Language in Education Policy at Local Level of Nepal

Dinesh Panthee

Abstract

This paper tries to explore the process and practices of language in education policy in local governments of Nepal. For the study, I selected a local government of the Rupandehi district and took the mayor and deputy mayor as respondents who have been working in the area of local policy-making activities. I performed in-depth interviews for the qualitative data with semi-structured interviews based on the education and language policies they had prepared before. The finding of this research revealed that there is an inconsistency between policies and practices of language in education policy in local governments of Nepal. It is also found that policymakers are positive to promote the local languages but inattention is found by the local language communities.

Key Words:  Language in education policy, language planning, local government, local language, English as the medium of instruction

Introduction

Nepal is a little nation with a wide variety of cultures, languages, ethnic groups, and biological areas. According to Census 2011, there are more than 123 languages and 125 ethnic groups in Nepal. These languages are genetically affiliated to four language families: Indo-European (Indo-Aryan), Sino-Tibetan (Tibeto-Burman), Austro-Asiatic, and Dravidian. The Indo-Aryan family is the largest language group in Nepal in terms of the number of speakers. Among these languages, “most Indo-Aryan languages have literate traditions and share a well-developed writing system” (Giri, 2009, p. 34). According to the Census 2011, there are eight major languages spoken in Nepal. They are Nepali (44.6%), Maithali (11.7%), Bhojpuri (5.78%), Tharu (5.11%), Tamang (5.11%), Newar (3.2%), Magar (2.98%), and Awadhi (2.47%). Nepal’s inherent and historical identity is its multilingualism. Diversity in language, culture, and ethnicity has long been a defining characteristic of Nepali society. The same type of characteristics is found at the local levels of Nepal. Different languages function as symbols of ethnic identity and each speech community wants to preserve and promote its language. As the primary governing body, the local level should be aware to protect local languages, script, culture, cultural civility, and heritage in its territory. The Constitution of Nepal (2015) article 32(1) has provisioned the basic right to each community, the right to get basic education in the mother tongue and to preserve and promote the community’s language, script, culture, cultural civility, and heritage. The Constitution of Nepal (2015) has also taken local government as an autonomous body that can formulate the policies and laws to preserve the language, script, sculpture, art, music, literature, and another custom of their community. Due to high linguistic diversity, local governments find autonomously managing language in education policy rather challenging, though they also welcome the new opportunity to address local issues related to language in education (Poudel, & Choi, 2021).

Language-in-education policy is one of the fundamental issues of language planning studies. According to Shohamy (2006), language in education policy is a method of imposing and manipulating language policy since individuals in positions of control use it to put ideology into practice through formal education. Nepal became a Federal Republic Democratic country after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal (2015). This constitution provisioned three levels of the elected governments in Nepal: federal government, provincial government (seven provinces), and local government (753 municipalities). Local governments have given decision-making power in several educational matters under this Constitution. They have been given the authority to design and develop their education policies, including language in education policy, though these governments need to line up with the fundamental framework provided by the federal government. Due to high sociolinguistic diversity, local governments are facing challenges in implementing education policies in their municipalities (Panthee, 2021). There is an education committee that actively participates in formulating policy which is made up of professionals, legislators, head teachers, and education authorities. This committee along with the local government are responsible for planning, implementing, and monitoring locally developed courses and appropriate policies, as well as providing financial support to their educational institutions. The objective of this study was to explore the inconsistency between policies and practices of language in education policy in local governments. This paper is significant in the sense that how the local governments are involving formulating and implementing the language in education policy in the multilingual context.

Methodology

This paper is based on the theoretical lens of ‘the critical ethnography of Language in the education policy of the local government of Nepal. Critical ethnography is a method of examining the spaces for agencies, actors, contexts, and processes across the multiple strata of language policy creation, interpretation, and appropriation espousing a critical approach focused on the educational context (Hornberger & Johnson, 2007). I engaged in a research site which was a municipality in Rupandehi district. I was involved in the field with the mayor and deputy mayor who were key persons in formulating different policies including language in education policy. I performed in-depth interviews for the qualitative data and conducted semi-structured interviews based on the education and language policies they had prepared before. The interview was conducted in a natural setting without being judgmental according to their convenience. I recorded the information in audio recording supported by note keeping. I employed qualitative data analysis process which includes transcribing, editing, summarizing, organizing, categorizing deriving conclusions from the information collected from various sources.

