Category Archives: Teacher Education

Assessing English language learners in remote teaching-learning

 

Puskar Chaudhary

This paper aims to explore the techniques and tools used for assessing the English language learners in remote teaching-learning and to discuss the challenges and obstacles faced by the teachers while assessing the learners. Based on a collective study design, this paper presents a study on the assessment practices in remote teaching-learning. Data were collected from three English language teachers of basic education level using online interviews. The results showed that many English language teachers transitioned to remote teaching learning because of the  COVID -19 pandemic and whether it is a face to face class or remote teaching-learning, assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning to check the understanding of the subject matter and to evaluate whether the educational goals and standards of the lessons are being met. The assessments were taken more or less similar to the face-to-face mode via written or oral practices with the help of technologies and while assessing the learners, the teachers faced the Internet connection issues, investment of ample time for designing and organizing the assessment with the help of technologies. The teachers gained less support from the parents and students for conducting the effective assessment.

Keywords: Assessment, remote teaching-learning, techniques and tools, educational goals, integral

 Introduction

This study assessed the English language learners based on their mode of acquiring learning that is either through face-to-face or remote teaching-learning.  Remote Teaching -Learning (RTL) offers teaching learning beyond the physical classrooms. It is the learning process where the teachers are separated from the learners in time and distance. According to Graham (2019), RTL is the practice of teaching a language interactively via videoconferencing. He further describes that it differs from telecollaboration which mainly focuses on enabling language teaching and learning to take place rather than on intercultural collaboration. In remote language teaching, both students and teachers interact through two-way communication technologies. Similarly, in Belz and Thorne’s (2006) view, RLT supports learners’ interaction with the teachers and peers, encourages them to have more dialogue, debate, and intercultural exchange. Remote teaching is also referred to as live online language teaching to refer to synchronous (i.e. in real-time) computer-mediated communication for language teaching (Swertz et al., 2007). In RLT, teachers focus on both pedagogy and technology to provide huge opportunities for effective learning and collaboration beyond the physical classroom. They involve approaches and techniques that are more connected with the technologies. Whereas, Whyte and Gijsen (2016) argue that there is an ample burden for the teachers to conduct the classes remotely than for regular face-to-face classes. Teachers are committed to helping the learners with these different ways of working and teaching them in the most effective way possible. Teachers require and prepare designed and written materials to take advantage of the teaching and learning context and delivery method (i.e. video conferencing). Therefore, remote teaching is an innovative way of bridging cultural and geographical distances and enables the teaching and learning of languages to students who would otherwise not have the opportunity.

At present, most English language teachers had to opt for remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers had transition to remote learning with no advance notice or preparation earlier this year. Some are planning for remote learning in the fall when they return to school. It is important to remember that remote learning refers to a class that intends to meet face-to-face. The teachers have been practising to replicate remote learning as far as possible into the real face-to-face classes. It is not just enough with the engagement of teaching-learning activities. The learners should be assessed to check the understanding of the subject matter and to evaluate whether the educational goals and standards of the lessons are being met. The learners must be able to think critically, analyze, and make inferences. Hence, assessing them is the most challenging factor in RTL. Nitko and Broookhart (2013) opine that organizing assessment helps the teachers to collect the information about teaching-learning and well as the students’ performance to make the certain decision teaching. Assessment in English language teaching has been defined as “involving professional judgment based upon an image formed by the collection of information about student performance” (Stanley, 2019, p. 8). Similarly, Wolf (2020) states that assessments are a critical means of identifying learners and monitoring their achievements. Assessments also play a fundamental role in teaching and learning, since it helps to gather the important information about students’ needs, which helps teachers provide appropriate support and interpret their academic performance accurately. Assessment is one of the important aspects which is being treated as a teaching-learning process as well (Stiggins, 1991). Assessing learners is a very important and essential part of a teacher’s teaching (Nitko, 1996). It is an integrated process for determining the nature and extent of student’s learning and achievement (Linn & Gronland, 2005).

According to Stanley (2019), there are two types of assessment: formative and summative. Assessment can be formative when it is to improve learning and assessment is summative when it is for monitoring and certificating performance or achievement. During the year, formal and informal instances of the formative assessment provide information to Remote Teachers (RTs) and Classroom Teachers (CTs) about student learning so adjustments can be made to teaching.

Assessment is an important aspect of teaching-learning. It offers the teachers to go up to the next class and to figure out whether the students are included. It also helps to get the results of the teaching-learning activities. On the other hand, it makes the teachers ready to take a proficiency test and provide the students the grades.

