ELT at Tertiary level: Perspectives from Far-West Nepal

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Lal Bahadur Bohara

Background

I was grown in a hill district (Bajhang) of far western region. I completed my masters from Tribhuwan University. When I joined a TU affiliated campus in Bajhang, I had some different experiences in teaching English and working with students there. Students’ perspectives toward English language learning, their expectations and efforts made me rethink about my way of teaching and working with students. It made me further investigate the perceptions of ELT professionals and challenges they are facing in far-west region. In this blog post, I am presenting the voices of ELT professionals from this region. It is just a presentation of preliminary data for my paper in Kathmandu University.

Introduction

I taught English in rural areas of far western Nepal for a decade. I think teacher is an only source of motivation for students to learn English in our context. In my case, the way I deal my students sometime motivate them and some other time demotivate. The experience of teaching English in this region, made me further investigate in the area of ELT. This piece primarily discloses the perspectives of English teachers in relation to prescribed English courses in B.Ed. level, common strategies teachers employ in the classroom and challenges they face while teaching English. I had a talk (not structured one) with five English teachers teaching in B.Ed. level in far western region – they were from Bajhang, Bajura, Kanchanpur, Achham and Dadeldhura. They were teaching English in different campuses under the affiliation of Tribhuvan University.

Now, I present the preliminary findings of my study on four major themes. I shall be analyzing the findings and share in future issues.

Gap in contents

I found that academic courses are de-contextualized in relation to contents and culture. In other words, it is found that the contents at bachelor level are de-contextualized with particular reference to the respect to society, culture, age and prior knowledge of learners. Hence, there is a gap between the local reality and the contents in the syllabus. In this regard, a participant put his voice this way:

The prescribed courses are not harmonized with the level of prior knowledge of students in bachelor level. Further, the prescribed books do not incorporate the culture of far western region, even if they were written by Nepali scholars.

Most of the academic contents were from other culture which does not appropriate the socio-cultural background of students in the far western region.

Increasing use of technology

I found that English teachers make of use of the internet, Google and several ELT Webpages. The trend is increasing in urban areas. A teacher mentioned that:

               I use Facebook and make use of several ELT groups and pages. The                               discussions over these venues assist me to facilitate teaching of English                             and keep me up to date in the area. Similarly, webpages such as Learn                           and Teach English of British Council and other ELT resource sites are                             quite helpful for me. Certain mobile applications have also been                                       supportive to me.

It shows that increasing use of technology has added advantages to teach English at tertiary level and the trend is growing in this region.

Teacher centered strategies

Except in a few cases, all participants agree that teachers basically follow lecture method, the conventional method of teaching English. A participant states that:

Without using translation method, the students do not understand the contents. They seem to be happy with translation in Nepali and local dialect. In the classroom of compulsory English (language subject), the number of students is large and teacher primarily depend on lecturing and GT method. In compulsory English classes, some students are from poor language background.

The study shows that in urban areas teachers are, to some extent, more resourceful and innovative than in rural areas. They also agree that students join the English stream with inadequate basic standard in English. However, a participant reports that he sometimes uses project work, group work and problem solving techniques while teaching English.

Use of L1

Next revealing phenomenon is that teachers and students use maximum Nepali and local languages in English classroom in this region. Another participant articulates this practice this way:

Without using local and Nepali language, students can understand nothing. During the lesson, Nepali is a medium of instruction. I often try to use English but students just listen to me, they don’t respond or interact. Then I have to immediately switch to L1.

Participation of students

It also shows that learners’ participation in classroom is very low. Most classrooms are heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of students. Therefore, the one prescribed curriculum from the top does not capture their interests and different motivational orientations. Here is what a participant expresses:

Majority of students neither complete their assignments nor actively participate in classroom activities like pair work, group work, and dramatization. Most importantly, they tend to be highly absent in classes.

Therefore, the study shows that multi- level classroom, students’ irregularity and hesitation to speak English are few reasons to mention for the low participation of students in teaching-learning activities. Likewise, many classrooms do not have sufficient teaching materials which better facilitate language learning. The study also reveals that teachers mostly depend on the textbook. They do not have any internet access.

Conclusions

Teaching English language in non-native context is a challenge for several reasons. Most academic contents were from ‘the other’ culture which may not be suitable for the students in the context of far western region of Nepal. Teachers basically follow the same route, an easy job – lecturing in the classroom. Maximum use of Nepali and local languages can be observed on the part of both teachers and students. Classrooms are heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of students. Students generally expect class notes from teachers and there is low participation of students in teaching learning processes of ELT in the classrooms. In the same way, classrooms are under-resourced, except a few classrooms in urban areas like Dhangadhi and Mahendranagar. However, increasing use of technology by teachers could be an additional advantage to teach English at this level in various ways. Preliminary findings show that the situation of English language teaching is not so encouraging in this part of country.

Mr. Bohara teaches English at Jaya Prithivi Multiple Campus, Bajhang. He is currently pursuing his MPhil in ELE from Kathmandu University.

English Medium Education: Hearsay and Reality

Chair, NELTA Surkhet Lecturer, Mid-Western University Surkhet, Nepal

Bishnu Kumar Khadka Chair, NELTA Surkhet
Lecturer, Mid-Western University Surkhet, Nepal

The context

Teaching and learning English has been a matter of an invisible ghost among the teachers and learners in most of the government aided community schools of Nepal. On the other hand, English has been a matter of identity and pride of private boarding schools of Nepal. Since English has been a key to the attraction of parents in the private boarding schools. It is also claimed that quality in education is also achieved through English medium education. On the basis of such hearsay most of the parents are highly motivated to admit their children in the English medium boarding schools pursuing quality education. Because of English medium education in private boarding schools nearby, the flow of students seems to be increased in those schools. Consequently, it has reduced the number of students in government aided community schools. Realizing the fact, some of the government aided community schools of Nepal have started English medium instruction in order to compete with privately owned boarding schools in terms of student number and learning achievement.

It is really a matter of quest that whether English medium education is a cause of access and quality in education or not. It is also a matter of curiosity that whether English medium education can ensure the  access of the students from the linguistic minority groups and sustain their high learning achievement or not. Does English mean quality? Does English medium Education really equate with quality education? Are private boarding schools really English medium schools? Are private schools really providing quality education? Can government aided community schools also provide English medium education? Is it reasonable and justifiable to provide English medium education from the basic level? Is it possible to transform Nepali medium government funded community schools into English medium? Will there be a large number of students and high learning achievement in the community schools where the number of students are said to be decreasing due to the medium of instruction if there is provision of English medium of education?  There are so many such issues related to English medium education and the issue of access and quality in education.

My experience

To me, English is amazing thing when I got first exposure in one of the government funded primary schools of my village of mid-western hilly part of Nepal for the first time after upgrading in grade four. As I remember the first class of my English period, the teacher appeared suddenly in the classroom and said ‘Good morning students’. We were unknown about what our teacher really said and what should we reply. Then he said in Nepali language say ‘Good morning teacher’ when the teacher enters into the classroom in English period. Then our first class of English period started with the very good morning. After that, our teachers asked us to turn the first page of English textbook in our hand but we did not know what was written there because none of us were English alphabet literate. They were very odd and difficult to copy for us. We started our journey of learning English alphabets first with capital letters and then with small letters and then learned the spelling of ‘Good’, ‘Morning’, ‘Sir’, etc. The teacher wrote the spelling of ‘Good’ means ‘ramro’ ‘Morning’ means ‘bihan’, ‘Sir’ means ‘guru’. The holistic meaning of ‘gurulaai bihanko namaste’. I was really confused about the individual word meaning of the word and how the phrase ‘Good morning sir’ meant so. I thought English is not easy and straight as our teacher translated and interpreted the text.

The journey of learning English as the compulsory subject in each grade continued as a matter of undesirable burden with frightening ghost in each examination with uncertain guessing marks up to SLC examination.  I was really the don in English among my classmates because I obtained high score in English than others from the hillside school of Dailekh. I was skilful enough to obtain marks in the examination because I could memorize and digest the answers of the questions and vomit on the examination papers which made me the don in English among other competitors.

Fortunately, I crossed the Lohore stream of SLC and my journey of learning English climbed up towards the Saatsalli straight uphill about three hours continuous on foot walk and reached to Surkhet valley within a whole day walking from 5 am to 10 pm. After crossing the small entrance creek of Surkhet Campus (Education) I appeared as a valid student of English Education of Tribhuvan University. My god! English classed ended there without using a single word in Nepali on that very first day of my college life. English teachers spoke only English during their whole periods. I was amazed of their English and their nonstop speaking in English. I was nearly hopeless at English and my donship stepped down on the spot. The English medium in English period among English students was hundred percent English.  I crossed the Bheri river of PCL too and the journey of learning English migrated from Surkhet valley to Kathmandu valley towards the gate of Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahchal, Kathmandu. I thought it is the place where English is taught and learnt. English was English there too. Much more English! Again, I migrated towards Kirtipur where Gurus of Guru Jees were there who could speak English not only in class but also outside the classroom and everywhere. English was teasing me and I was just wondering the glory of English upon my fate.

