A Teacher’s Journal of Teaching Writing in Community School in Nepal

Bimal Khanal

Writing is one of the important language skills. A piece of writing communicates our feelings, emotions and ideas. In order to develop the writing skills of our students, we can ask them to take notes, summarize and answer questions given in the textbooks. Likewise, dairy maintaining, writing travelogues, reflection, and journals improve their writing skills and helps them build confidence to express their feelings and ideas. Particularly students can perform their language ability, record their critical moments. As a teacher, we can motivate our students to do these writing activities.

My experiences and feelings

In my experience, teachers and students in Nepal, particularly from government schools, hesitate to write an academic piece in the English language. It is perhaps because of not having enough grammar skills and having the limited vocabulary. I believe that the grammar skills and vocabulary in any language are fundamental to compose a piece of writing in that language.

I am aware of the school and community environment where the Nepali language is the major language leaving many other indigenous languages in different ethnic communities. I rarely encounter someone speaking English on my way around the school and community. However, the current generation of children in Nepal would like to learn English and develop skills of the English. But there are so many issues behind it. I have tried to collect some information from students about current challenge of teaching writing skills in community schools. One of my students said, “I can’t write what I feel. I feel writing in English is hard, how to start to answer questions. I don’t get an idea how to start.” The English language is not a common language of conversation Nepal. Around 123 languages are spoken Nepali being the national language in this multilingual country. The English language is learned in the classroom and is limited in the classroom. Hence, it is obviously challenging for children to attain the advanced skills in the English language including the writing skills. However, teachers can try out some ways of teaching writing skills in their classrooms. The teachers can start with asking students to copy something with good handwriting, then gradually assign them some guided writing practice. Once they are confident with guided writing and able to compose appropriate and accurate sentences structures, now we can slowly introduce creative writing to them. Perhaps creative writing helps strengthen their writing skills. Teachers can provide their students with various writing opportunities in different fields like essays, letters, story development, paragraph writing, dairy writing, travel journal writing.

One of my students expressed the difficulty of writing in English, “I can’t write properly because I don’t understand many types of word meaning. How to find out the difficult word meaning?” As a teacher, we always have pressure to complete the curriculum in each academic session. I repeat the same book in the classes each year. There is no provision of additional books to enlarge the vocabulary of students. Extracurricular activities are also conducted for the formality only. English subject related activities such as essay writing, story writing, English debate competition, word meaning, spelling context, etc. get less priority. I think the school administration should manage extra classes for writing after the consultation with parents. Sometimes, guest resource persons of writing should be haired for inspiring the students for experience sharing and writing. On the other hand, the teachers also can do some activities to encourage students like diary or journal writing competition. Then, the good writings can be displayed on the school notice board or wall magazine. Likewise, the teachers must be update-to-date with the new trends of teaching writing effectively to the students.

After the students write, the teachers must read and offer feedback for rewriting if necessary. Generally, the writing process of our students never goes around another cycle. They just write once. Teachers mark the writing and what. Nothing. The process stops there. Actually, teachers must orient their students about the writing process and cycle. The first writing is the first draft and it should be rewritten if necessary. The role of teachers is very vital in reading the composition, offering the feedback and encouraging them to rewrite.

Most of the students are eager to learn the English language. They know the importance and scope of the English language but their foundation is very weak. One of the reasons behind this is the teachers’ own proficiency in English language. Some teachers (of course not all) have problem in composing a good paragraph and conversing in English with their students and colleagues. One of my colleagues expressed that, “There is no English environment in community school. All the students should speak English in their school premises.” It made me think further about learning and teaching the English language. I would imagine that my colleague has an overwhelming concept of educating children, but his expression reflects that he needs to differentiate between the English language and education. If he is teaching the English to his students in the classroom, he has to focus on the language. The increasing shift to English medium instruction from Nepali in the classroom has rather influenced the students’ Nepali language learning and learning of other subjects such as Science, Mathematics, Social Studies and History. The strategy of imposing the English as a medium of instruction in the classroom raised a question: are we teaching the English language? On the other hand, despite using English as a medium instruction, the writing of students is not satisfactory. And it is obvious that the demand of writing composition is going to be increased with the introduction of English medium instruction. Therefore, we need to review and rethink our method of teaching writing to the children.

Bimal Khanal is an English teacher in a community school in Kathmandu. He is also a freelance researcher. 

Writing Practices in ELE Programs in Nepali Universities: An Interactive Blog Post

Presented by: Ashok Raj Khati

In this blog post, we have attempted to present a broader picture of writing practice in English Language Education (ELE) programs in Nepali universities. The interaction is focused on how the ELE/ELT (English Language Teaching) programs in Nepali universities are guided by the policy provision and the initiations that have been taken to boost up writing skills of the students. The interaction incorporates the current practices as well as the challenges to develop academic writing of the students. Furthermore, the participants opine in relation to the publication practices of the faculty members and the issue of plagiarism in relation to their ELE/ELT programs of the university.

Let me introduce the participants of this interaction.:

  1. Laxman Gnawali, PhD– Associate Professor and the coordinator of ELE/ELT program, school of education, Kathmandu University Nepal.
  2. Laxmi Prasad Ojha– Lecturer at the department of English education, faculty of education, Tribhuvan University Nepal.
  3. Bishnu Kumar Khadka- the chairperson of English subject committee, faculty of education, Mid-Western University Nepal.
  4. Janak Singh Negi- Lecturer at Manilek Multiple Campus, a proposed constituent campus, Far Western University Nepal.
  5. Uttam Gaulee, PhD– Assistant Professor at Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland Area, the USA.

