Local contributions of a global applied linguist: A tribute to Professor Alan Davies

Prem Phyak

 Prem  Phyak

In 2015, the global community of applied linguists lost one of the founding fathers and major theorists in Applied Linguistics/ELT, Professor Alan Davies. Since the inception of the field in 1957, Professor Davies continually contributed to various dimensions of Applied Linguistics such as language testing, language policy, English language teaching, sociolinguistics and second language learning through teaching, research, publications, seminars, and community service. He was a Professor Emeritus Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, UK (You can listen to his recent interview here).

However, many of us may not know that Professor Davies contributed to teaching, discourse, and policy regarding ELT and Applied Linguistics in Nepal. In the context of the sad demise of Professor Davies (in September 2015), I would like to dedicate this blog post to his legacy and share some of his major contributions to Nepali ELT and Applied Linguistics.

Known best for his theory of “native speaker” (see Davies, 2004, 2007, 2013) and principles/theories/ethics in language testing (e.g., Davies, 1997, 2003, 2008), Professor Davies have contributed to the inception, development and globalization of Nepali ELT/Applied Linguistics by discussing Nepal’s case in most of his popular publications that deal with language policy and politics, English language teaching, and local-global tensions.

Introduction of Applied Linguistics/ELT in Nepal

Many of us may not know that Professor Davies was Head of Central Department of English at Tribhuvan University. In 1969, with British Council’s support, Professor Davies joined the Central Department of English as Head. In his two-year stay, he introduced and taught linguistics and applied linguistics courses for MA students. The courses were deigned to train college teachers on how to teach English effectively. Reflecting on the courses, K. P. Malla, one of the reverent linguists in Nepal, says “Personally for me and many of my colleagues it was the first exposure to linguistics, particularly to Applied Linguistics” (Malla, 1976, p. 8).

He was Chair of the Board of English Studies in 1971. He reformed the existing English language syllabuses and introduced General English course for both the Intermediate and Bachelor levels in 1971. The new syllabus which Malla (1976) calls ‘Davies syllabus’ provided students with an exposure of contemporary spoken and written English and recognized the use of local English by including local newspaper reports and excerpts in the course.

In the early 1970s, Professor Davies, in collaboration with British Council developed in-service training courses for secondary school teachers. The courses focused on both English language development and teaching methods. Most importantly, a new school level English syllabus was developed. He also designed an experimental English language test items for School Leaving Certificates exams. He was the first keynote speaker for Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association [NELTA] in 1993. The NELTA conference was the first event that gathered teachers for academic discussions in ELT in Nepal.

The ELT Survey: Insights into ELT policy reforms

In 1983, when the public education was not yet well planned, Professor Davies was requested by the Ministry of Education and British Council to lead a team of experts to carry out an ELT Survey of Nepal. Two other British scholars, Alan McLean and Eric Glendenning, and three Nepali counterparts, Arun Pradhan, Niraj Kumari Bajracharya, and Jai Raj Awasthi, were involved in the project. The survey team was asked to: (a) observe and describe the status of English language teaching in schools; (b) analyze aim, content,  format and the process of textbook development and other reference materials; (d) describe the English language examination system and its connection with ELT practices in schools; (f) assess  English language proficiency of both teachers and students and analyze factors contributing to good and poor performance; (h) explore English language teaching methods; and (i) provide recommendations for policy reforms.

The major findings of the study are: a) the level of teachers’’ pedagogical expertise was not adequate due to lack of training and transfer of training into classes; b) the textbooks were appropriate and adequate for the local situation; however, they were not used effectively for the classroom purpose and needed editing and proof-reading; c) the SLC exams did not test students’ English language skills but they meant to test students’ memory of the content knowledge; d) the English language proficiency of both teachers and students was inadequate to fulfill the course objectives; e) the non-communicative techniques such as grammar-translation, rote-learning, choral repetition, gap-filling, and lectures were major techniques of teaching English; and f) the in-service teacher training provisions were not adequate to help teachers teach English effectively. Due to space limitation, I cannot discuss all the findings and issues identified by the survey team. However, I would like to highlight some major policy recommendations, which I think are still relevant to English language education policy reforms in Nepal.

First, the survey team clearly points out that there is no optimal age for learning a second/foreign language. Studies in second language learning show that adults can learn as good second or foreign language as, indeed better than, young children. Building on this research base and considering the low status of English, the survey team recommends to start English late—at Grade 8. Doing so, as the survey team recommends, helps the Ministry of Education invest more resources into three years of teaching English. Until 2003, English was taught from Grade 4. This means that the resources were spread over 7 years (Grade 4-10) in teaching English for school education. Most importantly, the survey team claims that “as much English is learned in 7 years by Grade 10 would be learned in 3 years (see Davies, Glendenning, & McLean, 1984, p. 6).

The survey findings show that starting English at Grade 4 resulted in students’ “repeated failure and loss of motivation to learn [English]. It also leads to a drain on English for school resources” (Davies et al., p. 6). The survey team contends that “extending the period of language learning may sound superficially sensible but in circumstances where so much of the teachers’ own English (and their teaching of English) is poor the problem would be compounded by three more years repeated failure” (Davies et al., 1984, p. 6). The survey team has clearly mentioned that lowering age for learning ESL/EFL is not a good idea to help all children achieve a better education.

English and nationalism

Professor Davies critically examines the space of English in education in the face of strong linguistic nationalism. When he was actively involved in research and teaching in Nepal, the national education policies and practices were guided Nepali-only policy for the nation-building purpose. The teaching and learning of language other than Nepali was discouraged. However, English was still taught and used as a medium of instruction in a British ‘aided’ public school and a Jesuit school. Moreover, rich families sent their children to different parts of India for English education.

While Nepali medium policy was promoted by the state in the guise of nationalism, English medium education was still available for high-middle class elites. Professor Davies is critical about the social divide implicated in the contemporary Nepali-English divide (see Davies, 1970, Davies et al., 1984). Critically analyzing the data that show a huge gap in English language of students and teachers from a British ‘aided’ English medium school in Kathmandu and the public schools outside Kathmandu (see Davies et al., 1984), Professor Davies contends that aid agencies should pay attention to what works best for the majority, especially for the poor, not just for the benefit of a few elites. To address this issue, Professor Davies have suggested that it is better to provide school level education in Nepali, a common national language, and focus on teaching English as a ‘specialist subject’ from the intermediate level.

However, the recommendations of the survey team did not receive any attention in educational policies. The English craze never went away. Professor Davies reflects on the ELT survey data in his 2009 paper in which he strongly argues that Nepal’s English language policy is not shaped by educational motive, but by political motive. In other words, learning English does not actually mean to develop English language proficiency, not even to participate in the process of learning it in many contexts. As Professor Davies argues, lowering the age for teaching English in Nepal is highly shaped by the symbolic value (social prestige) attached to English due to the Nepali-English divide in education for the sake of nationalism.

Professor Davies’ contributions are informed by his critical awareness of Nepal’s contemporary sociolinguistic and sociopolitical situations. He consistently argues that ELT policy in Nepal should be grounded on second language research and focused on what is appropriate for all children.

Conclusion

Professor Davies’ contributions to Nepal are very special and his ideas provide significant insights into creation of an educationally-grounded, locally appropriate, and equitable ELT policy. In the context that English is already taught from Grade 1 and gradually becoming a de facto medium of instruction in public schools, Professor Davies’ contributions make even more sense. His contributions do not just tell the history of Nepal’s ELT, but suggest what the present and the future of Nepali ELT should be. While we are rushing to introduce English from the early grades, Professor Davies’ studies remind us to critically think about the following questions:

  1. Are the current policies and practices based on any educational research? What second language research studies inform them?
  2. Why is there a huge gap between the policy (desired expectations) and on-the-ground practices?
  3. What happens if we start teaching English after students develop strong literacy and academic skills in their first language, Nepali or bilingualism?
  4. Who benefit from and who are represented in the current policy?
  5. Do in-service English language teacher training programs actually help to improve the early English policy?
  6. If studies on second language learning show no significant role of age in learning a second or a foreign language, why should we rush to introduce English from the early grades?
  7. Does the current English medium of instruction policy in the early grades support students to achieve the national and curricular goals of each subject (e.g. Science, Social Studies, Mathematics) as specified by the government? Does this policy promote interactive and critical pedagogies?