After that I started my new journey of teaching English. I started teaching English from primary level to university level and from private boarding school to government aided community schools. What I have realized while teaching English as the medium of education in private English medium schools where other subjects are also taught in English is that there is a craze and compulsion for learning and sharing in English not only of the students but also of the teachers. On the other hand, English is taught as the subject in government funded public schools where students just take as the burden in learning and the phobia of being failed always hunt them. Teaching learning activities are found to be dominated by Nepali langauge even in the English class too. The students want to learn the content of the text in English and teachers also want to teach the content of the text simplifying and supplying support from their mother tongue. English has been taught as a subject rather than a language.

My journey of learning and teaching English, described in a couple of paragraph above, clearly displays a huge gap between teaching English at schools and at the universities. The context now may have changed or modified a little, but English alone has not even been taught in English medium, especially in school level. In such context, hoe logical does it seem to imagine English medium instruction in schools? The question has to be raised not only in terms of the difficulties faced by the students but also the potential challenges that (non-English) teachers have to face in using fluent and comprehensible English to their students when many of them are not proficient in English. Taking English medium instruction and quality education synonymously leads to hundreds of such challenges.

Mother tongue education versus English medium education

Language not only helps to promote equality and empower its users but also is a key factor for the social inclusion in multilingual communities. The children with mother tongues other than Nepali cannot compete with Nepali-speaking children who have acquired it as their mother tongue in our context. Naturally, they feel inferior, isolated, or incompetent and are forced to remain as a disadvantaged group in our school situation. Many studies have already revealed that teaching in mother tongue in the early grades enhances children’s ability to learn better than in second or foreign languages. It has also been reported that if children are taught in languages which are different from their home language, they drop-out from school, have low learning achievement, and repeat classes.

Unaware of the fact that mother tongue education means teaching of and through the mother tongue and providing children with cognitive and linguistic benefits, parents think that it means simply teaching the children their mother tongue, which they can learn in their own home, and thus it is a waste of time to send their children to such schools. They want their children to learn languages which can get them a job and access to higher education. They think that education in the mother tongue will not help them attain their goal but would rather restrict their children to a limited area. They have rather a positive attitude about Nepali, the official language of the country and English the international language and lingua franca accepted globally.

These days, most of the government schools have started teaching in the English medium and made it a rule that students should come to school in the assigned dress with a tie around their neck and a  bag on their back in order to compete with  English boarding schools to attract students for enrolment. These schools give priority to those who want to learn English rather than to those who want to learn the mother tongue as an optional subject. It naturally makes the mother tongue learners feel humiliated. As a result, they opt for English instead of their mother tongue.

Conclusion

As Nepali and English have grown more dominant in Nepali societies they have started to replace other languages. Despite increasingly overwhelming evidence of the value and benefits of early education in mother-tongue, few countries invest in it. Designing policies to incorporate these findings should be central to addressing the low quality of education in the developing world. It also goes to the heart of making education more inclusive and ensuring the right to education for all. Our education system favours using national or ‘global’ languages instead of mother-tongue teaching. This needs to be brought under discussion.

The issue of English medium education is also related with the issue of mother tongue based multilingual education as the linguistic right to get education in their mother tongues. The linguists and educationists claim that the access and quality in education is only possible if the education is provided in the mother tongue of the learners in the multilingual speech communities. It is reported from many studies and researches that access of linguistic minority groups learners can be ensured in education and they can achieve high learning achievement through mother tongue based multilingual education.  Nepal is a multilingual country where the multilingual education is piloted in some of the pilot schools of Nepal expecting to increase the access and quality in education especially of the linguistic minority community schools. Similarly, there are a few of the pilot districts projected as the English medium education as well with the aim of achieving the quality in education. The medium, either mother tongue medium education or English medium education ensures the access and quality in education is really one of the major issues in education circle among the educationist.

How can effectiveness of In-Service Teacher Training be maximized?

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JEEVAN KARKI

…..opportunities for in-service training are crucial to the long-term development of teachers as well as for the long- term success of the programs in which they work…”

–Richards (2005)

In-service teacher training (ISTT) is essential for teachers to enhance their professional skills and update themselves with the latest trends in pedagogy. In order to serve the purpose, government of Nepal formally established National Council for Educational Development (NCED) in 1993 under the Ministry of Education (MoE).

The NCED is an apex body responsible for human resource development in Education, especially in pedagogy. One of the major activities of NCED is to provide ISTT to in-service teachers in different phases for their professional development.

Every year, ISTT programs are conducted to in-service teachers across the country through NCED itself or Lead Resource Centers (LRC) and Resource Centers (RC) based in district levels. However, it is reportedly argued that the effectiveness and impact of such trainings in the classroom remains yet to be capitalized on. For this interactive article, I have made attempts to bring views and opinions of the concerned stakeholders including Dr Anjana Bhattarai, Head of English Education, Central Department of Tribhuvan University (TU), Dr Laxman Gnawali, Associate Professor at Kathmandu University (KU) School of Education, training expert from NCED, teacher educators, and Resource Persons and teachers.

They were asked:

“The government of Nepal offers in-service training to teachers but there is not much visible improvement in the pedagogy in classroom. What can be the causes behind it and how can the in-service teacher training be made highly effective and productive?

DR ANJANA BHATTARAI  | Head of English Education, Central Department, TU, Nepal

anjanabhattaraiIn my perspective one of the most important factors contributing for ineffective in-service teacher training is the attitude of teachers. Most teachers (not all because few are active and work hard) do not feel such training as an opportunity for their professional development, whereas they feel it as a chance to earn extra money. It is a tragedy that we are yet unable to make them feel the importance of it. Therefore, teachers need to change their attitude and apply the skills learnt in training in their classroom. I think a possible solution for this problem can be a good head teacher. If a head teacher has positive attitude towards training and encourages his teachers to apply new ideas in classroom, teachers cannot afford to be reluctant to transfer the skills in the classrooms.

Weak monitoring system is yet another factor for this problem. Despite having Resource Persons (RP) and supervisors, the government is unable to make monitoring effective. Classroom inspection and supervision are not taken seriously. The RPs do not observe classes minutely and offer constructive feedback to teachers, whereas they meet teachers (in some cases they meet in paper only), ask how they are doing and teachers obviously say they are doing wonderful. How can this ensure teachers are transferring the skills in their classes?

The next contributing factor is existence of impunity. We do not have strong and effective mechanism to reward those who are doing well and penalize irresponsible ones. This eventually discourages the teachers who are willing to do something.

I think there is some problem in our parents too. Parents need to visit schools, show their interests in the activities of school and raise question behind weak performance of their children.

To sum up, if we can change the attitude of teachers, make our monitoring system efficient, encourage parents to raise questions in schools and make provision of reward and punishment, the impact of training can be better than now.

Dr Laxman Gyanwali | Associate Professor (ELT) | School of Education Kathmandu University

 

nelta-conference-16A few classroom visits in Nepal can tell us how ineffective the impact of the government-run in-service training has been. When I ask my graduate students why such a wastage of resources, they say the training does not directly link to the real classrooms, ignores local contexts, and does not address trainees’ mental constructs,  their needs and expectations. I fully agree with them. However, for me the main culprits for the ineffective teacher training are the trainers. You may ask why.  No trainer has been trained to be a teacher trainer. Each of them has a degree on pedagogy not on andragogy. They do not have a faintest idea of adult learning. Because the trainers in the government system have a permanent position, they do not bother for their own development. And they pass on their attitude to the teachers who they train.

There is only one solution to rectify this situation. Let’s set requirements for the entry as well as for the promotion for teacher trainers. They need to have a degree on training and andragogy and they also need to undergo periodic CPD, just as the teachers do. For me, training is as effective as the trainer involved in it. 

Balram Adhikari | translator, and a lecturer at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Kathmandu

1924893_829718523720484_26654504_nThe in-service teachers should count themselves fortunate for getting the opportunity to learn and to teach at the same time.  Also, they should be gratitude to the concerned authority for providing them with such opportunity. However, it is a sad fact that take away from the training session is less and its translation into the actual classroom teaching is even lesser. There could be multitude of causes behind this ranging from training policy to classroom pedagogy. Since the limited space prevents me from digging depth into the issue, I point out two areas of training drawing on my own experience of teacher and teacher educator both. The first is attitudes. It is not uncommon to hear in the training the participant teachers saying, “It only works here in the training hall, not in our schools”.  Most participants have this ‘it doesn’t work’ attitude.  First, the training should aim at inculcating positive attitudes in teachers. Only the positive beginning can lead us to the positive ending. Here I am reminded of Thomas Friedman’s famous saying, “If it is not happening, it is because you are not doing it”. 

Second is the nature of training itself.  Training should be based on target demands needs. By its very nature, training implies equipping a specific group of teachers with specific skills, strategies, knowledge and resources to help them address specific problems in a specific teaching-learning context. That is, everything is specific in teacher training. Only specific training packages can address specific teaching-learning problems. The specificity in training calls for involvement the target teachers in framing the training package.

