ELT Choutari is pleased to present you the third quarterly issue (July-September) of 2021. This issue has covered a wide range of areas of classroom pedagogy, online practices during Covid-19, ELT practices, and reflections of English teachers and practitioners.
English teachers in difficult times and circumstances have their own unique experiences of teaching English. During this global pandemic, we have seen many English teachers receiving opportunities of participating online conferences, seminars and courses right from their home. They have been receiving opportunities to interact and present in both local and global seminars. They are updating themselves with new skillsets of operating technology and using several online resources to facilitate English language learning. For instance, English teachers are increasingly using PowerPoint presentation, audio-video materials rather than depending on chalk and talk and translation method. They are also found using creative ways to assess students’ learning virtually. In a nutshell, English teachers are encouragingly updating and upgrading their skills to teach virtually via professional development opportunities.
On the other hand, many teachers are also facing challenges to reach out to their students as the electricity and internet connectivity is still a big challenge to majority of people in remote parts of the country. Schools have been closed for a long time and students from such remote geography are isolated from teaching learning. Sufferers are those students who are already struggling or underperforming in class and this pandemic is going to widen this learning gap hugely, which will take quite a good time and effort to maintain. Thus, time has come for stakeholders to invest and expand technology far and wide, and to capacitate teachers to make the best use of technology to deliver education during the emergency and ever (as a supplementary teaching-learning).
In this issue, the authors have brought different experiences of teaching and learning of English in different contexts. Moreover, as an editors’ choice, we have picked a blog piece of Dr. Prem Phyak titled “Engaged research in applied linguistics: Reflections from practice”. The piece was first published in the AAAL GSC blog (https://www.aaal-gsc.org/blog). Dr. Phyak opines that researchers should adopt engaged research framework to include the marginalized community in the research process not only as a research subject but also as a co-researcher to deconstruct the top down approach of researching based on his experiences and research practices. We hope these variety of contributions will be useful resources and sources of motivation for teachers and students to moving forward. Here is the list of seven blog posts of this issue:
We are really grateful to all the authors for their contributions to this issue. We are really thankful to the reviewers for their efforts to bring out this issue. We would like to thank the entire team of ELT Choutari: Ganesh Kumar Bastola, Mohan Singh Saud, Jnanu Raj Paudel, Babita Chapagain, Sagar Poudel, Karuna Nepal, Ekraj Koirala, Nani Babu Ghimire and Rajendra Joshi to materialise this issue. For this issue, we must thank Narendra Airi for his support in reviewing and proofreading the articles.
Finally, if you enjoy reading the blog pieces, please feel free to share in and around your academic circle, and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below. Likewise, please write about your experiences, reflections, experiments, reviews, or any other scholarly articles for our future publications. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developing academic writing is an essential skill for the students in higher education to achieve academic success and to demonstrate that achievement. My experience as a university student shows that learning in higher education involves adapting to entirely the new ways of knowing –new ways of understanding, interpreting, and organising knowledge –which mainly requires an ability to write well in a purely academic style. Furthermore, students’ academic abilities in higher education are usually evaluated through several writing-related course assignments, research, review papers, and publications. Therefore, academic writing needs the greatest attention in higher education in all contexts.
The purpose of this blog piece is to discuss the thesis writing practices in Nepali universities in light of two theoretical orientations: the traditional autonomous model and the socio-cultural model. As theoretically guided by social perspectives of academic writing, I relate some thesis writing anecdotes from Nepali universities along with my own writing experience to discuss the thesis writing practices and support the main argument of the write-up. My central argument is that thesis writing as a requirement to receive a degree at any cost is based on the traditional autonomous model which considers the process of writing as a highly mental and cognitive activity. As this model seems to be incapable of capturing the context in which the writing takes place, the socio-cultural theoretical orientation offering a more culturally sensitive view of academic writing practices has been increasingly gaining recognizable space in Nepali academia.
Thesis writing practice
Let me begin the discussion with a story. A year ago, one of the ‘back paper’ students (a student who attempted the board examination more than one time) of master’s level came to my residence and requested me to provide a topic for his thesis writing. He told his stories that he was not able to pass the papers in time that would qualify him for writing a thesis. Finally, in two attempts (after two years), he was able to meet the requirements to start the thesis writing process. As he was a high school teacher of English in the western part of Nepal, he further shared that he did not have enough time to go through the overall processes of thesis writing. I could guess that he wanted to complete his thesis writing in any case as early as possible. I offered him some of my ideas on different topics of interest related to ELT (English language teaching). To my surprise, he proposed me to write a proposal for him and he would pay for it. I did not respond to his unethical proposal for a moment. After some time, I persuaded him that I could assist him to review his proposal if he, at least, could prepare a draft. Since then, he went out of my contact. Later, I learned that he hired somebody to work for him.
