Educated but Illiterate

Sajan Kumar Karn,
Department of English Education,
T. R. M. Campus, Birgunj


Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder (Wales, 2004)

We are now in the process of connecting all of the knowledge pools in the world together.

Thomas Friedman, the author of The World is Flat (Friedman, 2005).

The above statements are not merely informative but they trigger some immediate illocutionary actions on the part of academia. Education in many parts of the world has already responded to digital intervention and has consequently leaped forward. What about ours? Are we literate enough to exploit the tools available online?  Can we sustain and grow ignoring this boom in education? What needs to be done urgently to address this new literacy issue?  What are loopholes in our instruction that digital tools can trim down? I share some reflections about these burning issues in Nepalese education in this article.

They but We

There should be no doubt to the fact that the advent and explosion of technology has altered the customary definition of literacy. Conventionally, one needs to be able to read and write in order to be called literate. Of course, those core abilities are still vital to learning, but they are no longer adequate to ensure comprehensive understanding of the present day world. Today we live in a digitally networked atmosphere where a large number of things happen online and envisioning academic endurance and growth in paucity of access to and knowhow of digital tools will be nothing but an utter innocence. The enormous use of technology in education around the globe has raised a serious question mark over the literacy of majority of Nepalese academicians and professionals including teachers (This may apply to other parts of the world). To be frank enough, most of our teachers seem to be unaware of the boom fetched by digital tools in teaching and learning, let alone their applications and efficacy in classroom.  Nearly all observations illustrate teachers practicing conventional trends in classroom. Please, do not take it otherwise, but committing and vomiting seems to be most common practice in schools and colleges of Nepal if we exclude some updated ones in urban areas. This is very unfortunate that we have not been able to take a departure from the narrative model of instruction yet. Most of us still consider ourselves to be the knowledge providers when knowledge is just a click away at and wikipedia. com. Google is currently attempting to scan and digitize more than 50 million books from five of the largest research libraries from around the world. Wikipedia is another online encyclopedia where knowledge is open and free. This is the website where anyone can edit anything anytime they want (Richardson, 2009).

The role of teachers as depositors of knowledge as critiqued by Paulo Freire (1967) creates hierarchical relation between teachers and students and this  is never going to bring to the fore inherent potentiality of students, which, however, should be the first and foremost goal of education.  The indifferent attitude towards the fact that all learners are innovative and it is on the part of teachers to unwrap and tend those veiled talents has virtually paralyzed our teaching and learning activities. Who cares for autonomy of learners? It is tremendously paradoxical that we practice most undemocratic teaching in a fully democratic country. Most of us do not take a heed of the reality that teaching and learning have grown much more horizontal and collaborative undertaking around the globe and it feels reasonable for us as well. Sadly, most of us are still in illusion that knowledge comes from abroad or from a few counted experts while the fact is that Knowledge is shaped and acquired through social process and we can practice it in classrooms. Very few of us seem to agree that there is need to build local knowledge to address local teaching and learning issues. Very few of us seem to accept that teaching is not a lecture but has become a conversation and ideas are presented as the starting point of the dialogue as Geroge Siemens (2002) argue, not the ending point. These are some of the gaps in Nepalese Education required to be bridged at the earliest.

Touching the moon

Yes, we should have bigger target as Devkota said. Let us imagine we have a classroom described as follows.

If you walk into some classrooms around the world, you will see fixed data projectors, interactive whiteboards (IWBs), built- in speakers for audio material that is delivered directly from a computer hard disk, and computers with round –the –clock internet access. Whenever teachers want their students to find anything out, they can get them to use a search engine like Google and the result can be shown the whole class on the IWB (Harmer, 2002, p.175).

Such a classroom may be beyond our imagination for some time. But it is high time we and the concerned realized that this is the need of the hour. Ignoring this boom means falling back and remaining in dark, continuing to be oppressed, accepting hegemony and literary colonialism and practicing the age old methods.

Varsity teachers we are!

We are in our well dry-cleaned suits and ties, shiningly polished shoes, helmets on our heads and mobile phones in our hands and we introduce ourselves as university teachers. We complain about the lack of technological resources or internet connection in our departments, but we also not have an email account, nor a Facebook or Skype account, nor have we used or contributed to flickr, posted a message on Twitter, nor learnt how to download teaching materials from educational websites, not to mention whether our universities have free access to academic journal databases–for free–and we are not able to prepare for a class or a presentation by using a simple PowerPoint slide, we do not have personal blogs to share ideas, we do not know how to download from and upload videos on media sharing sites like YouTube and we do not have any idea about wikis and we cannot create web documents like Google Docs and collaboratively draft anything with others. All these and many others skills are beyond our capabilities–actually, they are beyond our interest or sense of need–but still, don’t worry, we are university professors, associate professors and assistant professors of education, science and management. It’s not what we do, what new skill we learn, whether and how well we update… you got it, it’s about who we ARE.

Tools but Fools

What are we if not fools in front of digital tools? Web tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, video, screencasting, live streaming and many others have brought ground breaking changes in teaching and learning. Researches and experiences have already revealed that technologies have many advantages. For instance, weblogs promotes creativity, critical analogical and analytical thinking of both students and teachers. They increase access and exposure to quality information (Richardson, 2009:20). Further, other digital tools make learning networks more interactive and practical. They connect teachers and students to global conversations and collaborations and allow students to work individually at their own pace according to their own needs. They offer open content, provides a platform for discussion and collaboration, a space for cultivation of creativity.  Nevertheless, this feels merely like playing a flute before buffaloes.