Dr. Gaulee provides his opinions concerning Nepali Universities based on his long experience of working in Nepal, general observation and his academic collaborations with these universities in different ways.

Can you please share any good initiations to develop writing skills of students in ELE/ELT program in the University you are involved?

Dr Laxman Gnawali: We have a strong focus on academic writing development in the graduate programs. For both MEd and MPhil programs, we have formal credit courses. These courses give theoretical understanding as well as practical exposure to develop students’ writing skills. We start with the basics such as paragraph writing, move on to a five-paragraph essay, and later to thematic paper as well as research paper writing. The culmination is the thesis writing in which they fully actualize their academic writing skills.

Mr Laxmi Prasad Ojha: I have seen a positive sign by including research and writing as the integral part of the curricula in my university. This is encouraging step towards developing students with reading, writing and critical thinking abilities. Most courses in  Bachelor’s and Master’s degree includes writing as an essential part of curricula and evaluation system. Students are supposed to write essays, narratives, reflections, research reports, research papers, book reviews, analytical writing at graduate and undergraduate levels and the thesis writing in the graduate level despite the fact that we have not been able to deliver the courses very well.

Mr Bishnu Kumar Khadka: We formed an ELT club of the students studying in English language education with the support of some international scholars. The journey of writing begins with writing meeting minutes which generally includes the name of the attendees, agenda, discussion and decisions in English. Furthermore, members of the club write and share their experiences and new insights they found during the study. In our semester-based system in Mid-Western University, students write assignments, project-based reports, review reports and research reports. The system generates the writing as a process during the whole semester as well as a part of the evaluation. When we felt a few challenges to gear up writing on the part of students, we established the Writing Center in the University with support of some international scholars. The center started webinar, training of teachers facilitated by scholars from the USA. It is really an inspiring move for us to develop writing in the English language.

Mr Janak Singh Negi: Apparently, there are some good initiations. It is because writing courses have been taught at the university level. I know these courses touch some practical aspects of academic writing, but most of the students do not seem practicing writing except writing Master’s thesis at the end of the program in this region.

 

Dr Uttam Gaulee: In the USA, there is a saying, “put your money where your mouth is.” In Nepali universities, teachers are given money to grade student papers but not for providing feedback. Providing incentives for students to write and for teachers to provide feedback more frequently would help. I see that Mid-Western University has now established a writing center. I think this is a good beginning.

 

What are the best practices for developing writing skills of students?

Dr Gnawali: Formal lessons in which students get engaged in writing and peer feedback followed by tutor feedback are common practices. Our process is from simple to complex. We encourage students not only to write papers as assignments but also to restructure, if needed, the same and submit to the national and international journals. Many papers get published in peer reviewed journals. We also encourage students to present the same papers in the conferences. The conference presentation itself may not help writing but as the students work harder when they plan for the conferences, their papers get better. In order to inject the latest development in academic writing, we organize academic writing workshops led by international facilitators having expertise in academic writing.

Mr Ojha: After the introduction of the semester system, we have been able to engage our students in various writing projects such as book reviews, reflective essays, narrative reports which helped the students develop writing skills. The effort gradually enabled students to develop writing academic and research papers. Some students pursuing their Master’s in ELT program at Tribhuvan University can produce some coherent pieces of academic papers. We have regular conferences with students, we organize seminars and workshops in academic writing, we provide focus on giving feedback to students’ write-ups and encourage them to attend conferences and present there. We also encourage and help them to write for different ELT related magazine and journals. These days, they are able to write theses with better academic writing and research skills due to the constant feedback they receive from their tutors while writing the assignments for various courses.

Mr Khadka: To encourage the writing of students, I created a Facebook group for them to raise questions, generate discussion, and write on different academic issues. Students actively participate in the discussion and they write reflective notes on their experiences which I found very effective both for classroom purposes and developing writing skill.

Mr Negi: Regarding the best practices, I think, it depends on whether you are talking about theoretical or practical aspects. If we look at the theoretical aspects, over the last few years there is drastic change in the university course; some course on academic/creative writing e.g. Academic Writing, Creative Writing in ELT, Advance Academic Writing to name only a few have been introduced in Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, where students get the opportunities to enhance their academic and creative writing skills. But, if we look at the practice side of these skills, rather different scenario comes in the mind i.e. some students know about academic/creative writing. However, most of them cannot write academically and creatively.

Dr Gaulee: Apart from sporadic one or two-day workshops, etc., I am not aware of a good writing development program functioning in a Nepali university so far. I wish I am wrong. I think writing is probably not yet understood as a process that can be developed with the continuous effort with proper feedback. I think there is an opportunity in the universities to make students aware of writing steps and allow them to practice pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Teachers need to provide appropriate feedback to students depending on where they are struggling. Students typically are not given a proper reason to write other than to sit for the nightmarish high-stake year-end exams.

What are the challenges to enhance writing practices of the students?

Dr Gnawali: The major challenge is that the most students join the program with no experience of writing anything except in the examination. They have issues with the grammar, vocabulary and generating ideas. So, starting from the scratch is very challenging. As they have not had any experiences in sustained writing, it’s challenging to get them to write longer texts in the beginning.

Mr Ojha: I think the most important challenges are a large number of students (large class size) in my department. It is really challenging to support, mentor and provide feedback at the personal level to help them develop writing skill. The knowledge and skill of the faculty members involved in higher education is another real challenge as most of them are involved in teaching without any prior academic and professional background or training on academic writing. Therefore, if we want to introduce research and academic writing in our higher education, we have to groom our teachers to be able to mentor their students.

Mr Khadka: In my experience, writing, either in mother tongues or any other languages, is considered as a tough and the most reluctant task in our context for the beginners or advanced level language learners. Students do not feel comfortable in writing. I have experienced that many students‘copy and paste’ from the internet-based resources to complete the assignments and meet the deadlines in the university. Therefore, it is highly challenging to foster the culture of original, cohesive and purely academic writing in our cases.

Mr Negi: This is really an interesting question. The big challenge is to put theory into practice i.e. making students write academically or creatively instead of knowing or writing about academic or creative writing. Most of the students spend their time preparing for the examination and in the examination, they are asked questions like these: “What are the 5R techniques for summarizing the paragraph?” instead of “Read the following paragraph and summarize it”. “What do you mean by invention techniques for generating ideas?” instead of “Generate the ideas for writing an essay on the following topic/s…”. “What are the characteristics of poetry?” instead of “Write a poem (for example, a sonnet, a free verse, Gajal, haiku…). I mean the evaluation system, in general, itself is a challenge for better learning output. If students are taught, for example, to summarize or to write a poem they should be able to do so and the same should be tested in the examination. If not, they know/memorize few lines about academic or creative writing but will not be able to write academically or creatively.

Dr Gaulee: I think one of the major challenges is large classes. The teachers should be able to coach a student to develop writing skills. The second major challenge is the lack of teacher training on how to successfully serve as a coach for their students toward developing writing.

What about the publications practices of faculty members involved in the program?

Dr Gnawali: Publication is a regular feature of the faculty here at Kathmandu University. Every faculty publishes at least one paper each year in national or international journals. We also have our own journal, Journal of Education and Research which is edited by the faculties. They develop their own expertise in course of editing and publishing process. Some senior faculties are editors and reviewers for the peer reviewed journals.

Mr Ojha: In general, we have been doing fairly well in research and publication in the recent times. Some of the faculty members (for example the Head of Department, Dr Prem Phyak) have really been inspirational both in terms of number and quality of publications in high standard journals. The faculty members are collaborating with each other to research, write and deliver presentations in the seminars and conferences. This is certainly a good indication of collaborative academic and professional growth. We are also planning to publish a journal on ELT and Applied Linguistics from our department so that the faculty members from various institutions can get support and space for the publication of their research works. Some senior colleagues are also mentoring the young faculty through collaboration, review and resources.

Mr Khadka: Regarding the publication of the academic journal, I coordinated the publication of ‘Journal of Education Science’ (JOES) in the capacity of Editor-in-chief, the first volume in the university in 2012. In the volume, there are contributions of faculty members and students. We are planning to publish another volume very soon. Likewise, we encourage the students to publish the journal with their own initiation. Faculty members and students are also collaborating with the Journal of NELTA Surkhet in term of participating in the workshop in writing and contributing to the volume.

Mr Negi: Currently the interest in publishing academic work in academic or research journals is growing very fast. Most of the colleges and departments have started publishing some academic journals and Souvenir in the region where both students and teachers have opportunities to publish their academic and creative works. Some ELT professionals have started writing for national and international academic journals and are really engaged in academic publications. However, it is yet to meet the standards as the most articles by the faculty members seem a mere elaboration of the classroom notes. They lack a broad study on academic and ELT related issues.

Dr Gaulee: While writing has always been encouraged – probably ideally, it is only recently that universities are giving more emphasis in publications, which is certainly a good sign. Research, writing, and publications have been more of an exception than the norm so far, which needs to be changed with the recent growth of publication avenues, access to resources and networks of professionals via scholarly societies and conferences.

What are your thoughts on plagiarism- an issue in the Nepali higher education?

Dr Gnawali: There have been publicly discussed issues on plagiarism in higher education. University Grants Commission has had some cases of plagiarism with the University faculties. Colleges that run foreign University programs have faced the issues with their students for plagiarizing papers/assignments. I believe that there are some major reasons for scholars to plagiarize. There are some cases that authors have intentionally plagiarized with an intention to get a quick promotion. The key reason is that there is no proper training and awareness raising on how not to plagiarize. Authors refer but either they do not know how to properly give credit to the original author. Likewise, the regulations are not fully enforced, and when someone is found guilty, they are not penalized.

Mr Ojha: Plagiarism is a serious issue in Nepali academia. The motivation of the students to pursue higher education is an important factor to influence how they write their papers and theses. Many of them are not even aware of the issues related to plagiarism. Moreover, we do not have any system (e.g. digital repository of the theses submitted and the software) to track malpractices like plagiarism. It is not possible for a professor to track the plagiarized papers, assignments and theses of the student/s. Hence, it is important to develop awareness on maintaining ethics in research and writing through training and other possible ways.

Mr Khadka: It is a serious issue in the higher education in Nepal – very difficult to speak out for me. So, there is a blaming culture in our context regarding plagiarism. The writers in this university are not the exception. Students often submit highly plagiarized papers and research reports, not intentionally, but because they do not know how to avoid plagiarism. However, in Nepali universities, few so-called academicians, writers and researchers do it deliberately for different purposes. Therefore, it is a high time to be well informed by ourselves (faculty members) and guide our students in the university accordingly to avoid plagiarism.