Research Questions

This study sought to answer the following research questions:

  • How do English Language teachers assess students in remote teaching-learning?
  • What challenges do English language teachers face while assessing students in remote teaching-learning?
Methodology

This is a qualitative study that used a collective case study design to explore the questions. According to Stake (1995), a case study is the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case, coming to understand its activity within important circumstances. It helps to collect the information in detail and understand the problem in-depth with its real-life context. The case study design is an important tool for exploring and describing a phenomenon in context while refining theory and identifying areas for more exploration (Yin, 2018). Data were collected from three English Language Teachers of Basic Education Level who were assessing students by using different techniques and tools and while assessing them in remote teaching-learning in one of the schools of Kathmandu Valley. The teachers were a diverse group in terms of their ethnicity, gender, and grade level experiences. I collected data, which included notes of observation and interaction during online classes and interview with synchronous tools like Zoom Cloud Meeting (5 times in total); written reflections for each teacher related to assigned articles, email and Facebook messages correspondence with pupils, and transcriptions of semi-formal small group interviews. I conducted two rounds of interviews individually with teachers and three rounds of interviews in a group. Each interview lasted approximately 40 minutes. I followed them twice a week. The data occurred in two phases. First, I divided the data sets for coding purposes. In this initial phase, I examined individual cases, techniques, and the tools used for assessing the students in remote teaching-learning. Comparing the responses, I coded and analyzed them into the four themes: Observations, Discussion, Feedback, and Self-assessment.

Next, I collectively asked the participants what challenges they were facing while assessing the students in the remote teaching-learning. The responses were kept under different themes in which the individual cases were combined and compared to create a collective case study. After collecting data by qualitative technique, the data were analyzed and interpreted qualitatively. The following sections represent the results obtained from data analysis.

Results and discussion

This study aimed to explore the techniques and tools adopted by English Language teachers for assessing students in remote teaching-learning and to find out the challenges English language teachers face while assessing students in remote teaching-learning. Therefore, the results gained via the interview data were put into two sub-sections: Assessment for learning techniques and Challenges.

Techniques and tools for assessing in remote teaching-learning

This section presents the data derived by observing the English Language Teaching (ELT) class to answer the first research question, exploring the techniques and tools adopted by English Language teachers for assessing students in remote teaching-learning.

Observations

Informal teacher observations: In remote teaching-learning, the teachers were found observing different things in their classes. They observed how well the students managed to focus when doing the tasks. Furthermore, how much time do the students need to do certain tasks? And whether the students were willing to volunteer or respond when called on. The teachers in the interview also added that they observed the students if they were prepared for the task or provide help.

Student-led observations: Teachers assessing English language learners using remote methods checked the students’ autonomy and responsibility in their learning. They were asked to follow the netiquettes as it was remote teaching. They were given responsibilities where they took attendance and gave their opinions on what was happening in the class. Furthermore, they were asked to provide the class report either to the class teacher or the subject teacher.

Discussions

Teacher participants in the interview shared that they assessed the students in remote teaching-learning by giving different learning situations. They assessed through the discussions in the live classes. Discussions were done on the usages of techniques and digital tools by the teachers, about the language usage L1 or L2. In addition to this, the discussion where the students did share in a peer, small group, or the whole class was also assessed. Lastly, the assessment was made when the students were provided with options during controlled practice.

Feedback

Students in remote teaching-learning were assessed based on the feedback given by them. Following things were taken into considerations when assessing the feedback given by them. Students were asked to give feedback when their peers participated or did any work. They would give feedback on their friends’ thinking process, presentation, content, gestures, etc. They were asked to provide positive and critical feedback which could motivate their friends to perform better and which would help to create a healthy atmosphere.

Self-assessment

Self-assessment is another technique used by the teachers to assess English language students in remote teaching. They explained that they used active recall questions to check the students’ progress. The students were asked to do the self-assessments by preparing PowerPoint presentations, using digital tools to do their project works, encouraging them to write journals, blogs, etc. They were also asked to take objective tests with the help of google forms and other online platforms. Furthermore, they were asked to appear for the written subjective tests. Recording the voice or video on any academic topic was promoted which they had to send to the teachers. Finally, some teachers asked them to attend the class on time.

Challenges in assessing students in remote teaching-learning

This section presents the data derived by observing the ELT class to answer the second research question, exploring the challenges and the obstacles faced by the teachers assessing the learners in remote teaching-learning.

Students with the internet issues

The teachers have found that most of the learners had the Internet with low bandwidth. There were also the chances of power cuts and disconnection while taking the synchronous class. The teachers responded that because of low connectivity they had to turn off their camera and be connected with mobile data.

