Writing Practices at University Level in Far West Nepal: An Interactive Blogpost

Presented by: Ashok Raj Khati

In this interactive blog post, we present a scenario regarding writing practices at university level, particularly at bachelors and masters levels. The interaction focuses on the current practices, challenges and future prospects of developing writing skills on the part of students. The participants of this interaction are three young emerging scholars in English language education:

  1. Jagadish Paudel: Former lecturer at Department of English education, Dadeldhura Shiksha Campus, Dadeldhura (Currently a lecturer in University Campus, Kirtipur, TU)
  2. Mohan Singh Saud: Lecturer at Department of English education, Kailali Multiple Campus, Dhangadhi (currently a student of MPhil leading to PhD program at Graduate School of Education, TU)
  3. Jnanu Raj Paudel: Assistant professor at Tikapur Multiple Campus, Kailali (currently pursuing PhD from Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University).

Ashok: Based on your experience in the far west, when did/do your students write? I mean could you tell me some examples of what they write?

Jagadish Paudel: Leaving a few exceptions, students only write in the examination, I mean they only write for the exam. They only learn to write for examination. They usually pass the exam without enough practice of academic writing. They just read bazaar notes and pass the exam by writing what they memorise from those notes.

 

 

Mohan Singh Saud: Wow! This is really a thought-provoking question to be considered. What I can say about it is that I see students rarely involve in writing activities except at the time of examination. It’s really a pitiable condition in the region. The trend of writing is very low, almost at zero level. Though there are many things to be written for improving writing such as diary writing, writing about experiences and so on, students do not seem to be involved in developing writing skills. Majority of students are not found highly interested in writing activities.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: Students only write when they cannot avoid the situation of writing. As I have experienced in my work place and other institutions, they write only in their final examination paper. Teachers often provide them notes on the contents and students copy them in their note books. When teachers ask them to be prepared for classroom writing, they remain absent in the class.  When they are asked to write, they copy from bazaar notes, they do not make attempt of their own. They fear of being commented upon their writing. Teachers also do not encourage students to write. Teachers are mostly found writing in social media about the contemporary issues but academic writing is most neglected area in this region.

Ashok: You have a long experience of working in this region and visited several campuses particularly in affiliated with Tribhuvan University. Could you please tell us what are the current practices regarding developing writing skill of the students at the university level?

Jagadish Paudel: I do not see any practices for developing writing in most colleges I visited. Some courses have been designed for developing students’ writing skills; however, both the teachers and students, not all, do not practise the given exercises. It’s shame both the teachers and students enjoy if they are not required to write. But, students compulsorily require writing a paper or doing an assignment for a few courses. Even for such courses, the students copy from the students of previous years, or they copy from their friends who seem to be high achievers in the class.

Mohan Singh Saud: Of course, I have some experiences regarding the practices in writing. TU has designed really a very good curriculum for the development of writing skills in bachelor and master level. We can see different writing activities and tasks to be carried out by the students. But the reality is that our students are quite indifferent about writing. Teachers teach theories of writing but they do not involve students in writing activities. Students are also not interested in writing. For instance, in one of the classes, three students out of around sixty students did when I asked to write an essay. Therefore, the practical aspect of teaching and learning is missing though the curriculum has provided high priority. Teachers need to ‘complete’ (in fact the oral delivery) their courses and they think if students are involved in writing tasks in the classroom, they will be unable to complete those courses in time. So the trend of writing has been ignored.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: The syllabus for the university level has abundant strategies for developing writing skill of the students. However, it has not brought any fundamental changes in developing writing skill of the students. Academic writing course in BEd, Effective academic writing for BBS, critical writing course for BA are very resourceful for developing writing skill, but the way courses need to be handled by the teachers does not seem to be satisfactory.

Both teachers and students are exam oriented. They present the lesson in the way, it will be asked in the examination. They are asked to practice how to write topic sentence, thesis statement, supporting detail and so on while teaching paragraph. They are theoretically oriented. Moreover, the students also avoid practicing writing activities. The teacher who tries to encourage classroom practice is criticized for not being exam oriented. Therefore, the teachers also do not take much risk on adopting innovative ideas to develop writing skill. The method of writing teaching is entirely localized in wrong way and determined by the exam models. The students do not enjoy going out of exam model. Furthermore, the teachers are not interested in student centered pedagogy (practice based) and they are habituated using ready-made notes which they have prepared in advance. The syllabus is fine and I see there is a lot to do in instruction and the students’ culture of avoiding writing, but the trend has been very difficult to break.