Mr Negi: Oh! This is the most interesting query above all! Ashok Ji, if you read the course books on academic writing itself written by some Nepali authors, the definition of plagiarism itself is plagiarized. Very honestly, this is not my criticism to particular authors but it is the ground reality. The plagiarized case of Master’s thesis has already been disclosed in various print media. So, I do not need to elaborate it further. It means we know plagiarism. However, some of us still plagiarize and our plagiarized work is accepted; nobody (even some academicians in authority) raises questions on it seriously, so we (some academic practitioners) neither realize nor make somebody realize the impacts of plagiarism. Therefore, to control and check plagiarism to some extent, we need to have at least a plagiarism checking software in our colleges or departments. My point is plagiarism should be avoided at any cost.

Dr Gaulee: In the lack of proper writing development in place, plagiarism in Nepali higher education is still a “white crime.” It sometimes serves as a fodder for blame game or even political ammunition. Either way, it has not been addressed in a way that it should.

Would you like to add anything about the writing practices at the end?

Dr Gnawali: To be honest, academic writing has not been established as a culture in Nepalese education scenario. Therefore, we need to revamp academic writing practices from the school level to the university.

Mr Ojha: We still lack adequate research and writing culture in Nepali academia which negatively affects the students and faculties in a long run. To be frank, we have not been able to give enough space to write in our university courses especially the academic writing skills. I think it is high time to introduce academic writing as a compulsory course in all disciplines including ELT program and deliver them following mentoring model. The university department and colleges can also establish writing centers where students can receive support from the mentors.

Mr Khadka: In my view, we must discourage ‘copy and paste’ culture. Hence, there is much to do in academic writing in the university.

Mr Negi: In fact, we are floating on the surface with motionless motion, we are not anchored academically; we are more formal and still practicing much with formality. Let’s try to be more practical and realistic.

Dr Gaulee: Status quo needs to change. In universities, writing centers need to be established, an intensive educational plan should be implemented, which may need a great deal of willpower on the part of leadership to facilitate awareness, planning, and implementation, which will involve expertise, training, money and patience.

We thank our valued participants for generating this ELT Choutari interaction. We will come up with the further discussion and writings on the “Writing” based on these valuable ideas and opinions in our upcoming issues. For now, ELT Choutari opens the discussion forum for you to share your thoughts after reading the ideas of our contributors. Please share your thoughts in the comment boxes below.

Ashok Raj Khati is one of the editors of ELT Choutari. He writes for academic journals, ELT blogs and Nepali national dailies.

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

Dr Shyam Sharma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing should be an independent field of Writing Studies.

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Writing an Essay and Taking Academic Notes

Thinh Le*

(The ideas are based on the practice of the writer) 

A. How to prepare and organize ideas for an essay?

As a language teacher for 8 years, I have found that my students struggle with their writing skills. When I ask them to write an essay for 250 words, it sometimes takes more than an hour to write because they do not know what to write or get stuck in the middle of their writing. Even the students with rather good grammar skills and sufficient vocabulary feel the same. To solve this problem, I undergo the following three-steps-process of writing to make it easy for them to write.

Step 1: Think of different social roles relating to the topic

Let’s see how we can think of different social roles related to the topic. For example, with the topic “Tertiary education should be free. To what extent do you agree?” When students get this topic, they often think of their arguments around students such as students could study freely without paying fees. And they cannot go further in their argument. I often suggest them to think of different people related to this topic such as lecturers, students’, parents, university administrators, government, or tax-payers. Now after thinking the different stakeholders associated with the topic, I ask them to follow the step: 2.

Step 2:  Ask all Wh-questions

In relation to the above topic for essay writing, I ask my students to raise the following questions associated with people related to the topic.

  • What do students get if tertiary education is free?
  • What do the parents benefit when tertiary education is free?
  • And where could the lecturers get the salary if tertiary education is free?
  • Where do universities get money to pay salaries for teachers and provide other facilities if tertiary education is free?
  • Is it good if the government pay for university education?
  • Is it fair for everyone if the government pay for university education?
  • Does the government have enough fund to pay for the university?

When the students brainstorm all the answers for the above questions, they will have a lot of ideas to write an essay. However, to write a good essay with logic arguments, they need to state their point of view and organize their ideas to support their arguments. Therefore, I ask them to follow the step: 3.

Step 3: State the point of view and organize ideas in a logical way

After answering all these questions, students should decide their point of view and organize their ideas according to the point of views. They should try to select the ideas that are more prominent and support their point of views. They do not need to include all the ideas in one essay. Each main point (topic sentence) needs three supporting ideas and try to give examples to support their point of view.

I believe following the above three steps offers students a lot of ideas and help them write an essay with the main point of view and ideas to support their arguments.

 

B. How to take academic notes effectively?

When I started my PhD journey, I read many articles. However, I did a blunder by not taking any notes. At the time of reading, I thought that I could remember what I had read. However, after reading more than 30 articles, I did not remember exactly what I had read! Luckily, I had chances to attend some workshops organized by my supervisors and PhD colleagues about completing the PhD journey. I was happy to share with you what I learnt and applied successfully after attending these workshops.

To come up with a paper, any other writing or a PhD thesis, I think the most important thing is to take notes methodologically. And organize the notes in a logical way so that you can retrieve it whenever you need it and use your notes for further analysis or comparison to discuss with other scholars in the world. Here are the main three steps that I find very useful.

Step 1: Take notes

When you are reading an article, take notes during reading or immediately after the reading. You may wonder what should note down. Sometimes, the article is very long and interesting but you do not know what is important to write down. In that case, you can include the following things:

  • The context of the study,
  • Theoretical framework,
  • Methodology,
  • Findings of the study and
  • Your critical view of the article.

Some of you may wonder why you need to take these notes. I will explain that in step 3.

