More to ELT: Two Books on Language Education and Communication

Balkrishna Sharma*

In our last conversation, Praveen asked me to offer some recommendations for some recent “good” books on ELT for our English teachers in Nepal. I, promptly, but hesitatingly said ‘yes’. I was hesitant mainly for two reasons: reflecting on what I read last year, it was hard for me to remember the names of the books I read; I found that my teaching and research is largely shaped by journals articles in applied linguistics these days. Second, on topics of ELT- and this was mainly due to the reason that English education has been historically equated with ELT, which again is largely confined to teaching methodologies, four-skills, and evaluation.

However, my interest in recent years again has to do with larger social and political forces that shape language education and language teaching, e.g. politics, culture, society, policy and so on. Developing knowledge and awareness on these broader issues is as important as, and sometimes, more important than, the practical skills that teachers need in teaching English. Language teaching is more than ‘language’ teaching; it encompasses larger socio-political-cultural issues that impact teachers’ and students’ lives.

From my hard-to-remember book list, here are two texts that are tremendously useful for our English teachers in Nepal. If you tell the whole narrative of what you think is a good movie to your friend, chances are that your friend may not want to watch the movie anymore because s/he knows the plot and the characters already. Applying the same logic, if I give you a run-down of everything in the books, I may kill your interest to read the books. Therefore, I am giving only a few words on what aspects of the texts have impressed me.

1. Engaged Language Policy and Practice

Year of publication: 2017

Authors: Kathryn Davis and Prem Phyak

Year of publication: 2017

This book situates language policy and practice as a form of social activism and transformation. Rather than conceptualizing language policy as a form of government document or a constitutional manifesto, the authors conceptualize it as enacted by various social members in different levels. English language teachers and learners, for examples, are agentive individuals who have the power and awareness to resist dominant ideologies and practices, and bring about social changes through multilingual practices. The authors argue that an engaged approach to policy and practice pays attention to raising individuals’ “awareness of the conditions of their own oppression” (p. 30). By reading the books, language teachers have a chance to learn and critically think about some broader issues of multilingualism, language ideology, neoliberalism/capitalism, critical language awareness, and critical pedagogy. And these are the issues that impact language teachers’ lives, directly or indirectly.

2. Exploring Intercultural Communication: Language in Action

Author: Zhu Hua

Year of Publication: 2014

This book addresses concerns of contemporary globalization, diversity, and the intercultural nature of communication today. With the rapid flows of peoples, cultures and media across national borders, many social settings have become linguistically and culturally diverse. As people from such diverse backgrounds meet face-to-face or in online contexts, their meeting becomes a site for an intercultural encounter where they negotiate meanings, social identities, and power relations. The field of language education in particular is impacted by this diversity in a number of ways. For example, second language teacher education courses inevitably must deal with new notions of culture as well as which cultures to teach and how to teach them. Language professionals in particular should seriously reconsider how the issues of culture are represented in teaching materials and addressed in classroom practices. Keeping this in mind, the book approaches the notion of intercultural communication primarily as a communicative practice. The chapters present theoretical concepts and empirical cases of intercultural communication from a wide range of social contexts such as family, workplace, business, and education. This then naturally leads English teachers to ask questions about the role of culture in language teaching. Questions such as these are of paramount importance: how to teach culture in second language classrooms, how cultures of the self and others are represented in teaching materials such as textbooks, and how they are addressed in classroom practices, and how intercultural learning is assessed by second language teachers.

[SURVEY] Reading Habit: Do Our Students Read the Books Outside the Textbooks?

Translation: Praveen Kumar Yadav

Loads of textbook while going to school!

Loads of homework while returning home from the school!

Teachers and schools do not show their interests in curriculum and materials neither do students and guardians. In this context, private education has witnessed clear signs of a gradual shift from the rote learning. A survey, published in Nepal Magazine, found that 57 percent of school-age children has inclined to read the books other than the textbooks. The survey on the students’ habit of reading the non-prescribed textbooks has highlighted the fact. 

The survey, that was conducted eight months ago, showed that the students have been trying to get out of the textbooks. Even today, many teachers are still unable to complete the courses and textbooks within the academic session. Nevertheless, 84 percent of the teachers have encouraged their students to read non-textbooks, as per the findings of the survey. While 16 percent of teachers have also forced the students to remain focused on the textbook, citing the time constraints.

Forty-three percent of the total participants have not been able to study the materials other than the textbooks. Although the role and significance of the non-textbooks is similar to the textbook, there is an absence of realistic study on the interests of stakeholders on the reading of non-textbooks. “It is beneficial to give children an important book instead of 300 chocolates. We found that the parents sending their children to private schools have understood this fact to some extent while the parents of government-owned community schools are yet to make aware of this fact”, says Manish Jha, manager of Research and Analytics, which conducted this survey.

During the survey, the students were asked:

  • Are you encouraged to read the non-textbooks and materials?


In response, 83 percent of the students said that they were encouraged to read the materials outside the coursebook, while 17 percent responded that no one encouraged them to read the materials beyond the textbook. 84 percent of school teachers said that they have recommended their students to reading textbooks /materials outside the coursebook. The rest  (16 percent) of the school teachers, responded that they advised their students to remain focused on the textbooks, showing the time constraints to complete course in time. 

The measurement of academic achievement shows that there is a huge gap between government and private schools. For example, average learning achievement of government school children is 40 percent while the achievement of students in private schools is more than 70 percent. For such a huge difference in academic achievement, teaching and learning factor has a major role to play. The survey shows that the children of private schools who have secured more than 70 percent of the learning achievement are also active in studying materials outside the coursebook, while the students of government schools with 40 percent leaning achievement can hardly complete studying the coursebook alone.

Of course, teachers feel pressured for timely publication of results due to the constraints such as timely completion of the textbooks and examination-oriented teaching. The students have not been able to get rid of rote-learning and burden of homework. However, recent preference of the majority of teachers and students to non-textbook materials is a pleasant aspect, Amod Bhattarai, a member of the research team says. “Most of the teachers, students and guardians have been promoting the reading culture of the non-textbooks, and the trend is on rising in the country.”

These days, there are fewer parents who do not want to invest in their children’s education. Such an investment depends on the income of the parents. A well-to-do parent invests more than those who earn less. This survey shows that parents, who understand the importance of education and whose financial status is better, are investing more in the education of their children.

In the survey, 63 percent of the 663 parents and guardians, who participated in the survey, said that they have purchased non-textbooks for their children. Among them, 42 percent of the parents have purchased the non-textbooks worth 1000 to 3000 rupees annually for their children. There are 16 percent guardians who invest 3000 to 5000 thousand rupees annually to buy non-textbooks and materials for their children while four percent of those guardians have been investing more than 5000 rupees and two percent have been investing more than 7000 rupees.

The survey revealed that the non-textbooks selected for children have been written in a variety of languages. For instance, 47 percent of guardians purchases non-textbooks written in Nepali and English while 28 percent of guardians buy those written in English and 23 percent buys non-textbooks of Nepali language. Only two percent guardians invest in purchasing the materials written in other languages. 

The survey has shown diversity in children’s choice for the book. ‘Storybooks’ is the first choice of children. 55 percent of students participating in the survey have purchased the story books. Thereafter, children chose other books based on the theme of the children. According to the study, 28 percent of the students purchase children’s books and 28 percent have purchased the books with biography. Likewise, 26 percent of the children have shown interest in essays, 24 percent in facts and figures, 20 percent in paintings, 18 percent in the books with illustrations, 12 percent in travelogue, nine percent in comics and four percent in the memoir. Hem Krishna Shrestha, who is involved in the survey, says, “Stories have touched children’s mind. So, the choice of the majority is for stories.”

Needless to mention that the concept of technology-based education such as smart learning, e-learning, e-library, e-book, etc, is not new. However, students are still interested in purchasing the books for reading purpose. 74% of the respondents said that they feel pleasure in reading the printed books. Only few have read books borrowed from school libraries and their friends. This means that our school system still enjoys traditional form of teaching-learning activities.

School time for students is usually spent for regular teaching-learning activities, assignments, classwork and project work. The children who are tired of school assignments are from private schools. In the regular school schedule, children cannot read non-textbooks. So, children have utilised a long vacation to read non-textbooks. According to the survey, students and guardians buy books at the book exhibitions or when they are available at discounted price, and also based o the recommendation of friends, book reviews, and writers’ names.