 Parshu Ram Tiwari | NCED Trainer of English

ParashuramNCED conducts many in-service teacher trainings out of them TPD is the nationwide training program. These trainings actually implemented by Educational Training Centres (ETC), LRCs and RCs under the guideline developed by NCED. Except TPD, other several training programs like CAS training, MLE training, MGML training, training for the teachers using English as MoI etc.

It is not fact that there is zero transfer of teacher training in classroom. Some teachers who are devoted to their profession have brought newness and innovations in their classrooms due to knowledge and skilled learned in training. However, effectiveness in classroom hasn’t been noticed as the training expects.

There are some inhibiting factors to the transfer of teacher training, which are as below:

  • Especially roaster trainers in RC level are not efficient to conduct training.
  • In ETCs and RCs, there are not well equipped training hall to use modern technology for delivering training.
  • Teachers demand general needs, not academic and pedagogical needs. Very few teachers demand technical needs but they are not addressed properly.
  • District education office puts the training program in low priority.
  • Teachers have no dedication, motivation and willingness to implement training skill and knowledge in the classroom and they are reluctant to change their traditional ways of teaching with modern ones.
  • Training has not been linked with teachers’ career path.
  • No provision of follow-up support mechanism
  • No support and encouragement from school (Head teacher and SMC) to teacher for implementing training in classroom.
  • No rewarding system to those teachers who teaches using methods and techniques learned in training.

Suggestions

  • Training needs to be conducted only in LRCs and ETCs.
  • Training program needs to be well monitored and supervised.
  • Incentive for teachers who complete training successfully and transfer it effectively in the classroom.
  • Training needs to be linked with the promotion and upgrading
  • Training centers need to be equipped with modern technology and resources.
  • Follow up and support mechanism need to be developed.
  • School must support the teachers to transfer training skill in classroom by providing resources and making the classroom environment conducive.
  • Teachers need to develop collaborative learning and sharing culture among teachers.

 Govinda Prasad Chaulagain | Resource Person, District Education OfficeSolukhumbu

GovindaAs a resource person, I see there are a couple of reasons why in-service teacher training is not helping to improve the pedagogy in classroom. First of all, the student-teacher ratio in some school is very high. In few schools there are up to 120 students in a single class! Therefore, it is quite challenging to make classroom interactive. When a teacher tries to do something new in group/peers classroom goes out of control and hence they return to old method. Besides, teachers also have to teach more than usual number of periods because of lack of teachers. Therefore, they are not encouraged to try something new because of more work load.

Lack of materials and resources is another problem. Schools do not have even basic things to develop teaching-learning materials. Similarly, in some schools, there are not even reference materials for teachers. So they are compelled to depend on textbooks fully. The textbooks are clutch, a survival kit and everything for them.

There is also problem with permanent teachers working for long. They are comparatively more inactive than temporary or contract teachers in terms of transferring skills in the classroom. Not only that sometimes, they manage to skip trainings too.

I think there is problem in the present Teachers Professional Development (TPD) modality for in-service teachers. There is a top-down approach in designing training package. The trainers design training package that does not correlate with the actual needs of teachers. On the other hand, teachers themselves also cannot spell out what are their actual needs and always talk about the same issues like large classroom, unavailability of resources and materials and so on.

Finally, to make our in-service training highly effective, we should not forget to address the issues raised above.

 Ashok Raj Khati  | Training Specialist at REED  Nepal, & adjunct faculty  at Gramin Aadharsha Multiple Campus, Kathmandu

AshokFirst of all, I am quite convinced that in-service teacher-training programs can never be ineffective because they definitely provide some visions and frames for teaching. A trained teacher approaches to the students with some sort of framework, philosophy and guidelines; he or she could deal with students even on the way or on a bus far better than untrained ones.

However, to what extent the effectiveness of a particular teacher-training program becomes visible inside the classroom is an important aspect. It is true that some teacher training programs are more effective than others. They are primarily so because of positive attitude and motivational orientation of participants and facilitators toward professional learning. There are always a few people who assume that their qualification and experience could be adequate to teach in a specific context. This tendency does not produce effective training outcomes.

In addition, if teachers’ socio-cultural contexts and interests are encapsulated in teacher training programs, they are likely to be more effective. In recent years, new trends in teacher training programs such as in-school support, collaborative approach, researching and conferencing have been proved successful in mitigating the specific challenges faced by teachers in Nepali contexts. Similar type of training modality for years creates monotony on the part of teachers and they find training as a form of ‘ritual’ in their career.

Bhupal Sin Bista | Faculty of English, Shree Phutung Higher Secondary School, Kathmandu

The government has envisioned the provision in-service teacher training for the community school teachers for the efficiency and efficacy of teaching methodology exploited while conducting classroom lessons. The considerable amount of national budget allocated in the education sector has been separated for this purpose. Every year such trainings are conducted in RCs, LRCs and educational training centers on need based. It should have resulted in the tremendous improvement in the educational sector of the nation by now but the reality is something beyond our imagination. That is to say, the in-service teacher training does not have tangible impact on the teacher’s educational pedagogy. There can be several factors behind it. Some of the factors that bring about this gap might subsume:

  • Lack of training needs assessment
  • Lack of expertise in training guidance
  • Lack of appropriateness of training content
  • Lack of instructional aids
  • Lack of persistent monitoring and supervision
  • Lack of stick and carrot approach
  • Lack of learning culture
  • Classroom dynamics
  • Physical facilities of the school
  • Classroom size
  • Lack of adjusting training with TPD, including career development

These are the crucial issues seen with regard to the transfer of teacher training inside the classroom teaching. To improve the existing scenario, such issues are to be addressed decently meeting the needs of the individual teacher and the school. Furthermore, teachers should be encouraged to do so with diminishing the digital divide via appropriate and feasible policy, strategy, guideline and programmes.

Sakun Joshi | Faculty of English, Shree Sitapaila Higher Secondary School, Sitapaila 

SakunEvery year, the government invests a good amount of budget to provide in-service and refresher training to in-service teacher aiming to increase educational quality of the nation. In spite of having such efforts, there is still not much visible improvement in the pedagogy in the classroom. Some prominent causes behind the present situation can be as follows:

  • Improper classroom size to perform different techniques in classroom.
  • The large number of pupil in the classroom is another problem, which makes difficulty to manage lesson and prepare sensible teaching aids and demonstrate them in classroom.
  • The administration of many community schools does not show interest towards innovative teaching and learning.
  • Sometimes teachers knowledge on the content is also a constrain to successful teaching learning
  • Lack of creativeness and professionalism among teachers due to insecurity of their job.
  • Lack of regular and continuous supervision from the monitoring body.

I think fulfillment of the following requirements can help bring improvement in the pedagogy in the classroom:   

  • Give proper concern towards the improvement of the physical condition of schools including availability of enough materials and references.
  • School administration should be enthusiastic towards bringing new technology in school.
  • Teachers should be given every opportunity to exercise their lesson as per their needs.
  • There should be provision of strict supervision following with reward and punishment to teachers.

The stakeholders highlighted on different causes and proposed ideas above to make ISST effective and productive. Here I urge our valued readers to please feel free to share if you have something to say on the issue. Please express your views in the comment box. 

Building a Community: What We Value [reblogged-from-EdConteXts]

Praveen K Yadav, Umes Shrestha, and Uttam Gaulee

The world is getting far more connected, but not all connections are the same. Nor do connections automatically achieve the social, professional, and other purposes that the Internet is often credited for by those who have full and unhindered access to it. So, building a professional community, developing resources for it, and engaging its members from the ground up takes a lot of time, courage, and collaboration by one or more members who can stick to it through ups and downs, excitement and frustration.

In this blog post, we’d like to share the story of how we, a group of English language teachers in Nepal gradually built an online professional development community by the name of ELT Choutari. In a sense, this post is a detailed answer to the question that was asked by a colleague who commented on a story that one of us (Praveen) wrote for EdConteXts in June: what do we value as measures of success of/in our network?

ELT Choutari is probably the first English Language Teaching (ELT) blog-zine of its kind in South Asia. To read more, click here on the post originally published on the EdConteXts recently.
——-

praveenumesuttam

Need of Evolution: Continuing the Discourse-to-Practice for Local ELT Practices in Nepal

Pramod Kumar Sah

In countries where English is used as a second or a foreign language, teachers have already started grounding their ELT practices on their locally available resources as well as locally viable methods and approaches of teaching English as a lingua franca language. In Nepal, where English is used as a foreign language, it is evidently urgent that we develop our own ELT practices. In a post written last month’s issue In their highly thought-provoking essay, “Shifting Focus: Building ELT Practices and Scholarship from the Ground Up”  Prem Phyak, Bal Krishna Sharma and Shyam Sharma have presented a broad and powerful proposal for a reinvention of Nepalese ELT from the ground up. This blog entry takes Phyak, Sharma, and Sharma’s ideas one step further by situating them in the context of classroom, textbooks, and such other specifics of ELT practice in Nepal today.

Methodology: Prescription or Formation?