These questions do not have definitive answers; however, they are important to consider in creation, implementation, and evaluation of ELT policy. Answering these questions require us to engage in the exploration of the locally-situated ELT issues and academically grounded debates that focus on both theories and pedagogies of equitable ELT policy. Teacher development, material writing, assessment, and classroom pedagogies all should have an educational base. Our engagement to answer above questions actually pays a true tribute to Professor Alan Davies from the community of Nepali ELT practitioners and applied linguists.

The author: Prem Phyak is currently a PhD candidate at department of second language studies, University of Hawaii in the USA.

References 

Davies, A. (1970). The pedigree of nations. Ramjham, 6(3), 26-33.

Davies, A. (1997). Introduction: The limits of ethics in language testing.Language Testing14(3), 235-241.

Davies, A. (2003). Three heresies of language testing research. Language Testing20(4), 355-368.

Davies, A. (2004). The native speaker in applied linguistics. In A. Davies, & C. Elder (eds.), The handbook of applied linguistics (pp.431-450). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Davies, A. (2007). An introduction to applied linguistics: From practice to theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Davies, A. (2008). Assessing academic English: Testing English proficiency 1950-89—The IELTSsolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, A. (2009). Professional advice vs political imperatives. In J. C. Alderson (Ed.), The Politicsof language education: Individuals and institutions (pp. 45–63). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Davies, A. (2013). Native speakers and native users: Loss and gain. Cambridge: Cambridge \ University Press.

Davies, A., Glendenning, E., & McLean, A. (1984). Survey of English language teaching in Nepal. Report presented to the His Majesty’s Government Ministry of Education and Culture,Kathmandu.

Malla, K. P. (1976). English language teaching in Tribhuvan University. Vasudha,16 (1), 1-19.

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.

Why English-only ideology and practice

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Bal Krishna Sharma

It is often assumed that a target language can be best taught in the target language. This assumption basically developed from the Direct Method, which emphasized that translation and use of the learners’ language is detrimental to the learning of the target language. This ideology influenced the succeeding methodologies in the field of English language teaching and teaching of other second languages. In the audio-lingual method also, teaching and use of the learners’ first language was considered a detrimental factor in the success of language learning. This ideology and practice is best suited in contexts where learners are almost fully competent in the target language. However, this case is very rare because if the learners are already competent in the target language, why should they bother to sit in the second language classroom? Learning in the second language, for example in English, may provide more exposure to the learners since they may be able to receive more hours of English. However, lack of adequate proficiency in that language is likely to severely affect their general learning as well as their learning of content subjects such as mathematics and social studies. When the learners do not grasp what the teacher is teaching in the classroom, she does not only abstain from important information being taught, she also feels left out, excluded and discriminated. Research literature from around the world shows evidence for that.

The concern regarding the use of English as a medium of instruction has drawn a considerable attention from both teachers and policy makers in the context of Nepal. While the “English-medium” private schools have long been bragging the English-only policy and practice in their schools, teachers have always been agentive in resisting this ideology, making varied use of learner’s language. I was an English teacher in a private school in Chitwan for about five years from 1996-2001, and while teaching English, I consciously made use of Nepali in various degrees. Teaching English, only in English benefitted only those who had developed a considerable degree of proficiency in English; those with little knowledge of English suffered a lot.

Translingual pedagogy: some cases

The concern regarding the benefits and drawbacks of English-only policy is not a Nepal-specific issue. In order to address the complexities of bilingual and multilingual schools and societies, researchers and teachers have recently shown an increased interest in using a translingual pedagogy. Translingual pedagogy or translingualism largely refers to a conscious and dynamic use of two or more languages in a language classroom. In such contexts, the teacher is competent in using both languages. Professor Ofelia Garcia is well known for elaborating this concept in bilingual classrooms in the US. In a thought-provoking post that she wrote a while ago for Choutari, she mentions:

Translanguaging in education can be defined as a process by which students and teachers engage in complex discursive practices that include ALL the language practices of students in order to develop new language practices and sustain old ones, communicate and appropriate knowledge, and give voice to new sociopolitical realities by interrogating linguistic inequality (Garcia, 2013, https://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/translanguaging-to-teach-english-in-nepal/).

Two other researchers, Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese, from the UK have also shown compelling evidence of using two languages concurrently in a second language classroom. They write:

We also find examples of the need for both languages, for the drawing across languages, for the additional value and resource that bilingualism brings to identity performance, lesson accomplishment, and participant confidence (Creese and Blackledge, 2010: 112).

Such evidences suggest that learners benefit largely by being taught in two languages.

Translingual practices in an ESP classroom

I have long been interested in the use of English in non-formal and informal educational contexts in Nepal. One of my previous studies investigated how learners of English in Nepal navigate information technologies such as Facebook in order to enact and practice their bilingual identities. Recently, I have been researching on the teaching, learning and use of English and other foreign languages in Nepal’s tourism industry. As a case in point, Travellers’ World (pseudonym) in Thamel, Kathmandu, offers English courses for porters and trekking guides two times a year – in monsoon and in winter- each lasting for about a month. I was in the monsoon class for a month in 2013, observing the class, taking notes, recording classroom interactions and interviewing the teachers and the students. As a noticeable finding relevant to the present essay, I here provide two examples which at times show contradictory practices.

Point 1: Travellers’ World has a policy to hire “native” English speaking volunteer tourists who tend to be from English speaking countries such as Australia, the UK and the US. I was in a class taught by a volunteer teacher from the UK. She hardly spoke any Nepali. The students, as you might guess, had only basic language and literacy schools, and their English competence was notably poor. Here, I reproduce my observation notes and a piece of classroom dialogue below.

The teacher was teaching how to write a CV. She first briefly explained what CV is and what it is used for. She wrote Curriculum Vitae on the board and asked the students if they knew it before. A few nodded. One student mentioned that CV means bio-data. The teacher acknowledged the student’s response and distributed a one-page handout that contained a template for writing a CV. She then divided the class into three groups. The students seemed confused, looking at each other and at the teacher, speaking unclearly in Nepali. The following interaction occurred meantime:

T: What are you writing in your CV? (addressing to one a student)

S: (pause) I am writing…

T: Okay. You need to write your education background.

S: (pause)

T: You can write about a famous person. Write about a famous person’s CV.

S: Okay.

T: Oh yeah. Write Barack Obama’s CV for the presidential post? For example you are Barack Obama and you want to apply for the post of President. How do you like the idea?

S: Good good. (laughs)

(pause for a while)

T: What about you (to another student). (pause) Do you like sports?

S: Oh, I write David Beckham. I like football.

Most of the students did not have their education beyond the School Leaving Certificate (SLC, equivalent to Grade 10). Some of them were school dropouts, who did not continue their formal education after grade 5. At first, writing a CV that asked for their university education obviously created a problem for them. Rather than helping students to prepare a CV that included their own information, the teacher assigned a more daunting task of writing the American President’s CV. Another student perhaps thought only the famous people in the world have their CVs and he proposed writing a famous British soccer player’s CV. CV for them meant biography. The students encountered more problems later when they had to write their previous work experience for the posts they were supposed to be applying for. Second, because the students could not grasp the teacher’s English, they could hardly make sense of what she was saying. Since the teacher did not speak any Nepali, there was no way that the students ask her to translate words or explain the meaning of the English words in the language they could understand. Even if she explained them the meaning, it was in English, which often lead the students to more challenging cognitive tasks. Often, students would look at each other talking with their eyes or gestures. Their silent talks were in Nepali, and they apparently were looking for meanings and definitions in Nepali. Those who were sitting by me would ask me ‘Nepalima ke bhnacha, sir?’ (What do you say in Nepali, sir?). I would happily volunteer to help them out by telling them in their language. At the same time, however, I feared that teacher would not like my intervention since I was permitted only to “observe” her class, not to make any interventions. Had the teacher known some level of Nepali, the students would have benefitted significantly. My point of giving the example above is that both the students and the teacher should be able to understand each other and the task being implemented in the classroom. There were problems with English-only instruction: students were lost and often solicited my responses.