Step 2: Organize your notes

Now, in this phase, we have to organize these summaries into themes/topics with the original articles because you may need to read these articles one more time when you find it related to your topic or area. On the other hand, you may need it to list in the reference section of your article or writing. Organizing this way, helps you compare many articles about the same topics.

Step 3: How to use your notes effectively

When you have all your notes, you will wonder how you can use these notes effectively. Please read your notes and compare or contrast the findings, methods or theoretical framework together to write the literature review. In the methodology section, you can also compare your methods with the method applied in the articles you read and summarized, so that you can figure out any differences and similarities between your method and the one used in the literature you read. Then you can state why you choose your own methods. I think it is very useful in the discussion section because you can compare your findings with the findings from previous studies. Then you show your readers that you find out something different from other people based on your context and your research method.

If you do not organize all these notes in a logical way, you may finish your writing. However, it might take you more time to go back and forth with the original articles to find the information that you need.

I hope that these practical tips could help you in to accelerate your writing.

Editor: Dear valued readers, perhaps you may have other ideas of composing the essay and note-taking effectively and efficiently. Please share your ideas in the comment box below.

*Thinh Le is a lecturer of English at Vietnam Banking Academy, Phu Yen Branch, Vietnam and he is also a PhD Candidate in College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Free Photos for Teaching Writing: Jeevan Karki

Like in the past, we have come up with photography project in this writing special issue of ELT Choutari. We believe that our students, like any one of us, enjoy looking photos and hence we can use photos in teaching language skills and aspects. In this post, the photos are more like thematic and can be very useful for teaching writing. One photo can generate many ideas and in many different forms. We can use the following photos in the classroom in the different ways. Like, we can simply ask our students to describe the photo, write a story in the periphery of the photo, write an essay related to the issue of the photo. E.g. we can use the photo of the temple to assign them to write about the issue of “Hygiene and Conservations of Templates”.

Dear teachers, you can show the photos to your students, generate discussion, form a group (or you can assign to each individual) and assign the task of writing. The students will find at least some ideas to write about the photos and they will feel more secure to write with these thematic photos.

For this project, the photos are contributed by Jeevan Karki, who is also a freelance photographer.

Children clicking the photo using the mobile phone in a travel.

A man enjoying paragliding over the sky of Few Lake in Pokhara.

A shooting set for a video.

People harvesting paddy in a village of Nepal.

Soldiers in a parade in a function.

People standing in a queue in a temple.

People singing the Bhajan in a temple.

Welcome to the Ninth Anniversary Issue of ELT Choutari, with Special Coverage of ELT Curriculum and Materials in Nepal

Growing older and giving back better

We are delighted to present the ninth anniversary issue of ELT Choutari. This is a legacy of work and inspiration of scholars at home and abroad for sustaining a forum and building new knowledge on relevant issues in ELT and on education more broadly. In 2017, we were able to publish two strong issues on ICT in education and language planning and policy. While we have published less often recently, we remain inspired to present high-quality scholarship through this venue. We are committed to regularising the publication of Choutari and we encourage our readers to share their work.

As we celebrate the ninth anniversary of “Nepal’s first digital ELT magazine,” this issue covers the subject of “ELT Curriculum and Materials in Nepal: Process, Quality, and Learnability”.

The curriculum is an area that needs the attention of scholars and policy-makers alike. Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), Nepal states that only the materials produced by it are textbook, whereas the materials published by private publication are called additional reading or reference materials. Students of private schools around the country are reading these additional reading/reference materials as the textbooks except for district and regional level exams in class eight and ten respectively. Big private publishers supply a large amount of such additional reading materials to schools around the country and those materials have their own characteristics. The additional reading materials available in the market do not show that their quality is controlled (or the national benchmark set) by the CDC, which is one of its primary roles.

Private publishers seem to believe that if their materials are thicker and heavier, they are better. Therefore, they include more material, in fancier format, for better ‘branding’, loading more materials beyond the expectations of the curriculum and levels of students. As a result, the current curriculum (unfortunately defined narrowly as textbooks) puts almost cruel and educationally absurd pressure on young students. Most of our teachers and parents strictly stick to the materials, rarely adapting the materials but instead just trying to “finish” the book by the end of the term (as their schools and parents also want them to do). It rarely matters whether the material is good, if it is relevant to course objective, or if it is appropriate and learnable to the students–not to mention how the approach undermines the ingenuity of the teacher.

Students are judged on the basis of how much of the material–however bad–they can ‘master’ through memory, rather than by understanding and using meaningfully. It is saddening to see the absolute power of developers, public officials, and school administrators, most of whom are both uninformed and uninterested in issues like this–while they love to lead the education sector. Who has time to think about boring issues like this, right? The intellectual development of students, meaningfulness of curriculum from social perspectives, role, and the ability of educators in the classroom is ignored. What really matters is whatever glitters!

On the other hand, textbooks published by the government are far from ideal. They may have been strictly based on the curriculum of the government and appropriate to the average students but does their content address the needs of students with different levels and types of abilities? Likewise, is there variety in activities? Are the lessons attractive and engaging for them? Do they try to tap into the teacher’s own ideas and ingenuity? Do the materials published especially by private publication undergo quality control? Are writers and developers sufficiently knowledgeable about curriculum and pedagogy, about benchmarks and reality on the ground, or even the subject matter? Are others involved in the publication process–such as illustrators and graphic designers–trained and qualified? What is the role of the national body of curriculum and textbook CDC to produce such manpower? Are our learners reading truly appropriate and learnable curricular materials? Or have we given in to the whims of the market and fashion as a nation?