Students with not enough support

The teachers revealed that the students were getting less support from their parents and seniors regarding the use of laptops and digital tools while taking the classes. The children were also less supervised by the parents while taking the classes. There were more chances of getting distracted and being engaged in playing online games.

Widening gaps between students’ proficiency

The teachers explained that there was an individual difference in remote teaching-learning. All the students did not have the same digital literacy and level of competency. The children faced problems while submitting the assignments, communicating with the teachers, and handling the tools.

Difficulty in supporting individuals

It was very time-consuming for the teachers to prepare the lessons and spending more on screen. The teachers had to spend more time preparing PowerPoint presentations and giving feedback to the students because of the technical issues the teachers were unable to give the class and communicate with the learners properly.

Conclusion

The present study investigated the assessment techniques and tools used by the English language teachers for assessing the learning in the remote teaching-learning and the challenges and obstacles faced by the teachers while assessing them in the remote teaching-learning. Results of the study showed that assessment was an integral part of teaching-learning to check the understanding of the subject matter and to evaluate whether the learning goals were achieved or not. The teachers did the planning, implementing, and organizing of the lesson by using digital and printed materials to assess the learners. The teachers engaged the learners in the discussion in the remote learning, observation of the lesson, engaging them in the feedback and self-assessment. While following those techniques, the teachers also encountered challenges related to the technologies and with the students’ well-being.

About the author

Mr. Puskar Chaudhary is an MPhil practitioner at Kathmandu University. He works as a full-time faculty and coordinates with the Digital Literacies Programme at Triyog High School, Tokha, Kathmandu. He is also a life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) and International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL). His current interests include digital pedagogy, digital literacies programme, and teachers’ networking, and professional development.

References

Nitko, A. J. & Brookhart, S. (2013). Educational assessment of students. Pearson.

Belz, J. A. & Thorne, S. L. (2006). Internet-mediated intercultural foreign language education. Thomson Heinle.

Coniam, D. (Ed.). (2014). English language education and assessment: Recent development in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. Singapur: Springer-Verlag.

Hill, C. & Parry, K. (2014). From testing to assessment: English an international language (Applied linguistics and language study). Routledge.

Linn, R. L. & Gronland, N.E. (2005). Measurement and assessment in teaching. Pearson Education.

Rahman, M., Babu, R., & Ashrafuzzaman, M. (2011). Assessment and feedback practices in the English language classroom. Journal of NELTA16(1-2), 97-106. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3126/nelta.v16i1-2.6133

Rivera, C. (2006). State assessment policy and practice for English language learners: A national perspective. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers Inc.

Shrestha, P. (2014). Alternative assessment approaches in primary English language classrooms. Journal of NELTA18(1-2), 148-163. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3126/nelta.v18i1-2.10337

Stanley, G. (Ed). (2019). Innovation in education remote teaching. British Council.

Stiggins, R. J. (1991). Relevant classroom assessment training for teachers. educational measurement: Issues and Practice, 10(1), 7-12.

Swertz, C., Motteram, G., Philp, H. & Gonul, S. (2007). Language learning with certified live online language teachers: Teacher Manual. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/198458088/LANCELOT-Teacher- Manual

Unruh, S. & McKellar, N. A. (2017). Assessment and intervention for English language learners: Translating research into practice. Springer International Publishing.

Whyte, S. & Gijsen, L. (2016) ‘Telecollaboration in secondary EFL: A blended teacher education course. In S. Jager, M. Kurek,  and B. O’Rourke,  (eds.), New directions in telecollaborative research and practice: selected papers from the second conference on telecollaboration in higher education (pp. 163-170). Research-publishing.net.https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2016. telecollab2016.503

Wolf, M. K. (2020). Assessing English language proficiency in US K-12 Schools. Routledge.

Can be cited as:

Chaudhary, P. (2021, May). Assessing English language learners in remote teaching-learning [Blog article].  ELT CHOUTARI. Available at: http://eltchoutari.com/2021/04/assessing-english-language-learners-in-remote-teaching-learning/

E-learning is only a means but not a replacement of physical classroom – Dr. Rana

Karna Rana, PhD

Dr. Karna Rana is an Academic Coordinator [MPhil in English] at Open University Nepal and Lecturer of English at Gramin Adarsha Multiple Campus. Dr Rana facilitates teacher training for teachers and students in and about online classes and resources. He earned his PhD degree in ICT in Education at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He did an MA in Education (E-based learning; Inclusive education; Managing teaching and learning; Research Methodology), from the University of Bedfordshire, UK. He is one of the members of the editorial board of ELT Chourati. He has authored and co-authored several academic papers and research articles nationally and internationally. He has launched different online-based training and workshop to contribute to Nepal’s ICT enhancement procedure. His interest areas include ICT in education, digital literacy, research and education.

