Mismatches on Educational Language Policy and Practice: A Critical Reflection

Basanta Kandel

Abstract

This article critically reflected the mismatches in educational language policy and practices in the schools located in the rural part of Nepal. Adopting the critical ethnography, I observed the classes of two basic level schools as a participant observer, conducted semi-structured interviews with four teachers, organized an FGD with teachers, maintained field notes, and reviewed the policy documents of local government to collect the information. The study revealed that the language policymakers and arbiters have mismatches on educational language policy ideologies, the local government’s educational language policy and its practices in the schools seem inconsistency that spaced conflicts amid monolingual, bilingual and multilingual policies and practices in education. 

Keywords: Educational language policy, critical ethnography, ideological and implementational space, mismatches

Introduction

            Educational Language Policy (ELP) is defined as “the official and unofficial policies that are created across multiple layers and poor institutional context and have an impact on language use and education in schools” (Johnson, 2013, p. 77). Since 1970s, the ELP has attracted the attention of Language Policy and Planning (LPP) scholars (Tollefson & Tsui, 2018), especially, how language policy creation, interpretation, and appropriation in schools impact educational processes and pedagogy (Johnson, 2013; Johnson & Pratt, 2014). The school as a broader site of language policy processes (Johnson, 2013) and the teachers and students as prime policy arbiters have greater responsibilities for the effective implementation of policies. In addition, the teacher as the major agency of ELP generates authority to allow or restrict the use of multiple languages in their classrooms, assures the ideological and implementational spaces, and creates an equitable linguistic environment. However, in the context of school sited in the rural part of Nepal, the ELP seem to have been implemented and practiced haphazardly that has resulted mismatches and conflicts among languages. The Constitution of Nepal (2015) has legally authorized the rights of decision-making on ELP to the Local Government (LG) (Poudel & Choi, 2020) with reference to the contexts, demands, and necessities of the stakeholders. Therefore, the LG is the authoritative organ to devise and implement ELP corresponding with the federal and provincial governments’ acts and policies. Conversely, the schools at local level have diverse policies and practices of languages that have impacted the content and quality of education. With this backdrop, the article focuses on how the teachers in remote schools create, interpret and appropriate language policy in their classrooms. Employing the ‘critical ethnography research on ELP’ (McCarty, 2011) at Vyas Municipal Government, Tanahun, I disclosed how the teachers and students acclimatize educational language policy and practice in multilingual school/classroom settings since ethnography of language policy as a method used to explore the multiple layers of language LPP processes with a focus on the power of individuals within educational contexts (Hornberger and Johnson, 2007).  

Methods of the Study

            This study has applied critical ethnography research design (McCarty, 2011) of the qualitative research approach under the critical-interpretive paradigm. For the study, I collected information using participant observation of basic level classrooms, semi-structured interviews with teachers, FGD with teachers, and policy reviews of the local government (i.e. Vyas Municipal Government, Tanahun). Four basic level teachers and a group of students were the participants in the study. The data were transcribed in participant’s mother tongue and translated in English. They are coded and three major themes were developed based on the codes for data analysis and interpretation. 

Results and Discussions

The information has been critically analyzed, interpreted, and reflected in three major themes such as ‘mismatches in ideologies’, ‘mismatches in policy and practice’, ‘conflicts amid monolingual, bilingual and multilingual policies’ that have been presented in the subsequent section.  

Mismatches on Ideologies

            During the fieldwork, I encountered multiple and divergent ideologies of teachers and students on language policy process. The teachers’ determinations, interests, and vested ideologies on ELP have created ideological tensions among them and impacted teaching-learning activities. Vyas Municipal Government has promulgated Education Act (2017) and Education Bylaws (2018) that instruct to adopt ‘trilingual policy’ (i.e., Nepali, English, and Mother Tongue) in education, and have created ‘ideological and implementational spaces’ to local languages as well. However, the teachers have reflected divergent ideologies regarding the ELP in their contexts;  

Nepali Language Policy (NLP) is good, the field of knowledge becomes wider and students learn a lot. Students’ knowledge is narrowed down due to ELP). English Medium Instruction (EMI) gives 50 percent knowledge, I believe. (From interview transcript, T: 2)

Contrary, the next teacher participant (T: 1) expressed his agency focusing on the demand, need and necessity of ELP in education;

ELP in education is necessary to produce manpower who can grab the opportunities in the world market; therefore, we have adopted English in education for five years. First, it was the demand of time, second, the pressure from parents ignited to adopt the policy. (Form interview transcript, T: 1).

The multiple and divergent ideologies of teachers regarding the creation, interpretation, and appropriation of ELP have produced ideological discrepancies and created tensions and challenges for the effective implementation in the classroom rather than a compromise. The diverse expressions and ideological variance challenge policy creation and implementation in multilingual classroom settings. Most importantly, the policy arbiters’ ideologies have been divided into multiple groups in terms of language used in the classroom. Because of ideological clashes, the ELP is a blazing issue of debate in the multilingual classroom environment in Nepal.    

Mismatches in Policy and Practice

            School is the center of language policy practices, and teachers and students are the final arbiters (Johnson, 2013) and policy implementers. Moreover, teachers create their own ideological and implementational spaces in the classrooms which have resulted mismatches between local ELP and its practices. For example; the schools have adopted a bilingual policy (i.e., Nepali and English), however, the local government’s ELP has instructed them to use mother tongue compulsorily in basic level classes. I observed that the LG’s ELP has not been thoroughly implemented and practiced in schools; consequently, there exists inconsistency between policy and practices as instructed by LG. The school teachers have been interpreting, appropriating, and practicing ELP unfairly, for example; in English subject, the teacher and students adopt a bilingual policy (i.e., English and Nepali) but Vyas Municipal Education Act (2017) instructs languages (as a subject) shall be taught in the same language.

