context of Nepal, in which the private educational establishments are seemingly drawing the sympathy of the middle and upper classes of the society. These already peripheralized public schools may take a decade for their complete reconstruction. By then, millions of children might have been passing their formative lives yearning for a good school building. The condition of local public schools is presented below.

Figure 4: Damage of local public school

damage of public school

The post- disaster context in education

It is often observed that the emergency response to disasters such as flooding and earthquake focuses mostly on food, shelter, and water. Restoring the dignity and identity of the people become a less priority in the time of crisis. Education, which comes only after the survival needs is, therefore, affected for a longer time in the disaster-hit contexts. The relief and reconstruction initiatives in the present context of Nepal also observe a similar trend. Schools in the most disaster-affected areas had remained closed for over a month. During this long span of terror, a lot of upheavals could be seen in the everyday lives of the people. The quake took away the lives of 64 teachers and over 1,000 students and damaged 25 thousands classrooms. The entire community of teachers and students were also at a complete break-off from the teaching-learning activities. This situation shows an educational crisis in Nepal.

Even after the resumption of schools, a deep sense of fear lingered due to incessant aftershocks occurring day and night. The safe schools buildings had cracks due to aftershocks. A sense of terror was further exacerbated by the danger signals that hung at the entrance of the damaged buildings. Only a few schools had buildings which were safe educational activities. In such a situation, panic stricken teachers and students came to the school ground and involved mostly in psycho-socio trauma soothing activities. The reopening of schools created a space where teachers-students can get rid of the long held trauma. The trauma in the tender minds had to be released through non-content engagement rather than through involvement in instructional activities.

The deeper impacts of the disaster

The field of English language education in Nepal’s post-earthquake context is also no more appalling than other sectors. The primary indicator for this can be traced back to the psychological fear that has been lingering in the minds of students, teachers, parents and the general public. It is indeed a survival threat; a challenge to livelihood and safety of property. Be the cause the loss of relatives or acquaintances; be it the damage of houses and property, all the stakeholders of education, including the forefront agents (students, teachers and parents) are reeling the disaster with a terror and anguish. Neuropsychologists have researched in depth into how the differently specialized functions located in the different parts of the brain are affected by the survival threat of the organism; especially in relation to the role of Amygdala in the temporal lobes of the brain. It is, however, apt to note here that where there are fear and stress intrusions overpowering the normal functioning of the brain, there will hardly be any learning taking place. The brain is then sensitive to respond only against the threat to the ‘life’; it is focused to the ‘here and now’. The brain then spends most of its directional resources only to accumulate the energy spread across the body so that the collected energy can be used to save the life. This safety mechanism, so, responds in such behavioral forms as running away of the life-organism from the spot, sweating, uncontrolled urination, clenching of fists and teeth, and so on. We can argue that this is the state of a complete ‘distraction’ and ‘firewall’ of the normal academic practices required for learning, including English language learning. This phenomenon is similar to what Krashen argues in his Monitor Model of language acquisition (1977, 1988). In the context of disaster induced anxiety and fear, the monitor is already heightened (though not necessarily for filtering for the correctness) barring any perception and processing of the language input.

Another area of impact lies on the learners’ external social-material dimensions of education. It is evident that hundreds of school buildings have collapsed and become inhabitable for teaching-learning activities. All the classrooms, ‘facilities’, and ‘affordances’ are gone. The cosmic gloom that grows while observing the damaged school infrastructures can never be substituted with any other tragic feelings.  But with better hopes some ‘Temporary Learning Centers’ have been built to help students engage in educational activities. Teachers are worrying about how long this situation persists. There is not a staff room intact. With this mega-scale disaster, people throughout the country have a very slim optimism for the speedy resettlement of the school facilities. Not only students have their textbooks and other stationeries buried or lost, but they have also lost the educative-entertaining community of hope in the pre-disaster days. Informal talks now are confined mostly to ‘where and of what scale of magnitude of the after- shocks’, and people are primarily concerned with ‘how to get relief materials. However, much attention has not been paid to reconstruction of schools and support to children. Indeed, the school atmosphere created the feeling of ‘unbelievable loss’ of the gambler, who cannot easily accept that the wallet has become completely empty just because of the single unlucky event. Every activity, and of course, everything in school and at home are strange now; there are strange classrooms and toilets; there are strange needs and responses of the students and the teachers. Occasional visits of the authorities and relief material providers further constrict the already shattered ego to the level of a pitiable infant-dependent. That the classrooms are damaged; that the library is collapsed; that the laboratory equipments are damaged; and that other basic school supplies are halted imply that school is shrinking down rather than flourishing. Therefore, the days ahead are going to be more challenging for EFL teachers to create conducive learning environment for the earthquake affected children.  Again, when there is a threat to one’s livelihood, education and its quality, and a quality learning of English will surely be negatively affected.