Our Choutari editor, Ganesh Kumar Bastola, has talked to Dr Rana about COVID-19, pandemic pedagogy and its impact in and around Nepal specifically in education and explored some useful strategies to enhance online classes and resources during pandemic. Now, here is the exclusive interview for you.

1. What can be the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in our education system?

Well, if we review the history of educational development and the impact of such crisis like World War I and II on social transformation, the rise of industrial education value dominated neo-classical education value and it gradually resulted in capitalism. Before these wars, work efficiency used to be valued more than what education qualification someone had. The current industrial education system that came out of British and American neoliberal ideologies seems to be outdated as it is eventually failing to fix issues of this crisis. If the pandemic continues throughout this year, the world will be in an economic and humanitarian crisis. Many schools and universities will be shut down. Nepal will also experience it if the situation lasts long.

2. Since the educational institutions are shut down and the ‘face-to-face’ mode is put to halt. What can be the alternatives to reach students, especially school students in this crisis?

Since the world is in lockdown, several universities and schools mostly in developed countries have switched their traditional physical classrooms to online classes or distance learning mode. Unfortunately, the majority of schools and universities might not be prepared for it. Let’s observe the context of Nepal. Except for Nepal Open University, an online university, all other universities are not fully prepared to go online. It is unlikely to move schools to online in this situation as the majority of people live outside the range of broadband internet. However, we can utilise a few potential technologies like television and radio to deliver limited courses and engage students in possible projects.

3. How can we ensure and track the learning of school students if we adopt alternatives to educate them?

Let me share how schools before 2028 BS used to educate children in villages. Even the government did not know the number of schools across Nepal but these schools had their own curriculum to meet individual as well as social needs. The majority of schools particularly primary ones were never connected with the national examination system but they were efficient to educate millions of children. It does not mean to revive the system but we can explore such efficient local schooling ideas to make schools resilient and self-efficient. That was the time when there were few literate members of the community, but now we have educated or at least literate family members who can be teachers of their children. We have municipalities to follow micro strategies to engage teachers and students from their home. Probably flexible curriculum may provide schools with opportunities for developing own learning programmes, learning materials and outcomes. Of course, national education policy can provide them guidelines to maintain the education standard. Municipalities can be a focal point to manage local resources like teacher trainers, experts, teachers, learning materials and other essential materials. The wise use of ICT in education may develop our schools and education for the growing generation. FM radios and local televisions can be utilised to reach out children and their parents can be engaged with them. In cities and towns, internet facilities can be more productive. There may be challenges for ICT illiterate teachers to gather digital content and materials for teaching and learning but they can be shortly trained through radio or television to use smart mobile or personal computer to explore online materials.

4. What are the differences between online teaching-learning materials and face-to-face teaching-learning materials? As the academic session is going to kick off soon, how can we use the existing materials and resources for teaching via online, radio, TV or so on?

Teachers can bring some laboratory works and concrete materials in the traditional physical classroom but digital learning materials can be animated or real videos, audios and audio-visual. For many learners, online materials can be more productive than what they can read in library books. Unfortunately, such online materials cannot be shared without the internet. As I said earlier, the Education Unit at municipalities can look for ICT experts across the country to train local teachers on how to use digital devices and digital materials in teaching and learning. At least local authorities can train few teachers to plan and deliver lessons on TV lively and even students can be allowed to talk to the teacher over phone. It can go live on the radio too. By listening to the radio, students can work with pen and paper. In cities and towns, teachers and students can be shortly trained to use free apps like Skype, Messenger and Viber, and to communicate through emails. Teachers can utilise these free apps and emails to share learning materials and go to live interaction. Teachers need to have minimum ICT skills to operate these technologies. Unfortunately for many teachers, these advanced technologies may be intimidating. In that case, local teachers can be allowed to choose local learning materials for students. It can develop local autonomy and students’ independent skills. Both students and teachers can use print materials as a source of content. School and local libraries can be developed as a learning hub.

5. You have been facilitating the graduates at Open University, Nepal. What particular strategies do you employ for an online-based classroom to make the students engaged and make teaching-learning activities effective?