Revolution required

Handicapped we are and we have been left. A revolution is required, a true revolution in education, unlike fake ones fought by political parties in Nepal if we want to go ahead, if we want to do realistic education, if want to compete with the world, if we want to practice democracy in classroom, if we want to address local academic issues. And it is technology that can function as a powerful instrument for this revolution. Yes, technology will work as sharp sword to deconstruct the insensible conventional practices we have been suffering from.  I do not agree with Jill and Charles Hadfield (2003) who argue passionately that we can do a lot with minimal or even no resources. Claims as such only make us chauvinists. Effectiveness of technology based teaching is far above the one without technology.

A final plea

Digitalize Nepalese education and re-literate the educators because the educated do not want to be called illiterate, the educated do not want to be called illiterate.

(back to editorial/contents)


Fredman, T. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty first century. New York: Farr, Strauss and Giroux.

Frieri, P. (1967). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. London: Pearson Longman.

Karn, S.K. (2009). Bridge the digital divide. Contemporary Issues in ELT, journal of NELTA Birgunj.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin Press.

4 thoughts on “Educated but Illiterate

  1. Yes, it is interesting teaching undemocratically in democratic country. We are responsible for making students totally dependent on us believing that the knowledge is transferred rather created. Repeating same notes for years; no newness, no interesting, no updated, always lecturing in the class and not trying to make class interactive, not making floor for creativity, discussions and not encouraging students for discussions in groups. We need ask questions ourselves; what did we do till today? What lesson did we teach to our students? Are we doing justice on students making them “dull and frustrating”? It is all our responsibilities to raise awareness in teaching and learning field. It’s our responsibility to show ways of learning and different resources rather giving notes and lectures. Let’s explore creativity , innate capacity and hungre for the knowledge for that we need to brainstorm how?

  2. I am quite impressed with the write up by Mr. Sajan Kumar Karn who has creatively linked the facts that we are educated but illiterate in terms of using modern technologies especially computer, internet and digital tools.

    Mr. Karn is right to say that some of ELT professionals believe in the fact that knowledge comes from abroad or from a few counted experts, which is truly illogical. Such believers should believe in the fact that knowledge is shaped through social process, as he further mentioned in the article.

    In my opinion, Mr. Karn has missed to mention the harsh reality among some of the teachers in Nepalese context is that they do not like to tell their students where knowledge is explored from whereas they explore knowledge from the books and web access or from getting associated with the organizations like NELTA in Nepal (May be another organizations in another country), trainings, workshops, seminars, conference and others. They fear with the students telling the sources thinking that the learners may know more than they do. Now the time has come to encourage the students to learn themselves through different sources from book to web and from training to conference.

    Teachers should not become teachers but facilitators at the present context. They could not have been successful in becoming facilitators due to lack of professional skills and lack of computer and internet or let’s say ignorance of modern technologies.

    I agree with A true revolution required in education of Nepal if we want to compete with the world, if we want to practice democracy in classroom and if we want to address local academic issues. It is the need of hour that we teachers along with learners need to learn the skills to operate computer and should use access to internet and other modern technology/equipments. Let us become literate in terms of applying modern technologies in ELT.

    Finally let me congratulate Mr. Sajan Kumar Karn for this creative article that has depicted a picture of education scenario of Nepal.

    Praveen Kumar Yadav
    Life member

  3. Thank you so much Anil ji and Praveen ji for reading this tiny write up on literacy problem faced by majority of Nepalese teachers. It is truly difficult to sustain and grow academically in the paucity of technology. Please create awareness in your circles about this so that they update their practices via technology and make their pedagogy better. Thanks again.

  4. I strongly support that Sajan Sir affirms here “We are in our well dry-cleaned suits and ties, shiningly polished shoes, helmets on our heads and mobile phones in our hands and we introduce ourselves as university teachers. We complain about the lack of technological resources or internet connection in our departments, but we also not have an email account, nor a Facebook or Skype account, nor have we used or contributed to flickr, posted a message on Twitter, nor learnt how to download teaching materials from educational websites”. This is a musical reality of the teachers who are heading ahead to promote ELT in Nepal. Their outer slogan is ‘ We believe on work-to-word’ and their practical life reflects the opposite idea that ‘they believe on word-to-work as the nasty leaders do things in the country.
    Isn’t it the teachers own weaknesses to be distant from the digital tools in this global digital village? I think it is the negligence and the impact of bookish knowledge of the ELT professionals. Yes, a single person may not be well equipped with the ideas about digital tools like, wiki, facebook, youtube, twitter, etc. but they should be updated with them to apply them in their classroom culture which to expedite the rate and route of L2 learning. A funny thing that i want to cote here is the ELT professionals can update their status, upload their nice photos and do sms to their beloved ones but they can’t share the good idea to their students about the effectiveness of digital tools in the case of learning lg’. This is the great problem we have since decades…How effective the ELT facebook groups(NELTA, TESOL, IATEFL, etc.), youtube videos of David Crystal, Jermey Harmer, and others to get betterment in developing the four lg skill(LSRW) for the students of L2,
    Frankly speaking i got some idea to learn digital tools when i started my master in the university. So my point here is if the teachers had share me some idea about the use of digital tools in learning lg it would be a double-edged sword for me to learn L2.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *