Hundreds of English teachers throng capital to enhance teaching skills

Praveen Kumar Yadav

Prem Bahadur Bishwakarma, an English teacher from Surkhet district, had longed for the past few years to attend a mega event of English teachers and participate in the discourse of English language teaching methods and practices. He teaches English at SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, Surkhet.

Eventually, his wish came true this year and now he is in the capital to learn about different English language teaching (ELT) methodologies practiced across the globe. He was happily sharing his experience of teaching English during interactions with other ELT practitioners.

Although Bishwakarma has been teaching English to secondary level students for a decade, after attending the program he realized that he had actually yet to know a lot of things about teaching English.

“I found out that way of teaching this language has changed a great deal. People like us hardly have such knowledge. It has really turned out to be a great opportunity,” said Bishwakarma.

Another English teacher, Durga Kumari Devkota, who teaches at Kanya Secondary School in Birgunj is also in the capital to attend such a program for the first time in her life.

She was encouraged by her colleagues to participate in the program. Interestingly, when she set off for the journey, she also managed to persuade few more teachers to join her to attend the international conference in Kathmandu.

With a view to enhance their knowledge and skills in teaching English, over 800 participants from across the country have thronged to Kathmandu to attend the 20th international conference of English language teaching organized by Nepal English Language Teachers´ Association (NELTA) from Tuesday.

The three-day-long conference that will conclude on Thursday is organized under the theme ´´The Quest for Quality ELT: Riding the Waves and Creating the Landscapes.”

Inaugurating the conference, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey said that English language is not just a lingua franca as it is seen around the world today as a passport to global competition.

“English is the key to vast treasure of knowledge and skills and it is also the means to economic prosperity,” said minister Pandey. “Hence, English teachers must enable themselves to cater to the learners´ needs.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mahendra Bahadur Panday, inaugurates the 20th international conference on English language teaching, organized by Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association in the capital. Over 800 English teachers have gathered to take part in the conference.(Republica)

“Professional enhancement through such conferences and workshops could prepare them for the job,” he said referring to the 3-day event organized by NELTA.

Meanwhile, Lava Deo Awasthi, joint secretary at the Ministry of Education, said that teachers at community schools that are switching to English as the medium of instruction need to develop their proficiency in the language first. “Only then they can effectively deliver the contents to the students in English,” Awasthi said. At the same time, he also expressed worries over threats to local languages resulting from the increasing focus on English language.

“English is important, no doubt. However, this somehow undermines the existence and development of local languages,” joint secretary Awasthi said.

Prof Abhi Subedi, Prof Tirthraj Khaniya, Prof Govinda Raj Bhattarai, and Prof Jai Raj Awasthi were some of the figures who spoke at the program.

The key speakers Professor Elka Todeva from SIT Graduate Institute of Brattleboro in the United States and Professor David Hays, from the UK, who is currently involved in Brock University, Canada, facilitated the plenary sessions focusing on challenges and opportunities of English language teaching all over the world. In addition, experts from Nepal and delegates from 16 different countries, including India, Japan, the UK, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, UAE, the US, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand are presenting papers, posters, and participating in workshops related to English Language teaching during the conference.

The conference includes 10 plenary sessions, two panel discussions, 161 con-current sessions and 17 interactive language fair sessions. The presentations cover a wide range of ELT issues focusing on alternative assessment, use of information communication technology (ICT) in ELT, creative and academic writing, teacher professional development, literature in pedagogy, mother tongue education, and current trends and other researches in English language teaching.

During the conference, a special book exhibition with relevant books for the participant English language practitioners has also been arranged with the support from Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Routledge, Collins and the local publishers, informed NELTA President Hemant Raj Dahal. “The participants will be offered special discount on the purchase of books,” he added.

NELTA is a non-government professional association of English language teachers across the country. Through the membership of 3000 ELT practitioners and 43 branches, NELTA has expanded across the country to provide English language teachers with an academic and professional platform for sharing their ideas and networking.

Community schools at a crossroads

A significant number of community schools across the country have already started teaching in English medium while many others are preparing for the shift at a time when they are struggling to deliver quality education due to lack of resources.

However, such a shift has not led to impressive results, linguists say. Every one knows that community schools are taking the step just to retain their students.

“I see the move as a desperate attempt to compete with private schools rather face closure in lack of students,” said Ganga Gautam, a teacher trainer, who is also an associate professor of English Education at Tribhuvan University.

No doubt, community schools that have started teaching in English medium are able to attract more students than before, according to Gautam. “This move is just to ensure their survival,” he said.

Unfortunately, the government has not yet formulated any clear cut policy on English Language Teaching (ELT). Last year, a committee of ELT experts from NELTA reviewed the government plans and policies in order to find any clause related to English. One of the committee members, NELTA president Hemant Raj Dahal, said, “We could not find any clause related to ELT in those documents except in the last School Sector Reform Plan.” Dahal said this during a panel discussion on policy issues on ELT on the second day of the conference on Wednesday. The panel discussion, moderated by Bal Krishna Sharma, a PhD scholar at the University of Hawaii, USA, saw participation of English language experts, Prof. Jai Raj Awasthi from Nepal, Z. N. Patel from India and Zakia Sarwar from Pakistan.

Unlike in India, there is no clear English language policy in Nepal and Pakistan, according to the panelists.

“The contents of other subjects when delivered in English at community schools cannot be rich and resourceful in our context because teachers are not efficient enough in English,” moderator Sharma argued. Prof. Awasthi suggested that the government needs to have a concrete policy on English language teaching based on empirical research. “Then the policy should clearly state that children should be taught English at what age and from which grade.”

Recently, the government allowed community schools to switch their medium of instruction to English if they find themselves capable, according to Prof Awasthi, joint secretary at the Ministry of Education. However, the government has established no mechanism to check whether schools shifting their medium of instruction to English are fully prepared, according to the teachers.

Without adequate preparations and proper plan, this move at community schools for English medium instruction has brought them at crossroads.

This news story written by the author was published in Republica (English National Daily) on February 19. Click here to the original publication.

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