Thus, curriculum–in both narrow and broad senses of the term–is an important issue that needs a lot more attention in our scholarship. It is in this context that this issue of Choutari focuses on ELT curriculum and materials in Nepal. Our writers and hopefully readers are also involved in this discourse, and we hope to generate more conversations around this topic in the future.

In the first post, Prem Prasai shares A teacher’s practice and perception on English language textbook of secondary level based on his day to day experience as a textbook user.

In the second post, Bishow Raj Joshi shares his journey from a teacher to English language textbook writer including the process, achievements, and challenges of developing textbooks.

Likewise, in an interview, Bal Ram Adhikari shares his experiences of a higher level course developer including the process, trends in course development, his observation on the available courses, prospects, and challenges of course development.

Similarly, in another post, Ramesh Ghimire, a Curriculum Officer at Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) shares his observations on the ELT textbooks in the market and the process and policy of CDC.

On the other hand, Bal Krishna Sharma in another post sheds light on the two ‘tremendously useful’ books the English teachers.

The next post is a survey on students reading habits on the non-textbooks translated by Praveen Kumar Yadav based on the survey conducted by Research and Analytics. It explores the interests of students in the non- textbooks, their reading habit, the role of teachers and parents to promote reading non-textbooks, the popular genre among students etc.

In the quest of offering you something innovative and engaging, we have stepped up to offer you an audio-visual interview. In the interview, Dr. Vishnu S. Rai shares his journey of developing textbook, the inception of the functional curriculum in ELT in Nepal, the quality and learnability of the available textbooks and materials in the market, and the future of ELT curriculum and materials.

Last not the least, we have an announcement made by Dr Prem Phyak for our readers about the first ever annual ELT and Applied Linguistics Conference, organized by Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University Nepal.

Likewise, it gives us the joy to share you that ELT Choutari has launched its own YouTube Channel ELT Choutari- YouTube  in order to share the audio-visual resources and thus expanding the horizon of ELT Choutari. We are very hopeful that you will subscribe our channel and stay updated.

Please check the list of the eight posts in this issue:

  1. A Teacher’s Practice and Perception on English Language Textbook of Secondary Level: Prem Prasai
  2. My Journey to Become a Textbook Writer: Bishow Raj Joshi
  3. We’re Still Toddlers in Designing Materials for University Level: Bal Ram Adhikari
  4. Parents & Students Have no Choice in Materials Selection: Ramesh Ghimire
  5. More to ELT: Two Books on Language Education and Communication: Bal Krishna Sharma
  6. [SURVEY] Reading Habit: Do our students read the books outside the textbooks?,translated by Praveen Kumar Yadav
  7. (VIDEO) Dr Vishnu S. Rai in Conversation with Dr. Prem Phyak on ELT Textbook and Materials Writing in Nepal
  8. [Announcement] First Annual ELT & Applied Linguistics Conference 2018, Prem Phyak

I would like to say thanks to all the founders of ELT Choutari and the past editors; we’re building on the legacy you’ve passed on to us. I am very grateful to Dr. Shyam Sharma for help with editing, to Praveen Kumar Yadav for support with materializing this issue, and to fellow Choutari editors (Karna Bahadur Rana and Ashok Raj Khati) for their contributions and leadership.

Please remember to leave a comment on what you read, share anything you like with your network, and to consider contributing your own writing in the future.

Thank you.

Jeevan Karki
Lead Editor, ELT Choutari, New Year Issue, 2018

A Teacher’s Practice and Perception on English Language Textbook of Secondary Level

Prem Prasai

As I take the trip down memory lane, I vividly behold vistas of years I spent on the teaching career. It’s been more than a decade and a half since I embarked on a journey of teaching in a private school in Jhapa. I was in my late teens when I entered a class as a novice teacher. I have been currently teaching English at the secondary level in a renowned school in Lalitpur for more than a decade.

In this course of teaching, I have used many textbooks of different publications as ELT materials. In this context, this write-up draws on my personal experiences of teaching English to secondary level students in an institutional school and shed some light on the textbook(s) I am using as ELT materials. However, I will focus more on different facets of the government prescribed textbooks while making passing reference to additional books prescribed by the school.

Textbooks and additional materials I’ve been using

In my school, there is a combination of government prescribed textbook, i.e. English and additional books prescribed by the school. The additional books include Tales from Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s plays in story form), Intermediate English Grammar and Friday Afternoon and Composition for class nine. Pride and Prejudice replaces Tales from Shakespeare for class ten.

The additional books have been prescribed to expose students with more engaging reading materials to cater to the needs of reading longer pieces of literature. In the additional section, Murphy’s grammar book is a good resource for students to learn grammar independent of or some guidance from the teacher. Friday Afternoon and Composition offers reading texts for comprehension and composition writing skills.

The government prescribed textbooks for secondary level have recently been updated and revised not only in line with the change in the broader socio-political spectrum in the country and in its implications but also with changing principles of English language teaching and learning in the recent years. The content coverage is more comprehensive and contains more variety of topics and activities compared to the past textbooks.

Books selection in schools and necessity of additional materials

As far as the selection of textbooks in my school is concerned, there is no option in case of government prescribed textbooks as they are mandatory throughout the country. However, there is hardly any binding framework followed for selecting additional textbooks. The selection of books primarily depends on the intent of the school authority than the informed choice and recommendation of concerned subject teachers.