Allow me to first briefly describe my stance on ELT/EFL/ TESOL methodology in Nepalese context today. As Phyak, Sharma and Sharma have indicated in their recent article, I strongly believe that there is an urgent need of realizing own potential in language teaching, rather than seeking for solutions to the different classroom problems from in the ideas and experiences from contexts unlike our own. In this post, I intend to add that the “formation” of ELT methods and resources from the ground up may never happen unless our teachers, as the ultimate practitioners, do not see how they can practically do so. I would like to add some more specifics ways to achieve the goal to the many concrete examples and practical suggestions that the authors have provided in their post.

Since the advent of language learning as an academic discipline, there have been gradual shifts in language teaching methodology from Grammar Translation, to Audiolingualism, and those applied in more recent and well known Communicative Language Teaching. However, ELT practitioners have put forward an array of opinions, arguments and concerns over the issue that which of the suggested methodologies works best in language teaching. But, a variety of factors, such as official language policies, the role of L2 in a distinct speech community, learners’ need and their linguistic background, cultural and economical state of the institutions, teachers’ background, students’ previous linguistic competence, etc. affect the selection of methodology – this is why a single methodology was not effective enough to quench the thirst of language learning of all the time and circumstances.

For me, the most relevant experience is that a method should no longer be a prescription made from a linguist; rather it should be a pattern of activities made by a distinct language teacher accounting for his/her classroom scenario. Moreover, all the methods are best for their corresponding situations, as Prabhu (1990, p.161) states ‘…..different methods are best for different teaching contexts; that all methods are partially true or valid; and that the notion of good and bad methods is itself misguided’. In the meantime, it is very significant for a language teacher to remain aware  of scientific principles of language learning or acquisition, they are more importantly free to make their own personal methodology based on their distinct context, which Prabhu (1990) calls as teachers’ ‘sense of plausibility’. It is also worth suggesting that a language teacher needs to choose various activities or techniques from a certain method, not because of the faith in the underlying method but because that is suitable in their own unique contexts.

Thus, I assume, it’s high time we should start framing our own method that can best fit in our unique classroom rather than following sets of prescriptions.

Need of Teachers’ Authority for Syllabus Design

The reason I focus on teacher-driven syllabus is again based on so-called ‘teacher sense of plausibility’. I have been motivated to develop my own personal teaching methodology for my unique class, that requires me to set my own syllabus rather than following syllabus set somewhere else. Put it other way, considering learners’ need, cultural background, age group, etc., teaches should be authorized to frame his syllabus against marketed textbooks. Furthermore, prescription of a methodology, syllabus, course, materials, activities, techniques, and an assessment procedure does not support the views, such as every class is unique. The teachers should be authorized to make decision on aforementioned aspects of teaching.

A Dark Practice and Ways out

There are a few dark practices in Nepalese ELT that seem to be in high need of evolution, out of which  Teaching a subject vs. language skills is one.

Teaching English is merely a subject to pass in the examination in our concern, rather than developing our students’ language skills. It might be my overgeneralization but this as a consequence of my teaching experience and observation in some leading educational establishments in Nepal. We rely on ‘a’ textbook and we teach them page-by-page and finally, test them if they have comprehended what mentioned in the textbook. But, in fact it works for no good. Using textbooks is necessary, but what seems irrelevant is just to interpret what are printed on textbook pages. The situation not only exists in school teaching but has been the same in university level; for example, the General English for B. Ed. under Tribhuvan University has recommended three textbooks; (a) New Generation in English, that is a collection of exciting and helpful reading texts including some literary pieces written in Nepali contexts- but, what we do is to render the meaning of the texts in Nepali with near comprehension (that helps for nothing) rather than getting out students to read them extensively to develop reading skills and intensively to do the tasks set; (b) Exploring Grammar in context, indeed a good textbook that is based on Hallidayan approach and contains grammar for written and spoken discourse – in this concern as well, we just try to teach them rules of grammar, practice only the exercises and prepare them for examination instead of having them explore meaning of the grammatical items for natural communication; and (c) Academic vocabulary, at this point, we just teach them the meaning of words in isolation and the students hardly keep those in their head – the best thing we can do is to teach them ‘lexical chunks’ in contexts with the help of ‘corpus’ grounding our teaching on Michel Lewis ‘Lexical Approach’, so the students will be able to make use of those vocabulary in their real academic writing. Additionally, this gap is the consequence of our examination system, especially question pattern that contains questions from the textbook exercises itself without a word alteration, normally.  The textbooks are to be used as reference, rather than a subject to have students’ mastery over. Teaching English means teaching language skills that help students expose themselves in English speech community. Moreover, as Phyak, Sharma and Sharma show, there is an urgent need to realize our own potential and bring our local resources to support our students develop their language skills rather than grounding our teaching on mere textbooks.

Making Our Own Ground

Firstly, as Phyak, Sharma and Sharma emphasize, our focus has to be on practice instead of discussing the problems; teaches should build confidence in themselves and use approaches and resources that are readily available to them.

Secondly, where there are potential teachers equipped with the knowledge of different paradigms in our society, we should no longer be reading literature and theory developed in different contexts somewhere else in the world with an aim of implementing those theories and methods in our classrooms—even though ideas from anywhere are good for expanding our knowledge. Instead, we must frame a plot of our own stories, to shape our own educational future.

Thirdly, to develop and implement any approaches, methods, and syllabus, we need to figure out what we can do even within the material and technological limitations in our classroom. Thus, instead of being demotivated, we can attempt to let the things go with what available to us in a best way. In Phyak, Sharma and Sharma’s words, we have to shift our belief from what we do not have to what we can do well and with what we do have.

Conclusion

To say in a nutshell, since English is no longer the only language of English, we have freedom to teach and learn it in ways that fit our needs and interests, and it is high time we stopped searching for methods originated in some other situations. It is time that we explore and understand our own teaching scenarios in order to form whatever methods and whatever blends of methods we find good for us. For this to happen, it is necessary to authorize our teachers and allow them to develop their own syllabi and their own materials, however impossible or difficult it may seem at first. Without more independence for our teachers, it may never be easier for teachers to teach language skills, instead of textbooks. And if we are to move beyond complaining about what we do not have and what we cannot do, we must start using readily available resources as well as use available opportunities for teaching language as it is used in life and work, instead of just whatever the textbooks includes. 

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Pramod Kumar Sah is an M. Ed. in English from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is currently pursuing his MA in TESOL with Applied Linguistics at University of Central Lancashire, UK. 

Shifting Focus: Building ELT Practices and Scholarship from the Ground Up

Prem Phyak, Bal Krishna Sharma and Shyam Sharma

The subject of this post is our shared recognition that there is a tremendous need for Nepalese ELT practitioners to build on what we already have and what we already do, rather than focusing on what we lack and what we don’t do well. We highlight the importance for teachers to understand/appreciate their great potentials to do things innovatively, creatively, and transformatively. We organize this post in three interconnected discussions about the need for shifting the focus of our local ELT conversations and scholarship.

From Focusing on Problem to Focusing on Practice

Academic and professional discourses on ELT in our context tend to be too focused on  problems and failures. At workshops and conferences, as well in theses produced by our university students, a lot of attention is paid to a more or less fixed set of problems such as large classes, lack of resources, lack of teacher training and proficiency, and so on and on. These discourses often end with a set of recommendations, which again are quite predictable, such as: “teachers should be trained,” “the government should provide more resources,” “classes should be smaller,” and so on.

What is left out from such discourses is how English teachers in Nepal work under constraints and are still able to teach very effectively. Seemingly small examples sometimes do a great job. We remember our secondary school days when our English class consisted of more than 50 students—which is too large by most ELT standards. Our English teachers used to move around the class, make frequent eye contact with us, call names and ask simple questions such as “what did we study yesterday?” “can you see my writing from the back?” etc. We felt great when the teacher called us by name, cared whether we heard her from the back, and valued our contribution; we did our best even while sitting at the back end of a large classroom. We know that even such simple classroom management and motivation strategies can help us overcome many of the seemingly insurmountable challenges of teaching our large-class contexts.

However, in our ELT conversations/scholarship, we seem to regard even the highly effective strategies used in our classrooms too trivial to discuss, too inauthentic to theorize. We lack the confidence to talk about our own and our fellow teachers’ successful teaching practices as the basis of our professional conversations. We rather seek answers to our challenges in the big books, fancy theories, and the occasional trainers who might show us how to fix our problems.

In some ways, our ELT conversations are already rich and substantive, so it is a matter of valuing better our everyday practices. We need to start and promote much more practice-based conversations where we can share how to tackle our challenges and teach effectively in ways that fit our needs. Doing this will help us overcome the particularly crippling hesitation that we have toward developing new knowledge out of our own experiences [See, for example, Jeevan Karki’s post on developing students’ creativity].

Of course, there is no need to try to replace conventional methods/practices with whole new sets. But it is necessary to prevent the limited number of “god words” of mainstream ELT discourse from making us believe that what they tell us is incomparably superior and more authentic than anything we know and do in our particular contexts, anything that comes out of our own daily practices and ground realities.

