Editorial (July 2015 Issue): EFL teachers in ‘super-difficult circumstance’

Namaste and welcome to the July 2015 issue of Choutari!

We hope you enjoyed our June issue which also focuses on education and EFL teaching in Nepal’s post-disaster situation. You can read the issue here.

In this issue, we have three blog posts and a photography project. In my own article, I have discussed the preliminary findings of the survey on the role of EFL teachers in Nepal’s post-disaster situation, which I call “super-difficult circumstance.” The teachers’ responses reveal a multitude of difficulties (e.g., psycho-social, educational and economic challenges) caused by the recent earthquake. Most importantly, the findings of the survey reveal the “transformative agency” of EFL teachers who transgress the “schooled pedagogy” and can create their own “pedagogy of disaster” to help their students recover from the traumatic experience.

In the second post, Nirjana Sharma, an education journalist based in Kathmandu, shares a featured news story based on her observation of the schools on the resumption after a month-plus unscheduled holidays following the earthquake. 

July Issue of ChoutariIn another article, Dinesh Thapa shares with us his own involvement in the relief and recovery operations in the earthquake-affected areas. He begins with telling his own story and discusses empirical findings about how people are affected by the earthquake. His article is a testimony to redefining the role of “teacher-as-researcher” and an important material for EFL teaching.

Praveen Kumar Yadav’s post focuses on his own classroom experience teaching his students after the earthquake. His story documents the importance of teachers’ role in facilitating the earthquake-related discussions in EFL lessons. More strikingly, the way in which he has framed the devastating stories in his “world literature” course resonates what I call the “pedagogy of disaster.”

The Choutari team always explores new ways to promote pedagogical discussions among EFL teachers. We have initiated a “photography project” for EFL teaching. Influenced by the Critical Photography Theory” (Wells, 2015) and the “Critical Art Pedagogy” (Cary, 2011), the goal of this project is to promote the use of photos/pictures in EFL teaching.

Table of contents
  1. From ‘schooled pedagogy’ to ‘pedagogy of disaster’: The role of EFL teachers in the super-difficult circumstance of post-disaster Nepal, by Prem Phyak
  2.  School resumption brings smiles to children, by Nirjana Sharma
  3. The impacts of the earthquake on education: Contemplation of an EFL teacher, by Dinesh Thapa
  4. I survived and have a story to tell, by Praveen Kumar Yadav
  5. The photography project’: Pictures in EFL teaching, by Choutari Team

I hope you enjoy reading this issue.

Happy readings!

Prem Phyak (Guest editor)

(With Praveen Kumar Yadav)

School Resumption Brings Smiles to Children

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NIRJANA SHARMA

 

Attendance was encouraging on the first day children returned to school Sunday, 37 days after the devastating earthquake rocked Nepal.

The month-plus unscheduled holidays have come to an end. But the tremors have not. Amid aftershocks striking every single day, children in most Valley schools not only managed to bring smiles back to their faces, but also boosted the confidence of their teachers about continuing with the classes.

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Arman at the center

Five-year-old Arman Khan had gotten admission to nursery class at Durbar High School in the first week of Baisakh, when the new academic session started. But his first day of classes took place only on Sunday. No one asked him to read or write anything. All he had to do was sing and dance along with other children.

At this oldest school of the country, the children paid no attention to the collapsed infrastructure and instead enjoyed the cultural program at the Temporary Learning Centre set up by the school.

Rojina Lama, 13, and her 11-year-old brother Kumar were witness to many old structures collapsing in Thimi on April 25. And their home in Dhading district is now only a memory. But all that was not enough to keep the siblings away from their Adarsha Secondary School at Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.

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“We are happy to come to school and hope to resume our studies soon,” they said while walking in the streets of Thimi.

School teacher Roshani Shrestha at VS Niketan Montessor shared that those who came in the morning crying also seem to have forgotten everything and were playing happily.

For eight-year-old Younish Shrestha, it was a little different. The paper-made ‘smiling’ hairband did not match his expression. About the reason for his sadness, he said, “I enjoyed the holidays and wished they could be extended for more days still.” Roshani explained Younish’s attitude in terms of general child psychology and the tendency to keep avoiding school when there has been a long gap.