Results and Discussion

LEP at the Local Level Beyond the Practice

The local governments have been given the authority to design and develop their education policies. The research site of this study has prepared its education policy as Municipal Education Act 2018. Article 7 of the act has provisioned that the medium of instruction to be provided by the schools shall be the Nepali language, English language, or both languages. Primary education can be given in the mother tongue. Languages [as a subject] shall be taught in the same language. The medium of instruction for English language teaching must be English. The municipality has the concept of monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual education concept for the transformation (Education Act 2018). The municipality has concerned about the national policy on language and education. It has prepared the education policy according to the essence of the constitution of Nepal and tried to formulate education policies to mitigate gaps in policies and practices.  In this regard mayor of the municipality stated that we are careful to protect local and indigenous languages and prepared the policy according to the constitution of Nepal.  The municipalities have mentioned and focused on mother tongue-based education, multilingual education, and English as mediums of instruction but it is very difficult to apply in the real sense. According to Poudel and Choi (2021), the Constitution of Nepal-2015, which offers a suitable legislative framework for substantive legal protection for the national indigenous languages as a medium of instruction, addresses the challenges of protecting and promoting historically existing linguistic variety. In the same way, the deputy mayor showed devotion to protecting the indigenous language and said;

we are aware to protect the local languages and made the policy according to the constitution of Nepal but it is very difficult to apply the policy because of the fascination with English as an international language and Nepali as an official language.

Local governments have to choose bi- and multilingualism as a minimum requirement to teach children at the primary level as basic education for the creation of this strong foundation to take place. But it is very difficult to successfully implement this provision due to the global political economy, interdependence, and diversity of the municipalities. Kadel, (2015, p. 196) states that there is a huge challenge for the local governments of Nepal to implement the plans and policies effectively. The deputy mayor said, “We are encouraging local people to promote their language but they are not giving priority to the languages they send their children to English medium schools from ECD”. It demonstrates how the locals have neglected to promote their languages. Three-level governments are silent on this issue, leaving parents, educators, and school management committees to decide whether to stick with their mother tongue-based multilingual education strategy or transition to English (Phyak, 2013, 41).

Mother Tongue-Based Language Policy but Lacks in Practices

Mother tongue-based multilingual education is a form of multilingual education built on the learners’ mother tongue. Kandel (2010) argued that mother tongue-based multilingual education is significant not only to develop a strong educational foundation but also to strengthen the cognitive development of learners at the beginning of education. Mother tongue-based multilingual education helps strengthen the first language and provides a smooth transition from the first language to the second and the third language. In this regard, the mayor said

We understand providing education in the mother tongue is the best way of educating children at the primary level so we have stated the provision as every Nepali community residing in our municipality shall have the right to acquire education in the mother tongue. But local people are not positive about it and they send their children to Nepali and English medium schools so we are unable to apply the local curriculum in local languages.

Above mentioned saying states that the policymakers are positive to protect local language but local people neglect to use their mother tongue in education. Where education is not provided in a child’s first language this is increasingly seen as a form of discrimination, limiting the application of this right. UNESCO (2011) referring to Skutnabb- Kangas (2003) states that if teaching is in a language that an indigenous child does not know, the child sits in the classroom for the first 2-3 years without understanding much of the teaching. Language-in-education policymaking is complicated primarily due to its unique demographic structure, i.e., the multilingual and multiethnic population of the municipalities. The federal, provincial, and local governments are focusing on MT-MLE policies but the parents are not emphasizing it. They are not convinced of the value of the MLE program. Speaking one’s mother tongue, as well as the national language and the international language, not only gives one more option in life but also promotes national cohesion (Baker, 2011).

