Transforming school education: Learning from COVID-19 and pathways ahead

Prem Prasad Poudel

The context

The coronavirus (i.e., COVID-19) crisis has brought unprecedented challenges in all the systems including education globally, and communities, particularly in the developing countries, are suffering the most as the public service systems in these countries are not well-planned. The coronavirus pandemic has been a portal that leads the world to reconfigure the future (Roy, 2020) largely different from the one we are/were living. The human sufferings are unprecedented, and of course not measurable either in terms of the economic, social, and psychological losses (both visible and invisible). There are tragic consequences everywhere, and the education sector is one of the most affected ones due to school closure, leaving millions of students from pre-school to the university at homes. The fundamental services of education have halted, with students without textbooks, face-to-face formal interactions, and detachment from their peers. This unexpected context has forced people to think about transformations for the future to enable the pedagogical contexts to recover from the losses, and to cope with the similar future challenging in education systems.

Although schools and universities have tried hard and the best to compensate the loss of schooling by adopting the online mode of instruction, both teachers and students’ limited access to internet facilities, particularly in the least developed countries (LDCs) such as Nepal has become a barrier to holistically shift the physical school to online teaching and learning. This scenario has further accentuated the discourse on equity, concerning the widening gap in terms of access to resources, learning opportunities, human resource management, and the effectiveness of the learning (if any). Similar to Ebola, AIDS, SARS, and Spanish Flu, this pandemic has taught us a lot about humanity, human attachments, health, and urgency of international cooperation. Against this backdrop, in this paper, I have presented my reflection, not necessarily based on strong empirical data, on the potential pathways that we MUST adopt to accelerate transformations in our education systems. By ‘our’, I mean Nepali society, however, my arguments would equally apply to other similar contexts waiting for reforms in their education systems.

The schools are closed for an indefinite time, and standardised tests are suspended. Discourses on educational standards and qualities are extended and enlarged due to the spread of coronavirus. Many people are living with the absence of their friends and families, while others are crammed in their families experiencing probably the longest moment of togetherness with family members. For many, the homes are transferred to online learning stations. The online meetings have covered the walls of Facebook and other social media pages. Perhaps it is the worst ever experience my generation people have had of such pandemic. However, it should also be taken as an opportunity and the right time for countries and relevant communities to unlearn, relearn and rebuild their educational systems to prepare for a better future.

The challenges in schooling

Despite the massive stimulus measures in response to the Covid-19 effects, the global economy is estimated to be hit by recession in 80 years (Guenette, 2020), the deepest since World War II (Al-Samarrai, Gangwar, & Priyal, 2020), and the financial distress will severely impact on the education sector. In other words, this pandemic is likely to impact on several key aspects of education, including financing, resource management, school expansion, and access to learning.

Financing Constraints

The pandemic crisis is likely to leave the education sector vulnerable in terms of infrastructure development including the endeavours to equip schools with technological innovations. In Nepal, the budget allocated for education is inadequate. In the fiscal year 2076/77 (2020/21 AD), the Government allocated 11.64% budget for the education sector (Ghimire, 2020, May 29), which is very less than the budget spent in countries with larger and established economies. Although here is a mere increase in the budget compared to the current fiscal year, two of the ambitious programmes:six-thousand volunteer teacher mobilisation and mid-day meal, will cover more than three quarters (6 billion) of the total increment of 8 billion rupees. It indicates that there will be a limited budget needed to embrace information and communication technology (ICT) in the educational sector.

Human resource development and management

The low-level budget allocations in the education sector, especially in higher education will have serious consequences in managing technical human resources, and technological innovations, due to budget shortages. It is making both short-term and long-term effects on human resources development on handling the technology integration in teaching and learning. Last month, I had a talk with a teacher of a primary school about the use of technology in teaching, and his immediate reaction was “We have a computer and a printer in our school, but we are unable to use them because we could not find a technician to repair them”. His exemplary experience informs us about the level of understanding of what technology in teaching is, and how computer technology is used in schools in remote Nepal. I had a short visit to one of the public campuses in Kathmandu Valley, and during a talk, the campus chief of the campus said, “Sir, we have managed IT on our campus”. I was thrilled and wanted to see how they have made the reform. He took me to one of the carpeted classrooms and showed some computers (seemingly unused for months) and said that it was the IT lab, where students could occasionally go to learn the computer.

These two instances, which I brought here from my own primary experience, tell us how people perceive the use of technology in teaching and learning. In none of the above cases, there was technology integration in pedagogy. They have understood that technology means having computers and using them occasionally for specific purposes such as showing how to open a word file, how to type, and how to print. The development of a broader framework for human resource development in a planned way is a greater challenge ahead.

School expansion and access

Insufficient budget for public education leads to the decline in education outcomes, and poorer education services, which ultimately impacts on parents’ affordability for their children’s education. In Nepal, usually, the households that largely rely on the remittances for education funding of their children and relatives will suffer a lot. It is predicted that expensive private school education will cause an increment in the enrollment in community schools and then pressurise the community schools to accommodate a large number of students. However, community schools at the current state without minimum ICT infrastructure and comfortable learning environment for those students coming from private schools will not be able to hold them and again private schools may take this advantage. Consequently, the social gap between the communities with high and low-income will be much wider than it is.