When we think about scholarship/theory about ELT methods, strategies, and practices (including specific classroom activities), we should go beyond thinking in terminologies that we read in textbooks during our college and university days. Communicative or content-based approach should enter our conversations, but they shouldn’t become the only frame of reference in all our conversations. We should not hesitate to go beyond the big words and into our practices, with whatever words fit our needs, inventing our own terminology where fit.

From Reading Theory to Telling Stories and Sharing Our Experiences

Another major way in which we could shift our focus from what we don’t do into what we could and should do–and what we already do–is to recognize the significance of our ELT conversations based on our ground realities as *material for genuine “scholarship.” That is, our hesitation to produce ELT scholarship/knowledge–which seems even more debilitating than that of sharing and valuing our teaching practices–needs to be overcome as well.

We have an abundance of knowledge that are embedded in our everyday life and socio-cultural practices; we also have creative language teaching and learning practices shaped by our multilingual, multicultural, and multiethnic realities which can motivate students to speak, read and write English. If we think about it, the kinds of stories of hardships that English teachers are facing in rural villages of Nepal can be a foundation of powerful ELT discourse for us and even for fellow teachers around the world. [For example, see Ahok Khati’s discussion on how English teachers in Nepal construct their identities drawing on local values and knowledge].

Our teachers do not just know how to deal with textbooks and teach English grammar; they are usually larger-than-life figures who have tremendous impact on social issues, great respect from the community for their ability to resolve conflicts in society, and an understanding of social values and ethics. Their success as teachers comes much less from ELT theories and methods they have learned from textbooks than it does from their immersion in society; it comes from their knowledge/understanding of the community and students, their status and role in society, and their prestige and identity.

The same is true about their students: many of them may not even have a single pen and notebook, enough food to eat and clothes to wear, and parental guidance/understanding of their education. But the students complete the other half of our success stories through the sheer power of their sincerity, motivation, and hard work. This makes us ask: how can we capture such larger, deeper issues in ELT pedagogical theories and conversations of our own?

This means that we must situate our ELT discourses in our local contexts, our understanding of the environment, occupations, cultural practices, social harmony and cooperation, and so on. Only when we develop practices/methods that recognize the realities of our and our students’ lives can we truly encourage them to read, write, speak, listen, and learn meaningfully. It is important to focus on helping them develop their ability to talk about their own culture, community and knowledge first. For example, if our students can read, write, and discuss local society and culture, politics and policies, family life and community issues, environment and occupations–at the level that they are interested and able to engage–then they will learn language quite effectively. More importantly, they can also use these phenomena as a source of ideas, metaphors, perspectives, and professional conversations in the future [Also see Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak’s entry on critical literacy in the local context].

Very often, we focus on how much our students lack “English language proficiency.” But if we look closer, we can easily realize that whenever they communicate about issues of their own lives and societies, their competency instantly shoots up–even as their accent lingers, their syntax remains shaky as they grow up. Indeed, this is true of our teachers’ own language proficiency and scholarly conversation as well. When the contents of our teaching/learning are our own life-stories and social realities, we automatically sound much more competent and capable–for if we do not know what we want to read/write and speak about, our proficiency in language itself will remain to be of little significance [You can refer to Shyam Sharma’s blog post on local linguistic practices as a further reference].

From What We Don’t Have to What We Do (Well)

One question that we often hear from teachers in various workshops and conferences in Nepal is what method they should use for solving this or that problem of teaching English. Too often, we seem to assume that there must be a recognized method for fixing every problem, a method that is more advanced and powerful than anything that we can develop/improvise ourselves. For example, when students do not speak up in class, we reach for “communicative techniques” like group work and pair work, but we are far less likely to recognize that we’ve already been using other strategies that would work as well.

Suppose that a teacher has developed the following strategy to promote speaking: she walks into her class with fifty pieces of paper (one each for all students) with five pieces containing the word “lucky.” Then she lets her students find out who is lucky, asking them to either prepare and speak during the same class or come prepared for the next class. Also suppose that this speaking activity involves simply summarizing an essay or retelling a story. Now, does this activity fit into any theory or method? Let us say that it doesn’t. Will the teacher feel confident talking about it as a “teaching strategy” in an ELT conversation? Probably not. The first activity could be seen as “putting students on the spot” and the second one may be considered as “regurgitating textbook content” within conventional ELT methods/practices.

Unless we as teachers are confident that different local cultures and contexts validate, as well as necessitate, different pedagogies, we may not find our local practices worth even talking about. When we build that confidence, we will shift the current field of ELT in Nepal from worrying about finding the established method in mainstream ELT discourse toward building and appreciating our own practices that work best in our own context.

More broadly, in our professional conversations, we should legitimize and build on what we already do, rather than focus on what is lacking. Often, this is only a matter of looking at our own work a little differently. Imagine a conference where a bunch of us as ELT scholars have gathered to discuss the theme of “ELT in the multilingual/multicultural context of Nepal.” Then imagine that we take turns at the microphone to lament the lack of “policy” about multiculturalism and multilingualism in Nepal. Say that no one challenges the assumption that “policy” doesn’t (or shouldn’t) only mean what is written on paper, formally adopted by some authority, implemented in a top-down manner, etc. Also suppose that the expert invited from abroad makes a great PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some good theories and perspectives but not really touching on multilingual and multicultural social realities like we have in Nepal.

Now, think about it this way. What is it–if it is not “policy”–that teachers in some schools punish (often corporally) their students when they speak their home languages? What is it when our district education officers quietly, informally encourage community schools under their supervision to switch to English medium in order to retain students and save the schools? What about the whole society’s understanding that English medium is a good enough reason to determine quality of schools? None of the above are formal and recognized, governmental or institutionally implemented policies. But they are “policies”. Some are tantamount to institutional policies, others are socially established practices and expectations, and yet others are individual preferences. The lack of explicitly formal, documented, and top down policies doesn’t mean that there are no policies at all.

So, the scholars in our imaginary conference could be talking about a lot of things instead of repeating that there are “no policies.” Simply adopting an established, mainstream definition and theory of the key terms can deflect our focus from the real situation and turn reality itself into a gigantic blind spot instead of being the subject matter!  Hence, a lot could be done by adopting the right perspectives.

Conclusion: Building Critical Mass

In this brief post, we have argued for adopting a bottom-up approach not only for promoting our students’ English language abilities but also for enhancing teachers’ own confidence in their practices and, from those practices, local scholarship. Teachers should not be passive recipients of knowledge about grand theories; rather, they should be “change agents.”

We are not thinking about “where to start” because our point is that we already have thousands of starting points: we just need to recognize and validate them. More and more of our colleagues across the country need to just come forward and share their ideas. There are an increasing number of ways for doing so: increased numbers of workshops and training events; local, regional, and national conferences; professional events abroad; opportunities to start local and national newsletters and magazines using alternative modes of publication like blogs and wikis; promoting personal blogs and podcasts that teachers may already be doing; and so on.  This process, we believe, will help the community of Nepalese English teachers build a critical mass to transform ELT profession from the ground up.

As the current Choutari  team completes their first year and rekindles its energy (including additional, enthusiastic members), we are ever more hopeful that this venue will help our professional conversations shift its focus from gazing at failures and lacks to building on our successes and resourcefulness.

As always, please join the conversation!

Easier said than done …

… but if worse comes to worst, just hang in there!

Umes Shrestha, Lecturer, blogger and a podcaster

Right on the outset, let me state that I am taking a very controversial stance here. Because many supporters of World Englishes believe that for second language learners of English, gaining native like competence of English is a myth. It’s not possible, and, in essence, it’s not necessary. Let’s face it, they also tell you that the‘coded-down’ version of English (or the English as Lingua Franca) is the only way forward because English will eventually lose its standard-ness.

Fine by me but here’s my stance. If a learner wants to speak (or write) English better, he/she has to try and learn how the native speakers of English use the language in real life context. In addition to acquiring the sense of vocabulary, structure, forms and semantics, the learner also has to develop the pragmatic fluency in English. (I am not talking about American accent or British accent or any such accent, though.) Therefore, I strongly believe that only by learning and acquiring unique characteristics and nuances of English language will the learners become more competent and proficient in it.

Some of the areas of such nuances in a language are the use of figurative expressions (idiomatic expressions, phrases, proverbs, etc). Similar to our own Nepali language, English language is also very rich in such figurative expressions. Using these expressions (let’s say: idioms) add color and imagination in speech and in writing. This obviously holds true for all the language. Nepali language would most certainly be pretty bland if it didn’t have any figurative expressions. So, by mastering the use of English idioms, one’s English can become more natural and less awkward, more articulated and less dull. Learners and users of English will be able to produce and interact in English at a different creative level.

Normally, we don’t find any trace of this concept in standard textbooks because the curriculum and syllabus are usually ‘water-downed’ for general learners of English. Just flip through Our English books for Class 9 and 10. Why there’s no focus on this aspect of English is quite beyond me. English magazines, newspapers, stories, TV shows, movies are however full of figurative expressions. Imagine the shock and dismay when learners discover the real English used in real contexts, when they find that the English in real life can be quite different than the English in textbooks. Hence there are always chances that students and learners know English language but do not know how to use and understand English language competently and fluently.