Talking about the necessity of additional materials, I think they are not so necessary because the government textbook itself demands more time if we do the set activities and extended activities properly. Furthermore, I think some room should be given to the teachers to explore and bring the resources as per the objectives and the needs of students rather than prescribing. For example, in place of using the prescribed storybook, the teachers can collect or download the relevant story to their students and work on that. But when the books are prescribed, they are under pressure to finish that and hence there is no room for them to use their creativity. Nevertheless, the prescribed additional textbooks are useful for the novice and lazy teachers as they don’t have to spend time searching and collecting something appropriate for their learners.

Students’ perception of English Textbooks and materials

Perception of students towards a particular subject and its teaching material plays a significant role in the effective implementation of the curriculum. Students of institutional schools tend to pay less heed to English subject as they think they are the students of “boarding schools”. Besides, they are influenced by the grades of their seniors in English in the board examinations such as SEE which tend to be far higher than the scores of community schools. This mentality results in a lax attitude in students. Further, it piles pressure on the language teachers to make their lessons interesting and engaging.

The government textbooks match the level of students in institutional schools as they have a comparatively good base of the English language. The recently revised textbook of grade nine and ten are more enjoyed by students because the content is relevant and appropriate for them. Like, there are texts and activities on, one of the favourite foods of students “mo: mo:” Likewise, in the writing section, sample resources are given to students, which helps them to draw the frame of writing. Thus making the activity inductive. Similarly, there are also project works as the extended activities for students, which helps them to explore their learning themselves.  However, some students do not fare well as they concentrate less on English as they think it is easier to get through English compared with other subjects.

Analysis of Government English textbook

As regards the organization of the exercises in the government prescribed textbook English for class ten, each unit is organized under one dominant functional aspect in English language learning. For example, unit one is entitled Giving, Withholding and Reporting Permission. Each unit blends all four language skills. Reading Section is introduced after warm-up exercises on the pertinent issue or theme to be raised in the text. These pre-reading activities are called Engage Yourself and Study Time. The reading is followed by various exercises such as Vocabulary in Use, Question/ Answer, True or False Statements, etc. Each unit contains a section entitled Grammar which employs a three-step approach to a grammar topic. The first step introduces the grammar topic and gets students interested in the topic. The second step focuses on the core area with example and problems, and the last step integrates the grammar item with either speaking or writing exercise. Listening and Speaking Sections follow the same steps. Writing Section begins with a sample writing text, presents the major writing task to the students before relating the writing task to their possible real-life situations. Every unit provides an opportunity for students to do creative work under Project Work Section. Finally, the unit concludes with a relevant fun activity or exercise under Fun Corner.

Overall, some strengths of the exercises include the following of inductive teaching and learning approach, presenting simple to complex ideas, beginning with pre-reading and writing steps, and going beyond the text to explore and relate in real life situations. However, each unit is heavily loaded with exercises, slowing the progression of the course if conducted as per the spirit of the exercises.  An endeavor has been made to make the book a complete whole in itself by integrating different aspects of learning English. For example, major reading texts including some good pieces of poetry, short stories, real and context-specific interviews. The interviews with Nepalese doctors Imran Ansari and Rajan Poudel on Bird Flu and Typhoid Fever respectively help students to relate learning to their life. Besides, the textbooks include many practical writing topics such as making posters, drafting an invitation, writing the notice of condolence and congratulation, composing emails, preparing a CV, writing a job application and a letter to the editor, designing an advertisement, preparing leaflets and pamphlets etc. Moreover, it also exposes students to the idea that intelligible pronunciation is a must in spoken English and to achieve this end, class nine English book introduces the basic sounds and their phonemic symbols to the students. An extended glossary at the back of the book is also of a help for students. Major readings and writing part are received well by the students in institutional schools.

One of the challenges using the English textbook is to be able to do the justice to all the activities as per the spirit and demand as there are plenty of activities and exercises to do. Similarly the timely availability of the audio material poses another challenge. Moreover, there are some grammatical lapses which may confuse students. For example, while reporting a question the reporting verb “told” has been used in question no. 2.(f): Navaraj told Saraswati……. . Another blunder creeps in the following short question (2. i. g) where the preposition “to” is not required before the object Tom:  What did the angel tell to Tom (p. 147)?

There is no denying the fact that the content of the book is culturally appropriate as it encompasses the texts drawing on culturally relevant and context specific texts. This is expected to foster a sense of mutual respect and tolerance in students and the appreciation of the good in everything. Though the content coverage ranges from local to global issues and texts, more interesting and stimulating texts could have been incorporated.

Available teachers’ resources and capacity building to implement curriculum

For the effective implementation of the textbook, Teacher’s Guide Book plays an important role. However, it is not available yet though I checked on the official website of the Curriculum Development Center and its mobile application. A couple of months ago, I got the opportunity to be familiar with the revised curriculum in a session organized by PABSON, Lalitpur in coordination with the subject expert from CDC, Bhaktapur. More workshops are yet to receive.

However, I am aware of the curriculum set by CDC. This awareness helps me to choose from many options available to achieve the learning competencies in my students. However, candidly speaking, always designing learning activities keeping in mind the set curriculum is a herculean task.

Conclusion

As the textbook is an essential resource to carry out the effective implementation of the curriculum set for a particular level, due care should be taken to make it a good teaching-learning material. The aim of the textbook should not merely be the transmission of knowledge. It should rather equip students with a repertoire of skills for acquiring and building knowledge and instill in them a positive attitude as well as the love for lifelong learning. A textbook should enable students to learn how to make use of different ways of learning. It should also provide an appropriate amount of culturally appropriate and interesting texts. An authentic textbook provides students with opportunities for developing diverse skills of learning according to their interests, needs, and abilities.