Sixth grader Rahul Yadav of SOS School, Sanothimi says he found the earthquake-related information at schools quiet boring.

“We have been facing earthquakes every day and watching the awareness messages on TV and the internet and it was boring to see the same things repeated at school,” he said. Rahul’s mother Bina nodded and suggested that the schools impart quake-related education in a more interesting way.

Less than half of students attend at most Valley schools

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Around 70 students made it to Durbar High School where the enrollment was around 225 during the last session. Out of 1,000 students, hardly 350 reached Nobel Academy at New Baneshwor.

Nobel Principal Rishikesh Wagle said most of the students who have gone to the districts with their families are yet to return.

“It is mainly children who have gone to their homes outside the Valley who are yet to return,” said Wagle.

At VS Niketan Montessor at Tinkune, 87 out of the 200 toddlers managed to come, whereas 250 out of 500 students at Suryodaya School attended.

PABSON, an umbrella organization of private and boarding schools, said that around 40 percent of students came to school. But the numbers are expected to increase gradually as the guardians see more and more children doing so, said PABSON Chairperson Lachhya Bahadur KC

PABSON has estimated that around 15 percent of the children might not return to the Valley following the quake. KC said this was no bother for private schools, which would soon begin classes in full form as per the interest shown by students.

“The senior class students have shown interest in returning to full-form classes,” said KC. If the aftershocks become milder, schools would resume formal classes for grades 9 and 10, he mentioned.

The Department of Education (DoE)said that most of the schools managed to gather students in their makeshift classrooms for amusement and extracurricular activities, as earlier planned, to help them overcome the post-quake trauma.

“We have received good vibes from the badly-devastated districts and this has encouraged the government to gear up for full fledged classes soon,” said DoE Director Khagendra Nepal.

Stressed guardians wait outside for children

fThough some schools such as St. Xavier’s at Jawalakhel restricted media from the school premises, guardians were allowed to accompany their children to the classrooms.

Some of the schools engaged the guardians also in their activities, and in most schools the guardians waited outside for more than two hours until the school wrapped up for the day.

At the premises of Suryodaya School at Dillibazar and at Maitidevi-based Universal Academy, which was damaged by the quake, the guardians could manage a smile on seeing their children singing and dancing.

Engineer Shambhulal Kayastha took his eight-grader granddaughter Bhumika to Nobel Academy from Koteshor. This was the third time Kayastha has been to the school within a week.

“The green sticker at the building did not reassure me untill I examined the infrastructure myself,” 60-year-old Kayastha told Republica while waiting for Bhumika at the school premises.

Nobel carried out yoga, meditation and cultural programs alternatively, dividing the students into different groups. Guardians witnessed similar activities from a distance at VS Niketan as well.

Like many, Sunita Maharjan said that fear of strong tremors during school hours prevented her feet from leaving the school area.

The author is education journalist with Republica English National Daily in Nepal. She originally published it in Republica and blogged for ELT CHOUTARI.

Language matters in the post-disaster discourses

  • The use of certain terms in the post-disaster discourse seems to be disempowering earthquake survivors

This write up was originally published in The Kathmandu Post. Click here to see the source or read it below.

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

The recent 7.9 magnitude earthquake and its over 200 aftershocks, not only took the lives of about 9000 people and destroyed thousands of houses, including major world heritage sites, but also generated some fresh discourses on nationalism, politics, and nation-building. This disaster is no longer just a ‘natural’ phenomenon; it has deep socio-political, cultural, and economic meanings. This disaster is reflective of Nepal’s stratified social structure in which rural people, farmers, women, indigenous nationalities and Dalits lack access to economic and political resources.

As a result, criticism of the government’s uncoordinated rescue, relief and recovery efforts has already dominated the public sphere. The role of the government is no doubt central to nation-rebuilding process. Even so, every individual, including the media, has to maintain some ethical considerations in the recovery and rebuilding processes.

Language matters

Language is not only key to effective communication, but also a sociocultural construct that indicates our perspectives and views towards others. It creates discourses that reproduce particular worldviews about people, society, and the ways of doing things. Language includes the selection of particular words/phrases and tones, and gesture (body language).