And even when students use or try to understand the meaning of idioms, they try to translate them word-for-word at a very literal level. But translating the idioms into one’s mother tongue will only compound the problem. Figurative expressions are unique properties of a language and when translated into another language, they usually lose their true essence and purpose.

For instance, let’s consider the sentence with a very common idiom:

Sentence 1: He insulted me and I lost my temper.

In Nepali the literal meaning of ‘to lose’ is ‘haraaunu’.

Sentence 2: I lost my money. (maile paisa haraaye)
Sentence 3: I lost my book yesterday. (maile hijo kitab haraaye)

These two sentences 2 and 3 make sense even when translated into Nepali. But. If a Nepali learner of English translates the Sentence 1 in the similar vein, he/she will only come up with confused and even nonsensical meaning. This is the reason why the figurative expressions are difficult to learn, acquire and eventually master.

Similarly, the following sentences can be difficult for Nepali learners to understand and to use in their real contexts because, again, translation doesn’t help.

Sentence 4:      I can’t stand Science class because it is way over my head.
Sentence 5:      You don’t stand a chance of getting good score in Science because it is
way over your head.

And, here are some real instances from my classroom.
Me:                 Alright students, let’s wrap up today’s lesson.
Student:           (with a confused face) Sir, wrap ta gift lai garne hoina?
Sir, we only wrap gifts, don’t we?

Me:                 Guys and girls, keep it down.
Student:           What to keep down?

Thus, unless a learner ‘develops a knack’ for figurative expressions through practice and enough exposure, it will be difficult for him/her to develop English language competency.

Moreover, using figurative expressions adds ‘fun’ to the English language. It’s thrilling and it’s entertaining. Many a times, it’s defamiliarizing. (Here’s the buzzword!). And it goes without saying that ‘enjoying the language’ is one of the most essential requirements to learning and acquiring a second language. We can also call this fun element an ‘intrinsic motivation’ or ‘internal drive’ to get better and to prosper in the language one is learning.

So, I request my fellow English language teachers to incorporate figurative expressions in their teaching as per their discretion. We all know… we will have to put in a little extra effort because it may not be in the textbooks. But don’t give it a second thought. Implement it. You’ll enjoy it. The students will enjoy it.

I hope you will just give it a shot!
Great!

Some links:

Devil’s Advocate vs Vicki Hollett on ELF
http://chiasuanchong.com/2012/03/04/devils-advocate-vs-vicki-hollett-on-elf/

Chia Suan Chong speaks about English as a Lingua Franca
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB6traNccQQ

Developing creative- linguistic abilities through classroom poetry

 Dinesh Kumar Thapa, Lalitpur

 

“Poetry and hums aren’t things which you get; they’re things which get you.  And all you can do is go where they can find you.”-Winnie.

Classroom poems are funny and full of variety. They make a class really lively and motivating. Poetry can be oral or written, or both. They can be read aloud for developing oral- pronunciation ability, or they can be written to develop creative- linguistic abilities in English. Poems demand a lot of expressive ability on the part of the learners, so they engage the learners for the creation of meaning. Besides, using poetry in the class allows the children to express in the ‘little English’ they have developed in the beginning years of learning. It develops confidence in the learners for producing English and motivates them to learn more English. Poems are interesting for all, and even more interesting for the little kids.

For the purpose of this article, I have used the term poetry to encompass all English teaching activities which involve musical quality, which are aesthetic and expressive, and which do not demand rigid grammar rules to carry them out. Activities such as rhymes, songs, riddles, musical compositions, jingles, etc. have been included under classroom poetry here. The teacher here does not need to worry about such concepts as the theme, form, metaphor or the criticism of poetry, as they are not such academic poems for critical study. Rather, for us, poems are simply a tool of developing English in the learners! The activities suggested here are appropriate for junior/ primary level students, yet they can equally be employed in the higher levels with modifications.

1.     Naming poems: This technique involves creation of a poem out of the names of the students with some additional details for the name.

Laxaman is always late and Geeta is great,
Hari becomes hungry, but Rabin becomes red.

The list goes on for each student. Here, the initial sound of the first name has been matched with the corresponding initial sound of the adjective that tells something about the person.

2.     Event- making poems: Here, learners create a poem based on the theme of an event, e.g. making a party, celebrating the school day, organizing a cultural show, etc. Each line in the poem will be telling who will be involved in the event in what way.)

Making a Party
This is Bina with a big banana,
This is Suman with some soup,
This is Rabina with red raspberry,
And this is Kanchhi with a clean cup.

Each upcoming line here includes the necessary preparation to be done for the event including each student’s roles. Here, the initial sound of the name has been repeated with the corresponding initial sound of the adjective and the noun that tell about the event.

3.     Attribute poem: It is a technique which involves creation of a poem using common adjectives and nouns in a pattern of rhyme.

My Family
My mummy is thirty- nine
But she is very fine.
My dad is good,
But he has a sad mood.
My puppy is nice,
But it eats much rice.

The lines continue until all/ most family members are included through with appropriate attribute words. Here, common nouns and adjectives have been used in patterns, both in structure and rhyme; the use of conjunction, ‘but’ shows a contradiction in meaning.

4.     Chain poem: It is a technique to create a poem expressing as much as possible on a single topic, possibly adding something on each upcoming line.

Wai Wai Noodles
Wai Wai,
Wai Wai is delicious,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous, satisfying,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous, satisfying, so tasty,
Sweet Wai Wai for all.

Here, more and more words have been added to tell different feelings about the topic.

5.     Narrative poem: In this technique, a poem is created for telling a story, a past experience, a journey or an event.

Lagankhel Trip
I was going to Lagankhel,
And I was carrying my favourite bag,
My little, brown beautiful bag,
My father had recently bought for school,
And it was the rainy time,
I was looking my head downs and ups,
Into the tall houses and big shops,
And I slipped on the banana cover,
Very painful, I felt so bored,
Because me and my new bag got splashed in the muddy road.

The lines go on until the complete story is narrated. Here, more and more past experiences and feelings are added to the initial beat.

7. Instructional Poems: for creating a poem using instructional lines, students here think of diverse ethical/ moral codes of conduct and write either positive or negative statements with expression of results intermittently. 

Mind Your Manners
Don’t drum on the table,
Don’t play with your food;
Don’t talk while you’re chewing;
Because it’s terribly rude!

Don’t litter the room,
And don’t slam the screen door.
Don’t throw dirty laundry;
Because it’s making mom angry more!
Don’t fight with your young sister,
And don’t pull the cat’s tail;
Don’t pelt stones on the street,
It might be more dangerous than a nail!

8.     Metaphorical poems: in this technique, the teacher and the learners work together to brain- storm ideas and create a poem using poetic devices like metaphor and simile.

[Theme: My Country; associated adjectives: small, famous, peaceful, amazing, historic, etc. Other nouns associated to the descriptive words, as for the adjective ‘small’- doll, fingers in the hand, etc.; for ‘famous’-  our president, Meri Bassai Serial, Pele, etc.]

My country is small
Like the doll in the bag and the fingers on my palm;
My country is peaceful,
More silent than the market and school.
My country is amazing,
With so varied cultures, languages and mountains.
My country is so beautiful,
I must feel proud and grateful.

Here words (especially noun words) related about a theme are collected first; then adjective words are associated to each initial noun words, and further extensions are made until students’ vocabulary permits. Then the associated words are stated in sentences attempting a higher order of imagination.

9.     Bio- poem: Employing this technique involves creating a poem using biographical information of persons/ places using WH- question probes, real or metaphorical.

[Topic:  Nepal; Some words that describe the place: beautiful, peaceful and romantic

What it has? Who loves? Who gives? Who feels? Who wants? Who fears? Etc.].

Nepal
Beautiful, peaceful and romantic;
Has a lot of mountains, lakes and rivers;
Who loves the varied races, cultures and people;
Who gives education, peace, security and progress;
Who wants us all to grow and to learn the best to live happily;
Who fears war, insecurity and national challenge;
My motherland Nepal.

 Here the teacher arranges for a brainstorm using different WH- bio probes in order to include most salient pieces of information as they are needed for a biographical understanding of a place/ person or thing. After having adequate information, lines are composed in line with the probes.

10.  Other techniques

We can also use jingles, rhymes, mimes and other expressive techniques. We can also ask the students to tune the poems with the local rhythm, like folk song- tune, pop- tune, etc. and to perform to the whole class individually or in groups.

Some thoughts about teaching English in Nepal

The English language is the most important international language in this century. These days, English is not only the language of Britons and Americans; rather it has become a world language. It is now the language of international trade, business and diplomacy, language of higher education, wider cultural understanding and more job opportunities. Recognizing the very importance, the public and the Government have also given due consideration in the promotion of English in Nepal. Expenditure on teaching English is also huge for developing courses, materials, assessment and so on. Besides these, every workplaces and classrooms are also ripe with the talks of learning English. Today’s parents also demand at least communicational literacy in English for the children. Also, many Nepali medium community schools have started teaching through the medium of English at different levels. Besides, the charm of English medium school is quite obvious for us. But, despite all these assets, the result of our children is not so encouraging. The exam results and different assessment studies show that the proficiency of learners’ English in Nepal is not on par with the expectation; be it in the primary or tertiary grades.