Not all guardians invest in non-textbooks. The number of guardians involved in the survey who do not want to purchase non-textbooks is 33 percent. Kashyap Marhatha, a member of the survey team, says, “Dire economic situation and lack of education and consciousness, etc. is its main reason. Hence, some have invested nothing in the purchase of non-textbook.” dire

For such a less investment of parents and interest of students in non-textbook, existing government school environment is responsible. The reason is, government schools are still unable to come out of the government curriculum and prescribed textbooks. Textbooks are neither delivered timely nor are they completely covered in the government schools. It is not strange to find that there is no discussion of non-textbooks in the government schools which solely rely on textbooks. Education expert Bidyanath Koirala says, “A school teacher of Baglung has kept the keys of the library, tied with his janai (sacred thread).  Since no one visits the library, it is never open.”

The government has not carried out the study about the overall reading habits of school children. Public discussion is very little on how much students are interested in non-textbooks, the level of their engagement in reading and how their learning achievements are affected by this.This survey has highlighted the fact that the students who study materials outside the textbook have improved significantly in learning achievement and broadened their mind. Koirala says, “There is a wide difference in the scope of knowledge of those students who have studied coursebook only and those who have also studied non-textbooks and external books. That is why, it is necessary to motivate every student to read books outside the coursebook.”

Status of government schools on teaching non-textbook materials

The country’s education consists of 85% government schools and 15% private schools. In terms of non-textbook reading habit, the situation of private school is positive but the status of government school is disappointing. The government standards set by the Education Ministry that the schools should be opened for 220 days annually and then 180 days for teaching learning activities have not been implemented effectively. Most of government schools are hardly able to complete the coursebook and the national curriculum developed by the Curriculum Development Center (CDC). Therefore, children, teachers and guardians of government schools have not been able to concentrate on reading non-textbooks.

Gyanodaya Higher Secondary School, located in Bafal of Kathmandu, is one of good schools in the country. However, in the same school, former Principal Dhananjay Sharma admits that the school was unable to motivate the student to read non-textbooks. “A decision was made for a teacher to read at least a book per month was not executed. After the teachers did not read the books, the students did not read them either.”

With a view to develop the reading culture among teachers and students, Gyanodaya School has scheduled ‘library period’. Yet,  the reading culture is to develop. Reading the non-textbooks in the government schools has been neglected because the textbooks have not been taught properly, the teachers do not accept the non-textbooks as source of knowledge, and poor parents cannot afford the non-textbooks for their children.

Let’s explore another case to understand the status of the government school on teaching non-textbooks. Pragati Siksha Sadan situated in Kupandol of Lalitpur is another standard school. The school could not motivate children to read the books other than textbooks, principal Surya Ghimire shares. “Our teaching learning activities are limited to the textbooks due to pressure on the completion of the courses and securing high scores. The habit of reading non-textbooks is yet to be cultivated in teachers, guardians and students.”

Pragati Siksha Sadan has adopted a unique way to increase the children’s reading culture. As per the unique method, namely ‘Drop Everything And Read (DEAR)’, when an emergency bell rings in the school at any time, teachers and students start reading soon , halting the activities they are involved in This is called ‘DEAR’. However, the DEAR has not even been able to do so. Ghimire says, “This has increased the reading of textbooks, but it has not been able to contribute to reading non-textbook materials.”

Survey Methodology and Population

The urban centred survey was conducted in the schools located in 12 cities of 12 districts in Nepal. They were Birtamode of Jhapa, Biratnagar of Morang, Janakpur of Dhanusha, Bharatpur of Chitwan, Birgunj of Parsa, Lalitpur, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Butwal of Rupandehi, Pokhara of Kaski, Nepalgunj of Banke and Dhangadhi of Kailali. The survey was conducted among 2599 respondents, who were teachers, students and guardian of both government and private schools. Among the respondents were 622 students from 6-16 years age group studying up to tenth grade, 635 non-guardians, 677 guardians and 625 teachers. Each of these four groups were asked 16 questions. The answers to those questions were processed to bring the findings.

Acknowledgement 

This post is the English translation of the article originally published in Nepali based on survey carried out by Facts – Research and Analytics.

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

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

[Announcement] First Annual ELT& Applied Linguistics Conference 2018

Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University (TU), Nepal calls for abstracts for its 1st Annual ELT and Applied Linguistics Conference. Acknowledging teachers as key actors for educational reforms, this conference aims at providing teachers, teacher educators, researchers and students with a space for engaging in critical discussions on a wide range of issues in ELT and Applied Linguistics.

The theme of this year’s conference is Teachers as Change Actors: Learning from Teaching, Research and Collaboration.

Researchers, teachers, and students are invited for the proposals for panels, workshops, individual presentations/talks and posters. For details, click here.

Welcome to the June Issue of ELT Choutari: Language Planning and Policy

Language Plan & Policy

Editorial

English teachers should initiate discussion on rationales of English medium of instruction

It is common to experience different issues in teaching-learning process in educational institutions, which is not desirable but inevitable. Most of the problems can be solved through an effective communication and discussion among the team.

One of the key issues in our educational institution now is the appropriate use and practice of language/s both as a medium of instruction and access of children’s mother tongue in teaching learning. Before addressing the issue of mother tongue based multilingual education, there has arisen another key issue in teaching learning, which is the increasing use of English as a medium of instruction in our multicultural and multilingual classes. And the interesting thing is the practice of English medium instruction is merely guided by a statement in policy, which states that “the medium of instruction at school level can be Nepali, English or both. However, Mother tongue can be used up to basic level and the same language should be used for a language subject.” There is no any other policy guidelines to systematise this practice. Schools are imitating each others and the practice is increasing. In this backdrop, the communities, local governing bodies and teachers as local executives should also play an important role to make a wise decision on the language practice in the educational setting. An initiation from a teacher also can make a big difference. Therefore, teachers, especially English teachers should initiate effective communication and discussion among the team to avoid the situation from getting worse because they know more about English language and its limitation.

In the context of Nepal, the increasing shift to the English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) seems to be guided by two major factors. First, to stop the transfer of students to private boarding school and increase students in community school. Second, the belief that the English language proficiency of students can be enhanced by teaching all subjects in English medium.

There are several other factors behind the distrust of parents towards community schools, resulting the decrease in number of students. Merely introducing English medium instruction does not solve the problems but its impacts can further deteriorate the condition of school. On the other hand, schools and parents believe that the teaching all academic subjects in English can improve the language proficiency of students. But are schools only English language teaching centres? Or they have roles to deliver the academic contents effectively to students as set by curriculum. Can the existing teachers deliver the contents effectively in the new language? Are students ready for that? Most importantly, is it necessary to deliver all academic contents in English language from primary level? What is the rationale behind it? What do the researches suggest?

We, therefore, need to consider several important questions before making the decisions of language shift in schools. It is very important decision, which can affect the future of children and society but schools are taking it very lightly.

As an English teacher, we can do something to rethink and review this practice. Firstly, we ourselves should be clear that language is just a medium to deliver the information, knowledge and skills. Therefore, the medium of instruction should be the language in which both the students and teachers feel comfortable. It has been huge challenge even for teachers of English to teach English effectively around the nation and how can other teachers teach academic subjects (well packed with contents) effectively to students? Therefore, let’s teach English language subject effectively first. If only English language is taught effectively, students can achieve a level of conversational English. In the name of EMI, actually parents are asking for a workable conversational English, which is possible through effective teaching of the English language. It is not necessary to make such a big shift to attain this purpose. As an English teacher, if we only can clarify these illusions in our school management and school family, it could avoid the random practice and decisions regarding the medium of instruction.

And presenting you the June issue for you, we have tired to re/start the discussion on the language planning, policy and language practices. This issue is packaged with language planning and policy, language in education, professional development and general thoughts on education. The following lines will guide you to select the writing in the area of your interest:

In the first post, Kumar Narayan Shrestha talks about language planning and policy, and its process, and also reviews the language planning and policy of Nepal.

Similarly, Gyanendra Kumar Yadav explores the actual language practice and the issues related to language policy and English language teaching (ELT) in Nepal.

Likewise, a PhD scholar Karna Rana, shares the global need of multilingual citizens and rationales for education in children’s mother tongue.

