Schools can today participate in committing linguistic genocide through their choice of the medium of formal education – and they do. (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2010, p. 212)
The above quotation by Skutnabb-Kangas (2010) ought to be self-evident. The situation in some public schools in Nepal is that they are running after English medium instruction. In Nepal, the official language is Nepali and English is taken as a foreign language. It shows that the language of instruction in schools should be Nepali as it is the formal language in Nepal. Yet English as a medium of instruction policy has been adopted by some schools especially in urban areas believing that English medium brings so-called quality. Are they bringing quality in education or committing linguistic genocide as Skutnabb-Kangas says?
The medium of instruction (MOI) policy has been a controversial issue in the context of Nepal. Nepal has adopted a neoliberal policy regarding the MOI. CDC (2019) states that the MOI at the Basic Level (Grades 1-8) will be either mother tongue or Nepali. NCF states that social studies and Nepali should not be taught in English; however, other subjects can be taught in English at the Basic Level (p. 36) at the secondary level (Grades 9-12), the MOI will be Nepali or English. The government policy mentions that children can get education in their mother tongue since it is their right; or Nepali can be the MOI as it is the lingua franca of Nepal. Neglecting the linguistic human rights (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2006) of the children to get education in their language, there has been a shift to English Medium Instruction (EMI) in some public schools in Nepal. Is it justifiable to do so or are the public schools violating the language rights of the school children? This is a debatable question to be discussed in public discourses. Considering this issue, this paper discusses whether EMI is for quality education or the destruction of minority languages in Nepal.
It is agreed that students learn better when they understand what the teacher is saying (Brock-Utne, 2010; Klaus, 2001), and this is possible only through the learners’ mother tongues. If the children are provided education in other languages, they often remain silent or become puzzled. Let me relate this issue to the experience of one of my colleagues. When my colleague (Tamang as the mother tongue) was admitted to school, he didn’t understand anything that the teachers said or taught. There was another Tamang student who also knew the Nepali language. Then he used to ask what the teachers said. This example clarifies that students learn better in their language only. What we infer from this event is that we are destroying the knowledge of the students. Learning is for the knowledge of the subject matter. It does not mean that we can get better knowledge in English only. If this was true, Chinese, Korean and Japanese learners would be the weakest ones in the world, but it is not so. These countries are far forward in science and technology including education. Therefore, adopting EMI and compelling the learners to get education is destroying their clear-cut knowledge in content areas.
Another argument is that indigenous languages are destroyed through the adoption of EMI policy in schools. Languages get protected, survived, and promoted through their use, especially in education. Skutnabb-Kangas (2010) argues that schools can kill languages that had survived for centuries when their speakers were not exposed to formal education. This is what happened through the adoption of the EMI policy in the public schools of Nepal. Nepal is a multilingual, multicultural and multiracial country with 131 indigenous languages spoken by 125 ethnic groups (Language Commission, 2020). Since there has been a growing trend of using EMI in public schools in Nepal, learners’ mother tongues are endangered. Once when I was in the field collecting data for my research work, one Rana student (Rana language is one of the indigenous languages of Nepal) who was studying in a public school in Kailali district where EMI was implemented said, “I don’t want to learn and speak my mother tongue. If there is no use of my language in school and in the market, then why should I use it? Only my parents speak it but I use Nepali to talk to them at home.” This shows that the use of EMI is one of the causes that obstruct students to use local or other indigenous languages at home. In my neighborhood, one family belonging to the Newar community. Both the father and the mother are educated and job holders. Their children study in a private English medium school. I have never heard them speaking the Newari language even with their children. When I asked, “Why don’t you use the Newari language at home with your children?” The father replied, “Sir, what’s the use of using our language if it has no value in society? So we want our children to learn only Nepali and English.” Thus, there is linguistic genocide (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000) or the policy that encourages language shifts in multilingual societies. EMI in education is playing a crucial role in this case. Skutnabb-Kangas (2001) argues that linguistic human rights are necessary for maintaining linguistic and cultural diversity on earth. Only the use of mother tongues in education can support the maintenance of linguistic diversity, thereby preserving and promoting indigenous languages.
English is taken as a killer language (Gutiérrez Estrada, & Schecter, 2018; Khaled, 2020; Schrijver, 2013). If so, how can EMI policy in education remain its exception? Although English is a global lingua franca, it is an agent of making other languages disappear because of people’s attraction towards the use of English in education, media, public spheres, tourism, and other sectors.
I argue after Brock-Utne (2010) that English in education is the language of destruction rather than instruction in two senses. First, the use of EMI in education is destroying and limiting the knowledge of education in the learners since they do not get a clear-cut concept of the subject matter in English. Second, the use of EMI in education is destroying the learners’ mother tongues.
I conclude my argument that the only way to preserve and protect the indigenous languages thereby imparting crystal clear knowledge to the learners about the subject matters is through the use of mother tongue-based education especially up to basic level (1-8) education. It is believed that the more languages the learners know; the more cognitive development they have. Following this assumption, I propose that some subjects related to local knowledge can be taught in the learners’ mother tongues, the subjects of national importance can be in Nepali, and the subjects like Maths, Science, and Computers can be taught in English. It is the responsibility of the nation to protect the indigenous languages of the country. The linguistic and cultural diversity of a country is the property and identity. Therefore, the linguistic human rights of children must be preserved. We can never imagine this through the use of EMI in education.
Brock-Utne, B. (2010). English as the language of instruction or destruction–how do teachers and students in Tanzania cope? In Language of instruction in Tanzania and South Africa-Highlights from a project (pp. 77-98). Brill.
Gutiérrez Estrada, M. R., & Schecter, S. R. (2018). English as a” Killer Language”? Multilingual Education in an Indigenous Primary Classroom in Northwestern Mexico. Journal of Educational Issues, 4(1), 122-147.
Khaled, D. Y. A. (2020). English as a killer language: South Africa as a Case Study. International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation, 3(3), 72-79.
Klaus, D. (2001). The use of indigenous languages in Early Basic Education in Papua New Guinea: A model for elsewhere? Paper presented the Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society held in Washington DC. March 17, 2001.
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CDC, (2019). National level curriculum framework for school education in Nepal. Sanothimi: Curriculum Development Center, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Government of Nepal.
Schrijver, P. (2013). Languages Competing for Speakers: English as a Killer Language. In Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages (pp. 20-22). Routledge.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2000). Linguistic genocide in education – or worldwide diversity and human rights? Routledge.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2001). The globalisation of (educational) language rights. International Review of Education, 47(3), 201-219.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2006). Language policy and linguistic human rights. An introduction to language policy: Theory and method, 273-291.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2010). Language rights. Handbook of pragmatic highlights. Society and Language Use, 7, 212-232.
Mohan Singh Saud is an Associate Professor of English Language Education, ELT trainer, book writer, poet, editor, and researcher from Nepal. He is the visiting faculty at Chandigarh University, Panjab, India. His areas of interests in research include grammar teaching, teachers’ professional development, medium of instruction, English medium instruction (EMI), mother tongue-based medium of instruction, teaching English as an international language, English language teachers’ training and education, linguistic diversity, and globalisation.
[To cite this: Saud. M.S., (2022, October 15). Is English in Education a Medium of Instruction or Destruction? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://eltchoutari.com/2022/10/is-english-in-education-a-medium-of-instruction-or-destruction/]
The use of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in schools has become a growing issue in the context of Nepal. This paper explores some examination practices in the EMI policy adopted community school (EMI school) in Nepal. Considering an EMI school as a case, I have collected qualitative data using multiple methods such as observation, interview, and informal interaction concerning the issue, and analyzed and interpreted the data thematically. The students need explanations of every question in the Nepali language before they write the answers. The negative washback seems to be extended to the examination hall. The examination practices employed in the EMI school raise a serious question about the way they learn the content using EMI.
Due to globalization, the use of EMI at school and university levels has become a contemporary and emerging issue in the global context and so is the case in the context of Nepal. Several studies from home and abroad show that the stakeholders of schools and colleges are shifting the medium of instruction (MOI) used in the schools and colleges to English, especially in the countries where the native languages being used are other than English, like Nepal. For this reason, the EMI issue has been a fresh area to study for researchers and academicians.
A number of studies (e.g., Baral, 2015; Bhatta, 2020; Brown, 2018; Ghimire, 2019; Gim, 2020; Joshi, 2019; J. Karki, 2018; Khanal, 2020; Khati, 2016; Ojha, 2018; Paudel, 2021; Phyak, 2013, 2018; Poudel, 2019; Ranabhat, Chiluwal, & Thompson, 2018; Sah, 2022; Sharma, 2018; Weinberg, 2013, to name a few) have been conducted concentrating on the EMI/MOI issues in Nepalese context. These studies especially focus on the assumptions, teachers’ identity, ideology, agencies, opportunities, challenges, possibilities, policies, and practices of EMI/MOI issues in general; however, less attention is paid to the examination practices in particular. So, in this paper, I endeavor to explore the examination practices employed by the EMI school selecting a secondary community-based school in a rural area of Bagmati Province, Nepal as a case.
Methods of the Study
This study employs the “case study” (Stake, 2008; Yin, 2016) research design selecting an EMI school as a “case” and the “examination practice” of the school as a phenomenon of the study. Multiple methods (i.e., nonparticipant overt observation of examination activities, interviews with three teachers teaching in Grades four and five, and informal interaction with two students of Grades four and five) were used for information collection. The data were transcribed and translated into English and interpreted categorizing them into themes.
Results and Discussion
The information was interpreted categorizing them into two themes: dependent on the teachers, and the existence of negative washback effect. They are discussed with supporting details below.
Dependent on Teachers
The students participated for the examinations in the hall seemed to be dependent on the teachers for writing the answers. The students started writing the answers to the questions only after the subject teachers’ explanations of the questions with the clues to write the answers. The students seek clarification of the instruction of each question written in English for understanding in Nepali language used in the paper. They wanted the meaning of the particular question, and meaning and spelling of the words, from which the students got the clues for writing the answers to the objective questions particularly. Regarding this, I have mentioned two short pieces of discourse held during the examinations of Class 5, Science and Class 4 Social Studies respectively in the hall.
Examination discourse # 1
S1: Miss, esko question sarnu parchha? (Miss, should we copy the question? [in the answer paper]?)
T: timiharule question sarnu pardaina answer-answer matra lekha (No, write only the answers).
S2: Miss, jo duiko (a) ke bhaneko ho bhanidinuna (Miss, please, tell me what Question 2 (a) means).
T: pani dherai chiso bhayo bhane ice banchha ,thik ki bethik? (Water can be converted into ice on cooling, true of false?)
S2: e… (um. . .)
S3: Miss, question no 3 ko (a) ko meaning bandiununa (Miss, please, tell me the meaning of Question 3 (a)).
