Teacher’s Travelogue: My First Trip to International Conference of NELTA in Kathmandu

Prem Bishokarma

It was Saturday, and I was on complete rest when I received a call from Rajan Kumar Kandel, the then Secretary of NELTA Surkhet Chapter. He informed me about the 20th International Conference of NELTA in Kathmandu. Though I was already aware of the annual mega event of ELT, I responded him that I needed some time for decision about my travel to the capital and participation in the conference. Soon, he added that Regional English Language Office (RELO) could sponsor me. Listening to the opportunity, I jumped with a joy and I was quick to decide and confirm my participation.

Later, I came to learn that there was another ELT practitioner, who the RELO has sponsored too to make the trip to Kathmandu. I along with seven other English teachers from Surkhet (NELTA Chair Bishnu Kumar Khadka, Yadu Gyawali, Dipendra K.C., Dhani Ram Sharma, Resham Bist, Khagendra Bista and Purna Poudel) travelled to Kathmandu on 16th February 2015 to attend the conference scheduled from 17th to 19th February at DAV Sushil Kedia School situated in Jawalakhel, Lalitpur.

The breakfast time had already been over when we reached to the conference venue. We got registered hastily and entered into the hall but unfortunately, we missed the inauguration ceremony. We felt sorry to skip the essential part of the program. Then my eyes came across a person speaking in the program, who drew my attention. Later I learnt that he was none other than the keynote speaker, Mr. David Hayes, a Graduate Program Director and Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Linguistics, Brock University, Canada.  He was delivering his key note speech on the conference theme ‘The Quest for Quality ELT: The Contribution of Continuing Professional Development’. I was really impressed the way he presented the contents on the theme. He mainly focused his talk on teachers’ continuous professional development. I liked his ideas to be constant updating us with professional skills. No farmer can reap the crops daily from the only-sharpened-sickle. And the teacher himself has to learn how to cook than only to eat. His innovative ideas about the teaching were practical and based on cases.

As we reached the conference venue late and we had not eaten anything, we were starving and thirsty but there was no chance of lunch before the plenary sessions were over. However, I attempted to draw my attention to the speech but in vain. The physiological need attracted my thought to the food. At the same time, I realized the fact that we can hardly attract learners for learning unless we address their problems first.

Then a lady appeared at the rostrum. She was Elka Todeva, a Professor of SIT Graduate Institute, Brattleboro, United States. She talked about ‘Riding Waves and Scaling Mountains: Ecological Approaches to ELT. She started with a very practical grammar based on activity. I found her way of presenting preposition. The activity she designed was practical. Moreover, the learning activity was based on fun. Fun motivates learners more. Furthermore, she talked about child friendly and brain friendly activities. I enjoyed her speech as I prefer activities in my classroom.

When Dr Vishnu Singh Rai, the retired Professor of Tribhuvan University, began to talk, I plunged into the Nepali context of class. He made a lot of fun which really made me forget all the physical hunger and thirst. He presented in English through our own perspectives. I loved his originality.

Then it was time for lunch and rushed out of the hall. I saw a long queue of participants standing for lunch. After I had my lunch, I moved to concurrent sessions. I chose some of concurrent sessions as per my interests. First, I wanted to attend the session of Marian Wang from Japan, whose title of presentation was ‘Integrating Critical Thinking Skills into Study Abroad Program’, but the session was houseful when I reached there. Then I attended Jackie Van Tilburgh’s session ‘Writing Assessment: Ruminating Rubrics’. There I learnt about the importance of rubrics for the evaluation of any type of creative writing. The session was equally useful for the writer and the evaluator both.

Next I attended the session of Rosa Fagundes from Bangladesh. She talked on ‘Teaching Writing: the Value of Pre-wring Activities’. She provided different five steps of creative writing activity. They are brainstorming, clustering, listing & outlining, free-writing and the journalist’s questions. They are very practical and significant while teaching writing. I realized that we just ask the students to write but these activities should be done prior.

On February 18, I found Professor Abhi Subedi’s plenary session interesting and motivating. He did not use any ICT tool. He somehow criticized about excessive use of those power point presentations. Then I joined the session of two Thai teachers: Catherine Owens and Robert Burgess. Their session titled Blended Learning: Building Critical Thinking Awareness and Autonomy. They more or less advertized about the program launched by their university. They spoke the influence of ICT in teaching and learning.

The concurrent session I chose next was on ‘Developing Academic Writing’ by Dr. Purna Bahadur Kadel from Nepal. He expressed all the steps of developing academic writing. It can be shaped by some specific procedure.

Last day, Professor Sanjeev Upreti talked about postmodern perspectives. He pointed out the importance of teacher’s ignorance about the absolute answer. The teacher will quest for better until s/he gets it. I liked his post modern approach.

When the plenary sessions started, I joined the session by Kamal Raj Lamsal and Khum Bahadur Gurung on ‘Critical Thinking Activities in the Language Classroom’. They described about the perspective of everyone’s thinking. It is quite unique and absolute. The same thing can be correct in different ways. The last session I attended was the session given by a Bangladeshi Lecturer Murshida Nishat. She made a conversation on ‘Blending Critical Thinking to Develop Writing Skills’. She attached all the kinds of emotions, thinking and belief towards society and culture. I found it very relevant and useful.

Before the closing session, there was a panel discussion with ELT experts from Nepal, India and Pakistan. Director General of Department of Education, Dr. Lav Deo Awasthi was invited there but he couldn’t make it. Instead of Dr. Awasthi, Jai Raj Awasthi had represented Nepal while Z.N. Patil and Zakia from Pakistan were the panelists of the discussion moderated by Bal Krishna Sharma on the English education policy in the three countries. Nepal is in a dilemma about when to start English from class one or three or so on. The government is implying English from very beginning to survive the government schools. The same is the case with Pakistan while India has already English education policy, according to the panelist Patil.

The conference indeed provided the participants especially English teachers from different parts of the country with an international exposure of teaching English. Although I have been teaching English for the last nine years, it was my first time to attend the international conference. I realized that I had earlier missed the great fair of English teachers where they can shop of their interest, sharpen their knowledge, refresh their cognition and enhance their skills. The global practices of teaching language as second language or native, professional development, debate of authentic English, way of teaching and innovative skills and its sharing was wonderful for me. It has invigorated me to my teaching profession. It has motivated me and triggered my passion of teaching English.

Finally, I would like to thank RELO, American Embassy, NELTA Surkhet Branch, conference organizers and the speakers who updated me and my professional skills.

The author is an English teacher at a secondary level school in Surkhet.

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