Point 2: Students’ practices were reasonably translingual. Their conversations among themselves were in Nepali. They tried to speak to the teacher in English, but at times would insert Nepali words (which, as you know, did not make sense to the teacher). Their class notes reflected their translingual competence. Given below is an example of class notes by one of the students named Chhatra.

Image text

Chhatra’s note was produced during a group work. The students were asked to report their activities in the past simple tense. Chhatra took notes using the past tense before he reported his activities to his group members and to the teacher. His notes show the characteristics of what they recognize as broken English. Chhatra told me that his writing represents English words as he hears them. First few lines are in Nepali with occasional translation into English and vice versa. His literacy skill in Nepali also shows characteristics that do not conform to the standard Nepali writing. For example, the word उभएचा (ubhaecha) in the second line should be उभएचर (ubhaechar) in standard Nepali, and the word डेफे (defe) in the third line should be डाँफे (danphe) if we follow the standard writing system in Nepali. Similarly, Chattra’s English writing shows orthographic peculiarities in its use: he uses ‘treek’ for ‘trek’, ‘languse’ for ‘language’, ‘contuse’ for ‘continuous’, ‘averyd’ for ‘everyday’, ‘staday’ for ‘Saturday’ and ‘vigited’ for ‘visited’.

To take the point further, Chhatra shows his complex translingual skills. Although the language of instruction of his class is English-only, he appropriates that with his “non-standard” English skills, combined with various degrees of proficiency in Nepali. This shows that students look for and benefit from combining varied linguistic and literacy resources at their disposal.

Final words

Societies are being more multilingual today. Students come from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. If teachers can wisely use bilingual resources, students will benefit more. Teachers in Nepal have been doing this although schools may have various policies regarding the use of English in classrooms. To conclude, while it at first seems that students get more exposure of learning if they get more hours of English talk in their class (in ideal cases where all students equally understand English and the concepts being taught in that language), systematic and dynamic use of English and Nepali (or another local language) will have more positive learning experiences and outcomes.

Works Cited

Creese, A. and Blackledge, A. 2010. Translanguaging in the Bilingual Classroom: A Pedagogy for Learning and Teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94, 102-115.

Garcia, O. 2013. Translanguaging to teach English in Nepal. Retrieved on July 23, 2015 from https://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/translanguaging-to-teach-english-in-nepal/

The author, a founder of ELT Choutari, is a Ph. D. scholar at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA.

English Medium Instruction (EMI) in Nepalese Education:Potential or Problem?

Can be cited as: 
Sah, P.K. (2015, August). English medium instruction (EMI) in Nepalese education: potential or problem? [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Retrieved from<http://eltchoutari.com/2015/08/english-medium-instruction-emi-in-nepalese-educationpotential-or-problem/>.

Introduction

Pramod Kumar Sah

Pramod Kumar Sah

Many non-native English speaking countries have taken on English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) owing to the growing need for developing communicative competence in English that may fulfill  the increasing demand for English language in order for socioeconomic and sociopolitical development . The rise of English as a global lingua franca seems to be further forcing non-native speakers to learn English and many countries are trying to drastically overhaul their education system in favour of English in order to meet the challenge of global integration.  The rapid change to EMI in developing countries, for example Ghana and Rwanda, unprepared for such a vast change is causing havoc in some educational systems.  EMI, therefore, has become a much-hyped issue today and it attracts a wide range of studies globally.

Nepal, one of the developing countries, that has not yet been able to sustain a single educational policy with full effects is now implementing EMI education in public schools.  The decision of introducing this huge change is made with no proper plans; however, some mere studies are on track. It has been evident that some countries, such as Ghana, Turkey and Rwanda, have failed to continue EMI education because of the lack of educational infrastructure, teachers’ proficiency in English, proper teacher education programmes, and in-service professional development (Tylor, 2010). If we have a close look at the present Nepalese situations, the Ministry of Education (MOE) does not seem to be well prepared to meet the basic requirements for the successful implementation of EMI. Questions would thereby arise as to why the MOE has opted for EMI education over Mother-tongue based multilingual education.

EMI policy has also benefited many contexts, namely India, Pakistan and Spain, with suitable outcomes. They, however, used appropriate plans and principles (Marsh, 2006). Some countries initially failed to receive the set objectives and further developed plans that could lead to a successful implementation of EMI education. One of such contexts is a Ghanaian context where they introduced ‘bilingual transitional literacy programme’ and ‘Bridge to English’ in order to build up suitable situations for the implementation of EMI education.

EMI is therefore an interesting topic to discuss and is consequently receiving a huge attention from language policy researchers.  This article draws on global issues in terms of the adaptation of EMI education. It also attempts to discuss whether EMI is a radical need for Nepalese education, or it may pose further problems. The issues related to possible effects of EMI in Nepalese public schools are further accounted for with some recommendations for a successful execution of EMI.

Do we need EMI education?

The switch to English medium education is a subject of considerable debate internationally because it impacts the acquisition of young people’s national language and the future development of the national language itself. Nepal is a home of 123 indigenous languages, and unfortunately a large number of these languages are dying. It was 1990 when the constitution outlined the provision for mother-tongue education in primary level, following of which Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) produced textbooks in 18 different local languages. This had showed some possibilities for promoting local languages and creating more opportunities for cognitive development in children through L1, on the other hand. There is evidence that some countries rejected EMI policy in order to protect home language such as Bangladesh, Israel, Senegal and Venezuela (Dearden, 2014). Moreover, SLA studies show that learners benefit from using their home language in education especially in early grade years. Thus, would it be advisable to protect home languages and ensure children’s effective learning through L1 instruction? Multilingual education, in addition, was launched in 2007 and studies claimed it to be effective in terms of language and content learning. However, with the termination of Finnish Government’s technical assistance, the programme could not sustain. This thereby questions why the concerned authority did not choose to continue multilingual education with their own sources of funding and resources rather than seeking to implement new programmes, namely EMI.

The MOE is implementing EMI policy to ensure quality education in public schools and increase the number of students by considering Nepalese parents’ perception of having of their children’s better future. Sultan (2012) drew on national examinations in Indonesia that children from English medium schools outperformed, which can also reflect Nepalese situation, and they proactively involved in learning English. Paulsrud (2014), in the similar vein, revealed from a Swedish context that the EMI learners were more motivated and confident academically. It is a common perception among Nepalese people that children will have better future prospects if they have English medium schooling (Aryal, 2013). A similar context was also realized in Pakistan (Khan, 2013). There is no doubt that EMI is associated with socio-economic realities that English is largely needed for global employment and higher studies. The need for English can thereby not be ignored; however, questions arise whether English medium education enhances quality education and performs a pathway out of poverty in developing countries like Nepal.

Wagle (2015) argues that if about 150 Nepali medium schools could outperform in School Leaving Examination (SLC), the medium of instruction may not be responsible for poor quality education in public schools.  The MOE can advisably look at other aspects such as quality teachers, teaching materials and resources, curriculum and syllabus, and school management.

There may not be much harm to go for EMI education provided that the MOE can ensure the availability of qualified and proficient English speaking teachers, in-service professional development courses, teaching materials and resources, technical support to schools, and proper plans and principles. If teachers do not have high level proficiency in English and a lack of suitable materials, general education can be detrimentally affected. Poor educational quality will adversely affect all national indicators including health, social wellbeing and economic performance. Such a scenario would be a tragedy in Nepal, one of the developing countries in the world, and suffering the after effects of a catastrophic earthquake. It can hence be suggested to teach English merely as a subject rather than implementing a bad EMI.

What if EMI is preferred?

