Good Writing is All About Practice and Knowing its Requirements: Dr. Hayes

Talking with an Editor on Writing and ELT

Jeevan Karki* 

British Council has recently published a book titled “English Language Teaching in Nepal: Research, Reflection and Practice” (2018). This volume is edited by Dr David Hayes. He is an associate professor at Brock University, Canada and an independent education consultant.  

This volume is a collection of 14 research papers including a majority of voices of Nepalese ELT practitioners focusing on ELT and critical analysis of the role of English in Nepal. On his remarks on its publication, Dr Lava D Awasthi, the chairperson of the Language Commission of Nepal states, “…it will serve as a resource kit for language planners, policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders.” He further adds, “…it is groundbreaking… drawing on national and international perspectives and practices, theorizing the issues generated from practical experiences and research-based empirical evidence.” On his foreword, Alison Barrett, the director, Education and society, East Asia (British Council) mentions, “…this volume will stimulate considered debate around the role and position of English within the education system in Nepal, and will enable agents of change… to make informed choices… on the quality of English language teaching, learning and assessment in Nepal…”

This book is divided into three sections. First, international perspectives (on ELT), which includes the papers of Rhona Brown, Pritivi N. Shrestha and Amol Padwad. Second, Sponsored research studies, which covers the other three papers of Min Bahadur Ranabhat and Subodh Babu Chiluwal, with Richard Thompson. Finally, the third section- Case studies includes the eight case studies of Ushakiran Wagle, Eak Prasad Duwadi, Laxmi Prasad Ojha, Jeevan Karki, Gopal Prasad Bashyal, Ashok Raj Khati, Laxman Gnawali and Vaishali Pradhan.

Karki with Dr Hayes

As the volume is out in the market, we thought of sharing the thoughts and reflection of the editor in editing the valuable volume. I managed to briefly talk with Dr. Hayes.

Jeevan: Dr. Hayes, you have recently edited a volume “English Language Teaching in Nepal: Research, Reflection and Practice”, which includes 14 chapters. Based on this valuable experience, what is your reflection on the writing of Nepalese ELT practitioners? What are the strengths in their writing and what could be done to make their writing even stronger and better?

Dr. Hayes: Nepalese practitioners are experts in their contexts and my job was just to help them to clarify their ideas and put everything together in a way which allowed them to make their contributions to the book the best that they could be. The strength in the writing generally was in bringing the Nepali school contexts to life so that readers elsewhere could see what was positive about teaching and learning English in Nepal, what the challenges were and where improvements could be made. Good writing is really all about practice and knowing the requirements of the publication you are writing for and its readership. Nepalese practitioners just need opportunities to be given- opportunities to write and to publish for both local and international audience. The more they write, and the more editors (of journals and, I hope, more books like ‘English Language Teaching in Nepal: Research, Reflection and Practice’) help them, the more proficient they will become.

Jeevan: Having gone through the research and practices in Nepalese ELT, where do you locate the ELT practices in Nepal in relation to the trends and practices in the world?

Dr Hayes: I think it’s always best to look at ELT practice in terms of how appropriate it is to the local context. However, there are clear trends which are present in Nepal just as in other countries worldwide. The most obvious of these is the expansion of English-medium education, even at the primary level. Personally, I don’t think this serves the interests of the majority of children well. International research shows that children are most successful educationally when they are taught in their first language and become literate in that language in the early years of schooling. Of course, this is a challenge for multilingual societies like Nepal but experience elsewhere shows that primary education in the first language can be achieved and, not only that, children are often more successful at learning another language such as English in later years too. The danger of English-medium education when the language is not available and regularly used in the local environment is that children often end up not learning anything very well. The work of the Language Commission in Nepal is extremely important in this respect. There is, of course, still a place for English language teaching but I think there needs to be some serious reflection about its place in the overall education system in Nepal. The educational interests of the children must come first.

English Language Teaching in Nepal: Research, Reflection and Practice

Mr Karki is one of the editors of this magazine and an independent teacher trainer* 

Developing Students’ Writing Skill: Teachers’ Views from Far West

Background

Januka Bhatta

I have been teaching English for more than a decade in English medium schools in the far western region. During my teaching, I found some students actively participating in classroom activities, whereas others have a slow pace in their learning. Students are found to be enjoying the reading sections and listening to their teachers, while they fear to make mistakes in other skills, like listening and speaking (Bohara, 2016). They do writing exercises every day like copying and answering questions given in the textbook but they are not yet able to produce an original and coherent piece of writing. The present curriculum of school level (secondary) has set a goal of achieving the students’ ability to produce a variety of written texts through controlled (guided) to free writing, allocating 35% of weight on it.

Challenges

English teachers, however, face several challenges to enhance the writing skills of students. I have collected the views of five English language teachers from the far western part of Nepal, especially the challenges they face while teaching writing to their students. I met two of them and telephoned the rest. Regarding challenges in developing writing, one of the teachers said:

I find difficulty in teaching writing skills than teaching other skills as my classroom is a multilingual one. I don’t understand their mother tongues except for Nepali but they take help of mother tongues to think first and express ideas on the papers. Students commonly commit errors in grammatical patterns and fail to use the punctuation marks.

The view of this teacher reveals the process the students undergo to come up with a writing piece in the English language. Likewise, it also shows how students commit errors in their writing due to the influence of their mother tongues. Another participant of my study shared his challenge this way:

My students understand the given questions but they are unable to write down the answers as they don’t have a sound vocabulary. They find difficulty in organizing sentences. They don’t use appropriate vocabulary. But I find that students can do better in guided writing and it’s easier to work because they make fewer mistakes on them.

Using appropriate vocabulary in writing answers of the questions and maintaining coherence in different pieces of writing is another challenge mentioned above. However, the teacher finds comfortable to work with students in guided writing practice than to move on a free writing (Tamang, 2018). One of the teachers from rural parts of the region said:

Mixed level of students’ English language proficiency is a challenge in my class. In the case of free writing, the students make more mistakes in terms of accuracy and organizing the ideas.

It shows that heterogeneous class is another challenge for teachers to enhance the writing skills. Likewise, a teacher teaching at English medium school explains her experiences this way:

The students can produce good paragraphs when they are provided with some clues-ideas to include in the paragraph, the sentence structures and vocabulary. Otherwise, their sentences are grammatically incorrect. They don’t even use the correct punctuation marks.

It indicates that the teachers need to provide a framework for writing a paragraph along with sentence structure and key vocabulary to use. Similar is the challenge of the following teacher, who uses the translation method to make things easier.

Students commit mistakes in spellings, sentence structure and organizing sentences. I find it easy to assign guided writing to the students. There is less exposure of the English language to students in my school. Therefore, I have to translate the written text into the Nepali language. Then it helps them to understand ideas and they can think of additional ideas to write.

Major Challenges Observed

Based on the views of the teachers, the following are the major challenges of the teachers

  1. Lack of vocabulary: students lack sufficient vocabulary to compose their writing. In fact, the vocabulary is the prerequisite for any types of writing.
  2. Incorrect grammatical pattern: use of the incorrect grammatical structure is another common challenge. One of the reasons behind this, as shared by the teachers, is the influence of their mother tongue.
  3. Less exposure in English: In many of our teaching-learning contexts, students do not get enough exposure in the English language- in terms of listening, reading, writing or speaking.
  4. Large multilevel classes:  Having different levels of students in English language proficiency in a large English classroom is an another challenge for teachers’ resourcefulness.

Some Strategies to Overcome the Challenges

These teachers use different strategies to overcome the challenges in teaching writing. One of the teachers presents some samples of writing before students generate their own writing. While another teacher reported of discussing the topic and providing some clues to further elaborate them. It could help students to think about the pattern and organize ideas in the given piece of writing (Dewan, 2018). Likewise, another teacher brings some authentic pieces of writing to the classroom. He asserted, “I bring teaching materials like the brochure, invitation card, notices and so on to show them in the classroom. It helps them to be familiar with the authentic pieces of writing.” Similarly, the next teacher explains the pattern to be followed while writing essays and paragraphs and reward students for their good effort. Likewise, another teacher provides the framework of writing on the topic, guide them in organizing the sentences and use the correct grammatical pattern. He further said: “I tell them to use simpler and shorter sentences in writing. I even make my students go to the library so that they can read short stories and other forms of writing.” This practice maximizes their exposure in the English language. The teachers’ experiences and practice show that the guided-writing practices are helpful in the initial stages to develop writing in my context.

Conclusion

I believe that EFL learners need to pay attention in planning and organizing the ideas in before producing a piece of writing. Similarly, the writing should not be taught separately but should be integrated with other language skills. Developing writing skills in students is not an easy job in rural parts of the region. Therefore, more exposure in English, use of supplementary materials, presenting model writing, sufficient practices in vocabulary and sentence structures could help in the initial stages of writing practices.

References:

Bohara, L.B. (2016). ELT at tertiary level: Perspectives from far west Nepal. ELT Choutari, December Issue, 2016.

Dewan, S. (2017). High expectations, low product: Why is writing scary ghost among our students? NELTA ELT Forum, 2017.

Tamang, BL. (2018). Paragraph writing: A process-based model. Journal of NELTA, vol-22.

 (Ms. Januka Bhatta teaches English at secondary level in Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Teghari-Kailali.)

Training Teachers to Integrate Writing Across the Disciplines: Dr Shyam Sharma

Dr Shyam Sharma

Dr Sharma is a scholar of Writing and Rhetoric who teaches at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. Recipient of the Nepal Vidya Bhusan (Nepal) and the Cross Award for Future Leaders of Higher Education (USA), Dr. Sharma in his research/publications and teaching focuses on academic writing (especially writing in the disciplines and graduate-level writing education), international education and students, and cross-cultural rhetoric and multilingual/translingual issues in writing. He writes a regular op-ed column in The Republica and writes about “language, literacy, and life” in his personal blog.

Our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki talked to Dr Shyam Sharma about writing education in Nepal, focusing on areas like beliefs and assumptions about writing, need of writing today, issues and challenges in our writing education, and some ways forward. This exclusive interview sheds light on writing in general and teaching writing in particular. We hope you will enjoy it! [Choutari Editors]

1. Whether children or the grown-ups, people are usually not ready to pick a pen/keyboard and start writing. Why are people scared of writing? Is writing a really painful and difficult task?

I am actually not sure I would frame the challenge as people being scared or hating to write, because research done in some countries has shown that people are writing a lot more today than they used to in the past. And that’s likely true in any country, including ours. We should instead ask who writes and who doesn’t, what kinds of writing people do, why they write and why they don’t (whether that is a question of liking or something else). That is, I wouldn’t worry about maybe just a few people not wanting/liking to write at all, or, perhaps, I would try to understand why not; that might have educational implications. In fact, I would go one step further and ask: Why should they? Maybe that’s where we can start a different kind of conversation, especially educational and pedagogical conversations.

That being said, there is such a thing as anxiety (and even fear) of writing, or writer’s block (though systematic teaching of writing seems to have made this largely a non-issue in recent decades), especially when it comes to doing certain types of writing. So, for example, I don’t think we can find a lot of people who are afraid or hate to write text messages to their friends and family. Most people like to do a variety of writing, or just do it (and not have fear or dislike of it). Maybe they struggle because of the screen size of mobile devices, the lack of input application for their language on any device, or the lack of spelling or other writing skills (especially if they’re afraid of being judged). Maybe they dislike having to write because they know that their writing is primarily meant to be judged, and judged negatively–such as when students who haven’t been taught social studies well wouldn’t want to write social studies exams. However, what I just mentioned are “factors” undermining writing, not a matter of dislike of “writing the message” itself, which, in that case, is the objective. And if the purpose and motivation is there, then the negative factors may disappear or diminish. This means that maybe we should as teachers focus on the factors that facilitate writing (trying to mitigate others that undermine writing).  Also, finally, if “writing” means the process rather than getting something done (with or through writing), then, yes, there may be resistance or anxiety having to do with challenges related to the amount and types of skills needed for the process of writing, or for producing the desired text.

The educational question, then, is how can we as teachers teach and facilitate writing in ways that our students can develop the skills and confidence about the process of writing, can focus on the purpose of writing, and, indeed, on its joy sometimes? This will require us to break down the meaning of “writing” in ways that our students can focus on not just the act of writing, certain skills and tools they need to master, or the vague ideas and myths about writing. Instead, we should give them purposeful writing tasks (not just any writing tasks) and help them along the way. We should design tasks so that students either have or can discover what to say/write in the first place. We should stop teaching skills through drills and rules, unless we can do so within purposeful and inspiring contexts.

Writing–as in writing in exams, in timed situations, or when it seems to have no purpose other than to do it because you have to–can be painful. Our job as teachers is to make it more pleasant, or at least more purposeful and therefore more motivating, whenever it may not be so pleasant otherwise.

People (including students) are not just going to start “liking” writing — even if there is just one thing we can call writing. Most people already do and like and know how to write, and when we teach new kinds of writing, we can help them overcome any (possibly natural) anxiety by developing our own professional skills and knowledge about writing and writing pedagogy.

We can help students overcome any (possibly natural) anxiety by developing our own professional skills and knowledge about writing and writing pedagogy.

2. Writing is not a cup of tea for everyone and it is also believed that good writers are geniuses. To what extent do you believe this?

This extremely common assumption, honestly, is total nonsense–and I don’t say that to criticize the question, for, in fact, I am glad you asked it. The idea of writers as geniuses comes from literature and creative writing, and there too, it is a rather outdated idea. Modern writing education in many parts of the world is light years ahead of that kind of mythology, so I think it is time for us to do a lot more to ramp up and teach and write and research and publicize more up-to-date ideas about writing as in academic writing, day to day writing, professional communication, writing in social media, and so on. In the North American academic context where I now work, for instance, academic writing is taught by helping students analyze the context, audience, medium, and purpose (CAMP, as I tell my students) or by further using samples or peers’ work to critique and discuss how to write, so students can emulate how more experienced writers write (often learning how they too don’t always write perfectly). It is taught by taking students through the “process” (one of the god terms of modern writing studies), starting with reading or discussion, research or brainstorming, then pre-writing by outlining or mind mapping in a variety of ways, then drafting, then revising and peer reviewing, often rewriting parts of or the entire draft, then editing, and then proofreading. Teachers can teach component skills during the process, including how to read with writing as a purpose in mind, how to use necessary tools effectively, how to do research purposefully and reading strategically, how to turn off the internal editor while reviewing the overall draft, and so on and so forth. The ways in which we design the writing assignment or task makes a big difference, so this is another area where teachers must be educated or trained. I could go on, but here’s the point I’m trying to make: Some people have better aptitude for doing some things than others, and that is certainly true about writing, but the idea that good writers are geniuses is a dangerous mythology that educators need to give up and also teach their students by showing how it is not so.

I think it is time for us to do a lot more to ramp up and teach and write and research and publicize more up-to-date ideas about writing as in academic writing, day to day writing, professional communication, writing in social media, and so on.

3. You pointed out that the writing tasks are not appropriately designed and the teachers are yet to be trained to better facilitate their students in the writing process. In this context, what can we do locally to strengthen the teachers’ skills for teaching writing in the under-resourced context?  

First, I think that administrators and leaders of colleges and schools must be trained/educated. This will help to create an environment and culture where the learning of writing is not seen as something that just “happens” when students know what to say/write. Of course, that’s a major component of writing, which is why just teaching writing skills outside of the context of subject/content doesn’t work well. But conventional beliefs and myths about writing like this–or the idea that you mentioned earlier, that good writing requires genius–must be countered at the institutional level. When training teachers, we can focus on particular purposes for which they would be interested in (or already need to) to teach students how to write better. One good place to start is exams; if teachers are provided training and resources for teaching their students how to score higher marks in the exam, then both students would have the incentive to spend time teaching and learning writing skills. Another purpose that might inspire teachers and students (and also institutions) to promote writing education would be professional communication, such as writing effective emails, crafting effective resumes, drafting and revising application letters and personal statements (or any high stakes writing), and using new media for communication (including social media). Teachers could also be provided a database of activities, assignments, assessment methods, and testing tools from which they can adopt and adapt the material for their classes; this may need to be presented with some illustration, such as through in-person or video training material, by experienced teachers/trainers. It takes a lot of time to change assumptions and habits about teaching and learning, and writing is one of the hardest things to integrate as an element of change.

The ways in which we design the writing assignment or task makes a big difference, so this is another area where teachers must be educated or trained.

4. Generally, our university graduates are not confident to compose a simple essay, application or reflection. What’s missing in our writing education? What’s going wrong in our teaching writing process?

Frankly, I don’t think we have a writing education that meets a fair standard yet. Yes, there are really talented instructors within English Education and English Studies departments who teach writing courses and writing skills. But the curriculum and especially the mode of assessment, faculty autonomy, institutional support, professional development opportunities for faculty, and a community of discourse and practice-sharing is limited–not to mention a robust scholarship that is produced by local scholars. Two years ago, in a brief talk that NELTA Central Office invited me to give, I shared a review of Writing Studies in Europe and North America, and highlighting our unique social and academic contexts, suggested that the discipline of ELT could embrace and advance the profession of teaching and researching writing. Other disciplines (English, Nepali, linguistics, journalism, rhetoric, or communication–in whatever form these exist) may also start more systematically and substantially advancing Writing Studies (with whatever name we give it locally). In fact, I strongly believe that it is important to dissociate writing skills and the study and teaching of writing with one language or another–meaning there should be an independent field of Writing Studies so it won’t be overshadowed by English or Nepali for that matter, although a balance of some kind would make sense–but we must also look at it pragmatically. ELT seems best positioned to advance teaching and scholarship of writing in Nepal, and it could help to advance multilingual/translingual writing and communication skills, as well as making writing pedagogy and scholarship adapted to our local realities. Without a strong disciplinary foundation, there won’t be sufficient production of new ideas through research, sharing of practice through professional events, promotion and advocacy of teaching and teachers of writing, and so on. It is time to advance this conversation on a broader, national scale.

Writing should be an independent field of Writing Studies.

5. Comparatively, the spoken skills are more dominant in our day to day life than these academic and professional writing. Why do we need to worry if everyone is not a good writer?

Well, writing serves distinct purposes–or, rather, a variety of purposes that are usually distinct from those that speaking serves. Fortunately or unfortunately, writing has become more and more important and necessary for more and more communicative functions in our lives, society, and professions–not to mention education. That is, everyone has to be a “good writer”–not in the sense of being a genius you mentioned earlier but in the sense being effective in communication using writing–in order to be successful academically and professionally. Information has exploded due to rapidly emerging technologies, not only in terms of its production but also sharing, retrieving, adapting, repurposing, and so on. And while a lot of information is being conveyed in images, sound, animation, and so on, writing continues to dominate and take more complex, often multidimensional forms. Its genres and functions are also rapidly increasing, making generic writing skills insufficient for all but the most basic purposes. This means that we need a lot of “writing education” in Nepal, an education that integrates full-fledged writing courses that are required of all students in schools and colleges, writing major for those who want to specialize at the undergraduate level, and writing degrees for those who want to develop more advanced professional skills or study it to advance the discipline and teach increasingly advanced courses in writing.

Without a strong disciplinary foundation, there won’t be sufficient production of new ideas through research, sharing of practice through professional events, promotion and advocacy of teaching and teachers of writing, and so on.

6. What are your suggestions for teachers to teach writing with ease in schools and colleges?

I would urge all colleagues, in any discipline (including in business and humanities and social and natural sciences) to learn how to integrate writing skills into their courses. That can enhance their students’ academic success and professional growth. To colleagues who are able to teach writing more explicitly and directly, such as within English Studies and English Language Education, I would urge them to study any scholarship (including essays on blogs like this) about writing pedagogy and research, find more to read from other countries, and continue to help advance writing education in any way they can. It seems to me that there is enough interest in the idea of systematically teaching writing that this could start taking the shape of a new discipline, or at least a rich new community of practice and scholarship. There is the tremendous opportunity for those who are paying attention, whether they be individual scholars and teachers or academic institutions.

We’re Still Toddlers in Designing Materials for University Level: Bal Ram Adhikari

Bal Ram Adhikari is a Lecturer of English Education at Tribhuvan University. Mr. Adhikari is a translator, editor, poet, and essayist. He is involved in designing ELT courses and course-books for universities. He is an editor of NELTA Journal (2015-2016) and a country editor of SAARC Poems (2012 & 2013). Our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has managed to talk with him on the course development process in higher education, trends, his observations on the available courses and his experiences as a whole.

1. What was your expectation as a university student about the curriculum & materials and how it turned up as a contributor to courses and course books for higher education? Can you share your experiences?

As a university student, I belong to the generation of the 2050s. This generation of students of English education was exposed to English mainly as a system. Our exposure to English was mainly confined to pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Our obsession was with accuracy in pronunciation and grammar. We rarely experienced English as discourse, art, and ideology. With these components of English, the courses also offered methods and techniques to open up linguistic resources to the students. What we were studying was the abstraction about English rather than actually experiencing the language as a whole. As a student I wanted to read English; I wanted to write; I wanted to speak. There was no any reading-based course for English students save one compulsory literature course in B. Ed. and the elective in M. Ed. Our English reading was scanty so was writing. The courses were encumbered with definitions, phonetic symbols, phonological and grammatical analysis on the one hand and methods and techniques of transferring them to the classroom on the other. Such division and analysis have their own merits but they mar aesthetics of language and its generative power. Consequently, we suffered from deprivation of content, for content we needed exposure to authentic texts in English. I would read the texts prescribed for the Humanities of English in order to supply myself with necessary nutrients of English. I wanted to see English at work.

I started my teaching career at University in the early 2060s. Our professors had felt the necessity of introducing content-based courses apart from giving continuity to the courses on linguistics, applied linguistics and pedagogy. It was the year 2012, I got a chance to work in the team of Prof. Dr. Jai Raj Awasthi in his capacity as the chairperson of Subject Committee. Prof. Govinda Raj Bhattarai had a crucial role in framing out these courses and selecting the texts for them. Since then I have contributed to different courses and course books.

2. What’s the process of designing and developing course books at the university level?

I can only talk about the reading courses and course books I am involved in. For such courses, authentic texts are selected from diverse disciplines and geographical locations. Mostly the texts are prescribed from books, magazines, and newspapers. For the convenience of students and teachers, such texts, which are widely scattered across disciplines, geographies, and sources, are to be compiled and accompanied by appropriate reading and writing tasks. Rather than writing, this is the process of compiling and editing the text and developing the tasks in congruence with the course objectives and levels of students. To my knowledge, there are no specific guidelines as such for developing course books in our university. Nor is there any workshop, seminar, and orientation for this. Normally, the course of study itself serves as the guidelines for compilers, editors and task developers. It means we are mostly guided by our own experience as students and teachers of English, the theoretical knowledge we have garnered over the years, our intuition that might tell what fits and what doesn’t in our context, and our interaction with the teachers who handle such courses.

3. What new trends do you experience in the process of designing courses and materials in the university?

Current global ELT trends have some bearing on our university courses and materials. The global trends such as content-based instruction, technology-based/-supported instruction, inter-disciplinarity, context-sensitive and context-responsive pedagogy, and blending of the global and the local have begun to appear in our courses too with varying degrees of intensity. There is a growing trend in valuing the role of content for the balanced development of English. We are slowly getting out of our age-long obsession with formal components of ‘container’ i.e. teaching English primarily as a system. What is being prioritized in the courses is the content that fills in the container. Lately, Department of English Education has adopted a content-based approach to teaching reading and writing for academic purposes. Similarly, the content-based courses are open to global and local experiences and expertise. If you go through the courses such as General English, Expanding Horizons, and Interdisciplinary Readings there you can see the presence of creative and academic writings by Nepali writers too. We are on the way to claim with pride that we are not only the consumer of knowledge/information but also its producer. This, in the long run, will dilute native speaker hegemony in our English courses. We are not only ‘downloading’ global texts but also ‘uploading’ our local texts for our courses. This will strike a balance between globalization and localization and might result in glocalized version of English education.

Another emerging trend is the inclination towards strategy-based instruction. The guiding assumption is that to teach is to equip trainee teachers with different strategies so that they can learn in their own way and continue their learning even in the absence of the instructor. This will contribute to learner autonomy. Technology-based/-supported instruction is also making its way into the courses. Recently, the B. Ed. curriculum has included a course on technology and ELT. I should also mention here the revival of translation and the space it has gained in English curricula. ELT curricula of Tribhuvan University, Far Western University, and Mid-Western University have prescribed a separate course on translation theory and practice. It means translation has come back to second language pedagogy after a long banishment. Now the courses have realized it as a reality of ESL/EFL contexts. In the pedagogical framework of World English, for instance, David Graddol identifies translation as one of the skills needed on the part of teachers. Translation has also played a key role in engaging students in (re)generating Nepali texts in English.

As to designing materials, we should accept that we are still toddlers. Not many courses contain the materials developed by our university teachers. The general tendency is to prescribe books published by multinational publishers and articles published in international and national journals.

4. How do you evaluate the available English language curriculum and materials for higher education?

My observation on the courses and materials will be primarily holistic, experiential and impressionistic. I will also draw on some empirical information from my own research work. Overall, the English curricula of Faculty of Education have outgrown the yard of linguistics, their parental discipline. With the inclusion of the courses like Expanding Horizons in English, Critical Readings in English, Mass Communication, Translation Studies, Literature for Language Development to name but a few, the curricula of B. Ed. and M. Ed. are being more interdisciplinary. There is a growing realization among course designers that apart from linguistics and applied linguistics, the neighboring disciplines such as literature, critical thinking, mass communication, and science and technology have much to offer to the English language curriculum. The curricula rate is high in terms of knowledge and skill components they impart to trainee teachers. By and large the curricula aim at exposing trainee teachers to a) subject matter (knowledge about language in general and the English language in particular), b) pedagogical content and skills (knowledge about how to teach and skills of translating knowledge into practice), c) general and academic communicative competence in English d) experiential knowledge of professional action (actual act of teaching) e) knowledge and skills in carrying our research,  and f) subsidiary skills for teachers (translation and mass communication).

Integration of knowledge and skill components is one of the strengths of the courses.  As to organization, the curricula have adopted a mixed-approach of syllabus designing i.e. process and product approach and analytic and synthetic.

I sense that our curricula rate low in terms of the curriculum development process. Theories and principles of curriculum development say that we should make informed-decision about all aspects ranging from policy to classroom pedagogy and assessment scheme. Our curricula are not firmly based on the information collected from research. Its consequence is the disparity between course objectives and students’ expectations as well as classroom reality. It means we are heavily inclined to and probably satisfied with the top-down approach.

In the year 2012, I carried out a research funded by the University Grants to find out student teachers’ views on the grammar course offered to them. They viewed that the course and reading materials both were silent about the reality of our ELT context and it was theoretically loaded. These two major findings of this course can be generalized to other course and materials too. All courses are prone to such weakness where there is lack of needs analysis. In the absence of needs analysis and the analysis of the situations, courses and materials might fail to achieve ecological validity. The courses are ecologically valid when they take into account of contextual factors and underscore their roles while setting goals and objectives, and selecting materials, and designing assessment schemes and tasks.

There is the poor transfer of knowledge into skills, owing to lack of adequate space for action and reflection in the everyday teaching-learning process. The curricula are yet to adopt a model that calls for theory followed by action and reflection. In the absence of action-cum-reflection, the theoretical knowledge imparted to students will only remain information. As you know, information is important but not sufficient for transformation. The English curriculum has recently included a course on technology at Bachelor’s level. However, my impression of the overall courses is that the course designers still think that technology in education is a luxury, not a necessity.

Even from the cursory survey of the prescribed course materials, you can sense that there pervasive dominance of global reading materials. Few courses contain the materials embedded in the Nepalese context that address our issues. That is, our English curricula have to respect and capitalize on our own professional experience and expertise. This is necessary to actualize principles of post-method pedagogy that advocate particularity, practicality, and possibility.

Nonetheless, the course designers seem to be aware of this fact and they have worked in this direction. Some of the courses, for example, have allocated a separate block for Nepali writings under the headings such as “Reading our Own Context”. The initiative like is praiseworthy and commendable.  But the problem is the lack of sufficient English texts by Nepali writers. We need more and more creative and issue-based academic as well as nonacademic writings related to the Nepalese context.  Such writings should emanate from diverse areas such as education, literature, culture, science and technology, and entertainment, to name but a few. Given the proliferation of English texts by Nepali writers, we will have sufficient texts from which we can select those appropriate for our students. At present, we are resorting to Nepali literary texts in English translation to fulfill the demand such texts. However, translation might supply creative writings, not the academic and issue-based.

You might raise a question. Why are we lagging behind in quantity and quality of English writing? The problem lies with our courses in higher education. The space they allocate for generation of ideas and creative expression is scanty. Apart from pedagogy, the courses should also teach the students how to appropriate English to express their general views and creative urge through this language. To this end, we should shift from mechanistic framework of teaching methodology to what Prof. Bhattarai in 2015 NELTA Conference said “Teaching of English as Art”. To this, I add, the teaching of English as Art and Ideology.

5. We develop and prescribe the curriculum and course book/textbook for university students but in the other part of the world universities develop curriculum & materials in collaboration with students? This is of course high sounding. But can we not start including students (to some extent) in the process of making the decision about what they would like to study?

In principle, collaboration with such key players as students, teachers, and administrators is integral to curriculum development and course books writing. Students are obviously the most important of all. They are key agents. All materials and human resources outlined in the curriculum are geared towards linguistic, psychological and content needs of students. Collaboration is instrumental in diagnosing their needs, expectations, and limitations. Based on the diagnosis we can design effective pedagogical intervention and realistic mode of assessment. We know that students are active agents in shaping teaching-learning process as well as the learning outcome. Very often, experiences they bring into the learning community and expectations they have from the courses are key to their success. Moreover, by collaborating with them, we can generate relevant teaching materials from themselves. In our context, the irony is that we ‘prescribe’ knowledge and skills to our students in the package of courses and course books without consulting them, let alone collaboration. Whenever the issue of collaboration, or say consultation at the very least, with students and teachers crop up, it’s dismissed something as ‘high sounding’, ‘impractical’ or ‘ideal’. Sure enough, something is high sounding so long as it is confined to ‘words’ not extended to ‘work’; it is ‘impractical’, so long as we do not put into practice; it is ideal so long as we lack the willpower to actualize it.

As to “can we not start including students” (to some extent)? Sure, we can. For this, first we need to shift from product-based approach to the process-based to designing courses and course materials. Second, we need to train teachers for collaboration with their students. It’s the teachers, not a small group of curriculum developers and course designers, who are in everyday interaction with students. Moreover, we should change our views that teachers are not ‘implementation agents’ nor are students ‘mere consumers’ of what is prescribed to them. The outcome of teacher-students collaboration can be shared with the curriculum developers, course designers and material compilers/editors/writers in seminars and workshops. For the fruitful outcome, I envisage two levels of collaboration: collaboration between teachers and students, and collaboration between teachers and curriculum developers.

6. What challenges do you see in designing English courses for the higher level?

For want of research, it would be difficult to pinpoint the challenges. ELT in Nepal is in a state of flux. English is gradually taking in Nepalese culture and losing its traditional status of a foreign language. However, it is not a second language either. It means we need to rethink the status of English in relation to other languages and its role in our context.  ELT has morphed into the most rapidly spreading educational and academic enterprise. With this has cropped up a myriad of challenges at all levels of curriculum development and course designing. Drawing on my own experience, I see the following as some of the challenges: redefining the goal of teaching English, striking balance between forces of globalization and ethos of localization, extending the range of English use respecting students’ first languages, incorporating local practices and expertise, making the courses diagnosis-based, practice-oriented and reducing the disparity between course objectives and classroom reality, and creating sensible space for technology in the courses.

It’s high time that we redefined the goal of teaching English in the multilingual communities like ours and its role and position in relation to other languages. We should clearly define in the policy the type of communicative competence (apart from the professional competence) we aim to develop in the prospective teachers. Now the time has come to shift from the monolingual notion of communicative competence to what Cook calls “multivalence??”

How to incorporate technologies is being a pertinent challenge. No need to reiterate that presence and dominance of the internet technology is pervasive in all walks of our life. With the entry of WIFI-connected mobile phones into the classroom, there is the influx of information. With this, each student is carrying a learning resource in his/her pocket beyond imagination. Gone are the days when the students had to rely on the scanty notes and hands-outs given by the teacher. I mean, resources and information are flooding in our classrooms. Thanks to technologies but, there is lack of knowledge and skills for their exploitation to support teaching, to enhance learning and to maximize the outcome. Let’s take M. Ed. English curriculum as an example here. Even a cursory glance at the courses reveals a fact that few of them have made scanty reference to online resources. I sense that the internet, which lies at the heart of our everyday life, still lies at the fringe of the courses. The sooner our courses embrace technology-enhanced and –supported learning the better the result.

Related to the global spread of and easy access to technologies, particularly the internet, is the tension between forces of globalization and ethos of localization. The courses cannot prioritize one at the expense of the other. See the tension. On the one hand, we want to produce English students/teachers who are not only globally aware but also can sell their knowledge and skills in the global market. To this end, our courses need to expose them to global issues, methodology, and materials. On the other hand, we are advocating national, ethnic and even geographical identities in the medium (English), the message (content) and methodology. We wish to see our own geographical colors in English, and we are claiming ‘our own variety’ of English called ‘Nelglish’. Looking for the balance between these two forces is likened to treading a tightrope.

Interview with Ramesh Ghimire on Govt’s Process of Textbook/Materials Writing and Approval

Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) is an academic unit under the Ministry of Education, Government of Nepal. The main aim of the CDC is to develop curricula, textbooks along with other instructional materials for school education in order to achieve the national goals of education. Since this issue is focused on textbook writing and material development, we have Ramesh Ghimire, Curriculum Officer to talk about the CDC’s process of ELT materials development, policy, and quality of ELT textbooks and additional materials available in the market.

Below is the excerpt of Choutari Editor Jeevan Karki‘s conversation with Curriculum Officer Ghimire.

Ramesh ji, welcome to the Special Issue of Choutari. Could you please explain our readers about the difference between ELT textbook and materials developed by the government and private sector from government publication and private?

Thank you Jeevan sir. Let me first declare that the views I am sharing here are my personal. However, they do not represent those of the Curriculum Development Centre, where I am employed.

One must understand that the materials developed by private publications are called additional reading materials or reference materials. They are not the textbooks. But, those materials developed by the CDC are called textbooks. However, the CDC approves the materials developed by the private publications.

Both the CDC and the private publication follows the curriculum of the government in order to produce the materials. However, there is a great variation among the publications in terms of the quality of the materials. We can compare the ELT textbook and reference materials published by the government publication (CDC-produced materials) and private publication on several grounds. 

First, the difficulty level of the materials from the private publication is relatively higher or in some cases even lower than those of the government produced materials.

Second, the materials from government publication are developed following a due process like the task force-teacher workshop-subject committee-coordination-committee-final approval. But the materials from the private publications do not undergo this process. Even though they claim that they have underwent the similar process, there is no mechanism to monitor it.

Third, unlike the materials produced by private publication, the CDC-produced materials are piloted before their actual use. The CDC-produced materials are disseminated all over the country and the teachers are oriented before they use them. In the contrary, this is not the case with the materials developed by private publications.

In terms of contextualization of the content and consideration of inclusive principles, CDC-produced materials are far better than those produced by private publications.

There is the involvement of both the government and the private sectors in the distribution process of CDC-produced materials. On the other hand, the materials from private publications are distributed in the selected areas only. It is often heard that the school decides the materials but the teachers, parents and the students have no choice in the selection of those materials. Similarly, the materials from the private publications are content-loaded and therefore they can be relatively difficult. In terms of cultural appropriateness and teaching-learning approach, I feel that CDC-produced materials are better than those developed by private publications.

However, in terms of peripheral features like the design, layout, paper quality and so on, the materials from private publications are better. Unlike the CDC produced materials, the materials from private publications are colourful and their price is higher. Recently, the government has also started printing out colourful textbooks and materials especially for the basic level (up to grade 5).

You mention that the private publishers should follow the government curriculum of government while developing their books and materials. Is there any way or process to ensure their materials developed by private sector are based on the national curriculum?

The private sector must follow the curriculum of the government. If their materials are not consistent with the curriculum, CDC does not approve them. The private publications require the CDC’s approval before they bring the materials in the market. This means that there is a systematic process of material approval. They cannot have their own curriculum to develop the materials. The sole authority for developing curricula of school level in Nepal with CDC.

Even if the materials approved by the CDC through its so-called ‘approval process’, the contents included in the materials developed by private publishers   are stretched beyond the prescribed curriculum. Sometimes, those materials are too difficult to level of children and they lack appropriateness. To be honest, such textbooks are merely creating pressure on students, how does CDC deal with it?  

Yes, I admit that the materials produced by private sectors are loaded with more contents, which are not necessary and go beyond the curriculum. This is what I have already mentioned while answering your first question. It is really a good question but is challenging for the CDC to deal with.

When it comes to the approval process, we in the CDC have a rigorous discussion and debate on the content of such materials. In the CDC, we have two schools of thought. One thought is that the contents of such materials should  exactly be in line with the curriculum. Another school of thought is that their content can, to some extent, be beyond the curriculum since these are only additional reading materials.

Now coming to your question regarding the the role of CDC in dealing with the issue, the CDC tries its best to make the private publications “adjust” the contents of their materials in line with the level of curriculum. The CDC can check the contents strictly before providing them the approval.

Private schools are also using the imported ELT materials. It is heard that such books neither follows our curriculum nor the publishers have any approval from the government. Who is responsible for supervising the quality, appropriateness and applicability of such books? How do these materials get approved?

The CDC has also approved the materials developed by different international publishers or publications. The CDC also supervises the materials in terms of quality, cost, appropriateness and applicability of the materials.

The CDC approval is mandatory to disseminate materials in schools. Therefore, no one can take any curricular materials in school level without the prior-approval of the CDC. The existing Education rules, 2059 (2002), Rule no. 35 has made a clear provision regarding the use of additional reading and teaching materials and textbooks. The one who goes against it shall be punished according to the law.

One of the main functions of the CDC is to conduct research on curricula and textbooks. What kind of research does it conduct? Can you share with our readers about some of the recent researches?

The CDC conducts research on the areas of school curricula, textbooks and other curricular materials and the status of their implementation. Last year, we conducted a research on “The Present Situation of Curriculum Implementation” focusing on the curricula of the basic level.

Schools around the world and few private schools even in Nepal develop their own syllabus and course/text books for their students as per their context. How long might it take Nepal to start this new dimension in schools?

There is a practice of developing curriculum by the schools in Nepal. Up to grade 8, schools can develop a local curriculum (as a local subject) of 100 marks and in the basic level (up to grade 5) 20 percent content can be developed at the local level in 3 subjects: social studies, creative arts and physical education. Now in the changed context of federalism in the country, the provincial and local governments may take initiatives in the development and management of local curricula.

Finally, as we are heading towards the implementation of federalism, how would the CDC function in the changed governance model?

I think the role of the CDC will be certainly different in federalism. Its role will be primarily to maintain national standards of the school curricula, to make policy related to school curricula and curricular materials, to develop capacity of the people at various levels and to provide technical assistance in the areas of curriculum and curricular materials as required.

[VIDEO] Choutari Conversation with Dr. Vishnu S. Rai on ELT Textbook and Materials Writing in Nepal

In the conversation with Dr Prem Phyak, Dr Vishnu Singh Rai shares his experience of ELT textbook and materials writing in Nepal from school level to university level.  He reviews the ELT textbook writing project in Nepal. At the end , he also offers some constructive suggestions for the improvement of textbook writing and material development.

Translation as a technique; not a method in ELT: Bal Ram Adhikari

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Bal Ram Adhikari

Society of Translators Nepal has recently organized the first ever translation conference in Nepal. The conference served as a forum for translators, researchers, linguists and translation enthusiasts to share their knowledge, experiences and construct new knowledge. The conference also explored the issue of the use of translation in ELT. Although translation method has been severely criticized in ELT pedagogy, the latest approaches and methods entertain judicious use of translation. In this context, Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to Bal Ram Adhikari (Vice- president of the Society, Translator and Faculty, Department of English, TU) to explore more about translation, the conference and translation in ELT.

Q: Welcome to ELT Choutari! What are you doing these days?