In an exclusive interview, Dr. Prem Phyak shares his insights on the effective approach to language planning and policy analyzing the flaws in the existing language planning and policy. Similarly, he also shares the possible approach in language in education and multi-lingualism and evaluates ELT in Nepal.

In another post, to present you a different taste, Dr. Shyam Sharma urges us to reframe our perspectives and look the realities through positive lens and encourages everyone to take action from their level for language policy and quality education for all.

In the last but the not the least post, Shikha Gurung shares how teachers can continue their professional development through the three dimensional act of reflection, research and networking.

Here is the complete list of the posts in this issue:

  1. Language Planning in Nepal: A Bird’s Eye View: by Kumar Narayan Shrestha
  2. Language Practices and Food for Thought for Language Policy Makers: by Gyanendra Kumar Yadav
  3. So What, If Not Mother Tongue?: by Karna Rana
  4. Language Planning and Policy Should Embrace Inclusive and Co-learning Practices: Dr. Phyak: by Prem Phyak
  5. Beyond Beating Dead Horses: by Shyam Sharma
  6. A Three Dimensional Approach to Professional Development of English Language Teachers in Nepal: by Shikha Gurung

Finally, I would like to thank Karna Rana for his rigorous support in reading and editing. Likewise, I am thankful to Ashok Raj Khati and Praveen Kumar Yadav for their support to release this issue. Similarly, special thank goes to all the contributors of the issue.

Read, comment, share and write your own practices and send to us at 2elt.choutari@gmail.com

Happy reading!

Jeevan Karki the Editor of the issue

Jeevan Karki
the Editor of the issue

Language Planning in Nepal: A Bird’s Eye View

Kumar Narayan Shrestha

Kumar Narayan Shrestha

Introduction

Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious and multicultural country. According to the latest census (2011), there are 123 languages and 125 castes and ethnic groups. However, Lewis (2009) and Yonjan-Tamang (2005) claim that there are 126 and 144 languages spoken within the territory of Nepal (as cited in Rai, Rai, Phyak & Rai, 2011). Although, languages are sources of knowledge and icon of identity, the majority of indigenous languages spoken in Nepal are endangered due to various reasons.

There were recorded ten different religions viz.  Hindu, Bouddha, Islam, Kirat, Christian, Prakriti, Bon, Jain, Bahai and Sikha. Similarly, there are four llanguage families/genetic: Tibeto-burman, Indio-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic/Munda, Dravidian (Kansakar, 1996, p.1). But Rai (2016) says there five families (Kusunda no family ye), fourteen scripts.

According to (CBC, 2011), the major five mother tongue speakers are as follow:

 

1. Nepali 44.6%
2. Maithali 11.7%
3. Bhojpuri 6%
4. Tharu 5.8%
5. Tamang 5.1%
6. Newar 3.2%

 

According to Yadav (2007) many indigenous languages of Nepal have spoken form only. Rai (2016) says there are 14 scripts: 1. Nepali 2. Lepcha 3. Kirati 4. Tamang 5. Sherpa 6. Newari 7. Santhal 8. Gurung 9. Maithali 10. Bhojpuri 11. Magar 12. Sunuwar (Koich) 13. Dhimal 14. Muslim (Urdu)

According to Yadav (2007,10) Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Maithli, Newari, Sherpa, Tamang, Tharua and Urdu have all kinds of publications, whereas Bajjika, Chepang, Danuwar, Jero, Kumal, Lohorung, Nawa, Nuhbri Ke (Larke), Santhali (Satar), Surel, Tokpegola/Dhokpya and Uranw/Kudux have no publications and other languages have some publications available.

Language Planning and Methodology

Language planning is inevitable for any government since it is associated with the notion of national language. Language as an identity can be a source of national unification as well as source of dispute in a country. Therefore, in the multilingual situation like in Nepal, proper initiative needs to be adopted to build a unified nation.

For the first time, the term ‘language planning’ was coined by Einar Haugen in the 1950s to elucidate the process of language development. It is “a government-authorized, long-term, sustained and conscious effort to alter a language’s function in a society for the purpose of solving communication problems” (Weinstein, 1980, p. 56.). Conclusively, following Cooper (1989) it can be understood as deliberate efforts to influence the behaviour of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes” (p. 183). Mostly, language planning is carried out by authorized agencies but to restrict it to the work of authoritative institutions is to be too restrictive (Cooper, 1989).

Different scholars suggest different stages of language planning. Such as, Haugen (1966) proposes four aspects of language development: selection of form, codification of form, elaboration of function and acceptance by the community. On the other hand, Cooper (1989) suggests three stages of language planning: corpus planning, status planning, and acquisition planning.  The stages mentioned by Cooper (1989) can be described as follows:

Corpus planning

Corpus planning deals with the reform within the language structure. Most commonly, a language or one variety of a language is picked up by the government to standardize it. Cooper (1989) states it as the “the creation of new forms, the modification of old ones, or the selection from alternative forms in a spoken or written code” (p. 31). It focuses on the internal condition of a language or language variety. It aims to standardize a variety of language and change its condition. It generally includes the development of orthography, new sources of vocabulary, dictionaries, and literature, and the deliberate cultivation of new uses so that the use of language can be extended to government, education, trade and link language and so on. It may include creation of new forms in spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. As Corpus Planning of Nepali language, British Scholars such as J.A. Ayton (1820) and Sir Ralph Turner (1931) began the standardization process by producing grammar and dictionaries of Nepali. (Kansakar 1996, p.3)

Status planning

Status planning changes the status of a language either by raising or degrading the status of a language. It may deprive or allow the speakers of a minority language to use it in government, education, and trade. It deals with efforts undertaken to change the use and function of a language. It is the allocation of new function to the language in question. Conclusively, for Cooper (1989) it refers to ‘changes in the systems of … speaking’, ‘changes in a language’s functions, ‘language use’, ‘use of language’ and ‘organization of a community’s language resources’. It is concerned with the relationship between language rather than changes within them.

Acquisition planning

It aims to expand the number of speakers of the language in question. Following Cooper (1989) “When planning is directed towards increasing a language’s uses, it falls within the rubric of status planning” (p. 33). It focuses on the teaching and the use of language. Cooper (1989) mentions three types of acquisition goals:

  1. Acquisition of the language as the second or foreign language;
  2. Renativization or revitalization of the language;
  3. Language maintenance.

In case of acquisition planning, the learners are provided with opportunities and incentives to attract their attention. Acquisition planning becomes effective when the language in question serves all the functions desired by the speakers or learners.

Phases of Language Planning in Nepal

Weinberg (2013, p.63) has mentioned three phases of language planning in Nepal.

Periods before 1950 (As rare as snakes in Ireland)

This phase is considered to begin around the annexation of Nepal by Prithivi Narayan Shah and existed till 1950. It stretched within two absolute reigns of Nepal, absolute Shah before Ranarchy and Ranarchy itself. The use of then Khasa language has become Nepali language now which was supposed to germinate politically during Shah Regime in Gorkha. This very language was nurtured by Ranas later. However, “The Rana rulers were not interested in developing the feelings of nationalism that often inspire the imposition of national language policies” (Burghart, 1984 in Weinberg 2013, p.63). They were also opposed to widespread education therefore there was no need to set language in education policies.

First language policy in Nepal was made in 1905. Then, Nepali language was made as language of law and government. However, Hutt (1988 in Weinberg 2013, p.63) claims that no documentation of this declaration has been published.

On the other hand, though Nepali was only permissible court language, Rana (Janga Bahadur) wanted English-language education for his children. He established Durbar School for Rana family. It was the first government-run English medium school in Nepal. However, Hindu Pathshalas and Baudha Gompas were using Sanskrit and Tibetan respectively as medium of instruction from the time immemorial in Nepal.

Later, Dev Shamsher opened 200 Nepali language schools. Likewise, in 1905 Chandra Shamsher started a Nepali-medium school to train civil servants. In 1934, Nepali was declared as the official language of education (Caddell, 2007 in Weinberg, 2013, p. 69).

Padam Shamsher’s regime is marked as a turning point in the history of language policy of Nepal. He proposed ‘vernacular’ schools inspired by Gandhi.

The first post-secondary educational institution in Nepal was Trichandra College, established in 1918. In this college, language of education was English. Its purpose was to shelter students of Durbar school and to prevent them from going abroad (India). His underling purpose was to prevent Nepalese from getting radical ideas which could be dangerous for them.