These challenges, along with many others, need to be addressed in time to meet the new demands of educating in the post-crisis period. I suggest some viable ways to begin the reform in education in Nepal.

Ways ahead

In general, the current context requires us to understand and transform the overall schooling system in a completely different way, as the opportunities for learning have completely gone online. However, the majority of students and teachers, particularly in Nepal, are unable to access online learning for many reasons including the lack of ICT infrastructure, expensive mobile data, and limited or no digital literacy of teachers and students. Complaints have been raised regarding teachers’ efficiency in the use of the online learning management system (LMS) platforms. Teachers’ inability is not due to their negligence but due to their ill-prepared teacher education systems (programmes) that did not equip them with even the basics of integrating technology in pedagogy.

I remember when I was mentoring some students during their field experience in teaching three years ago that they were compelled to follow the lesson planning as par with the lesson plan booklets commercially prepared. This practice barred the students to prepare their lessons autonomously. One of the student teachers asked, “Sir, is it good for English students to follow the same pattern as Science students while preparing lesson plans using this booklet?”. I was speechless, as I knew that this system was not viable, and the student teachers were not even having their own space for altering the patterns of lesson preparation. All the student teachers were filling out the same lesson plan formats provided to them. This is just an example that how we are highly structured in our education systems, following the conventions developed decades ago, and not even asking students to think beyond the box. The main concern I wanted to raise here is that “How does the current strategy of educating and preparing teachers to meet with the growing challenges in learner autonomy, blended learning, and integration of technology in teaching and learning?”.

The crisis has prevailed a need for school transformation by enabling educators and teachers. However, the economic crisis hit by COVID-19 will be a great challenge particularly for developing countries like Nepal to even revive the pre-COVID-19 schools. School transformation is a multifaceted process, including teacher empowerment, readiness, and responsiveness. It is a high time to think about how the teachers can be better equipped to navigate the wounds surfaced in this dark time to reconstruct life anew for themselves and their children through the schooling process. The relevant government agencies can also think of benefitting from the outsourcing of the education services, especially in terms of managing the techno-friendly resources including technical assistance in LMSs design, teacher training, and material development. Although outsourcing of educational services sometimes understood as ‘businessification’ of schooling (Bates, Choi & Kim, 2019), it has been widely adopted as a ‘tested solution’ to many educational problems in many countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong SAR of China.

Enabling teacher agency

There needs a ‘transformation from within’ to meet the challenges generated by this global crisis and a shift from the traditional ‘banking model of education’ (Freire, 1970). Teachers should be prepared for fostering their self-reflexivity and responsibility in shaping their actions in their social contexts. Although teacher agency has been underestimated in the educational contexts of the countries with developing economies, it has been observed that teachers can make the change, provided that they are exposed to an all-enabling environment, both through institutional and professional support. Teachers as reflective practitioners and professional decision-makers (Borg, 2008), also as insiders of the learning process, should be encouraged to come up with their strategies to meet their contextualised learning requirements. The current crisis has also taught us that “the one-size-fits-all” type of blanket strategies, mostly drawn from the global-north contexts, are no longer relevant. In the case of Nepal, owing to its wider demographic diversities such as socio-economic status, language backgrounds, geographical situatedness and cultural orientations,  the strategies formed at the federal level will be less likely to succeed requiring greater role of the local government in taking actions to put the policies into practices. In having so, more localised research-supported strategies for maximising teachers’ agentic actions are the must. Teachers are the forefront fighters whenever there is a learning crisis.

Enabling autonomous learning conditions

The transformations can emerge from our actions based on our ideologies and self-regulated efforts to prepare our learners for their life-long learning. The current centralised curriculum development and implementation process have been a problem-posing condition as it does not prepare the learners to be the innovators and self-regulators. The teachers and students are waiting for the state agencies to avail the textbooks for them to start the pedagogies. The curriculum needs to recognise and validate teacher and learner agency in shaping their localised learning environment. The COVID-19 has taught us about making the change from within, not necessarily waiting for some externally sourced interventions facilitating us to transform our professional rituals.

Therefore, it is essential to enable our teachers and students to create their autonomous learning conditions by:

  • Developing and providing them with the simplified digital learning programmes
  • Accelerating local governments’ engagement on developing learning materials at the micro-level
  • Streamlining non-governmental organisations towards facilitating the technical requirements, and
  • Supporting parents to educate (or facilitate the learning of) their children.

These strategies are rightly doable to manage and enable autonomous learning conditions at the grassroots level. However, at the same time, none (teachers, students, and parents) should be the victim of the circumstances like the current crisis. Teachers, students, parents, and the local level governmental and non-governmental agencies can be engaged in supporting the children to learn. It can be done by bringing all of them together with complementary roles in scaffolding design by enabling innovative learning environments. For instance, the development partners working in the education sectors can provide the local governments with emergency funding opportunities, and parents of each learner can support learning by engaging them in the family affairs, rituals, and daily chores.