Ashok: What are the major challenges in fostering writing culture, an essential part of the university curriculum, in this region in terms of management, teachers’ writing culture, plagiarism, bazaar notes and so on?

Jagadish Paudel: The curriculum is good for enhancing students writing culture; there are courses which foster writing. I see the problem of developing writing culture; here I do not see writing culture in students, with an exception. Similarly, most students are unaware of plagiarism. The bazaar notes are the problems for developing writing culture. Most students rely on bazaar notes for passing the exam.

Mohan Singh Saud: You raised a good question. Most examinations are especially based on reading and writing. Students read for examination and write in the examination. But in the classroom, we are not able to foster writing culture. Teaching and learning activities have become examination-oriented. I could see the harmful washback effect of testing on students’ learning. If there is any writing task in the course, students generally ask teachers “Sir, is it asked in the examination?”. If the teachers say, ”Yes”, students notice it and mark with ‘important’. I do not see any support from the campus management side to enhance writing culture. Teachers are just worried about finishing their courses, but they do not try to write anything creative. Regarding plagiarism, students just copy without any citations and referencing. They are not aware of plagiarism in several cases. Likewise, students mostly depend on bazaar notes and solution of old questions available in the market. The trend of buying books is very low. Only a few students buy prescribed textbooks. Most of the students have no books in the class. When the final examination is nearer, they search where the exam guides are found and buy the same for the exam. Nowadays students have become mechanical rather than creative. They prefer a kind of readymade answer to be studied only for the exam. So our teaching-learning trend has become spoon feeding kind of learning. The academic market is occupied with cheap low-quality bazaar notes.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: The most striking challenge in fostering writing is developing writing and sharing culture. A few teachers from this region have been writing for the newspapers and academic journals. Teachers’ writings and publications also encourage students to write. When the student is asked to write a project report, they generally expect a sample of writing the report from their teachers. They are told to visit local bookshop, a photocopy center nearby. Here, we have a loophole. These profit-making centers have soft copies of previous reports. They reproduce them again with minor modifications. For instance, some reports as the requirements for practicum (Practice teaching) are copied and pasted from previous reports with minor changes. They are not aware of the issue of plagiarism. Reproduction without acknowledgement is very common among students and teachers. As a result the students have developed an ideology that reproduction is socially accepted. The bazaar notes are models for their writings. The students are not exposed to authentic writing resources. Consequently, they have very poor writing proficiency.

Ashok: Do you see any future prospects to foster writing culture in the region?

Jagadish Paudel: I see prospects of developing writing culture in the region. For this, teachers themselves need to develop their writing habit. And this will motivate students to write something regularly. That is, teachers should not only impose the theory, but they should demonstrate their own writing. After that, students can be asked to write. Teachers must provide feedback to the students in their writing. Similarly, management of the colleges must encourage and support to the students and teachers to develop a writing culture in their campuses.

Mohan Singh Saud: Yeah, I am quite hopeful that writing skill of our students at university level can be fostered in this region. Students need to be encouraged to write anything they like such as a daily journal, narratives, paragraph, poems and essays. And teachers need to provide them with specific feedback on them.

Jnanu Raj Paudel: The universities in developed countries have shifted their focus on writing at present. Teachers in this region need to be aware of this shift. The writing can only be enhanced when writing and sharing culture is developed. Sharing the piece of writing among experts and peers helps to improve further. Reading culture is another aspect to be developed among the teachers and students. Both teachers and students are to be encouraged to involve in academic writing. The university should adopt mechanism to check plagiarism.

ELT Choutari thanks our valued participants for their ideas and it opens the forum for you to share your thoughts in the comment boxes below.

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

Background

Januka Bhatta

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

Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Challenges Observed

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

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

Some Strategies to Overcome the Challenges

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

Conclusion

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

References:

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

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

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

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