This is a story of a thesis writer who perceives that a thesis should be submitted at any case and cost as it has been four years to accomplish the master’s degree. The student was entirely unfamiliar with the preliminary research activities such as sources of research topics and proposal writing. Karn (2009) states that one of his students (a student from a Nepali university) seemed to have assumed that thesis can be submitted in any manner, and he did not seem to pay any heed that there is a proper style of writing and the theses should adhere and abide by the standards set by the Department. In a similar line, Neupane Bastola (2020) explores that students’ focus was on the completion of a thesis rather than learning. Her research participants in the study –ten supervisors, complained that their students were interested only in the completion of their thesis to such an extent that thesis writing was just ‘a ritual for the majority’ (p. 10). The above anecdote also signifies the reasons behind some unethical conduct such as having a thesis written and plagiarism. Most importantly, the context clearly indicates that writing a thesis has merely been a requirement to receive the degree for many students, rather than learning research and academic writing skills.
In my experience, as another side of analysis, thesis writing issue is also deeply rooted in our teaching of writing skill from the school level. Students were never taught writing as a process-based activity. The teachers in schools and universities teach about writing not writing itself. For instance, students are made to memorise what a paragraph means rather than making them write a paragraph on different topics. In schools, teachers generally write paragraphs, letters, and essays on the board and students just copy them. They even memorise those notes including essays for the examination. Furthermore, there are ‘ready-made’ paragraphs, letters, job applications, and essays in the markets; the “Bazaar notes”. In a way, these notes make the teachers’ lives go easy. In the university, many students strive to create original pieces of writing. To meet the date for assignment submission, students ‘copy and paste’ in rush. They do not receive enough opportunity to practice writing in the classrooms. Interestingly, it has also been observed that the teachers and university faculties who have never produced a single piece of original writing in their career grade the students’ papers for their creativity and originality in writing (Khati, 2018).
Let me share another story. A professor had a nasty dispute with a student during his second semester in a university class for some reasons. Their professional relationship collapsed thereafter. Coincidentally, the same professor was assigned as the thesis supervisor to the student at the end. Then the student brought a student union leader and threatened the professor and pressurized him to award marks for the thesis as per his (student’s) wish. When the professor tried to persuade him about the thesis writing process, he attempted a physical attack on him with the help of his friends. The student blamed that the professor was not his nomination as a supervisor instead the professor was blamed to take revenge of the past and managed the formal process of appointing himself as a supervisor in the department. Finally, the case grew bigger and bigger among students and professors, and the issue, of course, an academic one was eventually politicalized.
The story is an extreme example of unethical conduct in the university, and it can be analysed from different angles. On the one hand, many students come to the phase of thesis writing with no prior experience of writing anything except in the examination. They do not make themselves well prepared and creative enough to begin the thesis writing process. In this connection, Bhattarai (2009) also observes that students neither examine the research problem critically nor do they defend it satisfactorily. She further mentions that if the thesis supervisor tries to convince them about the right track of the thesis writing process, they feel that they are unnecessarily harassed.
On the other hand, the story also demands the supervisors’ awareness of their expected supervisory roles. Tiwari (2019) seems to be very critical of the roles of the thesis supervisor and raised some ethical concerns on the role of thesis guide in the way they were not professionally supportive to students to enhance the collaborative process of writing of the thesis. He further articulated that all his participants in the research voice came in a way that their supervisors were not cooperative and professional in supporting students’ thesis writing. For instance, delayed response to students’ writing is a major complaint among students. In a similar vein, Sharma, (2017) also points out that thesis supervisors need to consider and be familiar with the expectations of thesis candidates. The scenario evidently depicts that thesis writing is taken as the locus of all master’s level programs. It further stresses that university departments need to take the necessary steps to change this scenario in terms of the theoretical orientation of the thesis writing process, reconsidering the rationale of making students write theses at any cost and practicalities of thesis writing.
Writing as an autonomous cognitive activity
In my observation, the problem mainly lies in the theoretical model of implementing the courses of thesis writing. Traditionally, thesis writing has been taken as a highly mental and cognitive activity, an isolated writing activity of the student which is context-independent. Universities conduct mass orientation of students in a single venue regarding the thesis writing guidelines or procedures irrespective of their socio-cultural backgrounds, level of experiences, diverse disciplines, and areas of interest. Students are oriented as a homogeneous group of people in which student’s writing is based on relatively homogeneous norms, values, and cultural practices. Homogeneous here refers to the uniform and universal writing norms and practices. Furthermore, they are given ‘good’ or ‘bad’ types of feedback in terms of the language they use in their writing. Students do not have many empowering experiences as a one-way socialization process of writing takes place. It is because the traditional model focuses on a set of learnable universal skills for writing a thesis that is separate from the discipline and institutional contexts that considers academic or thesis writing as a predefined set of rules that student writers need to adapt to. Lea and Street (1998) criticise this deficit model which represents student writing as somewhat reductionist meaning, it is dependent on a set of transferable skills, and language proficiency rather than critical thinking.