Embracing technology: A blended mode of learning

Despite the well-articulated ICT enhancement policies of the government since the beginning of the 21st century in Nepal, the use of technology in teaching and learning contexts is still in its infancy, particularly in the public education system (Rana & Rana, 2020). However, it is also important that we should be able to grab the highest-level advantage out of the use of technology in teaching and learning, which is very much a core part of learning in this digital era. It should also be noted that technology alone is not a panacea for compensating all kinds of learning gaps, as it is just a tool or a medium to facilitate learning. Therefore, the best feasible way for all learning conditions is to develop a justifiable blend of face-to-face and online (virtual) learning. Although media particularly social media like Facebook and twitter are covered by discourses of the use of ICT  that would do everything possible, I believe that it is just a good friend of humans and that human values the kids need now are best transferrable and learned through direct human contact and interaction in a comfortable zone. In our educating system, we should be able to ensure that technology is used to integrate the aspects of our indigeneity of knowledge, cultures, values, and worldviews. Moreover, it is essential to include local epistemologies, heterogeneity, the multiplicity of values, and pluralism to make everyone feel owned.

From the above discussion, I come to a holistic picture of the transformation required as presented in figure 1.

Figure 1: A model for school transformation

Figure 1 provides a holistic approach to innovations in schooling in such a way that teachers, parents, and the social institutions can actively engage with their agency in the learning conditions that teachers promote autonomy, indigenous pedagogies, and professional development opportunities. A culturally responsive environment that incorporates technology will lead to greater success in meeting our 21st-century learning needs.

Conclusion

This reflection reiterates that evidence-based policymaking for the transformation in Nepal’s education system is essential to prepare our students for a better future, in such a way that our schools remain the “places of mutual respect and a place for understanding human differences and opposing viewpoints” (Arnove, 1994, p. 211) along with their equal access to learning opportunities. We have to be able to institutionalise our indigenous pedagogies that enable our students to equally participate in the learning process. The adoption of technology in teaching and learning might also contribute to foster such inequalities differently, as technology has a double-edged effect. On the one hand, it has created an unequal learning opportunity, and on the other, it has been established as the only alternative mode of learning available during this crisis. All that requires a coherent policy framework that consistently facilitates and controls the local innovations with stronger visions and valuing on teachers. We have a lot to learn from Singapore, where “talk less, learn more” is the core principle of teaching (Hogan, 2014).

 

Mr Prem Prasad Poudel is currently a PhD scholar at The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. He has worked as a lecturer of English Education at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal for more than a decade. Mr Poudel is a well-established as a teacher educator, teacher trainer and material writer in the field of ELT in Nepal. He has presented papers and published articles in the renowned national and international journals such as Journal of NELTA and Current Issues in Language Planning, respectively. Previously, Mr Poudel also served as the secretary of the Central Executive Committee of NELTA.

References

Al-Samarrai, S., Gangwar, M. & Gala, P. (2020).  The Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education financing.  World Bank, Washington, DC.

Arnove, R. F. (1994). Education as contested terrain: The case of Nicaragua: 1979–1993. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Bates, A., Choi, T. H., & Kim, Y. (2019). Outsourcing education services in South Korea, England, and Hong Kong: a discursive institutionalist analysis. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2019.1614431

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Herder and Herder.

Ghimire, B. (2020, May 29). The national budget fails to prioritise education, experts say.
https://tkpo.st/2AiSQCZ

Guenette, J. D. (2020). Global economy deepest hit by recession in 80 years despite massive stimulus measures. https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/global-economy-hit-deepest-recession-80-years-despite-massive-stimulus-measures.

Hogan, D. (2014). Why is Singapore’s school system so successful, and is it a model for the west?. The Conversation (12th February). https://theconversation.com/why-is-singapores-school-system-so-successful-and-is-it-a-model-for-the-west-22917

Rana, K., & Rana, K. (2020). ICT Integration in Teaching and Learning Activities in Higher Education: A Case Study of Nepal’s Teacher Education. Malaysian Online Journal of Educational Technology, 8(1), 36-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.17220/mojet.2020.01.003

Roy, A. (2020). The pandemic is a portal. Financial Times (3rd April). www.ft.com/content/10d8f 5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca.

 

Cite as: Poudel, P. (2020, July). Transforming school education: Learning from COVID-19 and pathways ahead. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/07/transforming-school-education-learning-from-covid-19-and-pathways-ahead/

Issues and possible options for teachers: A COVID-19 pandemic perspective

S M Akramul Kabir

COVID-19 context

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in every sphere of our lives and education is not out of it. With schools shut across the world, millions of children have had to adapt to new types of learning. This resulted in the largest “online movement” in the history of education with approximately billions of children around the world became homebound, together with their parents and extended families. Recently, a report of CNN has confirmed that even though the COVID-19 situation becomes stable, several universities in the USA have decided to consider the possibility that in-person classes may not resume until 2021. During this crisis, everything has happened so fast that it does not seem realistic to adopt a holistic solution that is easy to implement, and that works for everyone (Moorhouse, 2020). The pandemic is a monster situation to deal with, but we can tackle it following a prophylactic approach. So, I inspire individual solutions based on contextual needs.