The language we use has the ability to empower or disempower the people. In all the stages of disaster—rescue, relief, recovery and rebuilding—it is necessary to embrace the use of local languages to reach out to and effectively communicate with the local communities. For example, the use of Tamang in Sindhupalchok/Rasuwa, Thangmi in Dolakha, and Gurung in Gorkha should not be ignored by all the individuals and organisations that work with these communities. People in these communities cannot effectively communicate in Nepali, and forcing them to speak Nepali may not be the best way of represent their needs and concerns.

Language also creates categories that might be disempowering. Here I cite a few examples based on my close observation of media discourses. The disempowering ways in which language is used include the way both the local and global media are describing the earthquake ‘survivors’ as ‘victims’ (pidit in Nepali). Here are some examples: ‘Nepal earthquake: Victims treated on hospital floor’ (BBC), ‘Nepal earthquake victims overwhelm’ (CNN), ‘Admire Nepal to help earthquake victims’ (TKP), and ‘Global effort to help Nepal earthquake victims intensifies’ (Republica). Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube constantly reproduce this term. And most importantly, NGOs/INGos and volunteer groups raising funds to support the recovery and relief operations further highlight this term. While the word, in simple terms, refers to the people who are suffering from the disaster, it represents survivors as ‘passive’ and  ‘helpless’. The term ‘victim’ ignores the lessons we can learn from these survivors. We should not forget the fact that they have witnessed and experienced a massive disaster, and their stories can serve as a resource for rebuilding the country.

Another troubling discourse that is being reproduced on social media is that of poverty. For example, in the headline ‘Nepal earthquake: what the thousands of victims share is that they are poor’, the survivors are simultaneously labelled as ‘victims’ and ‘poor’. The discourses on poverty in Nepal and in other Third World contexts are largely shaped by the Western ideology of market-based economy, which largely makes invisible  the economic activities of women, farmers, indigenous communities, and Dalits. The current recovery and rebuilding discourses are reproducing the same ideology. For example, the government has recently decided to provide Rs 15-25 lakhs loan to the survivors. The decision was based upon the assumption that people who live in cities are rich and the value of their houses is higher than that of the villagers’. This kind of language is very discriminatory and disempowering for the people in Langtang, for example, who have lost their hotels in a major tourist destination. Such categorisation of people in terms of their geographical background creates a hierarchy among survivors and devalues the contribution of rural farmers, among others, to the nation’s economy.

Likewise, the term ‘donor’ has also become very popular these days. The government has recently unveiled plans to organise a donor’s meeting in Kathmandu to seek more support from the international community. The term valorises the power and role of the international community and diminishes Nepal’s own role, ability, and resources to rebuild the country.

Not beggars

Now let me discuss some other scenarios that can be observed on social media. There are many people, particularly those belonging to volunteer groups, who are working really hard and helping survivors. Some of them don’t care about the documentation, dissemination, and recognition of their works, so they don’t even make their efforts public. On the other hand, we get to see the so-called ‘generous supporters’ collecting some boxes of Wai-Wai, mineral water bottles and chiura and driving  their vehicles loaded with the supplies till where they can travel to. There, they gather and line up some survivors (mainly women, the elderly and children), take pictures and distribute their ‘relief’ goods. The scene, as circulated on social media, projects survivors as ‘beggars’ and volunteers as erstwhile ‘landlords’. It is quite ridiculous to observe some so-called relief providers carrying fancy cameras on one hand while handing out a tarp to survivors with the another.

New ways

The use of certain terms in the post-disaster discourse seems to be disempowering earthquake survivors. While both the government and non-governmental organisations are busy making plans and policies to rebuild the country, the engagement of survivors in this process has not received adequate attention. International experience shows that the participation of disaster survivors during the planning phase not only empowers them, but also ensures their ownership in the recovery and rebuilding process. This disaster has given us an opportunity to develop and implement an inclusive, empowering and bottom-up approach to nation-building. We just need to reframe our use of languages/discourses and policies from the ‘what-we-have’ perspective and not ‘what-we-do-not-have’. We should embrace the non-negotiable principle that survivors are not beggars; they are key agents in recovery and rebuilding processes.

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Phyak is a PhD candidate at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii, the US