The implementation of EMI education can be welcomed if the MOE intends to bridge the gap between private and public schools in terms of ensuring quality education and addressing the perception that English is needed for better future prospects.  This may increase the number of students in public schools and provide with an opportunity for children from lower economic status to be educated in English medium- so called a ‘standard education’.  However, it is primarily important for the MOE to develop plans for successful implementation of EMI.  It is equally necessary for them to identify the conditions that can lead to success. The attention of the MOE, concerned teachers and institutions should be drawn to the following issues:

  • Inquiry from the existing EMI situations

Before EMI is executed in schools, there requires inquiries to be focused on collecting information on different facets of EMI, for example  potential challenges, effects , attitudes  towards EMI, from the schools that have already adopted EMI.  The information can be from the policy level to implementation level.

  • Programmes in conjunction to EMI

The unplanned change in educational policy is likely to receive a number of unforeseen problems, and it may lead to failure. It is thus necessary to develop small scale programmes in relation to EMI. For example, a ‘Bridge to English’ programme can be developed that would help learners and teachers enhance the communicative competence in English. A type of complementary education programmes can be taken on in order to boost EMI education.

  • Teachers’ proficiency in English:

It is, by no means, a good idea to implement EMI unless the teachers are competent users of English language since exposing children to erroneous form of English would develop inaccurate and inappropriate English language proficiency. This would even develop frustration among children that they do not understand the medium of instruction, and eventually do not stay in schools (Cummings, 2009). This is, however, going to be a huge challenge for the MOE to ensure all the teachers have the level of competence in English language. To meet this challenge, the MOE has started intensive training for teachers from primary schools across the county (Kantipur, 2015). It is aimed that the teachers will be provided with ten-day training for all subjects, and one month training for general English. This seems to me near to impossible to develop English language proficiency and content teaching skills with these short periods of trainings. There would also be questions in the quality and ability of teacher trainers. It is suspected whether the MOE has teacher trainers who are experienced with EMI teaching principles and practices, or they are the means to read out handouts developed in other contexts. Primarily, it is of high importance to develop a set of well qualified teacher trainers, who have native level of proficiency in English language. It would also be unwise if they are recruited without a formal certification in the domain and a level of scores in English language proficiency tests such as IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE.

  • Developing appropriate instruction materials

Availability of appropriate teaching resources further plays a determining role whether EMI would be successfully implemented. Tamtom et al (2012), in a comparative study of the implementation of EMI, found the lack of appropriate instructional materials as a prominent barrier to the success of EMI in almost all contexts. Hence, the concerned authority needs to develop instructional materials for both learners and teachers keeping the unique Nepalese context in loop. This may have concern about the variety of English that the curriculum is based on, and whether it would be a partial or total immersion into EMI. By the variety of English, I refer to the issue of World Englishes- whether the curriculum focuses on a local variety or inner circle variety. Moreover, a decision needs to be made over the type of EMI immersion it required to be used in curriculum.

Can we also think of ‘translanguaging’ and ‘plurilingual’?

 Translanguaging is an approach to bilingual education that facilitates accessing different linguistics features of autonomous languages in order to maximize communication competence. In other words, learners receive input in one language and produce output in other language. For example, a learner reads a story in English and summarizes it in Nepali. It is argued that it facilities a deeper understanding of the subjects taught since if a learner can understand contents in one language and discuses it in other language, it requires a deep metal mechanism.

In Nepalese context, we experience students from Nepali medium schools often face difficulties to express the content in English although they have good knowledge on the topic because they are exposed to two different individual languages rather than mixing the two languages in a single lesson. Recently I met an Indian lady who was taught in English from her primary level. She hardly got any opportunity to learn and mediate her knowledge in Hindi, her mother tongue. Consequently, she struggles to communicate in Hindi, and therefore faces challenges to communicate with her own people who share Hindi as a common language. Translanguaging therefore can be an effective approach to content teaching and learning in Nepalese context where learners can develop Nepali and English language concurrently. However, looking at the linguistic background of Nepalese classrooms, we can find students who already know two or more languages, for example Newari and Nepali, before they start receiving instruction in English. In addition, there is another group that has an L1 such as Bhojpuri, Maithali, Gurung and Awadhi, and Nepali as an L2 that they start learning in schools along with English as a third language. Literally, the majority of Nepalese classrooms are multilingual. In this case, I doubt whether translanguaging can a better option; this can a subject of further research. Nevertheless, ‘plurilingual’- a condition in which a learner who has competence in more than one languages can switch between the languages- can be another effective approach in Nepalese context as the majority of learners are bilinguals. This does not only help learners develop their overall learning but also preserves and promotes other indigenous languages.

Conclusion

With the increasing demand of English language for global integration, the choice of schooling children in English has been given a major priority in developing countries including Nepal. And, in fact, we cannot ignore the need for English as a global lingua franca. However, there are very limited success stories of EMI, and the successful countries evidently based the policy on appropriate educational principles. The ad hoc implementations are very likely to be counterproductive. The overall goal of EMI is to help children acquire English language that enable them to cope up with globalization. However, a concern remains as what if other languages will replace English in future, for example Mandarin (Chinese) or French, as China is growing as the most hegemonic country in global corporate world that is obliging even English people to learn Mandarin. Moreover, a total adaptation of EMI will keep children deprived of their local languages making them lost citizens of the word that they do not have linguistic identification. Therefore, would it not be a good idea to adopt or develop an educational policy that can account for developing English language and local languages simultaneously? Translanguaging and plurilingualism are one of the other options that Nepal can opt for instead of implementing EMI on an ad hoc.

References

Aryal, M. (2013) Nepal scores low on quality education. Global Issue. [blog] 09 July. Available at:  <http://www.globalissues.org/news/2013/07/09/17013> [Accessed 22 February 2015].

Cummins, J. (2009) Transformative multiliteracies pedagogy: School-based strategies for closing the achievement gap. Multiple Voices, 11(2), pp. 1-19.

Dearden, J. (2014) English as a medium of instruction- a growing global phenomenon, Department of Education, University of Oxford.

Kantipur, (2015) Government plans teacher training for English medium classes, ekantipur.com, [online] 30 Jan. Available at: <http://www.ekantipur.com/2015/01/30/national/govt-plans-teacher-training-for-english-medium-classes/401034.html> [Accessed 16 February 2015].

Khan, H. I. (2013) An investigation of two universities’ postgraduate students and their teachers’ perceptions of policy and practice of English medium of instruction in Pakistan universities. Unpublished thesis PhD, The University of Glasgow.

Marsh, D. (2006) English as medium of instruction in the new global linguistic order: Global characteristics, local consequence, METSMaC,  2006

Paulsrud, B. Y. (2014) English medium instruction in Sweden: Perspectives and practices in two upper secondary schools. Stockholm: Stockholm University

Sultan, S. (2012) ACTA International TESOL Conference, Victoria University. Available at:<http://www.tesol.org.au/files/files/224_Sultan_ACTA_TESOL_CONF_2012.pdf > [Accessed 19 February 2015].

Tamtam, A. G., Gallagher, F., Olabi, A.G., and Naher, S. (2012) A comparative study of the implementation of EMI in Europe, Asia and Africa, ELSEVIER, 27 (2012), pp. 1417-1425.

Taylor, S. K. (2010) MLE policy and practice in Nepal: identifying the glitches and making it work. In K. Heugh, & T. Skutnabb-Kangas (Eds.), Multilingual education works: From the periphery to the centre (pp. 204-223). New Delhi: Orient Black Swan.

Wagle, M. P. (2015) Incorrect English or correct Nepali?, Kantipur, [online]. Available at:  <http://www.ekantipur.com/np/2070/10/22/full-story/383691.html#sthash.ys92vFIZ.gbpl> [Accessed 12 February 2015]. 


The author is one of the editors of ELT Choutari. He holds an MA TESOL with Applied Linguistics from the University of Central Lancashire, UK and M. Ed ELT from Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

Ditch it: SLC Exams

central ideaShyam Sharma

I now teach at a prestigious university within the largest and one of the best American public university systems, the State University of New York.