The whole world has witnessed a paradigm shift in its teaching-learning-assessment process recently. So, the developing countries are no exception. For instance, in Bangladesh, irrespective of all levels, teachers have started teaching online despite several challenges. The government has also encouraged to go online to continue the teaching-learning process of the country during the pandemic. Teachers use different platforms to teach online. As there is a government directive, the primary and secondary teachers of government schools use Bangladesh Television (BTV) as a platform to teach virtually. The BTV announces the schedule of classes on different topics before the live session so that students can learn whether or not the class lesson is relevant to their level of study. In this regard, non-government schools are free from governmental directives. So, non-government schools have multiple platforms to conduct virtual classes apart from BTV. Most of the schools use Zoom or Google Classroom as their online teaching platforms although there are several challenges, such as lack of uninterrupted power supply with continuous access to the internet, unavailability of digital devices for each student, and the unavailability of well-trained teachers to conduct the online classes smoothly. In this regard, there is a huge possibility that the current paradigm shift of teaching virtually may exacerbate inequalities in education between developed and developing countries across the globe. In practically, in the post-pandemic context of education, online classes may become a regular thing in parallel to in-person classes depending on how the situation emerges. So, it’s important to get it right and make sure that no group of students is being left behind in the process. I have tailored some of the practical issues to conduct online classes in developing countries.

Access to ICT

One of those major challenges to the teachers of developing countries is access to the online mode of education to conduct classes virtually. Most of the students in the developing countries lack technical support such as unavailability of the internet or mobile device with a data pack or Wi-Fi connection to be connected to the virtual classes. OECD (2020) reported that a gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries in terms of students’ struggle to participate in digital learning via reliable internet access and/or technology. The report showed that 95% of students in developed countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, whereas only 34% of students in Indonesia have a computer with internet access to do their schoolwork. So, it can be assumed that access to a computer with internet access may be similar in other developing countries such as Bangladesh or Nepal. Again, the number of computers owned by families, especially in the rural areas of the developing countries are presumably lower than the urban areas, which can have a negative influence on the whole online education. Moreover, in the developing countries, to conduct the classes online, the cost of the internet or mobile data-pack is beyond the reach for many students as well as the institutions. So, online teaching to all the students is a far cry from what is intended in the developing countries, such as in Bangladesh.

Willingness to communicate online

Another huge challenge to online teaching is the learners’ willingness to communicate (WTC) in the extramural digital environment. As most of the students in developing countries are not familiar with digital platforms, many of them are not enthusiastic about the transition to online learning. Students’ lack of online experience may promote fear and lead to their participation uncertainty. The fear can also cause withdrawal or resistance to their online participation. Therefore, it is a huge challenge for the teachers to remove this barrier to engaging his/her students virtually for the online teaching-learning process. A teacher should know how to apply different theories on virtual interaction such as activity theory of learning. Only then teachers may be able to engage the students in an interactive mode. If teachers can do so, it can be a great opportunity for them to teach interactively online in a real-time situation.

Online collaboration

As we know that the classroom situation in developing countries is more or less is lecture-based. In most Bangladeshi schools, teachers are usually the speakers or controllers of the classroom and the students are passive recipients of the course contents. So, making a collaborative and participatory classroom in a face-to-face situation has always been a challenge for the teachers. However, at present, the teachers from the developing countries have the opportunity to create a collaborative class online as several researchers (Rana, 2018; Shaista, 2018) found that students become more participatory in digital classes than physical classes. In Bangladesh, despite various obstacles, about 80% of the students in a university have expressed interest in joining the online activities (“ [Shorkari Bisshobiddaloi] সরকারি বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে,” 2020).

Motivation for online learning

Teachers and students harbour their motivation for learning. So, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students may lack the psychological readiness for online instruction. Even the teachers themselves may lack motivation for online teaching. Recently, in Bangladesh, the Education Minister pointed out that most of the teachers in the government institutions lack a positive mindset and the motivation to shift in-person classes on virtual mode during the COVID-19 pandemic (“[Shorkari Bisshobiddaloi] সরকারি বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে,” 2020). Students may also have misconceptions concerning online learning and its outcomes. They may consider this ‘paradigm shift’ as temporary resulting in their lack of motivation towards online learning. So, it is the responsibility of teachers to motivate the students that online instruction is necessary for collaborative learning and not a substitute to merely keep students busy until the pandemic subsides. Teachers also have to motivate students to shift focus away from the emotional consequences of COVID-19 to more personal investment in learning and achievement.

In this regard, I can share my experience. I have been running ELT classes on ZOOM since March 2020 for my students. I run three classes per week for this group. After overcoming the initial teething troubles related to technology and the new mode of teaching, participants have settled down and attended online classes regularly. I have motivated them to embrace this new teaching-learning situation. However, it is surfaced that the prevailing online mode of education (both public and private) is undergoing some teething troubles to adapt online exams and evaluation procedure for obvious reasons I have referred to. So, it is too early to comment on how successful the online teaching-learning activities have been until it continues at least for a considerable time.

Nonetheless, it has already been reported in different newspapers that there are more challenges to conduct online classes in rural schools due to the issue of urban-rural contextual dichotomy. However, my argument is that digital tools can be used as a catalyst to remove the urban-rural disparity and to put all the students on equal footing, then distance or institution won’t be a matter! The government just needs to take the initiative to create a level playing field. If we can ensure the internet for everyone with a digital device and train up the primary and secondary teachers to pick up digital literacy, more than half of the work will be done to transform our education online. Other petty technical barriers can be dealt with accordingly. Moreover, third world countries like Bangladesh, where face-to-face education is considered as a reliable but hefty medium, can take the current situation as a good opportunity to change its typical lecture-based classroom into a collaborative online classroom.

