English as a medium of instruction (EMI) has been a burning issue in community schools in Nepal these days. Nepali language has been the medium of instruction for the academic subjects like mathematics, science, social studies and so on. Although English is said to be taught in the same language, it is also not found to be fully implemented. In this backdrop, some community schools in Nepal have initiated the practice of EMI for teaching-learning. To support and enhance EMI, NCED has recently launched a project called National Initiative to Improve Teaching in English , known as Project NIITE. The project has made many teachers, academicians and administrators aware of implementing EMI in classrooms. Yet, some regard that content knowledge that students learn is more important than the medium of its delivery.
After the completion of secondary or higher secondary school education, students have to face colleges and universities in English medium. Those students, who want to go abroad for further study need to sit for English language tests like IELTS, TOEFL, SAT and GRE. This is when they realize the importance of English language and feel inferior before their competitors. Students with higher academic scores also cannot meet the entry requirement in language tests and get deprived of international academic opportunities. It is not the knowledge that stops them from such opportunities but the language.
On the other hand, students from English medium private schools find these tests easier in comparison to the students from community schools. The textbooks of community schools do not go any changes and revisions for long, whereas they are modified each year with up- to- date information in private schools.
The policy of the government has given freedom to schools to use either Nepali or English as a medium of instruction. Basically, private boarding schools practice EMI and government public schools use Nepali language. They use Nepali language to teach subjects like English, mathematics, science and social studies. They have limited resources and the teachers ignore their everyday tasks before, while and after they are in their classrooms. The students, though they learn English language from primary level cannot communicate in English and they do not easily comprehend the texts they use. The students and most of the teachers in primary level do not have good command over English language. But many public schools have started introducing English language as a medium of instruction. This has made EMI training to public school teachers a must.
The recently launched project i.e. Project NIITE by NCED with support from British Council has a main objective to enable primary level teachers from all over the nation to use English as a medium of instruction. The EMI training also follows the same modality of TPD training of NCED except for its focus on developing English language proficiency to deliver classes in English language.
The developing craze for English language among students and parents brought most of the students from community schools to private boarding schools. The number of students in public schools has been decreasing gradually in Nepal. According to the latest data, 417 public schools were merged because of having less students than supposed to be. It has also shown the importance of English language and its craze in a developing country like Nepal. It is because of this, most of the community schools not only decided to shift the medium of instruction but also managed school uniform that look similar to English medium private schools. However, implementing EMI has not become comfortable for teachers and the students at once. Therefore, the government decided to run EMI training for primary level teachers as EMI begins from primary.
In Primary level, students cannot understand and use English properly. The teachers know English but they have not used it as a medium of instruction. As they have been using Nepali language, which has lowered their confidence in using English language. The teachers are hesitant to communicate among themselves and in the classrooms. Now, EMI training supports primary school teachers to use English in a simple and clear way. It teaches them how to maximize students’ participation and minimize teachers talking time in class. EMI gives them skills to maximize students talking time and minimize teachers talking time. It helps them better understand that the role of a teacher in classroom is to demonstrate, give clear instructions and engage all students through pair work, small group work or whole class activities. In my experience as a teacher trainer in Nawalparasi and Gulmi districts of Nepal, the EMI training was much favored by the primary level teachers and they looked very much excited after six-days training was over. From the third day onwards, they communicated among themselves in English and used English language to talk with the trainers. The trainee teachers learnt how to use English rhymes and language games in classroom. They learnt to make useful classroom materials and became eager to go to school and implement what they had learnt in the raining. In the last two days of the first phase of the EMI training, they were also involved in a short micro teaching. This micro teaching and the feedback from fellow teachers and the trainers made them confident in six days.
EMI training under Project NIITE lasts at least for three years and a master trainer from NCED and one from British Council work together to train teachers effectively. This project has its own training manual having 12 main units and many sub units under them. EMI covers all the subjects except Nepali. This training mainly focuses on how to give clear, short and simple instruction to the students in English. It focuses on learner-centered classroom where students take active participation in classroom activities. The training focuses on the use of English language as a means of communication between teacher and students, and students and students. EMI focuses on the use of four skills in every class. After the completion of EMI training, the trained teachers can use English as a medium of instruction, plan their own lessons, prepare teaching materials, train other teachers and become more creative.
A good lesson plan with specific objectives, teaching materials, time management of a teacher in classroom, use of classroom language by teacher and students, and the use of language skills are the highlights of EMI training. In the same way, involvement of students in learning activities such as a pair work, small group and whole class work, feedback and error correction, better monitoring, building good rapport between students -students and students -teacher and reflection are also the contents of EMI training. The main focus of the training is the use of classroom language, language for instruction, and evaluation. EMI also focuses on child friendly, anti- racist and gender equality in classroom.
The schools which are willing to shift their medium of instruction must provide EMI training to their teachers so that it equips them with skills to teach subjects like English, mathematics, social studies and science through EMI. This is a pilot project in Nepal aiming to provide training to seven thousand basic level teachers in the country within three years.
Some people think that it makes no difference whether schools use English or Nepali as a medium of instruction but what matters most is the transfer of content knowledge. This is is right but EMI is a demand of school teachers in community schools to stop the huge transfer of students to private English medium schools. EMI is not against using mother language in classroom. It does not promote ‘only-English’ policy in classrooms. However, a teacher can use mother language to help students comprehend the texts and contexts.
Finally, under the project NIITE, EMI training is aiming to make teaching-learning effective basically in primary level in Nepal. The increasing curiosity among teachers regarding EMI training, and their motivation and active participation during the first phase of training has made us optimistic of its upcoming success. It seems to me that, EMI will surely help community schools to minimize the gap noticed in education between private schools and community schools.
The author is Master Trainer (Project NIITE) British Council, Nepal.