This ‘one size fits all’ model, therefore, is incapable of taking account of culturally sensitive views of academic writing practices as they vary from one context to another. It further ignores that students’ writing in higher education is ideological in nature. In our context, universities’ departments execute the ‘processes’ of academic writing and thesis writing entirely from a traditional perspective in the way over-reliance on the ‘product’ based model has made it more difficult for students to attain and accomplish the work.
Writing as a socio-cultural practice
Thesis writing, however, is not considered an easy task in all academic contexts even outside Nepal. The experiences –pains and pleasure –of students vary in different contexts. Let me share you two excerpts from two success stories (reflections) of thesis writing in a Nepali university T. Rai (2018) shares her experiences this way:
“During this journey of writing a thesis I experienced most suffering and stressful time, I feel like that a woman suffered during in labour pain. It was in the sense that I had no option escaping from it because I spent about a year preparing this thesis and face several problems, challenges, dilemmas, and fear from the early days of preparing proposal to facing thesis viva. These several painful moments during the process however made me strong and led towards its successful completion”.
She compares the thesis writing pain with the labour pain that a woman suffers. It shows the real struggle of a thesis writer from the early days of writing thesis to defending thesis viva at the end. She gets satisfied after going through several stages of thesis writing during that whole year. Likewise, M. Rai (2018) told her story in this way:
“No doubt writing a thesis is a hard work. But it becomes harder for students like me who have a limited idea about a subject that I am going to study. My study was always focused on ‘how to pass’ the exam. I rarely voyaged beyond the prescribed books and rarely generalised the things in life that I have studied. I always had due respect to my teachers and their PowerPoint slides and I became successful to note and rote them. I was like a ‘broiler kukhura’ (poultry chicken, not free range), who merely depends on others. Since I started writing my Master’s thesis, I realised the real sense of reading and writing.”
She brings a powerful message in her reflection as an indication to shift the traditional approach of lecturing, rote learning and receiving the degree. She made an important point that she was just fascinated by the teachers’ presentations, obeyed them all the time, and made some notes for the examination during two years of her regular study. However, she realized the real sense of reading and writing that begins only after she started the thesis writing process. It indicates that writing a thesis brings varieties of activities and writing practices on the part of students.
These two thesis writers describe the stories on how a thesis writer in the university experiences writing in an early stage, how they struggle or become a part of different reading, writing activities and other academic practices to accomplish the work. While going through the whole stories of two thesis writers, it provides a sense of academic writing as the process of socialization in an academic community. Here, socialization refers to a locally situated process by which a university student from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds becomes socialized into a new academic community, such as a university department. The process involves the thesis writers’ engagement in various academic activities in their communities of practice. Therefore, academic writing in higher education needs to be taken as a social practice, not simply a technical and learnable language skill rather it is always embedded in socially constructed epistemological principles (Street, 2015). Street earlier in 1984, viewing literacy as a plural concept, coined the term ideological and the other is autonomous which is seen as a unitary concept without reference to contexts.
Under the socio-cultural framework, master’s level students as novice researchers and writers gradually learn to access university culture, understand disciplinary discourses, and engage themselves in different academic writing activities in their academic communities. They learn to write from others as an outcome of academic socialization such as discussing their writing drafts with their supervisors, sharing research and writing ideas with peers and upper-grade students, seeking language help from doctoral students and preparing papers for conference presentations. During their engagement in several writing activities, they negotiate with their own life experiences and worldviews or diverse ideologies. Here, the writing is not viewed as a text production activity; but a range of practices centering around the writing act, including reading sources, teachers’ guidelines and comments, advice and guidance from peers as well as teachers, and their own reflections on and observations of their learning experiences (Fujioka, 2007). The final output –the thesis –is the product of negotiation and renegotiation of different disciplinary and institutional ideologies. In the end, the learning from the thesis writing journey changes the thesis writer’s identity and he or she possibly becomes an entirely different person.
To sum up, many thesis writers in Nepal, if not all, view thesis writing as a ‘ritual’ activity. Against this backdrop, the universities’ departments should come up with an appropriate and effective package of thesis writing with theoretical and practical clarity and make the students understand the value of thesis writing –a learning experience, an opportunity to enhance their academic writing skills and a process-based academic practice –in the university. Thus, changing the view of a one-way assimilation into a relatively stable academic community with fixed rules and conventions (Morita, 2004) to the collaborative writing practice which takes account of socio-cultural aspects of the writing is really important at present. This viewpoint considers academic writing as a social-cultural practice and involves several collaborative activities of writing among teachers, supervisors, department heads, peers, upper-grade students, conference organizers, and even publishers. It promotes participatory and engaging academic practices of students in writing in an academic community which, to a greater extent, helps to eliminate unethical conduct during the thesis writing stage in higher education in Nepal.