On the other hand, teachers also should not merely depend on the textbooks but should adapt them as per the level, interests, and needs of students.

Mr. Prasai is an MA in English Literature from TU. Currently an M Phil scholar in English at KU. He is an English Faculty at Public Youth Campus and GEMS School, Lalitpur.  

My Journey to Become a Textbook Writer

Bishow Raj Joshi*

On the very first day of my teaching career at Shree Bhairab Secondary School, Lamjung where I was appointed as a teacher of English in 1999, I found a book written by Vishnu Singh Rai in the school’s bookshelf. When reading his profile on the cover page, I wished I had had my name as Mr. Rai on the cover page of a textbook. But I had another important responsibility of pursuing Masters Degree and achieving it before starting any other works.

So far I remember the day I found a notice: “call for sample lessons to select grade eight textbook writers” in Gorkhapatra, a national daily newspaper from where my life of writer began. After reading the notice, I contacted my several friends, prepared required documents together and submitted them to Curriculum Development Centre, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur within the notice period. Fortunately, our team was selected to work for Curriculum Development Centre. I still feel how much I was excited to be a part of writers’ team.

We were given a time period of fifteen days to gather necessary materials to develop a textbook. In such a short timeframe, we had to work out of limited sources in rush. As a beginning to develop the textbook framework, the team scheduled a meeting to review national education policy, curriculum and previous textbooks, and in the meeting, the team decided to organize contents into each language skill: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Technically we planned to present contents into three sections based on the framework: Engage yourself-Study-Activate yourself. In the meeting, we distributed tasks of collecting materials to each of us in the team and agreed to meet with assigned works the following week.

Immediately after three weeks of our book development journey, our team briefed our ongoing activities and preparation of the textbook to Curriculum Development Centre. We provided our preliminary drafts of some lessons to CDC. It led us to a meeting with subject committee members in CDC. The committee’s feedback helped us develop a draft of the book. Ultimately we were able to submit our book draft on the 45th day of our book writing journey. Then, we developed a task force including school teachers, collected their feedback and made some changes in the draft of the textbook. The further meeting with subject committee members provided valuable feedback to improve the draft and we included some images and diagrams with their suggestion.

When the final draft was produced as a textbook, it was sent to one hundred government schools for piloting the project. The pilot project provided significant feedbacks and then the comments collected from the school teachers were reviewed subsequently. The feedbacks helped rectify errors in the textbook. Then the textbook was published as a final version and distributed throughout the country.

Main structure of the book

We structured the materials under ESA (Engage -study-activate) lesson sequence in the textbook. Engage activities are presented as motivational activities, study activities as main texts, and activate activities as real-life activities. Reading texts in the textbook provide with opportunities for developing various reading skills such as skimming and scanning, and vocabulary development.  Practical activities set in the book provide the students with basic writing skills. Likewise, listening and speaking activities are entirely based on the communicative skills. We also expect that the students enhance grammatical competence through grammatical items presented in each unit. Some project works in the textbook drive teachers and students to field activities such as social events, environmental and community studies which may develop socialisation skills in the learners. Finally, to address the multiple intelligences of the students, fun activities are included in the textbook.

Personal experience in writing textbook

When I was selected and involved in the team of textbook writers, I got a load of priceless joys. Eventually, I started to dream to be a popular writer after being a part of a national level textbook. My dream to publish about my social, cultural and contexts were gradually happening to be actually concrete in real life. This opportunity reminded my teacher, Mr. Kalika Koirala, who encouraged me to study English and start teaching career. Since I became a member of writers’ team of the textbook, I have been popular among many people and my village has been recognised by many.

How I had thought in the beginning of starting to write the textbook did not go easily while gathering materials and working in the textbook. I thought 45 days would be enough for developing a draft of a textbook but actually, it was not. However, it was the allocated time for our team which was a pressure for everyone in the team. I have explained the major difficulties we faced when developing the book draft below:

Word choice: The guidelines for textbook writers had explicitly explained the maximum number of syllables in a word and the number of words in a sentence. We had to follow it strictly. This created problem while selecting the authentic reading texts. We had skipped many interesting texts due to the frequency of sentences consisting of more than twenty-two words and words consisting of many syllables. Therefore, there might not be more interesting reading texts in the book.

Framing the materials within the prescribed number of pages: As per the guidelines, we had to present all the materials within 176 pages. The areas to be addressed were really difficult to squeeze within the prescribed number of pages. To maintain it, we left many interesting texts. Therefore, we had to supply the book with short texts without the careful consideration of the interest of the students.

Searching for texts with prescribed language functions: There were particular language functions to be addressed in the textbook. While selecting the texts for different language functions and aspects, the texts had had at least some language exponents addressing the language functions prescribed in the curriculum. Finding such texts within a limited time was almost impossible. So we wrote some reading texts to address such problems.

Selecting the pictures and drawing in the textbook: When we submitted the draft copy within a given time frame, the textbook designer was handed over the document. The designer was assigned to supply the book with the pictures as per our description. We had no role in drawing pictures. Sometimes we changed the texts due to the lack of some pictures. In some cases, we changed the descriptions too. So we could not present the materials as we wished before.

However, being a textbook writer brought me both pleasure and pain. The pleasure relived the pain and generated more energy to be in the team of Grade 9 and 10 textbook writers.  The first writing experience not only strengthened my writing skills but also taught me what the writer should consider while writing a textbook.

* The author is a Lecturer at Sanothimi Campus, Tribuwan University, Nepal and a textbook writer of English textbooks for grade VIII, IX and X (CDC).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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