From 1950-1990 (Panchayat Era: one language one nation)

After 1950 for the first time, Nepal’s government became interested in cultural unification. According to Rai et al. (2011) Panchayat government imposed their political goals through the slogan of ek bhasha, ek bhesh, ek dharma, ek desh (one language, one way of dress, one religion, one nation), which attempted to spread Nepali, Hinduism, and other symbols of nation throughout the country to create a unified national identity. Its goal was to assimilate people of different culture and linguistic background into a Nepali identity based on the cultural practices of elite, high-caste hill Hindus (Onta, 1996a, as cited in Weinberg 2013)

Education was taken as a tool for teaching the end. After the introduction of democracy, new educational language policy was formed considering the recommendation of Nepal National Educational Planning Commission (NNEPC). The report of the NNEPC strongly supported Nepali as the medium of instruction for schooling, largely for purposes of national integration. The report advocated the use of Nepali language not only in classroom but also on playgrounds and in all spheres of life. It states:

The study of a non-Nepali local tongue would mitigate against the effec­tive development of Nepali, for the student would make greater use of it than Nepali – at home and in the community – and thus Nepali would re­main a “foreign” language. If the younger generation is taught to use Ne­pali as the basic language, then other languages will gradually disappear, and greater national strength and unity will result. (NNEPC, 1956, p. 97).

NNEP followed Hugh B. Wood’s personal view and practice of his country (English as medium). Another educational policy was proposed by National Education System Plan (NESP,1971). It advocated the use of only Nepali in administration, education and media. Stressing the need of monolingual situation, it states the goal of education as”

“to strength devotion to crown, country, national unity and the Panchayat system, to develop uniform traditions in education by bringing together various patterns under a single national policy, to limit the tradition of regional languages…” (Ministry of Education, 1971, p.1)

Throughout Panchayat era Nepali language speakers got privilege as the goal of education was to unify nation under one language and one culture.

Schooling After 1990: The Right to Education in the Mother Tongue

After the restoration  of democracy in 1990, for the first time new constitution recognized Nepal as a multicultural and multilingual country. The Constitution of 1990 states “All the languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are the national languages of Nepal. (His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, 1990). For the first time language in education policy was stated in the constitution. It paved a way for running school in mother-tongue and even teaching at least up to primary in mother tongue.

In 1993 a commission for formulating policy for national languages was formed to promote national languages and their use in local administration, primary education and media.

Rai (2016) claims that as a result of ‘Education for all (2015) campaign’, textbooks are published in twenty two indigenous languages. Quite recently, the constitution of Nepal (2015) has provisioned the right of language under fundamental rights and states, “Every Nepalese community residing in Nepal shall have the right to get education in its mother tongue and, for that purpose, to open and operate schools and educational institutes, in accordance with law. (The Constitution of Nepal, 2015, Part 3, Article 31)

The School Sector Reform Plan, 2009-2015 provided supported use of mother tongues in grade one through three (Ministry of Education, 2009). The government has approved a set of guidelines for implementing multilingual education and commissioned a report on teaching Nepali as a second language to speakers of other languages in Nepal (Yonjan-Tamang, 2012 in Weinberg, 2013, p.67).

Conclusion

Language planning tries to develop the uses of the country’s national language for the purposes of education, trade, technology and so on. Language planning is ideally based on language policy. Language planning mainly embraces corpus planning, status planning and acquisition planning. In the history of language planning in Nepal has gone through many ups and downs, from monolingualism to mother-tongue rights which still lack feasibility and ground based reality in planning and implementation. Since it is the era of local identity, the government has accepted its spirit through linguistic inclusion.

 

Kumar Narayan Shrestha, M.Ed. and M.A., is a faculty at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is an M.Phil. scholar at Kathmandu University. He has been associated in teaching for seventeen years. He has published articles in different journals and presented papers in national/international conferences. His professional interests include ELT, research and translation.


References

Central Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Statistical pocket book of Nepal. Kathmandu: Author.

Nepal Gazette (2015). The Constitution of Nepal (2015). Kathmandu: Author.

His Majesty’s Government, Nepal. (1990). Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 2047 (1990). Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Kansakar, T.R. (1996). Language planning and modernization in Nepal. Nepalese Linguistics, 13 .1-13.

Ministry of Education. (1971). The national education system plan for 1971-76. Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Nepal National Education Planning Commission. (1956). Education in Nepal: Report of the Nepal education planning commission. Kathmandu: His Majesty’s Government.

Rai, G. (2016, August 26). Ojnelma chaltika anya lipi [Other prevalent scripts in shadow]. Kantipur, p. 11.

Rai, V.S., Rai, M., Phyak, P. Rai, N. (2011). Multilingual education in Nepal: Hearsay and reality? A report. Paper commissioned for UNESCO. Kathmandu: UNESCO.

Weinberg, M. (2013). Revisiting history in language policy: The case of medium of instruction in Nepal. Working Paper in Educational Linguistics, 28 (1), 61-80.

Weinstein, B. (1980). Language planning in francophone Africa. LPLP, 4 (1), 55-77.

Yadava, Y.P. (2007). Linguistic diversity in Nepal perspectives on language policy. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/ 237459920

Language Practices and Food for Thought for Language Policy Makers

Gyanendra Kumar Yadav

Gyanendra Kumar Yadav

The debates over the use of mother tongue and English as medium of instructions in the schools of Nepal have often led to the question whether the discussion on the status of English is considered while making policies in this regard. This blog post mainly attempts at exploring the issues related to language policy and English language teaching (ELT) in Nepal.

I divide this blog into three different sections. The first section deals with my

own experience of leaning different languages as a multilingual speaker. In the second section, I draw on the insights from making language policy before I conclude with a proposal of three languages policy as used in developing countries for an option of language policy in Nepal.

My Journey of Multilingual Speaker

I was born and brought up in a rural village of Terai region of Nepal. It is a monolingual community of Maithili speakers. When I reflect on my journey as a multilingual speaker, I find that I have never realized the need of learning language until I got enrolled in school. By then, I had already acquired my mother tongue without being aware of it. Then, I realized that my mother tongue was not sufficient to pursue formal education since Nepali was the medium of instruction (MOI) in the school. Consequently, I learnt Nepali language throughout schooling. Besides being the MOI, Nepali is a compulsory subject which is prescribed in the school curriculum with a view to develop knowledge and skills in Nepali language among the students. Yet, I admit that I have not been able to develop my proficiency in Nepali language despite a decade of learning language.

On the other hand, my nephew and niece were taken by maternal uncle at Hetauda in Makwanpur district for their schooling. Unlike my home town, Hetauda is a community of Nepali speakers. Just after a couple of years, they became fluent speakers of Nepali. They speak Nepali better than me even though both of my school and college taught me Nepali. Their accent is similar that of native speakers. I have a kind of Maithilized accent while speaking Nepali while they have developed mastery over it.

As far as my journey of learning English language is concerned, it appears to be more difficult than learning Nepali. In fact, I started learning English when I was a fourth grader. There was a limited exposure and practice in English classroom. Even as a school graduate, I was unable to express myself in English. I could not write a couple of paragraphs effectively. Later, after I decided to pursue English language as major subject at intermediate level, I worked hard to improve my English language proficiency. Despite the hard work, I failed to secure good score. Nevertheless, it boosted my confidence and I started teaching English in an English medium private school. The experience of teaching English proved to be significant in enhancing speaking skill in English.

Reflecting on the experience of learning language

Reflecting on the experience of language learning would be worthwhile for further discussion. As a student of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), I find these reflections quite useful in terms of learning language or to ignite the discussion.

First, the exposure and opportunity to practice plays a key role in learning a language. My nephew and niece got sufficient language exposure and opportunity to practice the language in and outside classroom. They got authentic language exposure from native-speakers of Nepali, whereas I got limited exposure and most often from non-native speakers of Nepali in formal settings.

Next, the duration of formal instruction does not matter most in language learning. Although I spent longer duration in learning Nepali language, I could not get mastery over it. However, my nephew and niece became proficient speakers within a short period of time. The third important factor in learning language is the need to speak target language. In case of learning Nepali, I, as someone from a monolingual Maithili speaking community, did not feel the need of using it outside classroom throughout my school and college level.

Finally, acculturation equally seems to be the most important factor in learning a language. My nephew and niece were benefited in learning Nepali since they lived in the target language community and have adopted the target culture.

Language Policy and ELT

For a multilingual country, making language policy has always become a debatable issue, and Nepal cannot remain apart. It is more than a linguistic discourse since it is also associated with culture and identity. In that sense, language becomes a political issue. A single or monolingual language policy may have significant impact on many of the indigenous languages. That is to say, an appropriate language policy can determine the fate of 123 languages spoken in the country. Hence, there must be a comprehensive language policy that can preserve local languages, respect national language and incorporate English as a global language.

Before discussing on a possible language policy in Nepal, looking into four different aspects of ELT — status of English in Nepal, English as medium of instruction, the level to introduce English language and indigenous languages, culture and identity will be noteworthy.

1. Status of English in Nepal

The status of English seems to have influence on language policy. Sometimes, English is taken as a library language, generally used for academic purpose (Poudel, 2016) but other times, English is claimed to have multi faces as it serves multiple functions like instrumental, regulative, interpersonal and creative (Giri, 2014). This shows that there is lack of consensus on whether English is used as a second or foreign language in Nepal.

Furthermore, it also leads to the further question where Nepal lies in ‘Three Concentric Circles of Asian English: The Inner Circle, The Outer Circle, and The Expanding Circle’ (Kachru, 2006). Can we claim for own variety of the English, often termed as Nengish instead of trying to fit in the above category? As he suggests, the pluralistic nature of English might bring numerous possibilities in our context. Thus, it is necessary to decide the status of English and make English language policy and implement it accordingly. For instance, if we limit English for academic purpose, the present notional-functional syllabus used at school level may not work. Instead, we need to bring reading and writing skills in the light.

2. English as a Medium of Instruction

When we look at the language policy at regional level, it is found that English is used as the medium of instruction in non-language classes across school levels in four Asian nations (Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka) where English is used a second language (Choi & Lee, 2008). It can be noticed that English is used as the MOI only in those countries where English is spoken as a second language. However, it cannot be taken as second language in Nepal. Arguably, it would not be justifiable to use English as MOI in the schools of Nepal. This can be used in the tertiary level but not right from primary level.

3. Appropriate level to Introduce English Language Teaching 

In neighboring countries, there are differences in the level/grade of introducing English language teaching. English is taught from grade one in most of these countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the UAE, Taipei in Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. Similarly, Korea and China begin teaching English from grade three, Israel from grade four, Iran and Vietnam from six, and Japan and Indonesia from grade seven (Choi & Lee, 2008).

In Nepal, English in now taught from first grade (even in pre-school) in community schools and from kindergarten in private schools. The decision to use English from grade one lacks any substantive researches. Interestingly, many argue that a handful of non- academic people made the decision based on their own judgments. This suggests that the issue of appropriate level of introducing English language teaching needs to be explored, analyzed and discussed as a part of ELT research.

4. Indigenous Languages Culture and Identity

The growing demand of English has significant impact on indigenous languages. Philipson (1992) considers global English as a medium of linguistic imperialism stating that the spread of English is one of the many factors contributing to the tragic loss of indigenous languages around the world. Nepal cannot be an exception. Many of the languages here are found being extinct or not given due attention to preserve it due to the dominance of English language. This, furthermore, has also effect on the local culture and identity. Speakers of such languages find loss of identity and recognition. Thus, there is a growing concern to give due respect to local culture and indigenous languages. This can be done by bringing such a language policy that can balance the role of international, national and local languages in multi-lingual community like ours.

Possible Language Policy in Nepal

From the discussion above, it seems to be clear that making language policy is a serious and delicate issue as it is also related to culture and identity of the language speakers. Hence, it would be better to look at the language policy of multilingual countries. From a close study, we can find that mostly the developing countries across the world seem to have used three languages policy. Regarding this, Keeves and Darmawan (2007) state that it is necessary for young people to learn at least three languages, namely their mother tongue (L1), the national language (NL), and a foreign language (FL), that is rapidly becoming English in non-English speaking countries. In case of Nepal, the policy includes mother tongues, like Maithili, Newari, Bhojpuri, etc. as L1, Nepali, as the NL and English as an FL. This would give students from developing countries like ours an opportunity to obtain the benefits of globalization and engagement in trade.

Yet, challenges ahead are to implement such a policy since there are 123 languages in the country. The effective implementation of this policy needs proper curriculum design and preparation of teaching materials and trained language teachers.

About the Author  

Gyanendra Kumar Yadav is a lecturer of English at a community college in Lalitpur. Recently, he is pursuing his M. Phil in English Language Education from Kathmandu University School of Education. He is also a life member of NELTA (Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association) and has presented papers in NELTA conferences. His areas of interest include teaching English through literature and teachers’ professional development, and critical pedagogy. 

References

Choi, Y. H., & Lee, H. W. (2008). Current trends and issues in English language education in Asia. The Journal of AsiaTEFL5(2), 1-34.

Giri, R. A. (2014). Changing faces of English: why English is not a foreign in Nepal. Journal of World Languages1(3), 192-209. 

Kachru, Y., & Nelson, C. L. (2006). World Englishes in Asian Contexts. Hong Kong

University Press.

Keeves, J. P., & Darmawan, I. (2007). Issues in Language Learning. International Education Journal8(2), 16-26.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Poudel, T. (2016). English in Nepal from colonial legacy to professionalism. ELT Chaoutari.

retrieved from http://eltchoutari.com/2016/01/english-in-nepal-from-colonial-legacy-to

professionalism/

So What, If Not Mother Tongue?

Karna Rana

Karna Rana

“Probably I’m the only person here who speaks one language. I wish I could speak more languages.” – An English native.

Why language matters in our daily life becomes a hot chilli at teatime, at lunch break, on a journey and at other round tables. One day on a fifteen-minute teatime break, one of my workplace colleagues who speaks only English said, “Probably I’m the only person here who speaks one language. I wish I could speak more languages.” His statement caused laughter among the four of us who used to sit at the table, and they were from different countries. All of us except he could speak at least two languages. There were other colleagues from China, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, Samoa, Fiji, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Jordan, and some other countries. I was among them from Nepal. He was the only English native in the group of about fifty-five people excluding the supervisor. Those who were from different countries could speak their mother tongue as well as English. Most of them had colleagues from their own countries and majority of them were females. The environment obviously allowed them to speak in their own  languages. There were four of us (only males) not having colleagues from our countries. The English native who used to sit beside me could only understand English. When others were talking in their own languages, he used to look at their face and smile, which was unusual for English native living in the English country.

It is an example to understand the scope of multiple languages. The place of language as a situation has a connection with several social and cultural aspects. Whether the right to language matters or not, the place where someone is, has a value of speech. The smile of the English native would not often deliver his thoughts when other language speakers used to communicate in their own languages. The situation requires a link language (lingua franca) for verbal communication between the different language speakers. It is still not sure whether the link language can fully transmit their understandings, feelings and meanings. It often happens that two different language speakers using a link language get confused and misunderstand each other. Moreover, the link language may not transmit the feelings of the speakers. When we talk about feelings, it is one of the main characteristics that makes us distinctive, i.e. human being among the creatures in the world. The human feeling is associated with the place where he or she is born and grown up. Thus, beyond than the right to language, there are other human-related important aspects that need to be understood before imposing any other language on the speakers.

“It often happens that two different language speakers using a link language get confused and misunderstand each other. Moreover, the link language may not transmit the feelings of the speakers.”


It may be worthy to write about a seminar on e-Learning and language development that I recently attended in New Zealand. Although the seminar was intended to focus on the research related to digital technology and language development of preschool children, the atmosphere gradually emphasised the socio-cultural aspects of language. A professor from Samoa used Taro (Colocassia in English and Pidaloo in Nepali) farming as a metaphor to develop language in children. His childhood story of planting baby colocassia in a wide land in the right season and harvesting thousands of tonnes of colocassia reflected that the children are the seeds of language which grow in a wide range. When he focused on the right season to plant, it indicated the age of children when they start their social life and acquire language. His words ‘harvest tonnes of colocassia’ represented the growth and development of language. His metaphor was sufficient for us to understand how we can save several indigenous languages in Nepal. In the seminar, the further interaction emphasised that the children’s cognitive development depend on their culture. Another professor remarked that the children conceptualise in their own language other than English in the classroom. She added that the children think in their language and communicate. She suggested that it is necessary to promote the children’s mother tongue from personal, community and national levels. For knowledge, New Zealand has a number of immigrants from different countries who have their languages.

I recently visited Linwood College ( a secondary school with year 13) in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was my second visit to the school to observe the classrooms with a group of Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI) project trainees from Bangladesh. In the interaction with the principal,  head of English Language Learning and other three teachers, Navjot, the head of English  Language Learning, briefly explained about the school environment and classrooms. She stated that the school had students from 21 countries including Nepal. She further explained that the children from different countries and socio-cultural backgrounds speak their languages. However, they have to speak the next language ‘English’ and write in English. She specifically focused on their two different varieties of English, that is, heard language and eye language. She added that the children from different language backgrounds in her school also learned English in their communities or countries. However, they faced difficulties to understand native English at the initial stage. She gave an example that the immigrant children have eye language as they learned English by reading books in their countries. She said that the children learn English from the books, but they think in their mother tongue and try to express in English. It was an example for me to understand why second language learning and speaking becomes so complicated. She also mentioned that her school encourages the immigrant children to use their language. She said, “I encourage them to speak their language and strengthen their language. Use the language as much as they can.”

When I stand on the socio-cultural ground of Nepal, I see a number of indigenous communities, their cultures and different languages. The census of 2011 recorded 125 languages excluding dialects in Nepal. We know that Nepali is the primary language in school education where English is the next language in the community schools. However, the private schools, as well as some community schools, have imposed the English language as a medium of learning and instruction. It is wise not to criticise against the schools’ English language policy without in-depth study in this field in the country. However, it requires the government authority to consider mother tongue as a language of thought and expression, as well as the right to the mother tongue. It is the only way to save the culture, community and the national identity.

Does the above example suggest the education planners in Nepal consider school teaching in those dominated languages in Nepal?

Mr. Rana is a PhD Candidate in School of Teacher Education College of Education, Health and Human Development University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. 

He can be reached at karna.maskirana@pg.canterbury.ac.nz

Language Planning and Policy Should Embrace Inclusive and Co-learning Practices: Dr. Phyak

Teaching English as a language is different from using English as language of instruction

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak (a PhD from the University of Hawaii, USA) is a lecturer, at department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. His area of PhD is Second Language Studies, with a focus on multilingual ideologies, policies and pedagogies. His research areas cover identity, agency, and social justice in the intersection of language, space and education.

Our Choutari editor Jeevan Karki has spoken to Dr. Phyak on the area of language planning and policy in the context of Nepal. 

1. Welcome and congratulations Dr. Phyak for your fresh doctoral degree from the University of Hawaii. What are you doing these days?

Thank you, Jeevanji. It took me sometime to settle in Kathmandu. I spend most of my time teaching at both Masters and M.Phil./PhD programs at the Central Department of Education, Tribhuwan University.  Besides, I am working on a project Art, Language and Public Space. I am looking at the enactment of multilingualism in public space of Kathmandu and exploring both the reproduction and resistance of monolingual ideologies through the use of languages in city space.

 2. As we know, one of your areas of interest is language policy in education. For our readers, can you explain what language policy and planning is and why does it become crucial in Nepal, a multilingual country?

Yes, my research draws on interdisciplinary approaches to language education.  There are multiple perspectives of language policy. Traditionally, language policy has been defined as what different bodies of government decide about the use of languages in various agencies like education, mass media and government offices. This perspective is top-down and constructs language policy as a normative (establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm) practice, which may not necessarily recognize complexity of linguistic diversity and multilingual practices in real life situations.  But my perspective on language policy is bottom-up approach. For me, language policy is what and how individuals, communities, and institutions practise languages in their real life without any censorship and symbolic dominance. From this perspective, each individual is taken as an agent of language policy. Since each individual and community can decide, what language should be used where and for what purposes. It is important to understand on-the-ground language practices. More specifically, language policy is simply a legitimacy of actual language practices on the ground. This perspective goes beyond language-policy-as-text idea to language-policy-as-practice.

“Language policy is simply a legitimacy of actual language practices on the ground.”


In Nepal, language policy discourse is dominantly guided by a top-down and normative ideologies. In other words, government tends to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach in the creation and implementation of language policy. Yet, such a policy does not work in multilingual contexts where languages across their boundaries and practices become fluid and dynamic. Therefore, language policy should be grounded on multilingual ideologies as experienced by bi-/multilingual speakers and epistemologies of language minoritised people.  For me, language policy is ‘plural’ and ‘multiple’ and should recognize language practices of all individuals and communities; it should not impose monolingual ideologies in the guise nation-state and neoliberal ideologies. This perspective on language policy is crucial in a multilingual context like Nepal for two reasons. First, this perspective recognises bi-/multilingual identities of each individual. Second, while taking language policy as a multiple and agentive process, this perspective challenges normative boundaries between language that create hierarchy and unequal power relations among languages. Most importantly, it is necessary to situate language policies within local language practices in various domains, particularly at home and an immediate community of interlocutors.

3. So, regarding the language in educational planning is concerned, do you think Nepal is following a right model? I make a reference here, many children start their early foundation of schooling from English in Nepal.

A great question, Jeevan-ji! Yet, I should be careful when I say ‘a right model’.  The notion of ‘right model’ in language-in-education planning can be hegemonic and may reproduce linguistic inequalities. Developing one ‘right model’ of language education planning may support a deficit view of language education that considers particular languages, mostly minoritised languages, problem while giving educational value to other languages. Rather than saying ‘a right mode’, I would like to use locally appropriate and linguistically sensitive approach.  This approach to language education planning recognises all children’s language practices as resource for learning, both language and academic content.

“We should embrace locally appropriate and linguistically sensitive approach for the language in education.”


Nepal’s current language education planning is extremely narrow and unable to embrace real multilingual practices. Although there is some level of awareness of the importance of multilingualism in education, at macro level, both language policy discourses and pedagogical practices reproduce monolingual ideologies of language. For example, I had an opportunity to attend two language policy-related discussions in the last five months in Kathmandu. Both discussions were attended by linguists, teacher educators, government officials and teachers. Although those programs were organised to analyse issues concerning multilingual policies in education, the discussions could not challenge rather reproduced monolingual ideologies. Mostly because the discussion questions were framed by upholding monolingual perspectives, the panelists could not go beyond linguistic boundaries and neoliberal language ideologies. For instance, most often, in one discussion, the panelists were asked to express their opinions about the use of English against multilingual education. In another discussion, panelists were focusing on a ‘trilingual policy’ (English, Nepali and one ‘mother tongue’) and analyzing that the use of minoritised languages in public domains (e.g., education) is a problematic. Both perspectives see multilingualism in education as problem and construct binary oppositions between languages. For example, in the first discussion multilingual education is presented as anti-English language teaching while the second discussion, which was intended to discuss legitimacy of ‘mother tongues’,  simply wrongly interprets ‘trilingual policy’ as multilingual policy. Such discussions invite tensions, but do not lead us to decision-making processes that are informed by academic research and on-the-ground language practices and meaning-making processes.

The increasing use of English as medium of instruction and its teaching from the pre-primary level should not simply be celebrated as a panacea, as seen in the current language education policy discourses, rather it should be understood as a part of broader ideologies, pedagogies and policies of multilingualism. I don’t mean multilingual education is anti-English, but it is, as studies have consistently shown, an incredible resource for learning English and any other languages. More importantly, it is important to understand that teaching English as a language is different from using English as language of instruction. Our policies have given space to teaching English as a compulsory subject from the first grade. Teaching of English and any other languages is not a problem, but reproducing monolingual English ideology is a grave issue.  The body of literature from language learning and teaching from multilingual contexts have identified that using students’ prior linguistic knowledge (home language) in classroom pedagogies has a transformative impact in student learning. It is important to understand that students’ communicative and academic literacy knowledge in their home language plays a foundational role in learning new languages and academic content. In the current policies and ideologies of English language teaching, we have not been able to embrace students’ multilingual competence. While embracing outmoded the-earlier-the-better and the-more-the-better ideologies, the current language policies and practices are supporting subtractive model of language education. This model eventually leads to multilingual students’ lack of access to knowledge.