The upcoming world is going to based on digital platforms so do the educational skills. Without digital literacy, it may be difficult for students to survive in the academic arena. Therefore, after the post-pandemic reality, all schools should be equipped with digital support so that face-to-face teaching can be underpinned by the online learning scope. Without access to the world of websites, it is not possible to enter into the ocean of unlimited knowledge. By ensuring access to the body of world knowledge, there is a possibility to make a knowledgeable and techno-savvy generation to transform the country.

So, it is necessary to train the teachers with different online learning models (such as TPACK framework) as they are the main players to implement the process. The training should prepare the teachers so that they can interweave the three essential sources of knowledge  ̶ technology, pedagogy and content to facilitate synchronous online learning to the students through a collaborative approach. All the students should be ensured a digital device with better internet connectivity so that they can have the access to the internet to browse any particular academic site related to their course contents or course lessons anytime and in anyplace. Therefore, the learning will be ubiquitous, no matter a student stays in rural areas or urban areas, and learners will be able to learn at their own pace. However, the major challenge is left with the policymakers as they need to figure out how to reach each of the student irrespective of rural and urban contexts. On the one hand, the COVID-19 has stagnated the whole world, and on the other hand, it allows us to think about the transformation of our education system for the future.

S M Akramul Kabir is an Assistant Professor of English under the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, Bangladesh. He has just completed his Doctoral journey and is waiting to be a graduate of the University of Canterbury with a PhD degree. He has taught English to both local and international students for more than 12 years. His areas of research interest include listening skill for language education, discourse analysis, learning theories, and ICT in language education.

References

Moorhouse, B. L. (2020). Adaptations to a face-to-face initial teacher education course

‘forced’ online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Journal of Education for Teaching. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2020.1755205

OECD. (2020). A helping hand: Education responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

https://oecdedutoday.com/education-responding-coronavirus-pandemic/

Rana, K. B. (2018). ICT in rural primary schools in Nepal: Context and teachers’

experiences (Doctoral dissertation). https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/457

Shaista, R. (2018). The effect of training in Mobile Assisted Language Learning on attitude, beliefs and practices of tertiary students in Pakistan (Doctoral dissertation). https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/457

সরকারি বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে অনলাইন ক্লাসে বাধা মানসিকতা [Shorkari Bisshobiddaloie online classes badhamanoshikota]. (2020, May 30). bdnews24.comhttps://m.bdnews24.com/bn/detail/bangladesh/1764114?fbclid=IwAR0gUCM4_SzRp-nkzhkYp1GCixfSOGlQihOaWTrR-7JBMMRPhx0If9Xf21Y

 

Cite as: Kabir, S.M. A. (2020). Issues and possible options for teachers: A COVID-19 pandemic perspective. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/07/issues-and-possible-options-for-teachers-a-covid-19-pandemic-perspective/

Crisis, teaching-learning via alternative means and ground reality

Pushpa Raj Paudel

Introduction

COVID-19 has been one of the critical human crises ever recorded after Plague of Justinian (541-542), the Black Death (1346-53), Spanish flu (1818-1819), Asian flu (1957-1958), HIV/ AIDS (2005) and Swine Flu (2009). Following the advice of WHO about maintaining physical distance to control the possible spread of the virus, the government of Nepal had announced the nation-wide lock down, and the four-month long lockdown has been recently waived though the educational institutions seem to shut down for some more weeks. During the ongoing crisis, the venture taken by some of the proactive teachers to continue teaching-learning activity to the extent possible for them and to engage themselves in continuous professional development is appreciable.

It was, undoubtedly painful for me to be detached from my students and the classroom for a long time. However, what made me satisfied was the constant contact with the students and colleagues via different digital means. Although the online classes were not as effective as the physical classes in the beginning, they remained a useful alternative to practise teaching-learning activity during the lockdown period. So, in this article, I have attempted to explore the ground reality of teaching learning from a survey and critically reflect on my teaching-learning and professional development practices including my feelings during the lockdown.

Digital divide deteriorating teaching-learning activity

Problem with the technology more or less exists in every nook and cranny of the world but the digital divide in our context seems bigger. For example, Sharma (2020) reports that only 8% of households and 12% of total schools have broadband internet facility in Nepal. Although 90% of the population use mobile phones, the majority of them do not have the internet facility. Similarly, Rana, Greenwood and Fox‐Turnbull (2019) show that only 72% of the total population of Nepal have the internet access and the majority of them (95%) are mobile data users, and mobile data is too expensive to use for educational purpose. Moreover, the urban dwellers have better access to the internet facility (not in the reach of all though). Indeed, this kind of disparity is present in the online classes that I have been taking at present, where there is the presence of less than 50% students. The condition is even worse in the case of the rural part of Nepal, which is waiting for the development of the internet infrastructures and access to web technology.