But twenty-four years ago, when I first appeared the SLC, I failed.

Now, I am not about to tell you a wonderful story. Sorry, there are more stories of suicide than of success in this regard. I am instead telling my story, for the first time beyond my family, in order to make a very broad point about the SLC exam and our society. Continue reading »

Testing the Testing System of Nepal: An Interactive Article

Choutari Editors

Testing is inevitable although not desirable. It is necessary in order to keep the track of overall progress of language teaching programme. Debates have been going on for and against the testing. However, the important point to note here is that it is the faulty process of testing that is being criticized not the concept of testing itself. In fact, such criticism is necessary as it can help improve the system. The sphere of language testing in Nepal is also not free from criticism. Therefore, we decided to test the testing system of Nepal in this interactive article. We have attempted to explore the existing problems in the field of language testing and possible solutions to them after an interaction with experts and readers. We believe such interactive can play a significant role to reform the system. A thematic question was asked to language experts as well as Choutari readers. The question was ‘What is a major problem in language testing system of Nepal and what can be the solution to it?’ Among the responses collected, we have presented the opinions of eight respondents here:

Shyam Sharma:
There are many problems with current language testing regime (as well as some good things). One issue that’s come up in our conversations is how testing practices typically ignore multilingual competencies. At first, this may seem like an impossible ideal, but if you look deeper, the question becomes why not. Ours is a multilingual society and students’ language proficiencies are not isolated; their English is a part of a complex sociolinguistic tapestry; their other languages don’t “hamper” English; languages aren’t just mediums but rich epistemological resources; and, humans have always spoken multiple languages without seeking a monolingual standard. So, when we face the task of teaching and testing students’ English abilities in isolation, we shouldn’t act like helpless slaves of the system; when discussing the roots and stems and branches and bitter fruits of the current regimes, there’s no need to surrender to the “reality.” The reality includes politics, power, and possibilities beyond their grips, and thus, we must broaden the base of our discussions so we can see testing as a broader phenomenon than, well, testing. Scholarly conversations under the tree here can and should help the community rethink the fundamentals.

Shyam Sharma is an Assistant Professor in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University (State University of New York)

Prem Phyak:
I call it an ‘issue’ rather than a ‘problem’; why do we still ‘test’ monolingual ability (although our students have bi-/multilingual ability)? Another issue embedded within this issue is: How can we test students’ multilingual ability? First, we must be clear that ‘testing’ is not a ‘fixing-shop’ where you can fix a ‘problem’ rather it is a complex discipline which needs a critical scrutiny from multiple perspectives for a valid evaluation of students’ ability. Our assumption that ‘language testing’ should only test ‘monolingual ability’, meaning that multilingual testing is impossible, is the major challenge for reforms in language testing. This dominant assumption decontextualizes language testing from students’ cultural, linguistic and educational contexts. So, the major issue is: our tests are not context-sensitive. For example, I still remember that we were often asked to write an essay in SLC (School Leaving Certificate) exam about different highways in Nepal but I had never seen any highways (when I was in school). We were asked to memorize their lengths, construction dates and so on. I could not even conceptualize what a ‘highway’ was. However, I could write more and better when I had to write about ‘my village’ or ‘my school’.

The issue of contextualization is closely associated with testing multilingual abilities; locally-contextualized test items require students to work with their abilities in more than one language. For example, when I had to write an essay about my village I used to think in Limbu, Nepali and English. I (and my friends) could not think about the topic in only one language – no separation of languages! But the tests did not allow me to use my Limbu and Nepali abilities while writing essays in English. This is the major issue, right? If language tests are meant to test ‘language ability’, why don’t we test students’ functional abilities in multiple languages? This applies to Nepali language tests as well. For example, when students speak Nepali they simultaneously use English as well (and/or other local languages if their first language is other than Nepali); one cannot create the fixed boundary of a language. Suppose a bilingual student writes “आजको class मा कस्तो frustrate भएको…” (I had frustration in today’s class) for her Nepali essay (it can be more complex than this in the case of Maithili and Newari children, for example), how do we evaluate her Nepali language ability? The first reaction could be ‘असुद्द” (incorrect –literally impure). However, she is expressing her views fluently by using both Nepali and English in her repertoire. She cannot separate one language from another. This means that monolingual tests do not test students’ bilingual or multilingual abilities. Unfortunately, the students who show their bi-/multilingual abilities in language tests are considered ‘deficient’ and ‘poor’. However, the above example represents the use of language in the real-life (authentic) context.

There are ways to test multilingual abilities. For example, an inquiry-based formative assessment, which engages students in doing research and working with teachers to receive qualitative feedback on their work, can be one way to help them fully utilize their multilingual abilities. Such assessments encourage students to translanguage (use multiple languages to perform different tasks) to achieve the goals as specified by the test criteria. However, any kind of so-called ‘standardized test’, which are guided by the monolingual assumption, cannot test bi-/multilingual abilities. We should say a big ‘NO’ to the standardized tests if we truly believe in developing equitable language testing.

Prem Phyak is an MA (TESOL), Institute of Education, University of London, UK, M.Ed., Tribhuvan University, Nepal

Tirth Raj Khaniya:
Lack of professionalism is the main problem of English Language Testing in the context of Nepal. Professionalism is known as ability of applying fairness, ethics and standards in exam related issues. While dealing with exam related matters we need to be fair. We assume that we are professional but in reality we are not professional thus the test is not testing what it is supposed to test.
In language testing for teachers’ to be professional they require both necessary skills and abilities and application of those skills and abilities in a proper manner. To maintain professionalism it is necessary to have wide discussion among teachers and therefore all those who are involved in exams will have clear understanding.

Tirth Raj Khaniya has a Ph. D. in Language Testing from University of Edinburgh, UK. Currently, a Professor of English Education, he teaches language testing in the Department of English Education, TU.

Ganga Ram Gautam:
The main problem of language testing in Nepal is that the test itself is faulty. It does not test the language skills but test the memory of the text materials given in the textbook. There are also other several problems that include the issues with the test writers, test item construction, test administration and validation of the tests.

One solution of this problem could be to develop standardized tests and administer them in the various key stages such as primary level, lower secondary level and secondary level. In order to do this, we need to train a team of experts to develop the test and the test should be standardized by going through the reliability and validity testing. Once the tests are developed, they should be administered in a proper way so that the real language proficiency of the students can be obtained.

Ganga Ram Gautam is an Associate Professor at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University and former president of NELTA.

Laxman Gnawali:
There is no need to reiterate that the aim of the learning a foreign language is to be able to communicate in it. In order to find out whether English language learners in the Nepalese schools have developed communicative skills in this foreign language, there is a provision for the testing of listening and speaking at the SLC level. I feel that this test is not serving the purpose. The lowest marks students get in speaking is 10 out of 15, which is 66%. However, when we communicate with the SLC graduates (let alone who fail the examination), most of them perform very poorly. There are two reasons for this inflated marking: the speaking test includes predictable questions for which the responses can be rehearsed: personal introduction, picture description and one function-based question (which is repeated so often that students can prepare a limited set of responses and be ready of the test). Secondly, there is a kind of extreme leniency in the examiners; they just award marks irrespective of the quality if the responses.

Two interventions could improve the situation. Firstly, the examiners should be trained to ask very simple everyday realistic questions which students cannot respond without knowing the language. Secondly, each test should be video recorded so that inflated marks can be easily scrutinised. Administrative issues should not come in the way of quality testing which has far-reaching consequences.

Laxman Gnawali is an Associate Professor at Kathmandu University and Former Senior Vice President of NELTA

Laxmi Prasad Ojha:
I think we are giving too much priority to examinations and tests in our education system. We do not understand the purpose of testing and evaluation. We don’t test the comprehension and understanding of students. This is the main cause of the failure of our education system in many cases, including the language teaching programmes.

Uttam Gaulee:
I think “formative” should be the key word here. Laxmi ji, pointed out an important bottleneck we have experienced due to lack of purpose of testing and evaluation. If we think of a typical Nepali school, we do give more importance on summative tests than the formative ones. What we seriously lack (and that’s why we have a tremendous opportunity to work on) is systematic feedback for student.

Uttam Gaulee is Graduate Research Fellow, University of Florida College of Education, Gainesville, Florida

Bal Krishna Sharma:
Yeah, one way would be to introduce and practice more formative type of assessment. This will evaluate and test students’ ongoing progress and learning outcomes.

Ph.D. student, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Although the issue was one, the thematic question unbelievably raised so many genuine issues. The respondents highlighted the issue of testing multilingual competencies apart from only testing monolingual ability and also suggested some ideas on how to test students’ multilingual abilities. In the same way, the interaction raised the issue of lack of professionalism in language testing. Similarly, the respondents also urged that our memory-driven testing system itself is faulty. Furthermore, there is problem in test construction and administration and suggestion is put forward to develop and practise standarized tests to minimize the problems. In relation to the problem in testing listening and speaking in SLC exam, it emphasized that the test items are predictable and examiners are lenient and award marks irrespective of quality. The solution proposed is to train the examiners properly and introduce the system of video recording students’ performance. On the other hand, overemphasizing exams and not testing what it should test is characterized as a problem. The solution discussed over such problem is to give more importance to formative test rather than summative test, which helps keep the track of students’ achievement.

Now the floor is open for you. Share what you think is the problem of testing system in our context and what can be the solution. We believe such interaction contributes in the development of innovative ideas in ELT.

Classroom Assessment: A New Era in Language Testing or An Additional exercise?

Presented By: Ashok Raj Khati and Manita Karki

Language testing cannot be separated from the changing understanding of the nature of language, language abilities, and language teaching and learning. Accordingly, what is to be tested in language teaching has drastically been changing in recent times as a result of changes in what is to be taught. In this regard, we have entered a new era in language testing, which is classroom assessment also termed as performance assessment.

In recent years, there has been a growing discussion on whether classroom testing should replace other tests. In this essay, we suggest that it should work as a supplement to paper and pencil tests. The method may not be capable of replacing established methods of testing but there are a number of benefits that make classroom-based language testing more genuine and better attuned to effective language teaching and learning by today’s standards.

Let us begin with the central role of teacher in classroom assessment through this real story.

In an award giving ceremony to School Leaving Certificate (SLC) graduates, a teacher stepped forward and asked a particular student whom he had taught for years, “How did you get the first division, you deserve the second division.” Though the student passed SLC and got certificate of the first division, the teacher remarked so confidently that he should not have got first division.

It indicates the fact that teacher spend long time with his/her students and are able to evaluate them more or less rightly. In many countries, a teacher is the authority. If a student is unable to sit in the final examination because of certain reasons; the teacher has a right to recommend grades or percentages to examination board based on the students’ internal/classroom assessment and the board accepts it. Doing that makes teacher fair and ethical. However, there are many other contexts where teachers have not gained this sort of credibility. The point is it is the teacher who can best judge his or her students and it the classroom tests which allows teachers to do so. Therefore, classroom assessment is accepted as being close to what we are struggling for a long time.

Secondly, in most of the cases, we make a machine type of judgement when we test students through paper and pencil beyond the class but it is a human mind or brain that is involved in making judgement on classroom assessment. It used to be believed that everything can be tested by using a paper and pencil test but now people have started asking how? There are things that we want to test which cannot be tested by paper and pencil based test. The answer to this question is classroom testing. There are so many things that we can do in classroom which cannot be done through a paper and pencil test. We cannot test all types of abilities and skills by paper and pencil test because of expertise, time, and other limitations, but classroom assessment is genuine and it is worth implementing.

Class room assessment or performance assessment is genuine because one cannot test people’s actual language ability while they are not actually performing an act by using it. It is the classroom that allows learners to perform. In this regard, classroom assessment captures genuineness. Many scholars have realized that paper and pencil test, whether it is based on communicative approach or something else, cannot authentically test students’ performance. Especially a large-scale test cannot be a performance based test. There were classroom tests after 2010 but those tests were used for internal assessment. Classroom tests are different, they are bound to be different and they are of different designs.

Classroom assessment is collaborative in nature. When students obtains marks in board examination, one common thing they cannot figure out is on what basis was their answers marked and consequently, they think they are given less and what they deserve. However, in classroom assessment, teacher works with students before, during, and after the assessment. The present of students makes teacher cautious and transparent. Thus, the teacher makes judgement of the students in a collaborative manner. Further, teachers can also assess students’ performance by assigning group work that makes classroom testing different from large-scale assessment. That adds one more dimension to collaboration.

The best thing about classroom testing is that it is learning focused. As a result, it has positive wash back. It mainly focuses process and less product. Teachers get enough opportunities to observe the different learning processes of their students in classroom assessment. By contrast, paper and pencil test may not be able to create situations and offer adequate opportunities to demonstrate different abilities and skills, and perform certain tasks on the part of students. It is more product-oriented. It is only classroom test that can make learners perform tasks while being tested.

In the same way, classroom assessment is a social phenomenon. The classroom is a society. A school is run for teaching and learning but at the same time, we mange it in a way that that would be the representation of the society. Thus, the classroom assessment is a social phenomenon where we promote classroom assessment and students learn and practise performance based activities, which they will continue to practise outside the classroom.

In terms of creativity, classroom testing is not an entirely new approach because in some way prior approaches also tried to capture what this approach tries to do. A good example of this is how Bloom’s Taxonomy captured a range of simple to complex competencies. It is very difficult to capture the psychological processing of learners in many occasions. We have to be tentative to assess it. Testing cannot be a science; it is different from many other activities. The focus of language testing is: what is the content of the language, where is it, how do we get hold of it? Scholars who are advocating for communicative testing have now realized that what they were trying to accomplish with it is something different. Icons of language testing has different views on communicative testing. Some say that it is not necessary to test communicative abilities through communicative approach. After 2010, testing has moved into assessment, assessment has moved into performance, and testing tends to be always indirect unless one asks students to perform certain tasks. It is not the test that test; it is the tasks that test. It may be hard to determine whether or not classroom testing can entirely replace communicative testing. However, classroom-based testing can be a focus of testing because it is very close to reality since teachers will be asking students those tasks in the classroom which they are supposed to do outside the classroom in their real lives.

While talking about classroom-based testing communicative testing, there may arise a question of construct. The construct is the basic characteristics of activities of an event, the psychological and the philosophical aspects of skills and abilities, and the quality of the content. The construct in communicative language testing may be assessed in an indirect way by bringing language performance into the classroom and assessing it. The concept of communicative language teaching and testing in a real sense has been changing. Henry Widdowson, one of the prominent scholars in the field of Applied Linguistics, wrote a book in 1979, “Teaching English as Communication”. Once in 2000, he said that he if he were to revisit that book, he would call it “Teaching English for Communication”. He realized that it is not possible to teach English as communication. He was excited to talk about communication in 1980s but later he found that it was not easy to capture communicative activities and bring them into the classroom and make it happen. In some ways, it has to be indirect, less communicative and difficult to bring communication in the classroom.

In a way, the philosophy behind the communicative language teaching (CLT) is the continuity of what we have been doing for the last 70 years. Somehow, CLT is also based on a paper and pencil test. At the end of the day, teachers give test to students to perform where they may not authentically perform language use. Based on the change from CLT to language teaching and testing, teachers and scholars began to realize that classroom assessment should be an additional learning exercise. Therefore, a genuine assessment must be a performance assessment and an inherent part of the whole process and that is the next era of language testing. It does not mean that communicative language testing has nothing to do with language teaching and testing in the days to come. We are still using 1960s’ multiple choice items. All previous methods of language testing have made lots of contributions to language testing but we are moving toward something new. Communicative approach in testing will also continue because it has strengths and potentialities but at the same time, the thrust of classroom assessment needs to lead classroom teaching and learning activities.
In sum, classroom assessment is an important approach to language testing. It appears to be very close to what we have been trying to find out. It may take time to make a strong ground to be a prominent approach. So for now, classroom assessment is an additional option- not a replacement. It will contribute to make assessment more authentic and better attuned to current understanding of language learning. It will be a good instrument for us to improve teaching and testing in the classroom.

(The piece is based on a lecture delivered by Prof. Dr. Tirth Raj Khaniya at the School of Education, Kathmandu University)

Ashok Raj Khati

M. Phil
ELE,
Kathmandu University

Manita Karki

M. Phil
ELE,
Kathmandu University

 

Post-colonialism in Indian literature

Prakash C. Balikai

Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is clearly an agenda for total disorder. But it cannot be accomplished by the wave of a magic wand, a natural cataclysm, or a gentleman’s agreement. Decolonization, we know, is an historical process: In other words, it can only be understood, it can only find its significance and become self- coherent insofar as we can discern the history-making movement which gives it form and substance.

Decolonization is the encounter between two congenitally antagonistic forces that in fact owe their singularity to the kind of reification secreted and nurtured by the colonial situation, Their first confrontation was colored by violence and their cohabitation-or rather the exploitation of the colonized by the colonizer-continued at the point of the bayonet and under cannon fire. The colonist and the colonized are old acquaintances. And consequently, the colonist is right when he says he “knows” them. It is the colonist who fabricated and continues to fabricate the colonized subject. The colonist derives his validity, i.e., his wealth, from the colonial system.
– The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon

Fanon is the pioneer of postcolonial studies in the world. He is the first thinker to begin to realize the dire consequences of colonialism and again he is the first writer to register his strong opposition to various forms of colonialism. To overcome the trauma of colonialism and to challenge it, he thought, the process of decolonialization had to be initiated.

If the literature written during the hay day of imperialism to support the empire is called colonial literature, then, literature written after the empire ceased to exist to challenge the dominance of the empire on the so called colonized nations is called postcolonial literature. Postcolonialism is an umbrella term which is inclusive of all discourses that challenge the dominance of all kinds of hegemony in all walks of human life.  “Postcolonial scholars have pointed out that when two cultures sharing unequal power confront each other, the weaker culture seeks different alternatives to meet the situation. If imitation and internalization of the values of the dominant culture is one of the responses, to struggle to retain its identity by turning to its roots is another”. For instance, the seeds of British imperialism can be seen in Shakespeare and Marlowe who happen to be the two most significant British renaissance writers. It is Queen Elizabeth who gave the royal consent to the British Navy to sail across the European oceans and reach the far off places for the purpose of trade and commerce which eventually led to the establishment of the British colonies creating a new chapter in the history of British Raj. Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest, for his own political reasons, comes to an island for shelter for him as well as for his only daughter. He , in the course of time, acquires control over the original inhabitants of the island, considers them as savages, uncivilized brutes who need to be taught lessons in life and treats them as inferior forgetting the fact that he himself is an outsider and has come here to get shelter. He hates the culture, language and manners of the inhabitants living on the island and thinks that he has come here to redeem them from what he considers to be an uncivilized way of life. We hardly see any difference between what Prospero did on the island and what the British did when they annexed a large part of India. Similarly, we find no big difference between what the former British Imperialism did in their colonies and what the American neo-imperialism is doing now in some parts of the globe today.

One of the most exciting features of English literature today is the explosion of postcolonial literatures– literatures written in English in former colonised societies. This has given rise to a range of theoretical ideas, concepts, problems and debates, and these have been addressed in a range of articles, essays, talks and books. Here an attempt is made on to look at the postcolonial studies in Indian literature. It was a period which witnessed many changes in Indian society. The impact of Western education and industrial developments were led to radical changes in society. The writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankimchand Chatterjee, Sarat Chandra, Premchand, O. Chandumenon, Gulwadi Venkata Rao and many others from different parts of India wrote about the colonised India. They have addressed various developments and reforms in their works. People of that period including political leaders, nationalists, writers and the masses started to think in their own ways. However, colonialism became the centre of discussion for the people of all sections. In the early 19th century most of the writers focused more on social issues of the society. The social reformists played a significant role in changing the society. The social reformists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanada Sarswati, K.C. Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Annie Besant, Surendranth Banerjee and Jyotiba Phule have tried to give a new life to the decadent contemporary society and thought about the social problems of the society through their writings. The intellectuals of this period started spreading the message of progressive and rational ideas.

Indian society in the colonial period was very rigid and was beset with social evils like the Sati, widow-remarriage, the caste system and the social, religious as well as all kinds of hegemony. The primary aim of the writers of this period in most of the Indian vernaculars was to alert people of the consequences of these evils and also to bring awareness among them. For instance, in Malalyam, O. Chandumenon in his work Indhulekha (1889) takes “issue with the colonial characterization of Nair society and especially of Nair women.”2 “The modern education Indhulekha received gives her a necessary strength to shape up her own life. She is able to use the new education to help consolidate the strength of her own community in relation to the Nambuthiris.”3  In Kannada Gulvadi Venkatrao in his novel Indirabai (1899) presents the question of widowhood and supports widow remarriage in the transition period.  M.Vedanayakam Pillai in his collection of poems Penputtimalai (The Garland of Female Wisdom) emphasises the need for women education. Ishwar Gupta in Bengali and Dalapatram in Gujarati wrote poems about widow remarriage, women education and patriotism.4 The sati system, child marriage, marginalisation of women, widow-remarriage were in vogue during the period. The intellectual-reformists tried to uproot such evil practices from society and to translate their dreams into reality, they used theory writing as a tool to bring these issues to the notice of the people of their times.

In postcolonial writing a greater emphasis was put on the process of colonialization and attempt was made to record a strong resistance to the masters of the colonized societies besides insisting on contemporary realities of life. It deals with the literature written in colonized countries about the sufferings of the masses and also about the resistance of the people who were at the receiving end. Postcolonial writings can be considered as the historical marker of the period because it deals the literature which comes after decolonization.  Postcolonial writers engaged themselves in opening up the possibilities of a new language and a new way of looking towards the world. Their writings can be taken as a medium of resistance to the former colonizer. Their themes focus on the issues like identity, national and cultural heritage, hybridity, partition, contemporary reality, human relationships and emotions etc.

The rise of Indian English writing in postcolonial era was a significant development in Indian English literature. In the Indian context, postcolonial writing with its new themes and techniques makes its presence felt in the English-speaking world. Subaltern study is also a major sphere of current postcolonial practice. Gayatri Chakraborhy Spivak, Kancha Iliah, Ranjit Guha and others have focused on the subaltern issues in their works.  The literary works of the colonial nationalist period revolved around themes like marginalization, widowhood and widow remarriage. It was Bankim Chandra Chattopadyaya, who for the first time, sought to bring the national movement and patriotism in his novel Anandmath (1882). Later, it was followed by Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar, Sri Aurbindo, Rabindranath Tagore and others. Tagore’s Gora (1910) is also the product of the colonial period, which ultimately questions nationalism and the reader at the end of the novel wonders whether nationalism is an illusion or a reality.

The entire history of Indian English novel can broadly be divided into two periods—pre-independence novel and post-independence novel. The pre-independence period witnessed a slow growth of Indian English novel. It begins with the publication of Bankimchand Chatterjee’s Raj Mohan’s Wife in 1864. Most of the novelists of this period like Bankim Chandra Chattopadyaya, Rabindranath Tagore, and Raja Rao wrote mainly under the influence of Gandhism and nationalism. They exposed social evils, customs and traditions, rites and rituals, poverty and illiteracy, bonds and bondages in their novels on the one hand and on the other, they made their writings a powerful medium to highlight the east-west encounter and thereby to spread the nationalistic ideas of the great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi among the people. Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan and Raja Rao presented the radical social and national issues in their novels. The novels produced in the pre-independence period depicted the changing socio-political scene.