The author: Ashok Raj Khati is a PhD student at Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University Nepal. Mr. Khati is currently working as the principal at the Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya Kailali, located in far western Terai of Nepal. His areas of interest include developing writing skill in general and academic writing in particular.
Bhattarai, A. (2009). The first activity in research. Journal of NELTA, 14(1), 21-25.
Fujioka, M. (2007). Academic writing development as a socialization process: Implications for EAP education in Japan. PASAA, 40, 11-27.
Karn, S.K. (2009). Give me an easy topic, please: My experience of supervising theses. Journal of NELTA, 14(1), 63-70.
Khati, A. R. (2018, July). The third quarterly issue of ELT Choutari: Special coverage on writing education. [Editorial]. ELT CHOUTARI, 10(80). Available at: http://eltchoutari. com/2018/07/welcome-to-the-third-quarterly-issue-of-elt-choutari-special-coverage-on-writing-education-vol-10-issue-88/
Lea, M., & Street, B. (1998). Student writing and faculty feedback in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2),157-172.
Morita, N. (2004). Negotiating participation and identity in second language academic communities. TESOL Quarterly, 38, 573-603.
Neupane Bastola, M. (2020). Engagement and challenges in supervisory feedback: Supervisors’ and students’ perceptions. RELC Journal, 1–15.
Rai, M. (2018). Thesis writing: a hard nut to crack (a student’s experience). In ELT Choutari. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2018/04/thesiswriting- a-hard-nut-to-crack-a-students-experience.
Rai, T. (2018). Thesis writing: a next step in learning. In ELT Choutari. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2018/04/thesis-writing-a-hard-nut-to-crack-astudents- experience.
Sharma, U. (2017). The role of supervisor and student for completing a thesis. Tribhuvan University Journal, 31(1-2), 223-238.
Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. CUP: Cambridge.
Street, B. V. (2015). Academic writing: Theory and practice. Journal of Educational Issues, 1(2), 110-116.
Tiwari, H. P. (2019). Writing thesis in English education: Challenges faced by students. Journal of NELTA Gandaki (JoNG), 1, 45-52.
Can be cited as:
Khati, A. R. (2021, January). Understanding thesis writing as a socio-cultural practice in the university than a ‘ritual’ [Blog article]. ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com /2021/01/understanding-thesis-writing-as-a-socio-cultural-practice-in-the-university-than-a-ritual/
[Note: since you have come up to here reading the whole piece, please share your feeling, feedback or any question related to this post in the comment box below, which will encourage the author. Thank you!]
We are delighted to present the second quarterly issue (April-June) of ELT Choutari of 2019. The issue focuses on ELT (English Language Teaching), conferencing and professional development of English language teachers.
It is always important to bring scholars together in a venue to discuss current issues in the area of knowledge and to renew the professional energy. We observe that attending and organising scholarly conferences is a growing trend here in Nepal. Furthermore, Nepali scholars are presenting their researches in the international conferences in different parts of the world. The learning and understanding are advanced through such participation. Through conversations, dialogues and interactions about contents, pedagogy and recent trends, a teacher inernalises and integrates the concepts and issues into his/her own personal framework. This is how a teacher can seek practical solutions to solve his/her problems of his/her own context. Therefore, an attendee of the conference starts to socially construct his/her own understanding.
Attending conferences is always rewarding for students, teachers and researchers. However, there are some issues regarding the themes of the conferences, speakers’ presentations and impact of those conferences. It is important to see whether the conference theme is rightly raised at the right time. Likewise, the areas of expertise of the key speaker/s to speak on the theme is equally crucial. Some speakers deliver the same ideas for years in different conferences. The point is key speeches, plenary speeches and presentations need to be based on researches and should contribute in the field of knowledge. Furthermore, conference organisers need to assess the output and impact of conferences at different levels.
In this connection, this 91st issue of ELT Choutari offers a wide range of articles, opinions and blog pieces of scholars capturing ELT, conferencing and professional development of English language teachers. I believe that teachers, students and researchers will be benefitted from it.
Finally, I would like to thank Choutari editors Dr. Karna Rana, Jeevan Karki, Babita Sharma Chapagain, Ganesh Kumar Bastola for their hard work and reviews to release this issue. Our special thanks goes to the contributors of this issue.
If you enjoy reading the blog posts, please feel free to share in your circle, and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below. Likewise, please write your teaching-learning experiences and send us. We will give a space at Choutari. Our email is email@example.com.
We are delighted to present the third quarterly issue (July- September) of ELT Choutari of 2018, the 88th issue. The issue focuses on writing education in Nepali schools and universities.
We, the teachers of English in schools and universities teach about writing not writing itself. For instance, students are made to memorise what a paragraph means rather than making them write a paragraph on different topics. In the university, many students strive to create original pieces of writing. To meet the dates for submitting assignments, students ‘copy and paste’ in rush. They do not receive enough opportunity to practice writing in the classrooms. On the other hand, in schools, teachers generally write paragraphs, letters and essays on the board and students just copy them. They even memorise those notes including essays for the examination. Furthermore, there are ‘ready-made’ paragraphs, letters, job applications and essays in the markets; the “Bazaar Notes”. In a way, these notes make the teachers’ lives go easy. Of course, there are few teachers and students who invest their sufficient effort to practice writing processes in schools and universities. Interestingly, it has also been observed that the teachers and university faculties who have never produced a single piece of original writing in their career grade the students’ papers for their creativity and originality in writing. I mean, do we have experience of the process of writing? We need to rethink and revise the practice of teaching writing in our academic institutions.
In this connection, this 88th issue of ELT Choutari offers a wide range of writing practices, experiences and analysis of scholars. I believe that teachers, students and researchers will be benefited from reading these writings.
I would like to thank Choutari editors Dr. Karna Rana, Jeevan Karki, Praveen Kumar Yadav and a learning editor Narendra Airi for their reviews to release this issue. Finally, if you enjoy reading the blog posts, please feel free to share in your circle and of course, drop your comments in the boxes below. Likewise, please write your teaching-learning experiences and send us. We will give a space at Choutari. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of the ELT Choutari team, I would like to wish everyone a slightly belated Happy New Year 2016! And welcome to a special Anniversary issue once again!!
This is the eighth year of our blogging about ELT. We are grateful to you for reading and promoting the ELT khurak we provide here. And we are grateful to those who have contributed to this issue. Your contribution to professional conversations here is invaluable, as always.
The last year 2015 remained the year of despairs in Nepal especially due to destructive earthquake and five-month-long crisis resulted due to discontented voices of communities especially Madhesi, Tharu and Janjatis following the country’s new constitution. It has affected all walks of life, and education and ELT in Nepal have been impacted as well. But we also believe that as educators we can play a role: we can understand and communicate issues, we can rethink education at all levels, and we can even improve our day to day teaching. It is not just a coincidence, therefore, that the writings in this issue address difficult issues of power and struggle, opportunity and justice to the general masses.
Bearing the responsibility of representation of the Nepali people, the Constituent Assembly (CA) presented a constitution for the first time in Nepal’s history. The constitution has ensured Nepal as Federal Democratic Republican state with three-tier government (federal, provincial, and local), competitive multi-party democratic system, secularism, inclusion and policy of proportional representation, president as ceremonial head-of-the-state, people’s sovereignty and fundamental rights including economic, social and cultural rights. It is for professionals and educators in all fields to help realize the aspiration of the people by contributing through the means at their disposal. Education is arguably the most powerful means for social transformation. We will welcome fellow educators to share ideas with broad social vision through this venue.
We are yet to understand how the sociopolitical changes above will affect education, but as educators, it is our role to make sense of the change, to shape it, to give it meaning. It is for us to make the best contribution we can to the education of the future generations of Nepalis. We certainly cannot continue to do whatever we have been doing; we can and must invite others, ignite ideas, and involve ourselves in conversations about change, about where and what and how we can be most productive and professional in the new contexts.
At Choutari, we plan to produce new issues on special themes and issues. While we are likely to publish on longer time intervals than before (most likely quarterly instead of monthly), we will remain the open space run by independent volunteers, continuing a tradition and adding a necessary dimension to professional conversation.
Here we reflect on the past, present, and future of our work. We would like to invite you to consider joining us and contributing as directly as you can. If you can spare the time and have new ideas, please contact us; this could be your means of impacting the professional lives of English language teachers across the country (and also across the world). We have thrived on the power of volunteerism, volunteers with knowledge and experience, passion and energy, technological skills, and a desire for collaboration and networking. If you have any of these to contribute to the community, or have questions before you join, please do not hesitate to send them at eltchoutari at gmail.com.
Thanking you again for your continued readership and your support, and wishing you a great year ahead again.
In this anniversary issue, Prem Phyak, a PhD scholar in University of Hawaii, dedicates a blog post to the legacy of a famous applied linguist, Professor Alan Davies. In the context of sad demise (in September 2015) of Professor Alan Davies, the author shares some of his major contributions in relation to teaching, discourse, ELT policy and Applied Linguistics in Nepal. In the second post, Tikaram Poudel, assistant professor in Kathmandu University, examines the texts relevant to influence of English on Nepalese society and provides a fresh perspective for looking at the socio-educational issues of Nepal in relation to English language in education.
