Teacher Travelogue: A Journey to ELT@I Conference in Vellore, India
Praveen Kumar Yadav, Ram Abadhesh Ray, Ashok Kumar, Kamlesh Kumar Raut, members of NELTA Birgunj
Our trip to Vellore* was not an easy one, with no train tickets available at one point, the train we somehow got to board being late, and so on. But once we reached the venue, we had a great time. We were able to attend nine of the 147 concurrent sessions, which ran in 19 rooms where eight papers were presented during 2 hours (so each presenter only had about 15 minutes). During tea breaks, we were able to meet participants from India and other countries and shared what NELTA is doing for the professional development of English teachers in Nepal. When we informed them about the forthcoming international conference to be held in February, 2012, many teachers said they’d like to come and participate in our conference in Nepal. We shared our email addresses and went back to more sessions. We then attended the plenary sessions which consisted of two facilitations on ‘Materials Design: From the back of an Envelope to Full-fledged Unit’ by Prof. Numa Markee and ‘Teacher Power’ by Raja Govindasamy from India.
Prof. Markee argued that as Prabhu (1987) demonstrated in the ground breaking Banglore project that was implemented in Southern India from 1979 to 1984, good materials design is fundamentally grounded in classroom experimentation by teachers. Prof. Markee illustrated this position by showing how a task based module he had presented at the 16th International conference of NELTA recently held in Kathmandu, started out life in 1990 as a demonstration lesson of task based language teaching for teachers in training at the University of Illinois originally, the hospital drawing task shown here consisted of a hastily drawn pictures and a few scribbled notes on the back of an envelope. Over time, he had the opportunity to refine these ideas into “real” materials as he repeated this demonstrated many times. In addition, he was able over time to incorporate various improvements based on evidence from video recordings of some of the early demonstration lessons. Prof. Markee concluded his talk by suggesting ways in Indian Teachers of English can adopt these ideas to their teaching situations.
The plenary session had another presentation ‘Teacher Power’ by Raja Govindasamy from India. Teacher power simply means the influence of teacher exerts on students by virtue of his/her commitment and competence. Such a quality ensures leadership status to the teacher. Then a teacher enjoys power in five ways as appropriated from J. R. B. French and B. Raven’s book, The Bases of Social Power (1959). The first power is legitimate power by virtue of designation on the basis of qualification. The second is reward power which enables the teacher to assess and appreciate student performance. The third is coercive power which empowers the teachers to nudge and pressurize the students to move away from ignorance, indifference and inhibition to interest, intelligence and improvement. The fourth is expert power, the most imp0rtant power by which the teacher establishes his/her stature as a mastermind/specialist. The fifth is referent power, a sequel to the fourth, which means that the teacher is referred to as a role model for the students to emulate his/her. The powers make a teacher a mentor.
A reflection of our trip to Vellore wouldn’t be complete if we don’t mention the typical south Indian food that was provided by the conference organizers. Almost all the food items contained coconut in them!
After lunch, we attended the special lecture given via online technology by Mrs. Claire Bradin Siskin, director of Excelsior University, USA, in the Anna Auditorium Hall which is equipped with advanced technology. The sound at the hall was so clear that it looked as if the presenter was behind the curtain. At the end, through text message and microphone/voice chat, questions were asked to her and she answered them. It was an innovative and creative presentation we have ever attended. In the same hall, three authors Mrs. Usha Jesudasan, Dr. K. Srilata from IIT Madras and Mrs. Subhasree Krishnaswamy jointly presented their paper on creative writing. They started with how creative writing begins, continued with how creativity can be promoted, and ended with encouragement to write creatively.
After a valedictory session and speeches by various dignitaries, prizes were given for the school toppers in English for Standard X and XII. Prizes were also distributed for three Best Paper Presenters of the Conference. The programme concluded with the vote of thanks by the Director of the School of Languages, VIT, Dr. C. Annadurai.
The Conference was indeed a confluence which brought together over eight hundred delegates. The ‘connection’ the meeting has given to, many hoped, would be long lasting.
When compared to NELTA conference, the gathering was not as much as we had in our 16th international conference. The number of presenters was more in comparison of NELTA Conference, but ELT@I had fewer delegates from foreign countries. About 90 percent from India. We also learned that ELT@I organizes more national conferences than the international ones, and that may be something that we need to start doing in Nepal. If we hold more national conferences around the country, more teachers would get the opportunity to attend them. Among the finer details, 15 minutes only was allotted for one presentation during concurrent sessions, which seemed too short to us was that rapporteurs were highly active: they introduced the presenters at the beginning and they summed up the key messages of the presentation at the end.
Our journey to Vellore was very fruitful because we learnt a lot of things related to English language teaching in India. We got the opportunity to compare the conference with ours and learn new things from their, we saw new ways of presenting papers, and we heard about new perspectives in ELT. Our visit strengthened the relationship between NELTA and ELT@I. And we had a good interaction with the secretary of ELT@I who said that ELT@I is looking forward to collaborating with NELTA in coming days.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Consulate General of India (CGI) Birgunj for providing the opportunity and supporting us to attend the conference. We could not have been able to take part in the mega event of India without support of Chairperson Hemant Raj Dahal of NELTA Central and Kedar Prasad Sah and Sajan Kumar Karn of NELTA Birgunj.
* This was the Sixth International and Forty-Second ELT@I Conference, held in Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) University, Vellore. It was organized by the English Language Teachers’ Association of India (ELT@I).