# Vignette 1: Language policy in the classroom (School: A, Grade -6)

              (Topic: Biography of TS Eliot)

            T: (students, please listen to me, ok?) TS Eliot was a playwright. You know                                playwright?

            S1:  No miss. What’s the meaning?

            T:  A Playwright is a person who writes drama or plays.

            T:  Playwright bhnaeko drama arthat natak lekhne byakti ho ke. Ho aba                                  bujyeu timiharule?

            Ss: Yes, Miss. Aba bujhiyo. Nepalima bhanepachhi. (We understood after you                            said it in Nepali)

            T: Ok, now say a playwright is a person who writes drama or plays…

            Ss: (Then students follow the teacher) …                                    

                                                                                             (Field note, July 24, 2021)  

The policy provisions that basic education will be compulsorily provided in the mother tongue of the students; however, the schools do not have such practices rather they create and implement ELP on their own. The local ELP attempts to alleviate gaps in policies and practices but no proper implementation has been done in schools. The teachers state that the schools have mismatches among English-only, Nepali-only and Hybrid (mixed) language polices (Giri, 2015) but no consistency. The majority of schools have followed hybrid language policy (Kandel, 2021) as the teachers advocate “hybrid language policy has made the students easier to understand contents; therefore, the policy have been effective in our contexts” (FGD with teachers, July 24, 2021).

Conflicts amid Monolingual, Bilingual, and Multilingual Policies

            There is a challenge to maintaining uniformed ELP because of linguistic and ethnic diversification of students and teachers. The varied ‘ideological awareness’ (Bakhtin, 1981), linguistic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds of policy arbiters in schools have spaced the critical perspective on ELP; consequently, the teachers revealed conflicting ideologies regarding the use of languages in education. Ultimately, the schools in the territory have adopted monolingual, bilingual and multilingual policies and practices in their classrooms. See verbatim of the teachers in the FGDs;

            The classes from nursery to class ten are taught in English…First, it was the demand of the time, second, the pressure – the people from other places came to our school and demanded English medium. EMI has been adopted for 5 years. (FGD, T: 2, July 24, 2021)

            We do not have a 100 percent EMI policy in school; we use about 70 percent English and 30 percent Nepali. Teaching in both English and Nepali has made it easier to understand contents. So the bilingual policy is very good. We have been adopting mixed medium. (FGD, T: 3, July 25, 2021).

            In English subject, if the students don’t understand, I translate it into Nepali and Hindi   as well. I also prefer students’ mother tongues. Therefore, I use three to four languages in my class. (FGD, T: 4, July 26, 2021)

            The above excerpts reveal the fact that there is a dilemma whether to adopt EMI or NMI or MTB-MLE policy in education (Phyak, 2013), which has created tensions and mismatches to the teachers to deliver the contents. The disparities in policies have spaced and raised linguistic conflicts and unhealthy competition among languages and their users.  

Conclusion

            In Nepal, ELP has raised a national debate; especially in the multilingual school/classroom contexts. The policy arbiters (i. e., teachers and students) have created, interpreted, and appropriated ELP in the classrooms without analyzing the consequences and results. Similarly, the ELP adopted by the schools and teachers is divergent to LG’s education act and policy, national education policy, and constitutional provisions; as a result, there seem mismatches and gaps in policies and practices. Therefore, the local governments seem failure to utilize local linguistic capital and are inactive to implement the local ELP in schools/classrooms. To conclude, I suggest the local government, school authorities, and policy arbiters need adequate interaction and discussion for the ‘ideological clarification’ before, while and after the creation of ELP.

References

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Fours essays. University of Texas Press.

Constitution of Nepal. (2015). The Secretariat of Constituent Assembly. Nepal Law Commission.

Giri, R. A. (2015). The many faces of English in Nepal. Asian Englishes, 17(2), 94-115. https://doi.org/10.1080/13488678.2015.1003452

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Kandel, B. (2021). Languages in education: A critical ethnography of a micro-level policy,   Journal of NELTA, 26 (1-2), 183-203.  https://doi.org/10.3126/nelta.v26i1-2.45206

McCarty, T. L. (Ed.). (2011). Ethnography and language policy. Routledge.

Poudel, P. P. & Choi, T. H. (2020): Policymakers’ agency and the structure: The case of medium of instruction policy in multilingual Nepal, Current Issues in Language Planning, https://doi.org/ 10.1080/14664208.2020.1741235

Ricento, T., & Hornberger, N. H. (1996). Unpeeling the onion: Language planning and policy and the ELT professional. TESOL Quarterly, 30(3), 401–427.

Tollefson, J. W. & Tsui, A. B. M. (2018). Medium of instruction policy. In J. W. Tollefson and M. Perez-Milans (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language Policy and Planning, OUP. https://doi.org/ 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190458898.013.12

Vyas Municipal Education Act. (2017). Local Gazette. Vyas Municipality.

Vyas Municipal Education Bylaw. (2018). Local Gazette. Vyas Municipality.

About author

Basanta Kandel is a Lecturer of English at Aadikavi Bhanubhakta Campus, Tanahun, and a Ph. D. Scholar in Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is the Vice-chair of NELTA Tanahun, a Member of IATEFL, and the Editor of vyasshree.com. He has published dozens of articles, edited journals, and presented papers at national and international conferences (IATEFL, UK and LPP, Canada). His areas of interest include language policy and planning, linguistics, ELT, and research methodology.

[To cite this: Kandel. B., (2022, October 15). Mismatches on Educational Language Policy and Practice: A Critical Reflection [blog post]. Retrieved from https://eltchoutari.com/2022/10/mismatches-on-educational-language-policy-and-practice-a-critical-reflection/]

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