But a paradigm shift took place in the post-independence novels both in terms of content and style and novelists like Mulk Raj Anand wrote novels extensively dealing with social evils such as exploitation of the untouchable, the landless peasants, tea garden workers and the problems of industrial labour. The novels like Untouchable (1935), Coolie (1936) Two Leaves and A Bud (1937) and The Village (1939) are milestones in Anand’s journey of social reform. These novels concentrated on social reforms so much. The trend of presenting the social issues for the purpose of social reform got strengthened with the publication of G.V. Desai’s All About Hatter and Bhavani Bhattacharya’s So Many Hungers. While G.V Desai’s All About Hatter concentrates on the frontiers of social realism and stresses the need for social reform, Bhattacharya’s So Many Hungers studies the socio-economic effects of Bengal famine of early forties. Many women novelists in postcolonial period like Anita Desai, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shobha De, Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal, and Kiran Desai carved a niche for themselves in Indian English fiction.

References:

Vijaya G. and Vikram V. (2009). Chakori: The Indigenous in the Postcolonial World. Sahitya Academy. Indian Literature,                                                                                          Vol. 53, No.6. pp. 197-201.

O. C. (2005). Indulekha.  Oxford Indian Paperbacks. p. Xvii

Das, S.K. (2005). A History of Indian Literature: 1800-1910. Western Impact: Indian Responses, New Delhi: Sahitya Akademy.         

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Prakash C.Balikai

(Research Scholar)
Department Of English
Central University of Karnataka
Gulbarga, India.
Email:balikaiprakash02@gmail.com

Research as Hegemony

Krishna Khatiwada

In this reflective article, I will be sharing my personal belief about why I think research as a subject and practice is hegemonic in nature. I will also talk about the issue of several students dropping out from universities because of the pressures of research work.

For a long time, I had planned to join M.Phil. in English Language Education program at Kathmandu University School of Education (KUSOED). Some of my fellow friends had already completed the program and were working as faculties in KU. Some of my friends were still struggling to complete their dissertations. They in a way inspired me to join KU for the program. However, the same friends, those who graduated and those who are still under the surveillance of dissertation committee, shared this bitter reality to me – “doing RESEARCH is pain in the neck”.

Due to unrelenting pressure to complete the research work on time, I have seen and heard many of my friends dropping out from the program. But I was determined to face this situation. I was committed to doing my best in all aspects of my M. Phil. course. Initially, things were quite manageable at KU, the classes and assignments went smoothly. I also learned about a few terminologies – the buzz words of research like dominance, emancipation, positivism, post-positivism, interpretive, critical, integralism and HEGEMONY.

In the class, we learnt that research means to search or re-search for new knowledge, to establish the new norms, values and meaning. From positivism (a rigid perspective) to post-positivism, from interpretivism to criticalism, we advocated multiple perspectives, realities, meanings, values and methodologies in the classroom. Meanwhile, the discussions I had with my friends (who graduated from KU’s M.Ed.) on ‘Research Methodologies in Social Sciences and Education’ were quite terrifying. Their experiences about the pressures of writing and defending the research proposal, working tirelessly for many months, reading literature, drafting the document, re-writing these and so on, were intimidating for me. These realities and terminologies got engraved in my mind and heart as a giant ghost, against which I found myself as a tiny dust, a novice learner, a crawler, a breast feeding child, a tyro.

On the first day of my research class, I was expecting the hope and aspirations of a new sun and a warm morning. A professor started his lecture and, to my surprise, wrapped it up within two sessions. To make the matter worse, his concept on research left my highly expectant mind with mixed feelings. We were trying to see the world through the lens of multiple realities, multiple perspectives, multiple meanings, multiple knowledge, multiple values and post-modern paradigm. We were triangulating the (data) realities, (methodologies) way to search the new knowledge and (theory) previously set up value to come to the real sense of qualitative strategies of inquiry. However, these two sessions of my professor turned back my expectations towards the 19th century’s positivist approach in real classroom praxis. The deep rooted concept of extreme positivism in the manner, delivery, discipline, and the way of commenting to novice learners like me, left a hideous mark on my mind, which I felt as the mark of HEGEMONY of research as a subject and praxis.

Hegemony, as stated by Fairclough (2010), is the power over society as a whole of one of the fundamental economically defined classes in alliance (as a bloc) with other social forces but it is never achieved more than partially and temporarily, as an ‘unstable equilibrium’ (p.61). Research in KU, with the references to above experiences of my friends and my own perception, positions itself defiantly and powerfully among other subjects creating an artificial identity. And hence I feel that research is hegemonic in nature. To put in other words, the group of research scholars, committee members, and as a whole, research as a subject in a real sense has more power, control or importance, which I think is overtly imposed over other subjects and to the students.

Due to this hegemonic nature of research as a subject to be studied and a praxis to be done in a controlled way, I hardly attempted to do my class presentation well, I hardly completed my proposal and other assignments and I hardly took part in classroom discussion as I did not want to make any mistakes in front the professors. I never made any comments and thus lost my confidence, and I accepted everything from my teachers and colleagues. The deep rooted terrifying picture of the giant known as research work scared me so much that I did not touch or turn the pages of Creswell, Cohen, Manion & Marrison and Denzin & Lincoln. That hegemonic stereotyping script made so worried till the day of examination.

We focus on qualitative strategies of inquiry (Creswell, 2011) to establish multiple realities and search for the multiple perspectives. But, why do we still go back to quantitative inquiry and positivists approach to deal in the classroom, establishing an overall dominance over all subjects? Are we still narrow-minded or do universities still prefer traditional approach? If it is not hegemony, why is research a problem for many students and why many students feel the brunt and drop out?

My reflection on the subject, I hope, will be an emollient to sooth and pacify my feelings.

REFERENCE
Fairclough, N. (2010). Critical discourse analysis: the critical study of language (2nd ed.). London: Longman.

krishna

Krishna Prasad Khatiwada
M. Phil. (ELE)
Kathmandu University
School of Education

What does ‘authentic’ assessment mean?

Mabindra Regmi

morrow

“What does ‘authentic’ assessment mean? How do we do it?” A Critique on 19th NELTA Conference Plenary by Professor Keith Morrow, UK

Authenticity in Context

Man: Mary, am I a man?
Woman: Yes, John. You are a man, and I am a woman.

Dr. Keith Morrow started the plenary session at Hetauda on 3rd March, 2014 with this excerpt from an English textbook used in England over four decades ago. It is interesting to note that the textbook writers and language policy makers bordered absurdity in the name of imparting the right content to the students. Dr. Morrow shared the same line of thought and discussed with the audience regarding how the text in English textbooks have steadily gravitated towards authenticity. And how all this has resulted in a testing system that is more authentic in nature.

But what is authenticity? Dr. Morrow was of the notion that a text that mirrored the context of a society as exactly as possible could be considered more authentic. This resulted in an inextricable correlation between the text and the context of the learner while defining authenticity. Probably that was the reason why the speaker delivered the whole session on authenticity along the thread of context of the learner. He exemplified his belief by giving an example of how an authentic piece of language text like his personal tax return paper, might prove to be far from authentic in a different context, say Nepal. This spatial, and most likely temporal, property of language discourse necessitated context of the learner to be addressed while designing both textbooks and assessments for language learners.

Dr. Morrow thus added the aspect of context while designing a test in addition to the two important traditional criteria: validity and reliability. He was of the opinion that there was a very direct and strong link between validity of a test and the context. However, the relationship between reliability of a test and the context could be rocky at the best. By making the test authentic in accordance to the context of the learner, the validity is confirmed as the test measures exactly what it intends to measure. But if you consider the reliability of the test, the same learner taking the same test at two different times might not result in the same performance level. Now this creates a dilemma – should we contextualise the testing material so it is more valid to the learner, or should we refrain from doing so, and confirm to the reliability criterion that is so essential in testing?

Although the session did not offer a viable solution for the ensuing dilemma, it did focus on the necessity of the testing material to be more authentic in nature. Authenticity in testing not only brings the learner closer to the language, but also creates a more meaningful learning. However, since it is the learner who is indulged in the language pedagogy, it is imperative to integrate the context of the learner to make the testing more authentic.

Mabindra Regmi
M.Phil. English Language Education
Kathmandu University
Email: mabindra@gmail.com

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