Professional development in the crisis

Although teachers are not physically present in the classrooms, some of the active teachers are busy taking the online classes or continuing teaching-learning via other alternative means. On the other hand, during the lockdown period, various national and international organisations were active in organising e-conferences and webinars for teachers’ professional development. I also participated in some of the webinars organised by Cambridge University Press, Webinar Series: British Council and NELTA, Continuous Proficiency Development Institute (CPDI), Thailand and TESOL Virtual Convention and English Language Expo 2020.

Having got opportunities to participate in these webinars and conferences, I was acquainted with new trends and ideas of English language teaching. So, they proved to be highly insightful for me to gain and share new knowledge and skills. I have used the learnt knowledge and skills in making the lessons interactive while teaching in the online environment. Moreover, I also utilised the crisis for creative writing and reflections, and also used them in my online classes to encourage my students to compose creative writing. History shows that there has always been the emergence of new literary figures and a new field to work with by the established figures due to the situation created during and post crises. So, as a teacher, we can encourage and support our students to express their emotions, feelings and experiences through creative writing or other forms of arts, which can help them to release their tensions and have a sense of achievement in the form of creation.

Teaching-learning practice during the crisis

Exploring the ground reality

Like other teachers, I always enjoy having students around me, but the ongoing health crisis caused havoc in teaching-learning activity with the temporary closure of the educational institutions globally, where Nepal couldn’t be exception. Some of the schools in Nepal, especially in the urban setting, have run the online classes by using different digital apps where there is internet facility and parents are capable enough to manage basic technologies for online classes. However, student participation in such online classes are observed low.

It is commonly reported that there is less student participation in the online classes and the delivery of lesson also has not been as effective as the face-to-face mode. Therefore, I wanted to understand if other teachers have similar problems. I conducted a survey by using the Google form about teaching-learning activity during the pandemic, where 48 teachers participated. The data showed that the majority of teachers faced the problem of low students’ participation. Additionally, some other problems mentioned by them were related to technology and learning environment like unstable or lack of the internet access, frequent power cut and learners’ unfavourable learning environment at home. Likewise, lack of apt digital contents were reported as another challenge. Similarly, challenges were reported on students’ involvement and learning facilitation like lack of students’ attention, disturbances at the students’ end, low participation in English course and lack of student-centred activities. In addition, the teachers also reported to have challenges in assessment including the lack of immediate feedback to students.

The responses of this brief survey indicate that online teaching cannot replace the physical classroom in Nepal immediately as there exist major challenges like technological preparedness, online pedagogical innovation, lack of digital contents and assessment. In such situation, the government in collaboration with public and private sector should come up with immediate strategies to reach students and also should envision to bridge the digital gaps in future.

Facing the crisis as a teacher following alternative ways

While some of us are taking initiative to run online classes to the limited number of students having with access to the stable internet and digital devices, Dawadi, Giri and Simkhada (2020) argue there exists a huge challenge to give equitable access to e-learning to all the students in Nepal and a swift move to e-learning will further widen the disparity gaps, depriving a large number of students from inclusion. This study, therefore, indicates that we need to adopt different modalities to reach to different students based on the means of connection they have. For instance, we can provide offline materials to students having mobile phones and computers without the internet connection. On the other hand, for the students having neither the internet nor the digital devices, we should reach via radios and televisions as some of the teachers have already taken this initiative. For example, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and local bodies are telecasting and broadcasting educational programmes via radios and TVs though people are skeptical about the effectiveness of such teaching-learning. On the other hand, to reach the students of difficult topography, we should deliver the print materials in coordination with local government. Moreover, teachers can also reach them and engage in teaching-learning by maintaining physical distance in their own locality.

Crisis and some food for thought on our practices

The present health catastrophe, I believe, is questioning our education system and has compelled us to rethink the way we are delivering public services like education and health. Our existing education system emphasises more on competition, i.e. producing a successful person is getting priority over helping a person become a good human being. With the same token, society gives value to the rich and this has led them to achieve more power. The existing gap between the rich and the poor is constantly increasing, which is visible during the crisis, where the poor suffered the most and the marginalised and minority people were much more affected. Education and health services are highly dominated by the private sector, which were already out of the access of the working-class people, seemed more unwelcoming during the crisis for many private hospitals denied treating the patients suffering from the corona virus. This was the failure of the present neoliberal society which emphasise privatisation, marketisation, and deregulation in various services including education and health sectors diminishing the nation’s role in these sectors of fundamental necessities.

Summing up

Similar to English proverb “there is a silver lining in every black cloud”, I also tried to make the best ultilisation of the time I had in the crisis. I first focused on my professional development, especially ways to teach students online effectively. Then, I have been using the new knowledge, ideas and skills I gained from it in my own online classes. Now, my students in the online classes are no more passive listeners but the active co-participants of the teaching-learning activity. I use Easy Class and Google Classroom to manage my online classes. Likewise, to make the online lessons interactive, I use various digital apps and tools, such as online quiz using quizizz, Kahoot, ProProfs, Mentimeter, interactive videos using playposit and padlet to ensure learners’ participation in the online class and Google forms for feedback and for online test. After lockdown, I am confident that I am going to make visible changes in the lesson delivery in the physical class and the blended mode of teaching and evaluation. Moreover, I feel that the crisis in general has taught us an important lesson that Nepal also should envision alternative ways of teaching-learning by using various digital technologies.