The low level of student achievement, however, is the result of multiple factors. The teacher alone is not and cannot be made responsible for such. It is true that our children come from difficult backgrounds; parental level of conscious is low. We also may not have audio- visual support in the classroom. Besides, we are also not well trained in teaching English. These are our realities. However, we cannot get free from our responsibility; neither can we skip from the problems. So it is wiser to search for the bright side of the dark cloud. At least our parents have believed in us and have sent their children to us; at least we have the physical presence of the child, so we become teacher. If there would be no children, whom would we be teaching to? So, it is upon us, specifically the English teachers, and all teachers in general, to realize the aspiration of the parents and the students. Our sincere efforts and dedication are the only solution for the time being, as we cannot expect a drastic change overnight. Our small initiatives will definitely result into the improvement of English teaching scenario. The future of the innocent ones is in our hands, is not it English language teachers!

[I was inspired for writing this piece by the Asian English Teachers Creative Writing Group Seminar held in Nepal in 2009, especially from the presentation by Mr. Lekhanath Pathak and Ms. Maya Rai.]

SLC, ELT, and Our Place in the Big Picture

Shyam Sharma*

When School Leaving Certificate (SLC) results were published earlier this month, quite a few of my friends and family members posted happy messages such as the following on Facebook: “Congratulations to our nephew ___ for securing 8* percent!!!” But whenever I come across such messages, I am reminded how privileged these friends and families are (including my own family). I am reminded of one person in particular whose SLC-related story I can never forget.

I have told Ramlal Sunar’s story on this blog before (please see comment section) so I won’t repeat it, but to recap what it is about, this young man was one of the “jhamte” candidates for the SLC who sought my help because he and the other young men and women in a village in Gulmi had been failing in English, some of them for many years. I had only completed my IA at the time but for them my private school background made me look like a savior. But tragically, Ramlal and most of the other students failed again even after my three or so months of tutoring. I probably helped them improve their English a little, but that was not what they wanted.

Until that experience, I had always believed that everyone who “studies hard” (like I did) would be academically successful. But now I began to think what happens when a whole education system lacks grounding in the local reality of students’ life and society. I could see that the young people were not failing because they were stupid. They were failing because the SLC did NOT test the intelligence, skills, knowledge-bases, and value systems that constituted and had value in the students’ LOCAL social, economic, cultural, and occupational lives. And the students would fail SLC if they failed any course.

Nepalese educators, especially those in fields related to English studies or English language, are often good at talking about postcolonialism, hegemony, and so on. But few of them seem to realize the irony of how they are perhaps most actively (though it may not be consciously/deliberately) involved in the gradual destruction of what used to be at least a slightly more organic system of public education, one that was delivered in the local language, one that encouraged a more locally based curriculum and pedagogy. That is, when Nepalese intellectuals leave Ramlals behind in their villages, they also seem to leave their responsibility to think in terms of the nation as a whole, a nation where Ramals are much more representative of the broader reality than those whose names we see on Facebook.

When I met Ramlal many years later, he didn’t even want to talk to me very much, because by this time I was already in my master’s degree, teaching at a big private school, with all kinds of gaps ever widening between him and me.

But this year’s SLC results reminded me of Ramlal again because I thought again how  those of us who have the voice and venues for raising public awareness about the numbers are also not very interested in talking about the national challenge in the first place. Just give it a try even as the furies about SLC results are still flying high, and someone is likely to ask you, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

The pendulum of failed percentage wildly swung back into the 60s again this year, after a small relief since 2004. As the media highlighted the numbers for a short period of time, among the regulars 58.43% students failed; among the exempted, a shocking 93.24% failed. That was a total of 343230 (yes, 3.4 lakh!) regular students and 98911 (yes, one lakh!) reappearing students whose friends and family didn’t get to post happy Facebook updates—or whatever equivalent social networking they use. That was a total of almost four and a half lakh students’ careers being sacrificed in an absurd national drama that we call education.

For a few days, people talked, and then they forgot. In fact, even when the discussions were visible on the interwebs, few educators seemed to share any ideas, assessments, soul searching, and solutions to this national crisis. The community of educators that I am closest to, English teachers, seemed less bothered by the situation than others within and without the education sector.

I try to think about why many people aren’t even surprised. It’s possible that they are being more optimistic, looking at the full half of the glass while I focus on the empty half. However, a glass that is almost 60% and more than 93% empty is a little too empty. And because we are talking about people rather than water or wine, it is too painful to even talk about it. It is also painful because this involves a society—its teachers, its policy-makers, its city-dwellers who don’t have to send their children to where the majority of parents do—that seems to have inured itself to the tragedy of closing the doors to the majority of children, a society where those whose voices have most impact are mostly quiet and smug because it doesn’t affect them directly. There are exceptions, but those people are hard to find.

Where does it all go so wrong with our education? News reports post-SLC indicated that “government spending on education increased from 27 billion rupees in 2006-07 to 63.91 billion rupees in 2012-13.” There was actually a silver lining—if you call this a silver lining (I call it a sign of disaster for the nation at large)—that the pass percentage at private schools has been above 80 in the past decade. But students in public schools, from which between two thirds and four fifths of students take the SLC, the pass percentage has been in the 30s, often below that. According to Teach for Nepal,

[I]f 100 students enroll for grade one, by the end of grade ten only 15% will have remained in the school system. The future prospects for these children are severely diminished. . . . of the students who fail their SLC, 90% fail in the core subjects such as Mathematics, English and Science.

Hard data is difficult to find (I would appreciate if someone could please add in the comments section below), but the subject taught by most of us on this blog, English, is evidently the lock on the “iron gate” of academic and professional careers in Nepal.

It is not easy at all to assess the situation with public versus private education. As serious researchers have often pointed out, because families tend to focus just on their children, the public tends to overlook the very definition of education–that it is most importantly a matter of social good. Most people do know that the current educational situation is creating a new “caste” system where those who attend the more expensive private schools have an unfair advantage over those who did not from the get go. But in the rush toward giving own children better chances than their neighbors they don’t pause to think that even in the most economically advanced nations, public schooling is guaranteed and even the richest people send their children to public schools. Added to that are the dynamics of power and resources, which in matter of about two decades have turned education in Nepal largely into a commodity in the market. Needless to say, English has increased opportunities for a few already privileged communities to participate in the global march of personal progress, but “English education” has also played a much more significant role in having a functional education (albeit one that needed much improvement) replaced with a myth about both language learning and about education at large.

But public education did not weaken just due to the lack of social responsibility that it needs. Social forces are dangerously aligned in one direction. For instance, there are forces such as these: the self-fulfilling myth that cost equals quality, English equals the promise of successful careers, and  private schooling equals prestige in society. Consequently, more educated, more motivated, better paid, better travelled and experienced people mostly gravitate to the private side; even those who theoretically oppose the destruction of education as a social good send their own children to private schools, and parents who have to send their children to public schools are literally ashamed. In fact, even among the most informed and educated people in our society, there is the myth of “English” education. Most people don’t even pause to think that in reality, there is just good education, which can be provided by any school, including the likes of Samata School–where students who pay only a hundred rupees a month were more successful in SLC this year than those in most of the lakh-rupees-a-year schools (Samata’s quality education had nothing to do with the medium but everything to do with a reality-based vision for the learner, the community, and the society at large). For a more critical/careful comparison of private and public schools, see the section starting at page 30 in the dissertation by Amrit Thapa, a Nepali researcher at Columbia University.

As Amrit Thapa shows by citing Tooley and Dixon’s findings, “private schooling as a solution to failing public schools in developing countries is not as straightforward” (p. 83). It is not just that it is ludicrous to not think about the overwhelming majority of parents who cannot afford the cost of private schooling; the very foundation and culture of private schools as they are today makes it unlikely that this sector will rise above the business model and become an organic part of the social structure that serves the need of the ordinary families. Whether we like this reality or not, private schools are usually run by individuals or groups who do not involve parents and community in governance, who treat teachers and students autocratically (See Thapa, linked above, p. 31), and who have little or no interest in long term visions of education for social good. This is not to say that we should dislike private schools altogether. In fact, we should expect private schools to be focused on profit motives and to contribute to education as a social good while trying to make profit, not as a primary objective. But that is why we can’t expect this mechanism to address the overall need of the nation given the economic status of the majority. The society and its serious educators and policy makers must think about how to make the private sector better align with the broader goals of education for social good.

So, where does a better understanding of the complexities leave us as English teachers most of whom have made our careers, or are making it, in the private sector? What do “we” have to do with the public schools when most of us teach in private schools where 80% pass the SLC, which looks fine? (No, actually, even the failure of 20% is not fine, but let’s leave that aside for the moment). As colleagues in this forum have also tried to articulate (e.g., here’s a discussion on a post that I wrote back in 2009 when we had just started Choutari; other editors have written in this tenor since the beginning), we can be more than just English teachers; we can be citizens, scholars, human beings who think about the nation and world at large. We as members of a professional organization, and as scholars who have spread around the world but try to contribute to research, scholarship, and professional development at home, are not doing fine. Because the big picture is our picture as well, it is time that we start confronting the deplorable overall state of education in our country–at least in our discussions. Why?—-because we have greater opportunities to write, to conduct and publish research, to start public conversations. 