4. While having research on medium of instruction, I had a talk with some of the parents from Sherpa, Rai and Magar community. I asked them what if there was a provision of educating their children in their mother tongue in schools, they said there was no scope of their language for the future of their children and hence they were not enthusiastic about what you called ‘students home language in classroom pedagogies’. Therefore, if the community feel that multilingual approach to education is not necessary for them and even not possible, why do we need this? 

I think the problem lies in how we frame our questions about language, but not with what parents and communities think about language. The problem lies in power relation constructed in our language education policies that have reproduced the dominance of particular languages, backed up by political and economic reasons for long, rather than educational and socio-cultural relevance. As you have said, parents are often asked whether they see the relevance of their home languages in relation to Nepali and English. They are asked which language(s) they prefer to be used in education. Such questions create a binary relation between languages and are deeply influenced by a monolingual ideology. But we have not asked parents what multilingual education actually is nor have they been engaged in understanding what multilingual education actually is. We have not asked an inclusive question about language and discussed with them how multilingual education is relevant to supporting quality and effective learning of all children. In other words, our questions make parents think that their home languages do not have value in education. It is not uncommon for parents to have negative attitudes towards home languages in the context where language education policies are guided by political economic rather than educational rationale.

5. The national and international policy documents assert the use of Mother-tongue-based Multi-lingual-Education. However, the practitioners say, it is next to impossible to practise it in Nepal, where more than 125 local languages are recognised. Therefore, what can be the practical solution for it? Or has the time come to look for another alternative approach?

I don’t think ‘practitioners’ are saying that multilingual education is ‘next to impossible to practice’. Indeed, in the context like Nepal, what is impossible is not to have a multilingual policy. I know that there is a dominant ideology, based on 18th/19th century European monolingual ideology, which portrays multilingualism as problem in education and other public spheres. However, as multilingualism is our reality, it will be costly, from both educational and socio-cultural perspective, to imagine and impose monolingual policies and pedagogical practices in education.  The argument that multilingual education is impossible to implement due to a greater number of languages is fundamentally flawed and reproduces a deficit view of language education. More importantly, such a view is ill-informed and not supported by any educational and language learning studies, but it is politically motivated (supporting status quo and maintaining power relations among languages). What is true, as I have mentioned above, we have not been able to engage in informed discussions and decision-making processes. Seeing multilingualism as problem in multilingual country is the byproduct of ill-informed discussions. There are schools, communities and states, around the world, that have been using multiple languages in education successfully.

Although multilingualism in education is indispensable to support effective teaching learning, the existing multilingual education policy has two major issues. First, the transitional bilingual education model which gives space for using students’ home languages (other than Nepali) up to Grade 3 only does not support students to develop academic competence in multiple languages. This model, which eventually focuses on learning of dominant languages, does not contribute to develop multilingual competence of students. Second, the policy does not provide clear guidelines towards adopting multilingual pedagogies. We can see that, both in policy documents and pedagogical practices in schools, the existing multilingual education, unfortunately seems to support monolingual ideologies. For example, I have observed that most teachers and government officials interpret multilingual education as teaching of three languages—Nepali, English and one mother tongue—separately in school. While embracing this kind of separatist ideology, teachers are discouraging the use of multiple languages for pedagogical purposes in the classroom. Teachers are not educated and empowered to use multiple languages to achieve pedagogical goals in a planned and systematic way. My point is that we have to discuss what alternative pedagogical approaches, which embrace basic principles of multilingualism in education, that do not support a separatist ideology rather embrace an inclusive and co-learning practices could an effective approach. Two-way bilingual education programs, content-integrated multilingual education, inquiry-based learning and translanguaging pedagogies are some of the alternative practices that could appropriate in Nepal. These pedagogical approaches recognize linguistic and cultural capitals of all children in teaching-learning processes. Rather than considering multilingualism as a problem, these pedagogies take all students’ languages and language practices as integral part of learning language and academic contents. While saying this, I would not argue for a one-size-fits-all approach rather I focus on the need for working with teachers, students and communities in developing pedagogical tools that best address their linguistic, cultural and educational needs.

6. How do you evaluate the English language teaching (ELT) policy and practices in Nepal? What kind of policy should be developed to fit our context?

ELT policies and practices are unplanned and deeply shaped by global neoliberal ideologies. I have always argued that learning English is necessary; however, the construction and imposition of monolingual ideology as panacea for addressing educational issues is counterproductive for both ELT and learning academic contents. Second language acquisition and literacy studies have clearly shown that students cannot learn both language and academic content effectively if they are taught in a language they are not fully competent. In this regard, there are two major issues concerning ELT in Nepal. First, a dominant misconception takes ELT and the use of English as medium of instruction (EMI) synonymously. Considering ‘compulsory English’ (as a subject of teaching from the first Grade) insufficient, there is a growing trend to adopt EMI policy to teach content area subjects such as science, mathematics, and social studies. This policy is grounded on the assumption that students learn English better if all subjects are taught in English. However, what is lacking is critical and informed discussions and analysis whether or not this policy contributes to students’ cognitive and academic investment in learning processes. A growing body of literature has suggested that teaching students in a language they are not fully competent leads to lack of access to knowledge, cognitive investment and creativity in classroom.  So the current monolingual view on ELT should be critically assessed and adopt a multilingual approach to English language pedagogy. In doing this, it is important to engage teachers in pedagogical planning to create space for multiple languages for an effective learning process, while achieving the goals of lessons.

“English is necessary; however, the construction and imposition of monolingual ideology as panacea for addressing educational issues is counterproductive for both ELT and learning academic contents.”


7. Finally, what do you suggest to a critical mass of scholars in the field of linguistics, applied linguistics and language education and ELT in Nepal?

I would like to highlight two major points. First, linguists, applied linguists and language educators, including ELT practitioners, should engage themselves in discussions that are informed by theories and findings from second language acquisition, language policy and illiteracy studies. This engagement includes understanding of both policies and practices from other multilingual contexts and critical assessment of whether or not language policies and practices are supporting students’ agency, identity and existing linguistic and cultural capital. This kind of engagement is necessary to make informed-decisions in language policy and develop alternative pedagogies in language education. Second, it is important to engage teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders in analysing language ideologies and pedagogies in order to raise their awareness of multilingualism and its importance in language education. For this, concentrated efforts should be invested in developing pedagogical tools and materials in collaboration with teachers, students and communities and implement in the classroom. Doing this will shift our attention towards embracing multilingualism as an integral aspect of education. For this, we should discuss how teachers can use multiple languages in the classroom in a planned and purposeful way. I would argue that rather than reproducing monolingual ideologies—both in policies and practices—our emphasis should be how to bridge gap, created by separatist ideology, between languages and discuss in what teachers can tap in students’ existing language competence. In sum, there is a need for reframing our language policy discourses and focus more on learners and their identities in language education.  

 

Beyond Beating Dead Horses

From Frustration to Actions on Language Policy and Quality of Education for All

Shyam Sharma

Shyam Sharma

A couple of days ago, while I was video-chatting from here in New York with a cousin in Nawalparasi, the conversation turned to education. This thirty some year-old brother said he had discontinued education since we met a decade ago, gone to the Middle East to make money, returned home to start a wholesale store (which wasn’t doing well), and wasn’t sure what else to do. He didn’t have the desire to return to college: he didn’t see any point in pursuing higher education. “Higher education, especially if you can’t go to super-expensive private colleges, doesn’t lead to opportunity in this country,” he said. “Not anymore.” I did not know how to respond as he went on to generalize. As a fairly successful “product” of public education, I found the education part of the conversation depressing (in spite of all the joy of connecting and chatting with him about many other topics).

In rhetoric and writing courses, I teach students that effective communication depends on analysis/understanding of context, audience, medium, and purpose (CAMP). When my cousin gave me a mini lecture on education, I thought about my context (distantly chatting with a relative after a long time), audience (someone whom I didn’t want to disagree with, given his experience), medium (a video chat where the quick back-and-forth of an informal conversation didn’t facilitate deeper engagement), and purpose (it made no sense to try to challenge him on the subject of education in general). What he said was probably true for him, and it was probably true for other people in his situation or mindset. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how I as a scholar could have communicated better about education. I certainly wasn’t effective (unless giving up was an effective thing to do) and I also thought that people like me aren’t good at engaging members of the public about complex issues about education.