In the third post, Shyam Sharma, assistant Professor in Stony Brook University, New York, appreciates and analyses the benefits of multilingualism in relation to Nepal’s multilingual context and education. In another post, Uttam Gaulee, a PhD scholar in University of Florida, recalls the days of his principalship in an English-medium school in Nepal, and provides the perspective on harsh socio-economic inequality and division created by public and private (English-medium) education.
Likewise, in another post, Doreen Richmond, a teacher educator in the USA, who did writing lessons in some classrooms and training sessions in rural parts of Nepal, shares her experience of teaching writing as a process to younger and older students. In another blog post, Hem Raj Kafle, assistant Professor in Kathmandu University writes on his PhD experiences, a thoughtful memoir of his six years engagement in Kathmandu University. In this blog post, Dr. Kafle provides deep thoughts on the process of pursuing PhD and the product of it.
On behalf of ELT Choutari Team, I would like to express my sincere acknowledgement to former team members, contributors, and readers for continuing this professional legacy of local and global ELT discourse. Hope you will enjoy the readings. We will be grateful if you could share your thoughts and comments on the blog posts and also share them with your networks.
I have observed that many public schools are adopting English as medium of instruction (EMI) in Nepal for a decade. During my last visit to Solukhumbu in June, some school principals stated, with a great enthusiasm, that they are gradually replacing Nepali with English as the medium of instruction up to secondary level. Even though there is lack of research and case of studies to find whether such a shift is a boon or bane. It is already a disputed issue at both global and local educational discourses and policies. Based on my own experience, observation and theoretical knowledge, I, in this blog post, make attempts to analyze the EMI situation in Nepal with reference to some questions attached to it. I also suggest that a transitional model of language education is appropriate for multilingual country like Nepal.
Shifting into EMI
I have visited several EMI classrooms, particularly three under-resourced schools in my working areas for three times this year (2014/2015). What I found is, the primary motives of shifting into EMI are increasing students’ participation, enhancing quality of education and improving performance of the schools.
Many public school authorities are basically shifting their medium of instruction to English from Nepali in order to attract the large number of students who are now attracted to private English medium schools.
One of the school principals, Mr. Prabhu Ram Basnet, from Solukhumbu articulates his views this way:
English is a global language, and it functions as an international lingua franca. EMI helps students connect countryside with a global world and offers them boundless opportunities. In addition, it is the language of global business and technology. If I had not implemented EMI in my school, many children would have joined private schools. Still, we are not able to increase the number of students at primary level. The government has already cut off the teachers’ quotas for primary section due to less number of students. EMI is producing better results to increase enrollment in my school.
Public schools are also adopting EMI so that they can acquire more quotas for new teachers from the government. More strikingly, teachers take for granted that teaching in English helps students find job and participate in global community. They also believe that students’ progress in the English language contributes to more access to information and knowledge.
Likewise, parents also consider EMI as a gateway to join a global academic and economic community. They think that English creates better academic and economic opportunities.
A guardian from the same area puts his views this way:
English is obligatory in this competitive world. I want my children to learn English so that they could receive better academic offers at national and international arenas. Ultimately, it leads to a quality to life. Therefore, EMI in school is a right approach now.
From the cases above, we can understand that both the teachers and guardians mean EMI leads to quality education. Whereas, there have been a lot of critiques regarding whether English when adopted as medium of instruction in the school contributes to quality education.
In the schools with EMI, teachers have to depend on the textbooks prescribed by the government alone. Sadly, there is not any support and teaching resources that can help the teachers to effectively conduct their classes in English medium. Very few teachers find EMI classroom pleasant and exciting in several content related subjects. Such teachers are either are from English language teaching background or novice ones. They love speaking English in the classroom most of the time. They also invest more efforts to learn new words and phrases in English. On the other hand, most teachers who have been teaching in Nepali medium of instruction for decades in the past find EMI very challenging. They feel their schools adopting EMI has posed a burden in their profession. This tendency might hinder teaching learning activities. In this regard, a teacher from Southern part of Solukhumbu, asserts as below:
I am not confident enough to teach in English. I’ve been teaching in Nepali since last two decades. Now I am supposed to teach in English. Teaching in English is very challenging for me. I cannot update myself at the old age. Neither are we provided any intensive training that can support and facilitate the EMI.