T: J-u-p-i-t-r [spelling the letter] jupiter, jupiter bhaneko grahako naam ho thaahaa chhaina? (Jupiter is a planet, don’t you know?)
S4: Miss, aath  number ko (a) ko bhandinuna (Miss, please, what is meant by Question 8 (a)).
T: What are amphibians? Amphibians ke lai bhaninchha?
S4: amphibians ko meaning ke hunchha, miss? (what is the maning of amphibians?)
T: jamin ra paani dubai thaaumaa basne janawaar ho ni asti nai class maa padheko hoina? (amphibians live both on land and water, don’t you know?)
Examination discourse # 2
S1: Sir, “maaghi”ko meaning ke ho? (Sir, what is the meaning of “maaghi”?)
T1: “maaghi” bhaneko parbako naam ho (“maaghi” is a name of a festival)
S2: Maam, “gaura” bhaneko ke ho? (Maam, what is the meaning of “gaura”?)
T2: “gaura”bhaneko euta chaad ho (“gaura” is a festival).
S3: Miss, “mother” ko spelling bhandinununa (Miss, please, tell me the spelling of “mother”)
T2: lu hera tyeti pani najaaneko? “m-o-t-h-e-r” hoina? (Oh! You don’t even know the spelling of m-o-t-h-e-r mother?)
S4: Miss, yo (C) number ko ke bhaneko? (Miss, please, tell me what question C means?)
T2: “alcohol ko prayogale ke asar garchha” bhaneko ho? (It means-what are the effects of consuming alcohol?)
Note: The expressions written in italic are the Nepali words used by the participants and in the square brackets are my explanation.
During an interview, concerning the use of Nepali language, a teacher, Tarun expressed that they often used it “due to the low level of students’ knowledge in English”. He added “you saw in the examination hall, they could not write anything unless we [teachers] explained each question in Nepali”. The interesting point is that no single English sentence was used in the conversation though the EMI policy is adopted in the school.
There can be many reasons for behind the use of Nepali language in the discourse. One reason can be the teachers’ low proficiency in English which is similar to some studies in the past (e.g., British Council, 2013; LaPrairie, 2014; Mohamed, 2013; Sah & Li, 2020) and they feel difficulty in teaching and making the students comprehend in English. The other can be the students cannot understand due to their low level of English language knowledge (Wirawan, 2020). Whatever the reason may be, the students fully depend on the teachers for the use of Nepali language to understand the questions and solve the problems. The shreds of evidence in the discourses held in the examination hall and with the teacher imply that there is enough space for suspicion of accomplishing the learning outcomes set in the curriculum with the use of EMI.
Extended Negative Washback
The “negative washback” refers to the undesirable effect of the test on teaching and learning activities (Alderson & Wall, 1993; Chan, 2018; Cheng & Curtis, 2004) that precedes and prepares for the assessment. The negative washback seems to have been extended to and reflected in the examination practices in the EMI school. That is to say, the teaching-learning activities were performed keeping the testing system in mind, and during the examination, the problems to be solved in the examination hall were frequently signaled referring back to the classrooms activities as a clue to the examinees to solve the problems.
Once in the examination hall, Lila, a teacher, responded to a question made by an examinee “Didn’t I ask you to read the same answer some days ago in the class while practicing for the exam?” She added, “Do it in the same way” in a reminding tone. This expression signaled the extension of negative washback effect to the examination. Moreover, in the examination hall, it was seen that the answer to one of the subjective questions of many students was written exactly the same way in terms of its content, length, and structure.
With reference to this issue, one student expressed, “our teachers provided the questions and their answers just before the examination started” and she added that the students “memorized the answers for writing in the examinations” while I informally interacted with her. In line with the same view, another student, showing the evidence in his book, put his remark that “the teachers ticked the questions to be asked in the exam when the examination schedule was published” he further stated that they read the same answers to prepare for the exams. They both agreed that they normally get help from the teachers to solve the questions in the examination hall.
Teachers even agreed with the statements shared by the students. In an interview, a teacher, Jina, remarked that she normally selects “some possible questions with their answers to be asked in the examinations” and asks the students to memorize the answers. Relating to the issue, a Social Studies teacher, Lila stated, “I pick out some questions from the important chapters and repeat them many times for the examinations”. She further added “the students feel difficult to write the answers unless we provide them with the answer clues.” Her statements reflect the extension of negative washback to the examination practices. The pieces of evidence mentioned reveal that replicating the questions, which were practiced and asked the students to memorize earlier in the classes for the examination purposes, and helping the students to solve the questions in the examination, in other term, extension of negative washback effect, appeared to be a common strategy prepared and applied by the teachers in the EMI adopted school.
The extension of negative washback effect to the examination practices in the EMI school may not be favorable for learning because they may well miss the mark to reflect the “learning principles or the course objectives to which they are supposedly related” (Cheng & Curtis, 2004, p. 9), they oppose to “learning through exploration or discovery” (Tania & Phyak, 2022, p. 141), and they do not match the examination policy (T. M. Karki, 2020) prepared by the concerned authorities. Supporting the issue, Manocha (2022) views that it may not be a good strategy because it does not allow the students to use their “prior knowledge of language” and discourages them to share their “stories and experiences related to the text”, as a result people may question in the effective implementation of EMI policy from the teaching and learning perspectives.
In this study, I have explored the examination practices employed by the EMI-adopted community-based school. The students seem to be reliant on the subject teachers and their Nepali explanations of instruction mentioned in English and each problem appeared in the English-medium question paper. The extension of the negative washback effect to the examination hall was observed in the study. Although this study is limited to a single but discontinuously upgraded EMI policy-adopted school located in a rural area of Nepal selected for the case study, it provides information that can be true to the other EMI school more or less in a similar context. For more wide-ranging, trustworthy, and extensively applicable outcomes, similar but larger-sized studies in the future are recommended.
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Tek Mani Karki is a Lecturer at Tribhuvan University, Department of English Education, Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal, Kathmandu. Currently, he is pursuing his Ph.D. degree entitled “English as a Medium of Instruction in Community Schools of Nepal: Policies and Practices”. His areas of interest in research are language education policy and teacher professional development.
[To cite this: Karki. T. M., (2022, October 15). Examination Practices in English as a Medium of Instruction School [blog post]. Retrieved from https://eltchoutari.com/2022/10/examination-practices-in-english-as-a-medium-of-instruction-school/]
English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) has become widespread due to globalization and the growing demand of developing nations, particularly in Nepalese public schools which are assumed as a symbol of quality education. This new trend of adopting EMI caught the attention of parents on the impact and changes in education. The study explores the perceptions of parents on the implementation of EMI in public schools through Bourdieu’s lens of the symbolic power of language theory. Based on an in-depth interview with three parents of Kanchanpur, the perceptions on the implementation of EMI in school education are explored. The data analysis reveals EMI is perceived as an investment for developing advanced English skills and an uplifting lifestyle. The result shows EMI is just a fashion and propaganda to increase the number of students. Despite the demand of parents in society, some public schools are switching to EMI without proper preparation. Also, EMI is the preference as a mantra of competition. Findings indicate that the public schools need to close their ears for howling mob i.e. EMI as synonyms of quality education without proper preparation and readiness because hunting needs loaded guns and hunting skills.
Keywords: EMI, fashion, social strata, competition
As English is an international language, its use in different areas of social science is growing rapidly all over the world. The use of English from business to education is rapidly increasing. The rapid use of English in different aspects of society is dominating other languages of the world. Further, the English language is becoming a global lingua franca that links critical turns such as globalization, global economy, transnational communication, education, and the Internet (Sah& Li, 2018). Since English is integrated into every aspect of life, it has become obligatory in order to uplift social, economic status in the globe. In this regard, Bourdieu (1993) states English has become one of the best sources of achieving power, linguistic capital, and access. We visualize the choice of English in different schools even in remote areas of the world. With this notion, non-native countries are adopting English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) though its implementation is great intimidation to the indigenous languages (House, 2014). Its effect is visible in the education sector where these countries are adopting EMI even from the basic level. As a result, English is practiced as an academic subject from the very beginning of formal education (Dearden, 2015), as people assume that EMI provides better socioeconomic mobility (Sah & Li, 2018). So, the hegemony of English is vividly felt in every aspect of social life including school education.
However, EMI is one of the prominent issues in the context of Nepal where private schools have already adopted and public schools have been mushrooming. EMI is taken as the prestige of school though schools are under-resourced (Gnawali, 2018) and lacking will power in real classrooms. Implementing EMI in such a situation has created problems in students learning achievement and creativity. In this regard, Sah and Li (2018) say implementing EMI without proper preparation resulted in negative outcomes: students neither achieve content knowledge nor English language skills. On the contrary, Evans, and Morrison (2016) state the graduates of EMI schools seem more confident in English ability, received superior examination grades, and able to adjust to diverse social contexts. As the entire world has been emphasizing the English language, countries like Nepal, India, Indonesia, and Ghana have been switching towards EMI without proper preparation.
In developing and non-English speaking countries EMI has different faces. As an instance, EMI in Indonesia is taken as a symbol of prestige and power where English Language teachers play an agentive role (Zacharias, 2013) for its promotion. In the same way in Taiwan, students agreed that English instruction helped them improve their English proficiency (Chang, 2010) though, in Pakistan, it was neglected to point its negative effects in mainstream education (Ahmed, 2011). According to Haider and Fang (2019), English is proving linguistic capital for elites although the lack of opportunities in general school leads to failure in professional life in Pakistan. On the other hand in China, Hu, Li,& Lei (2014) portrait EMI as a gatekeeper of access to English and other potential benefits. As English and its use in education have been increasing, many public schools are adopting it massively as a medium of instruction. To put it in a nutshell, in some countries EMI is a boon and for a few others, it’s a bane.
Similarly, parents send their children to private schools in urban areas because of their global status. They are willing to get and give education through EMI, even though they have low economic status. English is synonymously taken as a part of skills development (Erling, 2014) so all parents prefer to send their children to EMI implemented schools. Similarly, English is taken as a superior language and English-educated people are taken as highly prestigious in the society, therefore, parents are demanding EMI even in public schools though policies encourage mother tongue-based multilingual education (Phyak, 2016). This shows the gap between policy and practice. Similarly, implementing EMI created tension among parents having low economic status though they strongly prefer it. In this vain, Poudel (2019), says in the context of Nepal, English is the most influential language among upper and middle classes. It has created the strata in society as EMI educated are taken as superior and Non-EMI educated are as inferior.
However, most of the research on the EMI is primarily focused on teachers’ readiness, policy analysis, the effect of EMI, and students’ demands. The real perceptions of parents from the root level have not been well explored among scholars and policymakers in the context of Nepal. This study, therefore, aimed to explore the perception of parents’ on the implementation of EMI in public schools. It further tried to answer the question ‘how do parents narrate their experiences of sending their children to EMI implemented public school?’
Despite these useful studies, there is still a dearth of research investigating the perceptions of parents on the implementation of EMI in public schools. This study, therefore, aims to explore the perceptions of parents on the implementation of EMI in public schools. This study addresses the following question:
How do parents narrate their experiences of sending their children to EMI implemented public school?’
Reviewing Nepalese language planning and policy status
Language planning is an important process that enhances and reforms the entire linguistic situation of the country. It is also the national or international strategy to promote the selected language(s). Many ups and downs are found in the language planning of our country. Regarding this, Bist (2015) writes that the Nepal National Education Planning Commission (NNEPC) 1953 AD suggested that English needs to be started from grade four to Bachelor level as a compulsory subject. However, through its report in 1956, the commission recommended removing English from the Medium of instruction, which was in practice since the Rana regime.
Furthermore, the Education Act (1971) was amended by The Education and Sports Related Some Nepal Acts Amendment Act (2007) with the policy that the Nepali language or English language or both languages shall be the medium of instruction in a school in its section seven, subsection one. Similarly, in subsection two (a) it is included that the mother tongue may be the medium of instruction up to primary education, and in subsection two (d) we can find the policy of English language medium while teaching a compulsory subject of English. Therefore, this document of the Education Act permits public schools to use English as a medium of instruction while teaching any academic subjects in the schools (Education Act, 1971).
Multilingual Education Directive (2010) declares mother tongue to be the medium of instruction at the pre-primary level and basic level in class (1- 3) to teach all subjects except Nepali and English subjects, and mother tongue or the language of government officials to be medium of instruction at basic (classes 4- 5) level. The Constitution of Nepal (2015) includes the right of every Nepali community living in Nepal to get education in its mother tongue up to the secondary level, in Article No. 31, sub-article No.5 (Constitution of Nepal, 2015). Regarding other language planning documents, Phyak (2016) says if we closely look at the Ministry of Education’s policies and plans such as Education for All, Millennium Development Goals, School Sector Reform Plan, and National Curriculum Framework, it wants to promote multilingual education by considering children’s home/community languages a resource for an equitable and quality education.
Symbolic power of language
The symbolic power of language believes education is one of the most effective means of immortalization of the existing social pattern (Benbenishty et al., 2005). It further gives proper justification for the social inequalities and recognition of the cultural heritage. More specifically, Bourdieu (1977) highlighted the symbolic power of language which is the symbol of imposition. Symbolic power here is a power of constituting given through utterances, of making people see and believe, of confirming or transforming the vision of the world (Loader, 1997). Further, the language given legitimate status involves the claim to be heard, believed, and obeyed and that can exercise its effectiveness and effectiveness of the mechanism (Bourdieu, 1991).
In the context of Nepal, EMI is practiced as a means to gain power in society. In our own experience, a person having good command over English gains high prestige and reputation. As Bourdieu (1977) said that the powerful language imposes different ideologies, the practice is seen in the Nepalese schools by implementing EMI. Existing scenario presents EMI as the symbol of power which controls the social aspects from education to economy. Likewise, EMI has brought strata among the schools in the nation. Schools having EMI tend to be superior than the non-EMI schools. This division is clearly seen in our context. So, analyzing this power play of EMI, Symbolic Power of Language theory was found appropriate in our study.
The review helped us to get an overview of EMI policies in Nepal and it has also revealed the importance of multilingual education in the context of Nepal. As the study aimed to explore the implementation of the English language as a medium of instruction, this review created a base for analyzing the real context which later helped us to frame out our findings. Further, analyzing the present status of local languages and imposition of English from the previous studies created the proper gap and demand to explore more.
As the study aimed to explore subjective realities from the real field, it is qualitative in nature. The site of the study was Kanchanpur (one of the districts of Western Nepal) and three parents whose children study in EMI implemented public school were our participants. To explore their perception of EMI, we chose them purposely. To maintain balance on the existing contemporary strata of the society, we selected one participant from the lower class (Ramesh) level and other two from the middle-class level (Sampurna and Ram).
Ramesh was from a lower-class family, aged in his mid-thirties. He enrolled his children in a public school implementing EMI. He was an auto driver having five members in the family. He had two daughters and a son studying in the same school. Similarly, our second participant Ram was a middle-class man, aged in his mid-fifties. He had stayed in Malaysia for three years and had one daughter who studied in class nine. Earlier, he had enrolled his daughter in a public school where the Nepali medium of instruction was implemented. He did not pay any monthly fees there. After coming back from Malaysia, he preferred to enroll his daughter in a public school where EMI was practiced even by paying. And the third one was Sampurna, a middle-class man with four members in the family having two daughters. He was a farmer and his wife was a housewife. He enrolled both his daughters in public schools where EMI was practiced.
We collected data through in-depth interviews. Moreover, we interviewed them thrice and it was audio-recorded. The first interview created the opportunity for the follow-up interviews which ensured the contextual experiences. We conducted a second round of interviews only after the data from the first phase were categorized into different themes, and the analysis was underway. The frequent informal conversations made our data more lively and interesting. The interpretive paradigm was employed to explore parents’ perceptions of EMI. After that, we coded data using thematic chunks such as English as a fashion, EMI as a symbol of power, and English as a mantra of competition. We developed all those codes after a careful understanding of the collected data. The codes were further put into analytical memos, which depicted emerging themes. These themes were developed on the basis of the research question and objective. As every participant is value-led, we valued the participants’ views and had prolonged engagement during formal interviews and informal tea talks. For ethical issues, we took the consent of the participants and used pseudo names for privacy so that it won’t harm their personal and professional life.
Results and discussion
As this research aimed to explore the perception of parents on implementing EMI in public school, they take it as symbolic power, fashion, and weapon to compete. On the basis of perceptions of the parents their themes were made and discussed in this section.
Power Play of EMI
From the parents’ perspective in Nepal, English is taken as a symbol of power since English education is taken as highly prestigious in society. The success story of private schools has led to many Nepalese parents who preferred an English medium education for their children regardless of their socioeconomic status. In this regard our second participant Ram (pseudonym) shared:
When I was in Malaysia, I came to know the value of English in today’s world. I was thinking of sending my daughter to an elite institutional school but I realized that I could not handle it from an economic perspective. Later, I enrolled her in a public school where EMI is practiced. I am happy right now because my daughter is learning English. I know those people speak English, they get respect in society and they will get jobs very soon.
It is believed that English-educated people are more intelligent and wise in the community though English is not widely accepted in everyday communication. According to Bourdieu (1993) language regulates the power and prestige in society which is seen as practice. In the same line our third participants Sampurna added:
I could not study at the campus level, I had a dream to send my daughters to college for higher education. My friends share that English is very important, the upcoming generation won’t get any job without English. Then only I realized the value of English in each and every sector. Sometimes I spent time with my friends in the teashop, everyone used to talk about their daughters and sons. They feel proud of themselves for sending kids to more expensive schools where English is primarily focused. I also felt that without English, no one would get a job and opportunity in this century. So, I have sent my daughters to public schools where English is prioritized.
Analyzing both of the views above, the English language has a great impact and position in the world so he preferred to send his daughter to EMI School not only for content knowledge but also for the English language. Participants believed EMI is very important in school education, it has increased the number of students in public schools and they know the value of the English language. They believed that English promotes prestige in the community and EMI helps students to facilitate the learning of content and English skills (Sah, 2020). It has become such a well-adopted medium of instruction in higher education in Nepal. Despite having low economic status, people show keen interest to enroll their children in English medium school because they know that English is a powerful language. Likewise, looking at it from the symbolic power perspective, lower class, marginalized and disadvantaged groups of people try to uplift their status with the use of powerful language (Bourdieu, 1993) i.e. English in the Society.
This shows EMI in today’s demand in developing countries like Nepal. So, English is for economic development, social mobility, and participation in the global economy (Bruthiaux, 2002) as English has achieved global status. English is taken as a weapon in order to bring happiness to family and community and uplift the socio-economic status of the people.
Fashion in the market
EMI is growing as a kind of fashion. This fashion is linked to “cultural capital” in a globalized society where parents of public schools want to switch schools (Lareau & Horvat, 1999). As new fashion first attracts the attention of the people who are not in the habit of being changed i.e. lower-class people, the same group of people are more attracted to enroll their children in EMI schools. In this regard, Bourdieu (1997) states cultural capital consists of familiarity with the dominant culture in society and especially the ability to understand and use “educated” language, and here in the community English is accepted as an educated language. In this line Ramesh provoked:
I have never ever studied English in my life. Nowadays, we are bound to learn English. My daughter always forced me to send her to an English medium school. The prime reason was that her best friends study in English medium school. In my locality, no one studies in public schools where the Nepali medium is practiced. Those incidents compelled me to enroll her in an English medium school. And we are happy for EMI in public school.
In the same line, Ram the first participant put forwarded his view as:
I see everyone sending children to the boarding school with well-ironed dresses and ties. This really touches the heart and made me feel like sending children to boarding school. This is a new culture now. Everyone sends children to boarding school even if they don’t have food to eat. Except for English, there is not much change in education but also everybody’s wish.
Participants believed that English provides a better academic and professional career in national and international arenas. Similarly, people believe they are inferior if they don’t study or educate their children in English Medium.
This is because, to some extent, receiving English instruction at a younger age gives sound input and proficiency (Bahrani & Sim, 2012). Participants and children believed that switching to EMI responded to the demand of the present day and would not be dominated by other colleagues in the community. This demand and wish of English from the point of view of symbolic power theory, has been developing and promoting the status of lower and middle-class people. The representational practice of English in education helps in achieving power in society (Hall, 1997). It is how an exhibition constructs and persuades meaning through demonstrating a path through meaning. It is believed that everyone is running behind English because of its popularity.
Mantra of competition
Many public schools have been opting towards EMI to compete with the institutional schools as well as other public EMI schools. The reason behind this is that the number of students is also decreasing day by day. Participants opined that EMI is just for competition rather than collaboration and quality education. In this regard, Ram said:
I have earned a BA in English. After that, I could not get a chance to resume my study because of family problems. Nowadays, I have been engaging in small businesses. Currently, I see that many public schools are switching to EMI. I confidently say that it is a big issue in today’s school education system. In public school, some teachers cannot even read accurately, how can they teach students effectively? There is not any sort of training and enough teaching materials. I believe that this is just for increasing the number of students by showing advertisements for EMI.
In the perceptions of common people, public schools are switching to EMI only just for the sake of advertisement so that they could increase the number of students although the teachers’ readiness, training, and proficiency are in debate. They have a motto to compete with children in the international market with the English language. In the same way, Sampurna viewed, “ Students having good English can tackle problems in the modern age.” He further added, “We were not educated with English so we are facing so many challenges in the digital era. So I send my children to EMI school”. So, the symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1997) of EMI as a linguistic capital is to compete with institutional schools in national and international markets.
It is evident that some public schools are switching to EMI without enough preparation and infrastructure (Sah & Li, 2018). With the motto of competition, many public schools have been implementing EMI but the part of proper preparation and readiness is not properly studied. This resulted in fragmentation in the result. In this regard, Sah and Li (2018) further believed students developed neither content knowledge nor English language skills. This vividly presents the lack of proper preparation and ineffectiveness of EMI in public schools even spending a huge amount of economic and other efforts. Similarly, EMI created the strata among the students in terms of the economy and social status. In the name of English, there has been a stratum of educational division and injustice for the children who are from a lower socioeconomic status and are not able to get access to EMI (Kuchah, 2018). This brings conflict among different ethnic groups in the community. In this line, Sampurna added, “English is a fake myth it does provide quality education but only attract the attention”. Students willing to have education in EMI are compelled to face psychological effects due to poor economic background as education in EMI is expensive, though EMI was taken as a strategy to sell the tag of EMI education in the linguistic market (Bourdieu, 1977). In a nutshell, EMI is just a showcase to increase the students in school rather than providing quality education.
The study employing Bourdieu’s (1977) symbolic power of language theory looked at the perceptions of parents on the implementation of EMI in school education. As the data revealed parents idealised EMI as a symbol of power and linguistic capital to develop English skills through its real flavour is not achieved because of the lack of preparation and readiness. Switching to EMI without enough preparation and supervision, under-resourced conditions, and improper lead resulted in students’ low proficiency in both English and non-English subjects. On the other hand, it was found EMI in public schools is just propaganda to collect more students which creates a problem for lower and middle-class people as it is more expensive. As this study was limited to the perceptions of parents in a district, future research can be in unpacking the critical analysis of EMI practices and their effect on classroom and students’ achievements in different parts of the country.
About the authors
Mr. Dipak Prasad Mishra is a research Scholar at Kathmandu University, School of Education. Mr. Mishra is Head of the Department of English at Valley View English School. He is a Life Member of the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA). Mr. Mishra is interested in learners’ autonomy and critical thinking.
Mr. Surendra Bhatt is an MPhil Scholar at Kathmandu University, School of Education. Currently, he is the head of the English Department at Charles Darwin Academy (Management College). Life Member of the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA), Mr. Bhatt is an executive member of the Geo-linguistics Society of Nepal. Deputy Academic Director of ISTER Nepal, Mr. Bhatta keeps interests in teacher well-being and teacher professional development.
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Can be cited as:
Mishra, D.K. & Bhatt, S. (2021, May). English medium instruction in school education: Parents’ perspectives [Blog article). ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: https://eltchoutari.com/2021/04/english-medium-instruction-in-school-education-parents-perspectives/
Juliet Fry is a national director of professional learning of secondary teachers’ of English language in New Zealand. She works for the Ministry of Education. Recently, she had been to Nepal in order to support a teachers’ training program in Khumbu region voluntarily. There is a practice of English Medium Instruction (EMI) for last six years. Our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki, who is carrying out a research on English medium instruction (EMI) in Nepal, has managed to talk with her in relation to EMI in community schools of Nepal.
You have delivered English Medium training and interacted with teachers recently in Khumbu region. What’s your observation and evaluation on EMI in this region?
Well, I was encouraged by finding the high level of English, of may be one-third of the teachers. It was good to find that some of the teachers have a really very good English and would be capable of delivering the curriculum in English medium but I still have concerns about the fact that some of them are not really strong enough to deliver the curriculum really effectively in English medium.
So why do you think there is such a craze for English?
You know I’ve read quite a lot why there is such a craze. In my view it is because of the international opportunity and also the fact that private schools are delivering education in English and get high SLC score. So other schools (community schools) want to deliver education in English in order to retain students. There is also one benefit of English medium as it can keep the children in the region as they actually get to experience local culture, and they grow and learn with their home languages. Therefore, somewhere it is good that they are attracted to English language and stay in their own community. So they learn Sherpa at home and English at school. Then I’m worried about their Nepali language. So my concern is that they grow without having any language really strong.
What is the medium of the instruction in the sate-owned schools in New Zealand?
Well, I’ve been fortunate to work with the people who’ve come through the New Zealand education system in English medium. But the case of Maori is different. Their parents were also not allowed to speak Maori at schools, they had to speak English. Consequently, the generation lost Maori language. Now adults have decided to learn Maori language as a second language. On the other hand, the people who are now teachers, let’s say younger teachers, some of them learnt Maori as a second language and now they are working hard to bring out their children speak in Maori because in south island they’ve lost the native speakers of Maori language. All the adults have learnt Maori as the second language and their children are now at Maori medium schools.
Are there separate Maori medium schools?
Yes, there are separate Maori medium schools and so they are really working hard to regain the language which was nearly lost. And I’m worried that will happen here as well because the English is such a dominant language that it has the effect where after one or two generations the children most speak English and they won’t speak the home language.
How many local languages are there in New Zealand?
Only one, but there are different dialects. The south island dialect nearly died out and they are trying to regain but the other dialects are also fragile in all the areas. The language is quite endangered.
What is the official language in New Zealand?
Both Maori and English.
But in the context of Nepal, the official language is Nepali and we’ve got more than 100 other languages.