When I hung up and I returned to writing this post, I couldn’t help drawing analogies. Knowing what I know about the context, audience, medium, and purpose of this writing, I couldn’t find much enthusiasm to write it. I am writing in a context where many people like me have written about multilingualism as an asset, about the lack of language policy in the country, and about the dangers of monolingual instruction in the name of “quality” education. The audience, which will include mostly scholars/teachers of language and ELT, many of whom have also written many times about fundamental realities regarding language and language policy. The medium of a blog and this particular venue didn’t look like the best way to achieve my purpose (or, rather, desire) of making any impact in how the public and policy makers think about multilingualism and language policy in education.

Regardless of what a few scholars/teachers say, private schools are going to continue to sell English language (a medium) in the name of “quality education” (the objective). The Ministry of Education will remain being the dog that the mythical tails about English will continue to wag. And, even more depressing, even scholars of language will continue to repeat superficial nonsense about English. Just scroll through Facebook and you will find our most informed scholars repeating the platitude that English is “the world language”; don’t tell them that more Nepalis need Hindi and Arabic to find opportunities in the world beyond our borders. Go to fancy conferences and nobody will show exactly how teaching in English somehow magically improves education; don’t ask those who are making grand arguments with all the grand assumptions if they have research evidence since some British guy did a study in the 1980s (surprise, surprise, he found that because there weren’t enough teachers who could use English fluently, it was hurting learning). Don’t ask our scholars why they still don’t oppose English “only” as the medium of instruction in private schools, why they don’t talk about education at large, why they conflate the currently terrible situation of public education with the inevitability of public education as an approach to educating the public in a country like ours.

Like it was pointless to challenge my cousin about the value of higher education (he had figured it all out, for himself and for everyone), it also seemed to make little sense to write one more time about changing course, formulating new policies, rethinking dominant assumptions . . . regarding language teaching, language policy, and multilingualism. More broadly, I thought about how unfashionable it seems for Nepali scholars to defend and seek to improve public education, and that made me almost give up and say sorry to the editor whom I had promised a blog post for this issue.

So, what’s the point of beating the same old dead horses?

Then it dawned upon me that I was looking at the situation only through a pessimistic lens. I was failing or refusing to look at more positive things. By focusing on persisting problems, I was unable to recognize more promising developments in society. Maybe I could redirect my energies if I want to contribute more than I now do? Urging a similar shift in perspective for us as a group of language educators and public intellectuals, I would like to share some thoughts. I think that we should reframe our conversation after nearly a decade (on this forum) of focusing on realities and challenges about multilingualism and language policy in Nepal. What can those of us who are not at home contribute best—how can we better partner with colleagues on the ground? How can those of us on the ground affect policy and public opinion even better? As we strive to keep the conversation alive, what new directions could we take?

First, while we may be concerned about persisting mythologies of monolingualism and the absence of well-informed language policy, let us also recognize positive developments. People are more conscious today about the dangers of monolingualism, especially those of suppressing minority languages, than before the democratic revolution. Nothing may have happened in terms of government policy or even seriousness among scholars who could reshape language policy, but it seems to me that the questions and debates are out there in the mainstream today. Building on whatever progress we see, let us keep working to emphasize them. Let us keep calling out intellectual laziness, pointing out logical flaws, and acknowledging complex thinking about language policy. Let us continue the conversation, writing in venues that reach larger and larger audiences. Let us network with people in positions with policy or even political impact. We owe it to society to inform them—far beyond just complaining about them.

Second, let us work with the private sector to improve quality of education, to implement common sense language policy, and to use the leverage of their resource or willpower toward affecting public education as well. For example, there are a lot of private schools whose administrators and teachers are willing to invite public school teachers and administrators into training and conversations. There is a lot of goodwill (as well as desire to market brands) in the private sector. Many educators who are in the private sector also work in the public sector; many of them came from public education and they have a deep sense of loyalty and responsibility to protect and improve access to quality education regardless of financial ability of their fellow citizens, now and in the future. Many of us attack the villains in the private sector—or, rather, we see villains and ignore the average, hardworking educators and education leaders in them. This is a problem I need to overcome a little more myself :). I think we must partner a lot more than we already do with private schools, contribute our expertise, engage their leaders, and listen to them more carefully.

“We must partner a lot more than we already do with private schools, contribute our expertise, engage their leaders, and listen to them more carefully.”


Third, we should do our best to help the society stop blaming the victims—which we can start by directing our own energies from attacking the villains to appreciating those who do it right—in the public sector. For example, a lot of well-meaning intellectuals working in education (as well as people working in different professions) are angry with public school teachers for engaging in politics, for being lazy and dishonest, for their irresponsibility and unprofessional attitude. The problem with focusing our energies on what is wrong is that we may end up aggravating the problems while doing nothing toward solving them. What if we look at public school teachers as the victims and products of a certain social and political condition? What if we can contribute toward shifting their energies from politics to professional development? In some of the professional development webinar series that I did with a regional public university, I have felt very strongly that we were able to greatly encourage professors who wanted to stay away from politics and leverage the power of knowledge and change that they could affect through teacher training and professional networking. One of the most politically aggressive teachers came on board and emphasized how eager he is now to join the professional development initiatives.

Fourth, let us shift attention from discourse to practice. Of course, we should not create or reinforce false dichotomies between theory/discourse and practice: we are in a profession where talk is our trade. We talk to teach students, to train teachers, to engage the public, and to build and expand professional networks. But we should think more clearly about the outcome of our talking and writing: do we want teachers to go to class with a different mindset about language, administrators to change the current language policy, institutions to listen to us more because we speak to them? How can we develop training programs, modules, materials, and teams that can shift the focus from outdated views about language and multilingualism to practices that will empower students from different linguistic backgrounds? We can turn conversations on social media into series of webinars that involve educators and academic administrators in conversations about policy and practice.

“We can turn conversations on social media into series of webinars that involve educators and academic administrators in conversations about policy and practice.”


 

Fifth, let us reach beyond the city. Technology now allows us to expand the reach of our conversation, networking, training, and resource-sharing. I remember my cousin telling me: “If you don’t want to forget your brother, you don’t have to anymore”—telling me that he was speaking to me from a nearby petroleum pump where there was wifi. It is important, however, to be patient and realistic—both about technology and about what we want to achieve. It takes time and willingness to change our own perspective (and gain patience) when working with people in new contexts. Last year, when I landed in a small town in western Nepal after having run a yearlong webinar series on how to integrate writing across the curriculum (a series that later shifted focus into “how to implement the semester system), I was shocked to find out how bad wifi and data bandwidth were on the ground. While I was working online for nearly a year, I had only seen the few determined colleagues on the ground who must have done everything possible to find or create a fairly good connection before they talked to me: I had assumed that the same kind of connection must be available for most people. As I sat on one particular flight of stairs of a hotel in Surkhet where wifi worked—in total darkness, attacked by a thousand mosquitoes, after midnight when the connection got better—to try to answer any important emails from my university in New York, I was humbled to the point of tears. At that time, I was not as angry at the mosquitoes as I was with myself, when I remembered saying, “For future meetings, let us make sure in advance that we have good connection so that our conversation is uninterrupted.” It turns out that my colleagues would prepare for good connection but no amount of “preparation” would guarantee good wifi. These days, I am much more patient when someone isn’t there, when technology doesn’t work, when new participants need to be brought up to speed, and so on. If we keep expanding our conversation and our commitment and patience for it, we will be able to look back with pride in ten more years—both regarding language policy work and regarding the quality and impact of education at large.

Finally, let us not be afraid or shy to speak our minds. We have seen a lot of negativity against scholars who tried to share their ideas, even when they didn’t challenge established power structures. I don’t know where all the leg-pullers have gone, but we have seen those who continued to share knowledge thrive and grow and make bigger and bigger impacts on society. If you have ideas and energy, come join the conversation here; contribute to other venues if your ideas better fit there; comment and like and repost and having fun learning and sharing ideas on various blogs and other social media. We must invest more of our energies for maximum impact, and one of the ways of doing that is to keep writing and connecting and supporting others. Since we started this humble venue in 2009, I have observed how many contributors and facilitators of this forum have realized their potentials—especially by contributing to the potentials and progress of others.

Let us keep giving back to the profession, the society, and the world! Thank you for reading this post, and hopefully for writing (more) for Choutari in the future.

 

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