Another observation, use of translation method that has once abandoned by English teachers with school level English textbooks written using communicative methods has a comeback with the schools adopting EMI. School teachers are largely translating English texts into Nepali language during classroom teaching. While in others, teachers only use English. Here the paradox is, students can easily comprehend the contents delivered by the teachers using translation methods but they cannot when the contents delivered by the teachers in English. During the interaction with teachers, they have revealed that they have not made any assessment to find whether the students comprehend their teaching in English. If the students fail to understand, the teachers are yet to come up with a proper strategies to help the students in case of failure. All the teachers do not possess required proficiency level in English. And they do not bother about learning English either. They argue that they give emphasis on content, not language while teaching subjects like mathematics, science and social studies.
Yet another revealing part of my observation, students are less involved in pair and group works. Neither are they found engaged in any types of project work as it is a must for learner centered approach. Generally, teachers introduce the lesson, talk to the students, explain the teaching items, translate them and provide little notes on the board. However, students’ progress in building English vocabulary is a noticeable phenomenon through EMI. They generally seem to enjoy the lessons in all subjects with EMI in the beginning even if they can hardly read and write about social studies and science lessons. Their enjoyment is finally detected during the assessment. It is evident from the cases of students who do not understand test items in English. When inquired, a student states as follows:
Sir (teacher) translates questions in Nepali, so it is very easy for us to answer in the classroom. But I found difficult to understand some questions during the examination when teachers did not translate them in Nepali.
But some schools have been implementing CAS (Continuous Assessment System) to assess overall progress of students. A teacher from Solukhumbu put her views in positive light as follow:
We have challenges in terms of proficiency level of English to implement EMI. Further, students from Rai and Tamang linguistic backgrounds find it hard to learn all subjects in English in the beginning. However, we assess students incorporating the parameters from CAS, such as students’ attendance, participation in classroom activities, behavioural changes, project work and so on. We discouraged paper pencil based test at early grades for two years. So I did not find a lot of problems to assess students.
The impact of EMI on learning
The brief background of EMI setting might not capture all other contexts, but it certainly sets a scenario of EMI implementation and its impact on broader educational practices in Nepal. Parents and children have been influenced by the global academic and career offers, advancement of technology and access of information. They firmly believe that English opens the door to build a global networks, ties and relations. EMI has brought significant progress of students in English language being exposed to it and expressing the ideas in reading and writing in several academic subjects. However, comprehension part of the students is not clear. For instance, I did not find students performing drama in English. Neither were they involved in other creative activities in my working area. The learning achievement of these three schools has been increased by 6% in this academic year. However, the increased learning achievement might need further justification and statistics to see whether other factors or EMI alone contributes to this increase.
Teachers report that many students from early grades fail in mathematics, science and social studies because of sudden shifting into EMI. Their views reflect that students understand the content better in their first language. The other side of the impact is the growth of other national languages in which children are believed to learn and comprehend better than any other second or foreign languages. In many cases of EMI in Nepal, students are punished if they use their mother tongue inside classroom or school. They are forced to generate knowledge and internalize the meaning of content taught in English. It raises the question of cognitive development of learners. Hence, is EMI a medium of instruction for other academic subjects, or is it the sole objective at all? In a nutshell, the question of whether EMI is producing satisfactory learning outcomes still remains unanswered and needs further explorations.
Looking EMI into Back and Forth
When reflecting back to the history of medium of instruction policy, Jung Bahadur Rana, a powerful Rana Prime minister, established the Durbar (Palace) School after his return from Europe as he was greatly influenced by the use of English in the west. However, it was only open to members of the Rana family (Eagle, 1999). Thus, the first government-run school in Nepal practiced EMI. Likewise, the first post-secondary educational institution in Nepal, Trichandra College, opened in 1918 also practiced EMI. The government of Nepal showed interest in cultural unification only after 1950. The slogan of ek bhasha, ek bhesh, ek dharma, ek desh (one language, one costume, one religion, one nation) summarized the goals of the Panchayat government, which attempted to spread Nepali, Hinduism, and other symbols of nation throughout the country to create a unified national identity (Rai et al., 2011). Throughout the Panchayat era, the goals of education were to promote development through unification of the nation under one language and culture. Education in Nepali medium of instruction became accessible to common people instead of a privilege for elites with the goal of bringing the whole population into a unified national identity. (Weinberg, 2013). Thus, Nepali was the mandatory medium of instruction and all other languages including English were discouraged. After the restoration of democracy, many private English medium schools started EMI from grade one and public schools followed the same pattern.
There are questions regarding EMI implementation and the age of the students. At which age is EMI is to be incorporated? What is the justification in a way it is appropriate at grade one? What is the progress of students with EMI of different ages at different levels in relation to learning outcomes? These questions certainly need further inquiry. In addition, public schools do not have any definite guidelines to implement EMI. Policy only allows choosing English or Nepali.
The medium of instruction for school education shall be Nepali, English or both, whereas primary education can be provided in the mother tongue (first language). Language (as a subject) shall be taught in the same language (CDC, 2008).