Pushpa Raj Paudel, an M. Phil scholar at Nepal Open University, is a faculty in Sainik Mahavidyalaya, Bhaktapur. Mr. Paudel has interests in creative writing, teachers’ professional development, critical pedagogy and translation. Mr. Paudel, a life member of NELTA, has presented papers in various national and international conferences and webinars, and has published articles in various magazines and newspapers.

References

Dawadi, S., Giri, R. A., & Simkhada, P. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the education sector in Nepal: Challenges and coping strategies. Sage Submissions. Preprint. doi:https://doi.org/10.31124/advance.12344336.v1

Rana, K., Greenwood, J., & Fox‐Turnbull, W. (2019). Implementation of Nepal’s education policy in ICT: Examining current practice through an ecological model. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 86(2), 1-16. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/isd2.12118

Sharma, L. (2020 May 09; retrieved 2020 June 7). Online education increases disparity [translated from Nepali to English]. Nayapatrika. https://jhannaya.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/970/2020-05-09

WHO (2020). WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. https://covid19.who.int/

 

Cite as: Paudel, P. R. (2020, July). Crisis, teaching-learning via alternative means and ground reality. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/07/crisis-teaching-learning-via-alternative-means-and-ground-reality/

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 (1996), 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.

References 

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity al large: cultural dimensions of globalization (Vol. 1). U of Minnesota Press.

Quarantelli, E. L. (Ed.). (2005). What is a disaster?: a dozen perspectives on the question. Routledge.

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

School Resumption Brings Smiles to Children

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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.

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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.

Lessons in Language: What EFL Teachers Can Learn from Earthquake Relief Efforts

Charlotte

Charlotte Benham

I am an ESL/EFL teacher with four years of experience teaching in various contexts in Nepal, but these days I am also an academic observing the online organization of earthquake relief efforts. After several weeks of reading, posting, sharing, messaging, and tweeting, I believe that the relief and rebuilding process has uncovered social issues and brought about changes that EFL teachers can play a role in exploring with their students and school communities. As Phyak wrote in a recently published op-ed, “This disaster is no longer just a ‘natural’ phenomenon; it has deep socio-political, cultural, and economic meanings.” (2015) The meanings that he refers to have their source and are reflected in language in ways that can shape what we teach in the post-earthquake classroom. Here, I cite some examples of language choice to highlight what is being said and being left unsaid in order to contextualize some practical pedagogical goals that can be integrated into the EFL curriculum.

Be concerned if someone doesn’t ask your name: Whilst conducting voluntary relief work in Gorkha, a British tourism company owner took a picture of an older gentleman wearing a hardhat sorting rubble into usable and unusable material. She later posted it on Facebook, not indicating the place or the man’s name. One of her contacts asked her if she had been there to take the picture and knew where she had taken it, to which she replied “Yes.” The contact then explained that he was from that village and knew the man in the picture. The company owner could have made the choice to ask the man’s name, and thus give him credit for his work. Instead, her only comment was that “He is a strong man.”

As teachers, we should be aware that this type of carefully selected anonymity allows others to label and define our communities, schools, and students (and even ourselves when fulfilling the public role of “teacher”). What if the photographer had asked the gentleman at least for his name, if not about his own perception about his work of separating out the rubble? The richness and complexity of his life and experience during the earthquake would add value to the photo and appreciation for the individual in it. What we should take away from this is that instead of permitting the photographer telling their story, we can prepare students to tell their own.

Working through the storytelling process with students in EFL classrooms has both pedagogical and social benefits. On the broadest level, integrating storytelling into second language instruction fits in nicely with other components of communicative language teaching and reinforces the premise of this method of instruction – that it brings in authentic language and increases personal motivation. Within the sphere of authentic language, the stories that students develop can be used to engage all four language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. (Atta-Alla, 2012)  For example, when simultaneously read out loud and contextualized by illustrations and props, storytelling can help with word recall and be followed-up with further activities to support reading skill development. (Huang, 2006, p. 53) These extra components of the story are all things that students can create in preparation for telling them. Indeed, students are already being prepared for this kind of work through the programs designed to address students’ mental health needs. What occurs during playing, drawing, singing, and dancing now can be revisited with a pedagogical purpose over the coming weeks.

Storytelling also goes beyond simple personal motivation to enabling students to develop an identity within English as their foreign language by giving them to opportunity to communicate with a social purpose. Conversely, students can be made aware of how English can be used to describe their social lives outside of textbooks, exams, and classrooms. There are initiatives already working on eliciting and publishing personal stories, such as Stories of Nepal (www.storiesofnepal.com) and the Book Bus, which is sponsored by the American Embassy. These efforts can serve as a way to publicize selected individual’s stories, yet again the content of what is selected as important is put in the hands of the outside observer. They cannot bring communities together to develop a “whole” story and offer relevant reflection. This type of work can only be done in locally-based social institutions, such as schools.