Thank you for this sharing opportunity! Apart from writing essays in Nepali, I’m busy in different translation projects.  I’m giving the final touch to Nepali Anubad Sahitya-ko Itihas (History of Nepali Translation Literature), a research-based book to be published from Jagadamba Prakashan. A Grammar of Contemporary Nepali is ready for the press, which is going to be published from Nepal Academy. I’ve just finished the translation and editing of sixteen English short stories into Nepali. I’m also fine-tuning my previous research report Anubad Siddhanta (Translation Theories) for Nepal Academy.

Q: When you look back, how long is the history of translation in Nepal and what is the scope of translation in Nepal?

Let’s look at the first part of your question— History.  Nepalese translation has a short history with a long tradition. Tradition is what we do and history is the documentation of what we have done so far.

As a tradition, the translation activity in Nepal is as old as the languages like Nepali, Newari and Maithili. Translation has remained an integral part of this multilingual landscape. Documentation of this age-old activity has begun now. Translation in Nepal is believed to be more than 850 years old. However, the early translation was confined to such writings as royal inscriptions, and records of donations and deeds. To talk of literary translation, it is believed to have begun with the translation of Shakti Ballav Arjyal’s translation of Mahabharat Virat Parva in 1771 from Sanskrit. In my research, I have divided the duration of eight and a half century into four periods, namely the early period, the developmental period, the modern period and the contemporary age.

As to English-Nepali translation, it’s almost a century-old phenomenon. Nepali-English translation, on the other hand, has only crossed five decades. Shyam Das Vaisnav’s collection of poems Upahar is the first Nepali literary writing to be translated into English. Laxmi Prasad Devkota translated it under the Present in 1963.

Now, let’s turn to the second part of your question— its scope. Translation is growing as a widening gyre in Nepal. Academically, all Nepalese universities have recognized it as a distinct discipline. Literature, linguistics and language education departments have a separate course on translation in their master’s programmes. In practice, translation has been lifeblood of all forms of news media. Now the success or failure of our multilingual information marketplace depends largely on our ability to translate into and from the dominant languages like English. Similarly, publishing houses in Nepal are heavily relying on the translation business. Look at the books translated from English and Hindi floating in the book bazaar. Professionally, some daring bilinguals are coming to the front, who proudly call themselves translators. It indicates that translation in Nepal is moving in the direction of professionalism. There is also an organization of translators ‘Society of Translators Nepal’. Similarly, Nepal Academy has established a separate department of translation.

dsc01824Q: It sounds encouraging. Let’s relate this to the recent fervour created by the Society of Translators Nepal. Last month, the Society organized the first ever conference on translation in Nepal. What was the aim of it and how do you evaluate the conference?

The Society organized a two-day conference and a three-day exhibition of translated books. It was our effort to put our motto into action:  Sharing, Caring and Daring in Translation. That is to say, the aim of the conference was to create a platform where translators, translation researchers, theorists, and translation enthusiasts could come and share their experiences, practical insights and theoretical information. This is what happened in the conference. They came. They shared their experiences and insights. They cared each others’ views. They dared to admit their own limitations and weaknesses as translators.

Success! This conference has created academic and professional discourse on translation in Nepal. We translators are in a position to claim our academic and professional visibility. We had 18 paper presenters and more than 100 participants, including professors and university students. One of the goals was to bridge the gap between translation academicians and translation practitioners. I think we have been successful to some extent achieving this goal.

Q: What is the role of translation (process) in the language development of an individual?

It’s an issue under the perpetual debate. Translation is a bilingual process- a mental process which connects one language with the other. Such a connection can take place at different levels of languages ranging from words through sentences to discourse and pragmatics. Now let’s turn to the second part i.e. language development, which implies the growth of an individual’s verbal and syntactic repertoire, and their contextual use. The question is– how does translation contribute to an individual’s language development?

The role of translation in language learning is always positive! Sure enough! But the condition is its cautious handling. It should be used as a technique of teaching and learning a second language rather than as a method. In the past translation as a method was overused. As a result its impact on language development was negative.

The impact of translation on a person’s language development can be explicit as well as implicit. We can see its explicit impact on learning vocabulary. It is direct. The use of a bilingual word list to expand word power in the second language is pervasive. So is case in learning grammar structures. However, in the case of language skills, its role is not as dominant as in learning vocabulary and grammar. Its impact is implicit. Moreover, we should not confine translation only to word-to-word and sentence-to-sentence rendering. It’s also the mental transfer of first language awareness to second language learning. Mental translation is always at work in the mind of a second language learner. From our own experiences, we second language learners can tell how valuable translation has been in our overall language learning process.

The translator is in direct encounter with two languages at the same time. The translator enters not only into the mechanism of language but also experiences its inner spirit. From my own experience as a translator, I can say that it is probably the best way of developing language sensitivity and sensibility.

A communication crisis is another important factor that pushes our language ahead. During the work, translators find themselves in a communication crisis. The crisis is that they always struggle for words, expressions and structures while communicating the source writer’s message to the audience of a different language. They become untiring researchers in search of proper expressions. They are in the choiceless situation- they have no choice but to find out expressions in the target language to communicate with their readers. They often come face-to-face with their own ignorance i.e. limited knowledge of language. The very realization of ignorance forces them to read more, write more and contemplate more. This ultimately develops their language knowledge, and reading and writing skills both.    .

Q: What is the state of translation in second language pedagogy, ELT in particular?

Translation is a reality of the second language teaching. Translation is not something from outside that we are imposing on second language learners. In the context like ours where English is being learned as an additional language, we cannot skip translation. Our learning setting is bi-/multilingual; our students are aspiring bilinguals in English; English teachers are bilinguals; the goal of teaching English itself is to make our students bilingual in English. And translation, be it textual or mental, is a route along which our students and teachers shuttle back and forth between their mother tongue and English.  I think, to negate translation and advocate monolingual practice (i.e. English-only) is to negate all these bilingual realities.

Contemporary second language theories and practitioners are awakened to such realities. Most of the second language teaching approaches and methods have recognized the intrinsic value of translation in language teaching and learning.  However, by this I am not saying Grammar Translation Method has made its comeback to second language pedagogy. Here my focus is on translation as one of the several techniques of language teaching and learning.

Let’s name some of the teaching methods that candidly cherish translation as a teaching technique. Communicative Language Teaching is one of them. In the early 1970s, CLT gave space for the judicious use of the mother tongue in the second language classroom. Other contemporary methods, namely Task-based Language Teaching, Participatory Approach, and Content-based Instruction all have regarded translation as a technique that can be used in different stages of a lesson with the varying degrees of intensity for various purposes. It means the question is not whether to use translation or not but how to use translation for effective teaching.

At this point I am reminded of David Graddol’s book English Next. In the book Graddol has clearly stated that translation and interpretation are two dominant skills to be developed in users of Global English. Its implication is that translation is not only the means, it is also being one of the goals of English Language Education.

But I am disappointed to see how translation is perceived, treated and used in our context. English teachers, educators and trainers are still oblivious to the changing perspectives towards translation. In private schools translation is still a taboo as it was in the early and mid 20th century. They are practicing their ignorance. They are swayed by the fallacy that the use of the mother tongue and translation hamper the learning of English. On the other hand, in the public schools, translation is either overused or wrongly used.

I hope that English teachers trained in the contemporary language teaching methods will find respectful space for translation in the days to come and will use it in a balanced way.

dsc01814Q:  The quantity of translated books (both in English and Nepali) is increasing in Nepal. How is their quality?

It’s good to see the increasing number of translated books in the market. It’s not only the books, with the books is increasing the transfer of ideas and literary crafts across the languages. With the transfer is increasing cross-cultural awareness. Also with the growth of translation is expanding our publishing industry and translation is on the way to becoming a profession. However the worry is that quantity is waxing and quality is waning. Obviously, when there is a race for quantity, quality is often left behind. Most of the translations are poor in quality i.e. clumsy and stilted language, misinterpretation of the source text and its distorted presentation. But we should not forget that some translations are exemplary. I hope such translations will inspire the new translators.

Q: Whose role is it to ensure the quality of translated literature and other materials? What is the role of Society of Translators Nepal to improve their quality?

It’s the translator who becomes the target of criticism when the text fails to come up to certain standards. Undoubtedly, quality is subject to translator’s art and skills, sincerity and sensibility. It means the translator’s role is the key to good translation. However, there are a myriad of other factors at play in translation. First, we should understand that translation is not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a widespread misconception that any good bilingual can be a good translator. Translation is a distinct area of creative writing which calls for rigorous practice, study and training. Moreover, policy and investment of the publishing houses are of paramount importance. Most of the publishers offer a meagre amount to the translator. Even worse, they make no provision for editing. Likewise, the readers’ role also cannot be overlooked. Quality conscious readers can contribute to the publishing of good translations.

Society of Translators Nepal is not the organization to make a direct intervention in quality enhancement. All it can do and has been doing is raise awareness of translation through informal interactions, talks and seminars, and conferences. We invite translators to our talk programme to share their experiences. We have been organizing a seminar to mark the International Translation Day on 30th September. This year we organized the first national conference.

Q: What are the further plans of the Society?

Apart from the annual conference, the Society (http://translators.org.np/) is going to publish its first journal within a couple of months. We are midway through editing of A Bilingual Glossary of Terms. Similarly, we have planned to run some small-scale translation workshops.

Q: What do say to the budding translators and the translation enthusiasts?

First and foremost, we should understand that translation is a distinct field of study and practice. It has its own charms and challenges. No suggestion works unless we sit down and translate. When we start translating, our own experience will guide us. What I say is that those who do not love language should not come to this field. Fall in love with language; be the explorer of meanings; be ready to be an unsatiated leaner of language; be ready to fail and learn from your own failure.  Be a voracious reader and be an everyday writer. Be the part of the shangha of translators. Share your experiences and listen to others. Translate something every day.

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Throwing the Baby Out of the Bath Water: the Context of EMI in Nepal

Juliet Fry

Juliet Fry

 Juliet Fry is a national director of professional learning of secondary teachers’ of English language in New Zealand. She works for the Ministry of Education. Recently, she had been to Nepal in order to support a teachers’ training program in Khumbu region voluntarily. There is a practice of English Medium Instruction (EMI) for last six years. Our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki, who is carrying out a research on English medium instruction (EMI) in Nepal, has managed to talk with her in relation to EMI in community schools of Nepal.