The policy does not have comprehensive arrangement and facilitation plans to support the schools that implement EMI.
Next element of the analysis is teachers’ English language proficiency level required for EMI. My observation shows that teachers are forced to teach through EMI in many cases. Many public schools have been implementing EMI policy without qualified teachers. It is entirely unclear what the requirements are with reference to English language competence. Many EMI teachers do not see themselves as English language teachers. They consider their job as a facilitator of students towards better learning content deliberations through better comprehension.
On the other hand, schools do not have any plan to teach students through EMI. Teaching through second or foreign language is entirely different issue from teaching academic subjects through the first language. As EMI concerned with language teaching pedagogy, there are questions that require further discussion. Are teachers, dealing with EMI, aware of foreign language teaching pedagogy in a multilingual context? Are they familiar with the process of communication through second or foreign language in the classroom? Is effective communication in English happening in those classrooms? In most instances, formulaic use of English is being observed. Students memorize the phrases and words, even sentences, most of the time. If the subjects to be taught do not have meaningful relationship with the outside world, learning cannot take place. How we can ensure effective communication taking place in the classroom in English among teachers and students in various academic subjects is a crucial issue in EMI settings.
The use of students’ home or community language is seen in all EMI schools I have observed. In many classrooms excessive use of Nepali has been observed. If the teachers are not proficient enough in English, they certainly use students’ home language. In this regard, what is the effect of using and not using L1 in the learning of the students? A clear guideline is indispensable. With reference to the teacher training, there has not been any uniform teacher training modality developed yet to assist EMI in Nepal. NCED (National Centre for Education Development), the apex body for human resource development at school education has not institutionally materialized the teacher training model for the EMI purpose. Neither there is any space for EMI in current TPD (teachers’ professional development) model of teacher training. It shows that EMI is not in priority of policy in the Ministry of Education. Furthermore, there are doubts on training manuals at theoretical ground designed and implemented for EMI purpose by several organizations in Nepal. For example, some training sessions are merely translation while others are full of pair and group works. Ministry of Education and its associate agencies need to think over a uniform teacher training model for the EMI purpose which can be a basis for training at different levels.
Similarly, many head teachers are found confused with which subjects to be taught through EMI. For instance, many private English medium schools teach social studies in Nepali medium while this subject is taught in English in public schools. The basis for decisions is not clear yet. The decisions are not based on the effectiveness of learning process and outcome from the medium of instruction implemented in schools.
EMI is unquestionably a growing phenomenon in public education in Nepal. It is assumed to be a passport to a global world. Despite the fact, 50 % students still fail in SLC and end up being a migrant laborer. It has been beneficial to improve the students’ English as it provides maximum exposure to them through speech, reading and writing in several subjects. EMI is thought to open the door of possibilities for lofty academic and economic offers at local and international level; nonetheless there are suspicions over how many students from public schools have this opportunity. Furthermore, EMI in Nepal is being very powerfully promoted, and the phenomenon is more idealistic in nature. However, it has been contested issue in Nepali academia for both political and pedagogical reasons. There are strong academic evidences that support multilingual education at both local and global educational policies. The most importantly, researchers have critiques on the weak pedagogical aspect of EMI in multilingual situation, particularly on the process of communication inside the classroom. EMI has been implemented without any logical guidelines in public schools. It is being implemented with little or no preparation and planning at all. The phenomenon is not effective in terms of its impact on students’ learning of several academic subjects.
The policy regarding EMI is not comprehensive, nor is it academically and practically desirable. It is more covert in nature leaving the things up to the market. The English language related policies and practices have been implemented without considering the educational costs and benefits in Nepal. The sole logic behind the current shift is globalization and market forces. Thus, EMI has also been a key selling point in the market in the guise of the ideology of quality education, which at present remains a myth. It has been projected as a commodity in the market. But very few students have access to the global and local market resources available in English.
Incorporating a foreign language at the early foundation of education is not academically sound policy. Nepal needs to formulate multilingual model of the language policy and planning. Whereas, EMI planning needs to be guided by the transitional model- from local language to official language to international language from early grades to university level.
CDC (2008), Curriculum Development Centre, Sanothimi Bhaktapur.
Eagle, S. (1999). The language situation in Nepal. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 20 (4-5), 272-327.
Rai, V. S., Rai, M., Phyak, P., & Rai, N. (2011). Multilingual education in Nepal: Hearsay and reality. Kathmandu, Nepal: UNESCO.
Weinberg, M. (2013). Revisiting history in language policy: The case of medium of instruction in Nepal. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 28(1), 61-80.
The author is a training specialist in English at REED Nepal and an adjunct faculty in Tribhuvan University, Nepal.