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Mr. Dinesh Kumar Thapa, a life member of NELTA, is currently a Faculty of English at Kitini College Lalitpur Nepal. He has been teaching English at different levels for over 10 years. He is also involved in EL teacher training. He has published on issues related to ELT in different local and national journals. He is one of the editors of NELTA ELT Forum (neltaeltforum.wordpress.com).

I survived and have a story to tell

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Praveen Kumar Yadav

The college I work for had resumed after one and a half months following the devastating April 25 earthquake. I teach World Literature for Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) 2nd semester at King’s College, Kathmandu.

The classes after the destructive earthquake are quite difficult for both teachers and students as the disastrous incidents are still fresh in their minds. The fun-related activities such as games, drawing and dance can be taught to younger students for the first or few days after the schools resume. Such activities give comfort for both teachers and students. Although I had learned many ways to teach the quake-affected students while I was still writing education related stories on behalf of the district based correspondents for Republica, I myself was puzzled about my lesson plan for the first class.

During the review process of syllabus and the course of study for World Literature, an idea struck my mind. I decided to teach a story related to the recent earthquake to my students. It was not only relevant as per the course I teach, but it was appropriate in the present context of Nepal too. In this blog, I share my experience teaching the first day when the new semester began following the earthquake. I also incorporate other teachers’ experiences about their first classes before I draw my conclusion.

First class after earthquake

Aftershocks are still on; many students have turned up to the college on the first day. Indeed it was a reunion for everyone. I felt that my students were a warrior who came back home after fighting a battle. Their faces looked curious; they were curious to talk to each other. Before they got a chance to talk with their colleagues, I had an ice-breaker activity.

“We are survivors, aren’t we,” I asked.
They shouted, “Yes.”
“Thank God. Everyone survived. So, everyone has a story of survival,” I added.
I told them to tell their stories. I could see they were hesitant to share their stories. Then one of them asked me to tell my story first and so did the rest of students. I told them my story as follows:

I had two different experiences in the last two deadly earthquakes: one in my living room and another at workplace, one escaping from the ground floor of three-storied building and another from the second floor of seven-storied building. Though both magnitude and duration of the second earthquake (7.4) was less compared to the first one (7.8), I felt more scared in the second one.

April 25. 

All of a sudden, all electronic gadgets in my room were automatically turned off Saturday noon. I had been working on my laptop at the time. At that inauspicious time when the clock showed 11:56, my bed started to shake and the TV set almost jumped at me.

I rushed to the door and stood between the pillars from where I could see and hear other people in my neighborhood yelling and running helter-skelter. I shouted at them not to run but stay inside safely till things were settled.

Nobody listened to me, and I was scared. The earthquake continued for more than a minute, and nobody was inside. I had never experienced continuous tremors and it made me lose hope. I was at wit’s end.

I came out in the open after it stopped. Hundreds of people had already gathered outside. I saw parts of some buildings and boundary walls nearby collapse. I tried to contact my family, friends and colleagues, but in vain. I browsed the net, which was luckily available. I tweeted about the earthquake and also posted a status on Facebook.

Immediately after the first quake, no Nepali media covered the news, except Radio Nepal. But I could read Facebook posts and tweets about earthquake from different parts of the country. Though there were reports about damage and loss of properties and lives in Kathmandu alone, at first, nationwide reports soon followed.