There are many forms of knowledge: Two recent posts from one of the most vocal Nepali online organizers of volunteer relief efforts have highlighted the further divisions that those providing relief make when deciding what to offer those in need. In one post, he commented that “villagers” are only concerned with food because that is “all they know,” and as such, made the recommendation that volunteer groups should limit the amount of food they provide and instead focus on household, hygiene, and rebuilding supplies. In the second post, which was in reference to the status in Gorkha, Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, and Dhading, the writer reiterated his belief that food supplies should be restricted, this time insisting that only psychological, medical, and educational relief should be provided under the threat that he would take personal action against those who did not follow his advice.

The foundation on which he built his argument was the idea that “local villagers” are those who are uneducated and are thus unreliable sources of information. “Educated people are updating me that local people are being more dependent on to the aid and not doing regular activities like making shelter, agriculture, handicrafts, etc… Note: we are going to develop our country not making rich in slum-dog areas.” The perspective from which these comments come again seeks to lump those in need into one anonymous category – this time, as those with little education. The writer equates this lack of formal education with limited knowledge of survival and planning skills. It is also underpinned by biases against low-income communities who may not have previously been living in conventional housing by labelling them as “slum-dog areas” and implying that they are undeveloped eyesores.

Teachers in any educational context cannot avoid being aware of their students’ lives outside the school gates, even if they do not live in the same locality. After all, we are social creatures interacting in a social institution. We should not, however, allow others to put us in the position of speaking for our students or community members simply because we are affiliated with the field of education, which in turn is affiliated with the notion of being “developed”. If we work in a school in a city where most of the students’ families run businesses or a school in a rural village where everyone is involved in agriculture, we see that schooling is only one form knowledge. It does not give us the experience to know who to hire for a position or how to take care of a pregnant buffalo. Just as we hope to have every student speak up in class, we should hope to create the space for every community member to also speak. Similarly, we are driven by the desire to have every student take in the material that we teach and are disappointed when we don’t reach this goal. Within the community, we should also maintain this type of persistence.

What we say reflects what we believe: The story above highlights the importance of being aware of the words we teach to our students and their meaning. Similarly, another post on Facebook from a young Nepali woman in Kathmandu reported her volunteer trip to a marginalized community. She did not give the exact location, but focused readers’ attention on the social status of the community by commenting, “I don’t know why people call […] people uncivilized. I found they behave so nicely, better than [list of different castes]. They are true Nepalese.” (paraphrased and edited) Personally, it is my sincere hope that the writer could only express her beliefs in this way because of her EFL skills, and not because this is how her worldview has been shaped.

In order to address situations like these, we can explore the suitability of the target language in different social contexts when using English as a Foreign Language in addition to teaching meaning and form (Nagy, p. 8). We can engage students in projects to map out synonyms and antonyms based not only on the target language’s definition, but also their correlating contexts. This can facilitate clearer communication in storytelling and also broaden students’ emotional expressiveness in English. They can be empowered to create language that is not only factual, but also reflects their underlying beliefs.

Two Nepali academics have published op-eds related to language choice in media and public discourse with regards to post-earthquake Nepal. Tamang warns that by describing Nepali citizens as “resilient,” the onus is put on volunteers and those in need to rebuild. This leaves the government unaccountable for its part in relief efforts (Tamang, 2015) Phyak, a NELTA member, highlights the socio-cultural and political effects that words like “victim,” “poor,” and “helpless” can have, cutting those who are in need down into “beggars.” (Phyak, 2015). Just as we can conscious about when we speak and who we speak for, we can also model for our students various choices in what to speak.

A recent post from a friend described how when he was a student, he learned about the unification of Nepal, the geography of the country, and its natural resources. What was missing from his textbook was the history of earthquakes in the country. Similarly, students have not been prepared to talk to INGO workers, volunteers, engineering assessors, or local government officials. Just as social science classes will integrate the history of Nepal’s earthquakes, science classes will discuss tectonic plates. Health classes will reaffirm the need to run or drop, hide, and hold. To do our part as ELF teachers, we must prepare our students to communicate in the post-earthquake world.

Charlotte ‘Sangita’ Benham recently received her M.S.Ed. in TESOL from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to her graduate-level work, she taught Academic English and essay writing to high school and graduate students in Kathmandu, Nepal for three years. She also served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Nepal, working with local English teachers to provide EFL lessons at a rural, government-funded secondary school in Kavre District. Charlotte received her B.A. in History from Brandeis University in 2007 after writing her thesis on the historical roots of the political ideology of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. She grew up in Massachusetts and is now based in Philadelphia

References

Atta-Alla, M. (2012). Integrating Language Skills through Storytelling. English Language Teaching, 5(12).

Huang, H. (2006). The Effects of Storytelling on EFL Young Learners’ Reading Comprehension and Word Recall. English Teaching & Learning, 30(3), 51-74.

Nagy, W. (1995). On the Role of Context in First- and Second-Language Vocabulary Learning. Champaign, Illinois: Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Phyak, P. (4 June, 2015). Survivors, not victims. The Kathmandu Post. Retrieved on 7 June, 2015 from: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2015/06/04/oped/survivors-not-victims/276991.html.

Tamang, S. (25 May, 2015) Dangers of Resilience. eKantipur.com. Retrieved on 7 June, 2015 from: http://www.ekantipur.com/2015/05/25/oped/dangers-of-resilience/405651.html.

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