You have delivered English Medium training and interacted with teachers recently in Khumbu region. What’s your observation and evaluation on EMI in this region?

Well, I was encouraged by finding the high level of English, of may be one-third of the teachers. It was good to find that some of the teachers have a really very good English and would be capable of delivering the curriculum in English medium but I still have concerns about the fact that some of them are not really strong enough to deliver the curriculum really effectively in English medium.

So why do you think there is such a craze for English?

You know I’ve read quite a lot why there is such a craze. In my view it is because of the international opportunity and also the fact that private schools are delivering education in English and get high SLC score. So other schools (community schools) want to deliver education in English in order to retain students. There is also one benefit of English medium as it can keep the children in the region as they actually get to experience local culture, and they grow and learn with their home languages. Therefore, somewhere it is good that they are attracted to English language and stay in their own community. So they learn Sherpa at home and English at school. Then I’m worried about their Nepali language. So my concern is that they grow without having any language really strong.

What is the medium of the instruction in the sate-owned schools in New Zealand?

Well, I’ve been fortunate to work with the people who’ve come through the New Zealand education system in English medium. But the case of Maori is different. Their parents were also not allowed to speak Maori at schools, they had to speak English. Consequently, the generation lost Maori language. Now adults have decided to learn Maori language as a second language. On the other hand, the people who are now teachers, let’s say younger teachers, some of them learnt Maori as a second language and now they are working hard to bring out their children speak in Maori because in south island they’ve lost the native speakers of Maori language. All the adults have learnt Maori as the second language and their children are now at Maori medium schools.

Are there separate Maori medium schools?

Yes, there are separate Maori medium schools and so they are really working hard to regain the language which was nearly lost. And I’m worried that will happen here as well because the English is such a dominant language that it has the effect where after one or two generations the children most speak English and they won’t speak the home language.

How many local languages are there in New Zealand?

Only one, but there are different dialects. The south island dialect nearly died out and they are trying to regain but the other dialects are also fragile in all the areas. The language is quite endangered.

What is the official language in New Zealand?

Both Maori and English.

But in the context of Nepal, the official language is Nepali and we’ve got more than 100 other languages.

Yes. It’s quite different here. Nepali is lingua-franca, which is different from English as well. So it makes so complex because I can see that Nepali isn’t the native language of people in this region (Khumbu region). So, what I am trying to think as the solution is you can have multilingual education system which can really foster students’ learning in several languages.

What challenges do you see in implementing English medium instruction in the community schools in Nepal?

Well, one challenge is that not all people are fluent in English. Another challenge is that the measure of the success of schools seems to be SLC exam. That means quite a long time to actually know whether English Medium (EM) has been successful or not. It could be another challenge that you could be putting students in danger of not being successful without really knowing the result of EM until several years down the track. I think the process is too long leading the children vulnerable.

In the school system, what do you think is more important- the contents we are delivering or medium of language?

The purpose of education is not necessarily contents or language. Actually, language is means for gaining and I think obviously you need to have contents. But they are the part of developing curricula. Wonderful students would come out of the schools whims. So I think both contents and language are means for building strong students.

You said that in multilingual countries, the teachers also are not strong in English and children are from different linguistic background. In that context, what would be outcome of such practice?

Perhaps, the best thing is to have Nepali for the first few years, which is the lingua franca, the language that the most teachers would be competent in. Then to build with the teachers, who are competent in English to build from subject to English as they go through using the competency of other teachers in the schools like if the Mathematics teacher is not competent in English. Could they do Mathematics in Nepali and Social Studies in English? I don’t know if that would be possible. But I know in Europe at the moment that is one kind of idea of developing that you might do one subject in one language and other subject in the other language. Just for that you’ve the opportunity to develop academic language well that may be in one subject area.

What impacts could EMI bring in the children’s mother tongue or others language?

Another aspect I think is having a policy to incorporate useful mother tongue especially in early childhood situation, where you might have community members being involved in early childhood using those mother tongue languages. Similarly, it could be something that I’m thinking about New Zealand schools as well because we have many different students from different languages, who come as migrant to New Zealand. How do we support them within an English medium context and how do we really value their languages is very significant. I don’t think we do it very well. So here I’m talking about doing it better in Nepal and I don’t think we have got it well sorted in New Zealand. What I’m trying to put across is to demonstrate those languages are valued in classes, for instance, you can have students to write up their languages on the wall, so you can identify the existing languages in your class. Then you can positively say that they can discuss in their languages, come up with ideas and bring it back in English for discussion. It shows that you’re deliberately valuing those languages and allowing students to get success in those languages in the national assessment because that is the battle. The government has to try everything and I think there should be assessment, which allows students through many languages to do something, which might be giving the texts in different languages and answering in English or something. You can’t do everything but it’s something trying to value those languages inside the education system. And our curriculum by the principle talks about valuing the languages at the top level but it’s not clearly articulated in detail, so I think there is a bit of struggle.

English is a global language and there is a craze of English everywhere. If you have good English, you are saleable in global market. In this context, what about having one global language like English or something? Is it really necessary to have other languages, when you have one global language?

We’ve seen in New Zealand, some problems that come with colonization, where the people’s language and identity is disregarded. Some franchises have lack of power and also associated with loss of land and other things. So, it’s a complex issue that comes about possibly through colonization. However, Nepal is in a different situation, which has never been colonized. It means there is not loss of power that comes with the loss of language but then there is this kind of neo- colonization in a way that English has become a language of commerce. And are we selling ourselves or the power of our country to other countries? Like there is a big drive of going and having job in another country but what about building up Nepal itself? This whole globalization, workforce and everything, I’m not sure where it’s going! But are those people who go away to other countries to work then come back to Nepal? Is that the way the economy wants to build in long run or does it want to build in another way. English is obviously tied up with that the opportunity to work. And the important question is does Nepal want grow its economy by drawing income from other countries? Nepal is in between two growing world economy i.e. China and India. So is it better to learn Mandarin or Hindi in future?

The teachers in schools are very much convinced by the power of English and are practicing EM in community schools, what could be the role of organization working for professional development of teachers?

That’s a good question. I think it is important to deliver the teachers’ training in English so that their English reaches up to the level, where they will be able to deliver curriculum in English. I think, alongside the teachers’ training, there should be some researches on how are the students of year 3 and year 5 in English medium comparing with the students of same grades in Nepali medium schools? What is the level of students in this region comparing with the students in another region studying in Nepali medium? Is there equal level of students being able to articulate and understand ideas? That would one interesting thing to look at and I also think it would be interesting to look at the impact of two dominant languages Nepali or English language. Or if you are learning in English language, what’s happening to local languages? Are there any different impacts on local languages, when students learn in Nepali comparing with English?

What could be the better way of practicing EMI in the context of Nepal?

I still think that multi-lingual approach would be a better way because you have Nepal as a country and language is a part of identity. If you bring up a whole population without culturally located and linguistically connected then what will be the situation of children when they grow as adult like who haven’t got feet on the ground but you can still have roots in English. Therefore, in the early grades, there should be more than one language, where you have multi-lingual education. I think that would be wise. There is a phrase, “throwing the baby out of the bath water.” You don’t want to throw away all the learning and knowledge that teachers have in Nepali and respect English. So I think the wise way is to look at multi- lingual education.

Thank you so much for you valuable time, ideas and sharing experiences around the world!

It’s my pleasure!

Juliet has also taught in Auckland secondary schools-in several learning areas, as well as being an ESOL specialist and coordinator. She has also been an ESOL and Literacy advisor in the top half of the South Island for several years. She has had advisory roles with Ministry of Education.

Parents have rights to choose medium of instruction: Executive Director of NCED

Khagaraj Baral

Khagaraj Baral, Executive Director, NCED

National Centre for Educational Development (NCED) has been running National Initiative to Improve Teaching in English (NIITE) Project. For this special issue dedicated to EMI, Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to Khagraj Baral, Executive Director of NCED on EMI practice in Nepal. Here is the excerpt: 

What kind of project is it? And, why was the necessity of it felt? Could you please explain?

NIITE is a project to support our regular teachers’ professional development programmes. English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) was already in practice in our community schools before launching NIITE, whereas, it was launched two years back. There is a provision of conducting teachers’ training based on the needs of teachers in the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP). The need of the most of teachers from community schools was skills to teach through EMI. It was because of the decrease in number of students in community schools in towns, would-be towns and district headquarters and the reason behind the shift of students to private boarding schools was the choice for EMI education. The next factor was the interest of parents to educate their children through EMI. Considering both the reasons, the School Management Committee (SMC) and teachers started working on teaching and learning through EMI. Then, we designed the training programmes as per the demand of teachers to get trained for delivering EMI based lessons. There is no pressure for schools to shift for EMI. Schools are free to use Nepali, English or both according to education act (2010), regulations and curriculum.

How many community schools are teaching through EMI and how many teachers are trained for EMI?

During last Fiscal Year, 7,500 teachers were trained from NCED. The training was provided to the teachers who were teaching subjects other than Nepali and English. Some schools are also managing the trainings on their own. The community schools from Daunne to Gaidakot in Nawalparasi district have conducted trainings with their own initiative. The schools that want to start EMI are not going to wait only for our support, instead our support seems to have been late than their initiation. Some schools have even recruited teachers for teaching through EMI in self-funding.

According to language policy, schools can use Nepali, English or both as a medium of instruction. Based on the policy, schools are adopting EMI even without qualified teachers and minimum resources. What kind of outcome this may bring in future? Doesn’t the government have to ensure the fulfillment of minimum requirements before implementing EMI?

Schools have adopted the medium of instruction as per the existing language policy. Are there qualified teachers and sufficient resources in the schools that use Nepali as a medium of instruction? If it is yes, there is also not satisfactory results. The medium of instruction does not solely improve the result. However, it has been observed that the results of the schools which have adopted EMI have been improving slowly. The result may not be satisfactory for few years but it will improve thereafter.

The SLC result of 2013/14 has shown that the schools that produced encouraging results were found to be adopting EMI, take an example of Kanti and Kalika schools of Butwal, Shanti school of Manigram. Similarly, schools of Biratnagar, Pokhara, Surkhet, Kathmandu, Bhaktpur, Lalitpur, Damak, and Hetauda have proved the same level of results. Why don’t you analyse the result of the community schools after adopting EMI in last ten years?