Yes. It’s quite different here. Nepali is lingua-franca, which is different from English as well. So it makes so complex because I can see that Nepali isn’t the native language of people in this region (Khumbu region). So, what I am trying to think as the solution is you can have multilingual education system which can really foster students’ learning in several languages.
What challenges do you see in implementing English medium instruction in the community schools in Nepal?
Well, one challenge is that not all people are fluent in English. Another challenge is that the measure of the success of schools seems to be SLC exam. That means quite a long time to actually know whether English Medium (EM) has been successful or not. It could be another challenge that you could be putting students in danger of not being successful without really knowing the result of EM until several years down the track. I think the process is too long leading the children vulnerable.
In the school system, what do you think is more important- the contents we are delivering or medium of language?
The purpose of education is not necessarily contents or language. Actually, language is means for gaining and I think obviously you need to have contents. But they are the part of developing curricula. Wonderful students would come out of the schools whims. So I think both contents and language are means for building strong students.
You said that in multilingual countries, the teachers also are not strong in English and children are from different linguistic background. In that context, what would be outcome of such practice?
Perhaps, the best thing is to have Nepali for the first few years, which is the lingua franca, the language that the most teachers would be competent in. Then to build with the teachers, who are competent in English to build from subject to English as they go through using the competency of other teachers in the schools like if the Mathematics teacher is not competent in English. Could they do Mathematics in Nepali and Social Studies in English? I don’t know if that would be possible. But I know in Europe at the moment that is one kind of idea of developing that you might do one subject in one language and other subject in the other language. Just for that you’ve the opportunity to develop academic language well that may be in one subject area.
What impacts could EMI bring in the children’s mother tongue or others language?
Another aspect I think is having a policy to incorporate useful mother tongue especially in early childhood situation, where you might have community members being involved in early childhood using those mother tongue languages. Similarly, it could be something that I’m thinking about New Zealand schools as well because we have many different students from different languages, who come as migrant to New Zealand. How do we support them within an English medium context and how do we really value their languages is very significant. I don’t think we do it very well. So here I’m talking about doing it better in Nepal and I don’t think we have got it well sorted in New Zealand. What I’m trying to put across is to demonstrate those languages are valued in classes, for instance, you can have students to write up their languages on the wall, so you can identify the existing languages in your class. Then you can positively say that they can discuss in their languages, come up with ideas and bring it back in English for discussion. It shows that you’re deliberately valuing those languages and allowing students to get success in those languages in the national assessment because that is the battle. The government has to try everything and I think there should be assessment, which allows students through many languages to do something, which might be giving the texts in different languages and answering in English or something. You can’t do everything but it’s something trying to value those languages inside the education system. And our curriculum by the principle talks about valuing the languages at the top level but it’s not clearly articulated in detail, so I think there is a bit of struggle.
English is a global language and there is a craze of English everywhere. If you have good English, you are saleable in global market. In this context, what about having one global language like English or something? Is it really necessary to have other languages, when you have one global language?
We’ve seen in New Zealand, some problems that come with colonization, where the people’s language and identity is disregarded. Some franchises have lack of power and also associated with loss of land and other things. So, it’s a complex issue that comes about possibly through colonization. However, Nepal is in a different situation, which has never been colonized. It means there is not loss of power that comes with the loss of language but then there is this kind of neo- colonization in a way that English has become a language of commerce. And are we selling ourselves or the power of our country to other countries? Like there is a big drive of going and having job in another country but what about building up Nepal itself? This whole globalization, workforce and everything, I’m not sure where it’s going! But are those people who go away to other countries to work then come back to Nepal? Is that the way the economy wants to build in long run or does it want to build in another way. English is obviously tied up with that the opportunity to work. And the important question is does Nepal want grow its economy by drawing income from other countries? Nepal is in between two growing world economy i.e. China and India. So is it better to learn Mandarin or Hindi in future?
The teachers in schools are very much convinced by the power of English and are practicing EM in community schools, what could be the role of organization working for professional development of teachers?
That’s a good question. I think it is important to deliver the teachers’ training in English so that their English reaches up to the level, where they will be able to deliver curriculum in English. I think, alongside the teachers’ training, there should be some researches on how are the students of year 3 and year 5 in English medium comparing with the students of same grades in Nepali medium schools? What is the level of students in this region comparing with the students in another region studying in Nepali medium? Is there equal level of students being able to articulate and understand ideas? That would one interesting thing to look at and I also think it would be interesting to look at the impact of two dominant languages Nepali or English language. Or if you are learning in English language, what’s happening to local languages? Are there any different impacts on local languages, when students learn in Nepali comparing with English?
What could be the better way of practicing EMI in the context of Nepal?
I still think that multi-lingual approach would be a better way because you have Nepal as a country and language is a part of identity. If you bring up a whole population without culturally located and linguistically connected then what will be the situation of children when they grow as adult like who haven’t got feet on the ground but you can still have roots in English. Therefore, in the early grades, there should be more than one language, where you have multi-lingual education. I think that would be wise. There is a phrase, “throwing the baby out of the bath water.” You don’t want to throw away all the learning and knowledge that teachers have in Nepali and respect English. So I think the wise way is to look at multi- lingual education.
Thank you so much for you valuable time, ideas and sharing experiences around the world!
It’s my pleasure!
Juliet has also taught in Auckland secondary schools-in several learning areas, as well as being an ESOL specialist and coordinator. She has also been an ESOL and Literacy advisor in the top half of the South Island for several years. She has had advisory roles with Ministry of Education.