Through social media, I could learn that Saturday’s devastating earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale with its epicenter in Gorkha district. Thereafter, international media was not only quick but also active in reporting the incident. Nepali media became active only after news spread through international media.

May 12
First, I thought it was an aftershock and decided to stay inside. But the intensity got noticeably higher. Then I managed to escape from the tall building that had started to swing and later developed cracks as well. Thank God, both the powerful earthquakes occurred during daytime.

Had they occurred during the night, or on workdays, human casualty, especially school and college students and structural damages would have been immense.

So far the death toll from May 12 quake with epicenter in Sunakhani of Dolakha has crossed 100. Likewise, the toll from the first quake with epicenter at Barpak in Gorkha is around 9,000 and twice many are injured, according to Nepal Police. Of 14 affected districts, Sindhupalchowk is the hardest hit. Over 3,000 people have been killed there.

All Nepalis, both in and out of the country, have stood by the victims in these difficult times. They have lent their helping hands with what they can. Although Nepalis had earlier been divided along political, gender, ethnicity and geographical lines, they are united now. Such a bonding was not possible in any other way.

Then the students started sharing with each other their stories. I could observe some of the important points they were making while listening to their stories. Some of the students were good at narrating the story, while others became hesitant as they could not fully narrate stories in English. Even I allowed few hesitant students to tell their stories in the Nepali language. The presentation of the stories by individual students varied. Some presented in details and interesting away, but others told very short story skipping the details. This is because of individual differences and diversity of students. I found that even the students who failed to stand up and speak out earlier told the story. There was an overwhelming response from students.

At the end of the class, I briefly introduced different genres of literature – fiction prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction. The story they shared is an examples of non-fiction, I told the class.

To conclude, I have also interviewed some of my colleagues about their first classes after the disasters. I found out that some of them began their classes with something related to the earthquake. For instance, an environment science faculty member held a discussion on how disaster brought environment problems in Nepal. As economics faculty provided shared his thoughts on how the earthquake affected the country’s economy.
The next day, I assessed the students’ interests, but many of them were no longer interested to talk about the earthquake. They argued that they were bothered by listening to their parents or neighbors and the other people, who always talked about the earthquake.

As aftershocks are still on, some precautionary measures are a must to save our lives from the future disasters. I facilitated a discussion on how to take precautions, and went back to a normal situation of taking classes. The college also organized some events like treasure hunt, which I believe helped students recover from the quake trauma.

Teaching helps forget quake victim Sarita’s pains

And then there was teaching which she chose to forget her pains, and resolve her psycho-social problem. “While I was idle, thoughts of damaged house, shop, studies, mother and brothers always used to come into my mind. Such thoughts adversely affected my health as well,” she recalled. “Wherever I looked at, I found similar plight of many people. Then I decided to deviate my mind to something that would help me forget my troubles. Finally, I decided to teach children.

Rojita 1

Rojita Adhikari, Journalist

This is the translated story, that was originally written in Nepali language and published in Kosheli edition of Kantipur Daily.  Click here to read the Nepali story in Kantipur. 

After the monstrous earthquake of April 25 left them devastated, Sarita’s four-member family is now forced to live in a temporary shelter at Tundikhel of Chautara in Sindhupalchowk district. Although five persons can comfortably live in a tarp provided by a foreign aid agency, twenty persons from four families, including hers, are to live together under the tarp awkwardly. Anyone visiting them can easily figure out hardship of their life in a small tent.

Sarita wakes up early in the morning, cooks for her family at a corner of the tent, and leaves for another temporary shelter nearby with a bag of copies and pen at around 9:30 am. By the time she reaches a temporary learning space created by Save Our Soul (SOS), children of quake-hit families from Chautara are already there waiting for her.

Over a hundred children of displaced families living in temporary shelters at Chautara and Tundikhel attend the learning center. Though it is an emergency class, it starts formally with the national anthem ‘Sayaun Thunga Phoolka Hami Eutai Mala Nepali’ from 10 am and ends at 5 pm.  Four volunteer teachers engage children of grades ranging from nursery to five in fun activities like drawing and games. Sarita is one of them.

Sarita is neither a teacher by her profession nor had she wished to be a teacher someday. The student, pursuing her Bachelor of Arts (BA), used to run a grocery before the earthquake. However, the earthquakes of April 25 and May 12 have changed her daily lives.

Following the death of her father some years ago, Sarita, the eldest child in the family, had to bear the responsibility of managing home. Even her mother, after her husband’s death, had to struggle to raise a daughter and two sons and educate them. They possessed the only property ‘house’, where they had starting a shop. The family used to live on a handful income generated from the shop. They lived a simple life and their lives were gradually improving, but the earthquake ruined them all of a sudden.

“The sudden quake left us back to the poor life of early days,” said Sarita, whose eyes filled with tears. She could not utter any word for a while. The only property was a house, while the shop was the only source of income for the family. The earthquake destroyed them.

“Where to go? What to do? How to manage fees for my education and also of my brothers? How to rebuild our houses. Worried over all these problems, my mother fell sick,” she further said. “We could not even brought out the valuables and goods from the shop before our house reduced to rubble in the earthquake.” With the deteriorating health of her mother thereafter, she was also worried over how to cope with the situation. “Later I also felt like a sick person,” she added.

And then there was teaching which she chose to forget her pains, and resolve her psycho-social problem. “While I was idle, thoughts of damaged house, shop, studies, mother and brothers always used to come into my mind. Such thoughts adversely affected my health as well,” she recalled. “Wherever I looked at, I found similar plight of many people. Then I decided to deviate my mind to something that would help me forget my troubles. Finally, I decided to teach children.

She has been teaching quake-affected children since the fourth day of the April 25 earthquake. For her, teaching was not a difficult task because her love for children, she told me.

By the time I was talking to her, the clock had already struck at the noon. Then I saw three of children, approaching to Sarita, told her, “Sarita Miss, Sarita Miss, give us drawing papers.” She handed over a paper and pen to each child. It was the time to draw.

“Miss, which picture should I draw?” said one of the girl children.   Sarita was quick to respond her, “Draw a picture of a house.” Sitting nearby her teacher, she started drawing. First she drew a house that stood intact, then another damaged house. After that, he wrote ‘before’, on the top of the first house, and she wrote ‘after’ on the top of the second. Finally, she showed the pictures to Sarita. The pictures that her student drew and showed to her once again reflected her damaged house in her mind.

Sarita-talking-wtih-kalking-with-kids-at-temporary-class-in-Sindhupalchok_20150530101208

Sarita is teaching school children at a temporary learning center in Sindhupalchowk district following the earthquake

According to her, most of children from Sindhupalchowk have similar feeling after the earthquake. “If it is difficult for a 25-year old girl like me to forget such catastrophe, how much has the quake terror traumatized children?,” she questioned.

She complained about the government’s apathy to address the psychosocial impact on children even after a month of the earthquake.

When and how can children in trauma after the earthquake can overcome them?, she questioned, urging the government to understand the need of psychosocial counselling before their classes resumed.

Now she enjoys a new experience of her hobby that has changed due to the earthquake. “I want to pursue my interests in teaching quake-affected children for some time,” she said. “However, there is no destination of our life now. No place to live and go further.”

“I rushed out of home in a pair of clothes at the time of earthquake. I do not have additional dresses to change. I wear the same dirty clothes and go to teach children,” she further said.

She says, whenever she goes near the children, she forgets her dirty clothes that she is wearing and the destroyed house.

I wonder how many generous people like Sarita could be in our society, who devoted herself to teach quake affected children even after losing all her properties in the earthquake.

The author is an investigative multimedia journalist. For the investigative reporting in Nepal, she was awarded an investigative reporting prize by International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in 2014. Currently, she is reporting on investigative reports and news stories with focus on migration or foreign employment of Nepalis, violence against women, and good governance in Nepal to be published in different media.

Recently, she has completed my assignment of producing and presenting radio magazine Nikash for Equal Access Nepal which was focused on transitional justice. Before that, she worked as producer and presenter of Sarangiko Bhalakusari for the BBC Media Action. Sarangiko Bhalakusari is a Nepali radio magazine produced by BBC Media Action.

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