Shocking majorities of Ramlals are still failing across the country, and talking and writing is essentially what we do, right? Talk is how we start getting ourselves and other to think and act. Next time, when someone asks us what we are going to do about it by just talking about the tragedy, let us say, “Talk. Do you want to join?” 

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* Dr. Shyam Sharma is an assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at Stony Brook University, State University of New York. A former lecturer of the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, he teaches and studies writing in the disciplines, the intersection of culture with literacy and technology, multilingualism, and academic transition of students from different backgrounds.

Let’s Leave English as English

Resham Bahadur Bista
bista.resham@yahoo.com

I joined my college and started to study English without knowing the real purpose of studying English. I was enchanted towards English because of its charming in my school. There was always the scarcity of the teachers of English in the school. The people who used to speak English were supposed to be great and unique in the context of the village. Many people of my village want to make their children prefect in English. Because of the latent influence of English in my immature psychology, I started to study English. With the passage of time, basically I knew that we get pleasure reading English and to be extra-ordinary in the society.

Now my realization is quite different about the influence of English. I think we waste our half of lives reading the bulky English books about European and American lives, arts, cultures, philosophies and the English language. Most of the students are enrolled in English department for the study of English in our universities. The Nepali language, arts, cultures, literature etc. seem to be ignored in our universities because there are very few students to study these subjects. We all are enchanted towards English to seek jobs, name and fame. We are lured towards it with a hope of being consumed in the international market. English has been taken as a subject to minimize the distance between the local and the global in the contemporary world. It brings the people of world close together, creates the global village as a contact language. It is an international language, spoken all over the world, and a medium of developing the bilateral and multilateral relationships among the countries of the world today.

These are the basic widespread assumptions of the English language which we share in our classrooms. After completion of my masters’ degree, I started to teach in schools and colleges and shared such assumptions of English that I had got in my studies. I am pursuing my career by teaching the English language, literature, culture, history and sociology of Europe and America. Our issues of classroom are the issues of dense technologically advanced society of Europe and America which may not match in our society. Now questions are raise in my monotonous mind influenced by English: Is our mind not colonized by the English language? Are we wasting our time and efforts by reading those bulky books of English which are intend to colonize our mind and body? Are we independent as the legacy of colonized mind? These unanswered questions always haunt my parasitic mind. Frankly telling, we are parasitized by the hidden agenda of westernization and Americanization.

Everyone knows that literature is the mirror of the society and should serve the society because human consciousness is always determined by the political, social and cultural phenomena of a society. But what the western literary texts teach us is that non-western people are vulgar, lusty, spiritual and uncivilized whereas westerns are calm, civilized and superior. They labeled us as uncivilized by creating dichotomy between the East and the West. Although we people always worship to westerners and imitate their life-styles and behaviors, we have forgotten our own socio-economic values and the smell of maternal soil but we only dream of Europe and America. What is our own academic uniqueness? European and American are in our schools and universities with disguised forms; we are coloring their notions in our ground and adopting them in the name of being enlightened.

Most of our universities have prescribed the English curriculum as designed by the west in the name of meeting the international standard. Bulky books of art, philosophy, literature, pedagogy and theory and teaching methodology developed and designed by the westerners are taught in our schools universities. To some extent, all these may not necessarily be suitable in our contexts. The ideas given in their books can not correspond to our local realities. What is the utility of those theories, philosophies, teaching methods, and techniques developed by westerns in our contexts, where almost half of the population is either illiterate or semi-literate? Why does our government not make any strategies to make them literate and cope up with the problematic situations of our context? What is the use of these different Isms to us who do not have even a nice pair of cloths to put on?

Such a condition of English has exploited our freedom and virginity. It does not lead us to freedom, prosperity, and liberty. Instead it corrupts our body and soul. We are absurd puppets dancing with the tunes of others. After 1950s, the formal colonization of the West was stagnated by the third world countries and the movements taken place in different epochs of history. Then the notion of imperialism starts to spread in the world in disguised forms to spread its knowledge, culture, and manner in the developing and undeveloped countries. It comes in the East to learn and support us in different sectors. They are imposing colonialists’ discourses through the English language. The influence of English upon the colonized people was started from the time of formal colonization. In this regard, Tyson mentions, “that so many people formally colonized by Britain speak English, write in English, use English in their schools and universities, and conduct government business in English, in addition to the local languages they may use at home, is an indication of the residual effect of colonial domination on their cultures. In fact, the dynamic psychological and social interplay between what ex-colonial populations considers their native, indigenous, pre-colonial culture and the British culture that was on them constitutes a large portion…”(p.419).

Tyson says that the influence of English was started during the time of British colonization period. Colonized people started to speak English because of the colonizers’ influence. So English does not depict our own identity. The long history of English in the non-western world is influenced by colonizers. Now the English of our classroom is also an indirect and latent form of colonization. So, let us be aware of this fact and not support imperialistic tendency. As we all know that the truth and facts of life are not solved by studying the Westerners’ arts, literature, and philosophy. There are no more rubbers than the Western hegemonic books and tendency.

In such situation what should be done? Do we avoid the English or not in the context of non-western? In Nepal, it is very difficult to adopt the English absolutely because Nepal is very rich in diverse culture and language. There are many languages communities in Nepal like Tharu, Kirat, Newari and Maitili, etc. There is a danger of elimination of Nepali and indigenous languages unless the proper policies and their effective implementations. On the other hand, the craze of English is expanding day by day because of the hegemony of westernization. So, non-westerners are in the ambivalence position about the adopting the English.

In Nepal English was once the language of elites and rulers but now it has reached the access of mass from urban cities to remote village. It has become the indicator of civilized, educated and qualified persons in the context of our country. Whether rich or poor each class has tested the fruit of English. Now people of third world cannot separate from English because it has hallucination to them. America produces the coca cola and sends it in third world, people of third world start to drink it. They are habituated with its taste. Now, they have forgotten the taste of MOHI (local drink made by curt which is replaced by coca-cola). In the same way English in our context is in the form of coca-cola, which is replacing our indigenous languages.

In Nepal, thousands of English academic institutions are mushrooming day by day treating their areas as an ‘English speaking zones’. Nepalese literary texts; poems, essays, fictions etc. have also been written in English. Likewise, mass media- FM radios, newspapers and online editions have accelerated towards the use of English. A number of journals, books and periodicals are produced in English. The professional organizations such as NELTA, GAN have been enhancing the use of English in Nepal. Even in government funded schools children start to study English right from the grade one. Many such schools are shifting their medium of instruction from Nepali to English. The middle and high class families of Nepal prefer to send their children in English medium schools to government funded schools, not because the public schools do not have good infrastructure, teaching staff, environment etc., but because of the medium of instruction. Whether or not we like the spread of English, it is spreading with its leaps and bounds all over the world.

The use of English has also created some questions. What types of English Nepal should adopt either American or British? Does Nepal develop the Nenglish? If we adopt American or British English certainly it will kill the local dialects and harm for indigenous lives and culture. Nenglish in Nepal is not possible to exercise because of the limited resources and small population. So in this situation English is not adopted as its American and British form in the context of Nepal. It is essential to advocate local varieties of English, because a language cannot be taught without properly knowing the account of socio-economic and cultural system of certain places. In one of the training sessions of NELTA, a professor from the west is taking a class about how to teach color to the deaf child. He pointed out that it is necessary to explain the activities of wedding ceremony to tell about the white color to the deaf child. But it is not suitable for the people of Hindu community because Hindu people wear red dress in the wedding ceremony. So the socio-cultural and geopolitical conditions should be considered for the excepted outcome of using English.

There are different varieties of English because of which the teacher also gets confused. An event of my life, I went to a school to apply for the post of a +2 level English teacher with my resume. I handed my resume to the principal and said, “This is my resume, sir”. He winced on his face as soon as he had a glimpse on it. He told to me, “You do not know how to write bio-data and I provide you a sample of it”. Our conversation broke down and I returned home from there feeling embarrassed. I had formed it in American format so he did not like it. It should be developed in British format for him. Recently my 10 years nephew, Anil, was angry and blamed me for that because I had recommended him to write color, center and sox instead of colour, centre and sock respectively. His English teacher crossed those words in red due to the incorrect spelling. I tried my best to convince him about the variation of English words but he never believes me. Now he never comes to learn English with me thinking that my English is faulty. There are variations of words in British and American English like cab or taxi, center or centre, organization or organisation, underground or subway, gas or petrol, fall or autumn, candy or sweets, cookies or biscuits, movies or film etc. If we ask questions to the professors of English about the difference between British, American, New Zealand and Australian English, they say that there is no difference in the use of those words. But when a student writes program instead of programme, do we accept? So, to my knowledge and understanding, English is itself a contradictory and deconstructive means because of its nature and variations. It is the symbol of western hegemony as mentioned by the Antonio Gramsci. So let’s leave English as English.

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