Positive Attitude toward Local Languages, but Emphasis on English Medium

Both policymakers have a strong positive attitude toward protecting local and indigenous languages. They feel more prestigious to protect and promote local culture, language, and art. But local people themselves are embarrassed about speaking their native languages in the presence of speakers of the dominant language. They believe that educating children in their mother tongue has created a children-friendly atmosphere in the school but the mayor claimed that ‘Parents are not ready to send their children to their mother tongue-based school even Nepali medium school.’ There is a trend of sending children to English medium school because they believe that studying English medium gives better results. Deputy Mayor argued that her municipality encouraged English medium instruction since English is an international language and learning it would help students in the long run. Parents have a mindset that their children receive quality education only when they go to English medium schools. Slowly and gradually community schools are shifting into English medium schools from Nepali medium schools. The mayor said ‘We are allocating enough budget to strengthen community schools to improve English as a medium of instruction. Therefore, English-medium instruction at institutional schools and some community schools in Nepal is currently being evaluated for quality in terms of instruction. So we can find that the policymakers are positive to protect local languages but local language communities are not aware to protect their mother tongue. They want to send their children to English medium schools and they focus on English as a subject and medium of instruction. In the name of quality and parents’ demand, community schools are shifting to English medium schools.

Conclusion

Nepal is facing the complexity of language policy-making in education. The promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal (2015) officially transformed the country into a federal republic democratic nation that delegated the authority of decision-making in many educational issues to local governments. The local government has been preparing the policies as per the constitution of Nepal. They are struggling to implement its educational policies and plans. This study found that federal, provincial, and local governments made different provisions concerning language in education but it is difficult to implement in real practices. There is an inconsistency between policies and practices of language in education policy in local governments. Even though local governments have made various provisions to respect the local languages, students and parents do not go with the MT-MLE policies. It is dominance of English as a sign of dominance and linguistic capital.

Author’s note: This paper is a part of my M.Phil. study at the Graduate School of Education,  Tribhuvan University, Nepal. 

References

Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Multilingual matters.

Central Bureau of Statistics. (2012). National population and housing census-2011.             Kathmandu: Central Bureau of Statistics, National Planning Commission (NPC).

Constitution of Nepal. (2015). The Government of Nepal. Kanun Kitab Bebastha                   Samittee.

Education Act (2018). Sainamaina Municipality Lumbini Province Nepal.

Giri, R. A. (2009). The politics of ‘unplanning’ of languages in Nepal. Journal of                        NELTA, 32-44.

Kadel, P. (2015). Reviewing multilingual education in Nepal. Multilingual and                           development, 189-204.

Kandel, P. (2010). Mother tongue-based multilingual education. Nepal: Language                Development Centre (LDC)

Panthee, D. (2021). Language in education policy in local governments: A case of                Rupandehi district. Journal of NELTA Gandaki4(1-2), 119-132.

Phyak, P. (2013). Language ideologies and local languages as the medium-of-                         instruction policy: A critical ethnography of a multilingual school in Nepal.                   Current Issues in Language Planning,                          https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14664208.2013.775557

Poudel, P. P., & Choi, T. H. (2021). Policymakers’ agency and the structure: The case               of the medium of instruction policy in multilingual Nepal. Current Issues in                  Language Planning22(1-2), 79-98.

Ricento, T. K., & Hornberger, N. H. (1996). Unpeeling the onion: Language planning             and policy and the ELT professional. Tesol Quarterly30(3), 401-427.

Shohamy, E. (2006). Language policy: Hidden agendas and new approaches.                            Routledge.

UNESCO, (2011). Multilingual education in Nepal: Hearsay and reality? A report. Kathmandu: UNESCO. https://bangkok.unesco.org/content/multilingual-education-nepal-hearsay-and-reality-report

About Author

Dinesh Panthee is an Assistant Professor of English Education at Sahid Narayan Pokharel Ramapur Campus Sainamaina, Rupandehi, Nepal. He is an M Phil scholar at Graduate school of Education, TU. He is interested on language in education policies, methods and techniques in education, teacher professional development, ICTs in education, and eastern philosophy including Buddhism. He is the membership secretary of NELTA Butwal.

[To cite this: Panthee. D., (2022, October 15). Language in Education Policy at Local Level of Nepal [blog post]. Retrieved from https://eltchoutari.com/2022/10/language-in-education-policy-at-local-level-of-nepal/]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.