A lot of issues and controversies have been raised internationally in terms of shifting the medium of instruction (MoI). In order to systematize it, different countries have clearly set guidelines on age/level to start EMI, subjects to teach through EMI and so on. For instance, there is a provision of introducing EMI from the third year of primary level in China. What are the guidelines of teaching through EMI in Nepal?

The medium of instruction is determined by socio-economic, political and linguistic factors of the country and it is led by politics. As the politics is also based on democracy, the need and interest of people is strong. If there was an autocratic rule, only one language would have been recognized. If parents want to educate their children through EMI, the theories and principles of language become secondary. They lay-men do not care about the principles of language teaching. They want their children to get quality education of international standard. Secondly, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the authority is vested in the parents to choose the kind of education for their children. Talking about the case of China, although Chinese is the largest language in the world, they start EMI from the third year of primary level. Why is there a need for EMI in China as they have the most spoken language in the world? China is the leading economy in the world. It doesn’t need to depend on other countries. It doesn’t need to worry about foreign employment and it has excelled in technology. Despite all, it is also adopting EMI. The reality of our country is different. So, it we can’t compare with other countries.

In our context, the existing law and policy are sufficient. The important thing is to implement it honestly.

We are still not able to teach EFL/ESL effectively in our schools. In this context, don’t you think it is a hurry to start teaching other subjects in English medium?

You are right but the major question is how effective the Nepali medium classes are. We can never start if we wait to fix everything and then start. Attempts for changes have to be made. Schools have never been forced to shift for EMI. This shift has taken place in those schools which are interested to start and their infrastructure, teachers and SMC are ready for it. Nothing can stop those who are willing for change and those who want to remain as they are, there is easy policy for them too. You know that that institutional schools use EMI. Are there sufficient and qualified teachers for EMI? I’ve also found their teachers weak in both language and contents. Challenges are obvious during reformation. We need to move forward resolving the problems.

When children are taught and exposed to English language from very young age instead of teaching in their home language. Such products for instance, from private boarding schools, are found to be loving foreign language and culture rather than their own. Furthermore, the government is also promoting English language. In this context, what will be the effect in Nepali language and culture after introducing EMI at very young age?

The issue you raised is serious. However, it makes no difference. Have the products taught in Nepali medium protected and promoted their language and culture? Are they aware of their language and culture? Have they used their local or home language? Has the only use of Nepali or local language helped in the livelihood of people and in international competitions? And, have the ones taught through EMI gone against the languages and cultures of their country? Language is only a medium of learning. Although children are taught through EMI, they have spent more of their time at home. Have parents made their children aware of their language and culture? Every house has been promoting Hindi language watching Hindi movies, TV serials and cartoons on TV. Hasn’t it promoting the culture? Similarly, hasn’t the culture coming through English movies and cartoons? The education in schools has made the future leaders prosperous. The issue you raised is more serious for out of school scenario rather than schools.

What kind of programmes and modality does NCED have to produce qualified teachers for teaching through EMI?

NCED supports through trainings. Although we don’t have sufficient trainers, we provide training through our roaster trainers. We’ve prepared 150 trainers in cooperation with British Council in the last year and developed the package. I think now time has come to select teachers having basic communication skills in English in community schools. Like Public Service Commission, Teachers Service Commission also  need to test the English language skills of teachers. Talking about our programme, we now are going to design our modality in terms of needs of teachers including EMI training.

Choutari team would like to thank the Executive Director of NCED for his valuable time and insights into the practice of EMI. 

Reimagining education from a multilingual perspective: Policies/practices, realities and looking forward

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

EMI has been a hot topic for research and interaction locally and globally. Choutari Editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to Prem Phyak, a PhD scholar from the University of Hawaii, US on EMI. Mr. Phyak critically shares his opinions on practices and realities on EMI and suggests some ways forward for EMI practice in Nepal. Here it goes:

Nepalese public/community schools are switching the medium of instruction to English day by day and the government is also in the campaign of training the teachers for promoting EMI. Is EMI the need of time or an effect of linguistic hegemony?

This is a complex question; it requires a thorough observation of local context and an critical analysis of what language education research findings have shown. Let me try to be as specific as possible. First of all, it is not quite clear why English must be the medium of instruction from Grade 1. What’s the purpose of English as the medium of instruction (EMI) policy? Does this policy really help children access both linguistic and academic knowledge? To put it differently, what’s wrong with teaching content area subjects (e.g., Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science) in Nepali and/or any other languages that students understand better? Of course, the English language has an important space in global multilingualism particularly to access globally available socio-economic and educational resources. However, this taken-for-granted assumption does not work quite well in education (teaching-learning process) particularly in the context where children speak languages other than English outside classroom (For many children in Nepal, English is the third language and they do not need to use English in their everyday social interactions). Whether or not students have a better understanding of the content of teaching/curricula largely depends upon whether or not the language used as the medium of instruction in school is comprehensible to them. Studies from all over the world have shown that most low-achieving and drop-out students are taught in a language other than the language(s) they speak at home/community.

The basic principle of learning in the classroom is: if students don’t understand the language of instruction, they are not able to achieve the curricular goals. Most importantly, they are, directly and directly, excluded from the whole learning process; students are not able to invest themselves in performing cognitive skills such as comprehending, evaluating, analyzing, and critical/independent thinking. What we must know is that if we care about and would like to put education and children at the forefront, the imposition of any language as the medium of instruction (e.g., EMI) in which students cannot fully operate in the classroom leads to numerous social, psychological, and cognitive issues. Studies have further shown that if children are forced to learn in “an insufficiently or poorly developed second [/foreign language], the quality and quantity of what they learn from complex curriculum materials and produce in oral and written form may be relatively weak and impoverished” (Baker, 2011, p. 166).  It is basically wrong to force students, who have never learned and used English before they come to school, learn all the content area subjects in English (without any English language support)  from the first day in school. We should also know that learning in Nepali has already been a problem for many children.

I think the question is not whether “EMI is the need of time”; rather we must engage in analysis of whether EMI is an appropriate approach to ensure access and meaningful participation of all children in teaching-learning process in the classroom. The current de facto EMI policy is fundamentally flawed; it seriously lacks academic/educational justifications that are grounded in language education theories and best practices. It is quite surprising to see that public schools are switching from Nepali medium to EMI policy without examining its educational, social, and cognitive ramifications. I don’t quite understand the intention of the government as well; if we closely look at the Ministry of Education’s policies and plans such as Education for All, Millennium Development Goals, School Sector Reform Plan and National Curriculum Framework, it wants to promote multilingual education by considering children’s home/community languages a resource for an equitable and quality education. Through these policies, the government has shown its commitment to ensure access, equity, and quality education for all children. Thus, it is completely unethical for the Ministry of Education to divest from its commitment to multilingual education and invest just on EMI as a monolingual approach to medium of instruction policy. In this sense, we can say the current EMI policy seems more hegemonic, i.e. it is shaped by the global dominance of the English language but not by its educational/academic rationale in the multilingual context of Nepal. However, I would like to mention that any policy (be it Nepali-only or English-only) that promotes monolingualism in education is hegemonic for multilingual students.

In Nepal, do you think we are ready for switching the medium of instruction especially in public/community schools?

Whether we are ‘ready’ for an EMI policy is not what we must be debating about. Rather we must engage in critically examining whether EMI contributes to promote both access and quality in education.  Here, I would like to mention two things: first, we already have English as a ‘compulsory’ subject from Grade 1. From the first day in school, children must learn English, irrespective of their linguistic backgrounds (I learned English from Grade 4, but was never taught in EMI in school). My own observations and other studies show that public schools and teachers are facing a number of challenges to teach English-as-a-compulsory-subject from Grade 1.  How can we imagine that the EMI policy works in this existential reality?

Second language acquisition and bilingual education studies have revealed that when students are not fully functional in the languages taught/used in schools, they are not able to fully engage in cognitive activities and perform academic skills well. We must also be aware of the fact that strong academic skills and knowledge/concepts that students develop in one language is always transferable to learning a new language. This means that it is important to help children develop their academic, cognitive, and linguistic abilities in their home language/community language before they are taught any new language. We have already seen this issue in teaching English-as-a-compulsory-subject. Therefore, we should first engage in understanding and reimagining how to teach ‘compulsory English’ effectively. I think we must be happy if we are able to effectively execute the English-as-a-compulsory-subject policy.

Most importantly, we must not forget that each academic subject, grade, and level has specific objectives that the nation wants students to achieve. In other words, the nation expects students to learn specific content knowledge and skills by the end of a subject, grade and level. While talking with me, teachers (science, social studies, mathematics, and even English) have said that it is ‘impossible’ to achieve subject-, grade-, and level-wise objectives through EMI.  Let me share an anecdote. I was observing a Grade 2 science class; the topic of the lesson was the characteristics of living and non-living things. The teacher first asked students to open the science textbook (English translated version of the national textbook in Nepali) and wrote the topic on the board. He kept on reading the lines from the textbook and asked a series of questions to the students. What are living things? What do living things do? All the students were silent. I heard some students asking questions to each other in Nepali to check whether they understood what the teacher was teaching. The most difficult moment was when the teacher was unable to explain the meaning of the word ‘sensitivity’ [one of the characteristics of living things] and could not provide its actual meaning in Nepali to the students. Students remained frozen unless the teacher allowed them to talk in Nepali. As the students could not respond to the questions in English, the teacher himself wrote all the answers on the board and asked them to copy. There was no teacher-student communication at all, but very little student-student interaction in Nepali. The whole lesson was like an English language teaching class, rather than a science lesson. I have observed so many other Science and Social Studies lessons that end up being lessons on the “English language”. After each class observation, I asked Social Studies and Science teachers whether EMI is contributing to achieve the subject-, grade-, and level-wise goals of education. All teachers said “No” and preferred to teach these subjects in Nepali.

My point is that the language that is used as the medium of instruction in schools should not be detrimental to learning. I have seen that EMI is negatively affecting students’ academic skills (use of language for specific genre/communication, independent/collaborative learning, and critical thinking) and knowledge. What is most dangerous is that the de facto EMI policy has projected (quality) English language learning and teaching as synonymous to quality education, which is no other than a myth.

Which is the right level/age to introduce EMI in our education system? Why?

It depends upon whether or not students actually need EMI. The current EMI policy is very much top-down and based on very weak ‘commonsensical ideas’. What I am saying is that a language policy must embrace ‘on-the-ground’ language practices and realities and should be backed up by language education theories and findings; it should not be based on non-academic/education assumptions that a few people think might work well for all the children.

Talking of the right level to introduce EMI, we must be clear about some basic ideas about language and language ability. First, it is important to understand what language abilities are necessary in education. There are two general language abilities: conversational and cognitive academic language proficiency. Conversational proficiency is concerned with interpersonal communicative skills such as holding a conversation, introducing each other, talking with shopkeepers, and organizing meetings. On the other hand, cognitive academic language proficiency includes more complex language abilities needed to handle curriculum contents. It includes language abilities to engage in complex higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, hypothesizing, and generalizing in specific academic areas such as Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science.

Studies have shown that students take 2-4 years to acquire conversational language abilities while they take 6-8 years to develop cognitive academic language proficiency. This happens in very well planned educational policies with competent teachers, sufficient resources, and a continual support from the government. You know how badly our educational plans and policies are development without any comprehensive research. We must understand that conversational language abilities do not reflect cognitive academic abilities. In other words, we cannot judge students’ cognitive academic ability in terms of their fluency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English. We must know whether students can cope with academic content areas through English. Considering the current failure rate in English (even in basic interpersonal skills), unplanned educational scenario, and an extremely limited understanding of language education in a multilingual context, I cannot exactly tell what level we should begin EMI. What I can say however is that introducing EMI without understanding existing conversational and cognitive academic language abilities of both students and teachers is detrimental to both access and quality in learning. A comprehensive plan based on an extensive research study must be developed, piloted, and examined what works and what does not. A non-negotiable principle we must keep in mind is: the language gap should not create educational/learning gap among students.

As Alan Davies, a famous applied linguist who has immensely contributed to the beginning of Nepal’s English language teaching, has recently argued, the expansion of English in Nepal (both as medium and subject) must not be guided by any ‘political motive’ (although it happened when he was leading a 1984 ELT Survey), rather it should be guided by an academic motive. In the 1984 ELT Survey and his 2009 article, Alan Davies has recommended that it is better to start English from Grade 8 so that students are well prepared to learn English and more resources (both teachers and other materialistic resources) can be concentrated on teaching better English. But as the secretary of the Ministry of Education and the representative from the royal palace rejected this academic idea, his survey team had to negotiate and agree on the Grade 4 start. But they have clearly mentioned that lowering English to Grade 1 is not academic sound and desirable. But as we seen now the Ministry of Education has already introduced English-as-a-compulsory-subject from Grade 1 and now promoting it as the medium of instruction.

If we to go for EMI, where should we start from- tertiary level to prepare teachers or from the school level?

I am not sure if I understood this question well. If you want me to comment on teacher preparation for EMI, I have to say two specific points. First, before we talk about teacher preparation we must be clear about the purpose of EMI. Most public schools are forced to introduce this policy because they want to increase the student number so that they get more teacher quotas from the government. They also want to compete with private schools. However, all these arguments are non-academic and very superficial that conceal real issues in public school management. Second, if we would like to discuss the issue of medium of instruction on the academic ground, we should seriously think about how we can prepare teachers to help children, who come from multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic backgrounds without having any exposure of the English language, learn curricular contents better.  Based on experiences from all over the world, universities develop language teacher education programs and courses to address issues that teachers face on-the-ground. However, we do not have a strong language teacher education program that prepares competent teachers who can better handle a multilingual class in Nepal.

Let me share two issues with regard to teacher preparation for EMI. First, the way this policy has been pushed without setting up a rigorous teacher education program that both educates and trains teachers on the issues of language education does not seem to be sustainable and realistic. A professional-development (PD) model of teacher training, a famous model of teacher training in Nepal, is not sufficient for the teachers who have to work with a new language education policy. Thus, it is important for the Ministry of Education to collaborate with the universities to develop a new language teacher education program to deal with the current language issues. Second, and most importantly, the new teacher education program must embrace a multilingual approach to language teacher education in which teachers explore various models and approaches to teach multilingual students multilingually. In other words, they should know the fact that a multilingual medium of instruction policy not only promotes learning multiple languages, including English, but also promotes strong academic content knowledge.  What I am saying here is that the ways in which teachers have been trained now simply promotes the monolingual ideology of ‘teach-in-English-for-English’.

Children in private boarding schools are taught in English medium and exposed to English language and culture since the first day of their admission. Similarly, all subjects expect Nepali are taught in English and public schools are literally copying the same practice. Do you think it is a good practice or there should be some limitation regarding the use of English language in schools?

Yes, you are right. Public schools are imitating what private schools have been doing in terms of the medium of instruction policy. As we know, private schools focus on English language teaching both as a subject and the medium of instruction. Let me mention two points: a) as private schools are profit-oriented institutes, they have been promoting the English medium of instruction policy as a principal feature of education even when the use of languages other than Nepali were banned in public schools. They taught English from Grade 1 even when the public schools were asked to teach English from Grade 4. Most private schools are located in urban cities and affordable only for high-middle class people; and b) private schools are considered ‘better schools’ because of their students’ higher pass percentage in School Leaving Certificate Exams (SLC), a gateway to higher education. Every year, private schools excel public schools in students’ passing rate in SLC. One of the major reasons for private schools’ success is the greater awareness of parents who send their kids to private schools. As these parents are already conscious about and can invest their time, money, and other resources in their kids’ education, most private school students receive proper guidance and resources (from both school and parents) that help them succeed in SLC. Contrary to this, most public school students, who live a rural agrarian life in lower-class families, do not have all these luxuries. And there are other political, educational, and managerial issues in public schools. Thus, many public school students are unsuccessful in SLC. This gap rooted in socio-economic class differences has eventually constructed a commonsensical assumption that private schools are better and their EMI policy is the only way to obtain quality education.

Public schools are following what private schools have been doing in terms of EMI policy. In various interactions (both formal and informal) with me, head teachers and District Education Officers hastily claim that they have to implement EMI because in this ‘adhunik jamana’ [modern age] English is necessary for ‘jagir, bidesh, and gunastariya shikshya” [job, abroad, and quality education]. However, they really don’t have answers to these questions: how EMI helps to achieve all these? Does it mean that students who are not taught in EMI do not get job and quality education?

Schools that practice English as medium of instruction are considered as better schools and are believed to provide quality education. Can EMI help promote quality education?

It’s unfortunate that EMI policy has been considered a panacea for educational issues in public schools. As described above, this policy does not seem to promote quality education in reality. Although it is hard to define what a quality education is, it is evident that the education that helps students develop independent, creative, and critical thinking/leaning skills; appreciate multiple perspectives while engaging in social interactions; and foster an increased awareness of both local and global sociopolitical issues is desirable for all children to succeed in the present world context. A quality education provides students with an opportunity to fully invest their cognitive abilities in making sense of the world where they live in. And a quality education eventually promotes both access and equity in education. What is most disturbing however is that schools are labeled ‘better schools’ or ‘worse schools’ based on whether or not they have implemented an EMI policy.  Such evaluative discourses, policies, and practices are a very narrow-view about schools and education and they reduce the meaning of education just to learn English.

Public schools feel a strong pressure to increase the number of students, as mentioned above, to get more teacher quotas. In my interactions with head teachers, teachers, parents, and policymakers, I have found that public schools have introduced EMI to ‘compete with private schools’. Most head teachers argue that the EMI policy is necessary to attract more students in public schools. However, it is evident that the absence of the EMI policy is not the only reason behind the low student enrollment in public schools. Increased migration of people from rural to urban areas, unplanned opening of private schools in both rural villages and urban towns, and decreasing population growth are some of the major reasons behind the issue. Most interestingly, although most public schools have ‘announced’ the EMI policy to attract students, they have not been able to successful to implement the policy. They have asked students to buy English textbooks, but eventually end up translating everything into Nepali. Some head teachers have said that the EMI policy did not even work in their schools so they have started teaching in Nepali. They further said the policy created a lot of confusion among students and teachers. I have seen that students could not answer test items in English unless teachers translated the test items into Nepali. Some teachers give test items before test and dictate their answers in advance.

The assumption that the EMI policy fixes all the issues in public schools is a very myopic view on public education. Public schools (and, of course, private schools as well) can provide a better education in any language and language practices that students understand better and feel comfortable to express themselves.

What is your suggestion regarding the use and practice of EMI in the schools in Nepal?

First, at the theoretical level we must be clear that forcing students to learn academic content knowledge and skills in the language which they have not fully development yet is detrimental to effective learning. Thus imposing English as the medium of instruction, in the guise of an abstract quality education and an imaginary or unrealistic job market, without having an in-depth understanding of language education theories and best practices and without analyzing its educational ramifications may not help students develop strong academic skills and knowledge. Second, there is a clear distinction between teaching English as a language and using it as the medium of instruction. But the current EMI policy and practices are focused more on helping students develop English language proficiency, but not on achieving curricular goals as specified by the Ministry of Education. Most schools and teachers are not teaching Social Studies, for example, but they are teaching the ‘English language’—vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, sentence structure, and so on. This implies that the entire teaching-learning activities turn to be activities for ‘teaching English’ and schools eventually look like an “English language institute.”

Third, and most importantly, our policymakers must be aware that there are models and best practices in which both language and academic content can be taught using multiple languages simultaneously in the classroom. Recent studies have shown that a monolingual medium of instruction policy does not work well for multilingual students. Thus it is important to redefine the current language education policies and practices including teacher education and professional development programs from a new multilingual perspective.

Finally, as the Ministry of Education has already developed a multilingual education policy and shown its commitment to promote access and equity in education, it is not professionally and institutionally ethical for any organization to focus only on a monolingual approach to education, including teacher training. A multilingual approach to language education not only provides equal space to all languages, including English, but also promotes better language and academic content learning.  So it is the right time to redesign our teacher education programs, professional-development modules, and teacher training packages considering our local multilingual complexity and the role of English in it.

Work cited

Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (5th ed.). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

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