We have basic ICT infrastructure to plan and deliver lessons. We basically use MOODLE to share digital content with students, give feedback on students’ regular works and assess their works. Microsoft Teams connects students and teachers and they have a regular video conference on it. It is a dynamic tool to share screen and present works. I can create teams of any number and schedule meeting for the team. This application is highly advanced for online teaching and learning which allows us to share heavy contents like movies or large size videos and digital books. The whole class can be recorded and students can download it whenever they want to. Students from their home or comfortable place can join the class and share ideas. Actually, everyone works on their devices while they are in an online class with their teacher and friends. I teach a research course and it requires students to work on their area of research. I provide live feedback on their works and they actually work with my feedback. It is really effective, interactive and productive as we work while we discuss. I don’t go for a lecture.

6. As the pandemic hit us, we do not seem ‘prepared’ to deliver teaching-learning using alternative means. Firstly, the majority of teachers themselves do not seem to be well-equipped to employ alternative means. So, what skills should the teachers acquire to run alternative teaching-learning and how can we develop their capacity?

Yes, we may be immature to think about moving all schools online in this situation. As I explained earlier, the majority of schools don’t have ICT infrastructure and teachers may not have minimum ICT skills. We cannot expect students to have expensive internet and computers, particularly in rural remote villages. I have reported several challenges including a lack of ICT infrastructure, teachers’ ICT literacy and government preparedness in my research publications (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/KarnaRana). I wish the government would have enacted its educational policy in ICT and plan itself without relying on I/NGOs for the past two decades. If the government has a proper plan to equip teachers with ICT, the local governments can be involved in the project. In a cluster of many teachers at the local level, they can be trained to operate a computer and use internet facilities. Teachers basically need minimum computer skills, ICT literacy, information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy and communication literacy. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to train all the teachers across the country now. The educational crisis is apparently caused by unpredicted pandemic COVID-19 and such crisis may turn up time and again. Can we think a new way of schooling much more resilient than just internet-based school?

7. People also have started speculating that the online means can replace the face-to-face mode of teaching-learning in future. To what extent is there gravity in this speculation in terms of Nepal? And to what extent do we need online means?

I don’t think so. Internet can be used as a means but not as a replacement. There are predictable challenges like network crash, piracy and cyber-attack. Internet is based on the ideology of a few developed countries and they can hold the power of it. Let’s not imagine the worst but who knows if they destroy all the mechanisms of the majority of the countries. From my knowledge in this area, I would never suggest totally going to online. Of course, we can utilise internet facilities and develop the mechanism of e-learning to complement social learning strategies. Thinking about absolutely online school in Nepal may be an immature idea. The landscape of the country, weak national economic condition and expensive technology will be great barriers ahead. Poor people cannot afford such an expensive education. There are practical issues like how we can conduct actual laboratory works, how children learn to socialise and what kind of world we expect to be. I would rather think about how to develop the best practice that suits our local context.

Note: Now the floor is open for you. We encourage you to drop your comments in the box below after reading the interview. Your constructive feedback and questions inspire the interviewee. Thank you!

[To cite it: Rana, K. (2020, April 20). E-learning is only a means but not a replacement of physical classroom [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://eltchoutari.com/2020/04/e-learning-is-only-a-means-but-not-a-replacement-of-physical-classroom-dr-rana/]

Lockdown, physical distancing and isolation in Ramayana: An overview

Bhansingh Dhami

Introduction

Most of the nations in the world have gone lockdown due to the worldwide spread of Corona Virus pandemic. Human beings are in the danger of deaths from an invisible fatal virus which is threatening for the entire mankind. According to World Health Organization (WHO), Corona Virus Disease (COVID) first outbroke in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. So, WHO named it COVID-19 virus. According to the report published by WHO, about one hundred thousand people have been killed till the mid of April 2020 due to this deadly disease throughout the world. Not only the underdeveloped and the developing countries but also the developed countries have been kneeling down in front of this unseen killer. Travelling is blocked, visiting is restricted, sports are halted and the world has become silent as if it is time for worldwide curfew. People are confined at home. Police have been presented in each and every street as if it indicates as government-imposed curfew in the cities and towns, but it isn’t so. Lockdown is essential to save people from the deadliest virus. World leaders are participating in video conferences and are exchanging their ideas and intentions to control this global pandemic. China has controlled in many extents, but the virus is rapidly spreading in other nations of Asia, Europe, America and Africa respectively. According to WHO, the medicine hasn’t been discovered to cure the COVID-19 infected patients yet. In Nepal, the government has used lockdown to keep Nepalese people safe from the pandemic. Before declaring lockdown, the government has closed the universities, colleges and schools. Due to lockdown, the educational sector of Nepal has been badly affected. In fact, lockdown is the act of confining the people to their own places during the time of great crisis. Due to lockdown, the movement of people from one place to another is restricted so that community spread would not take place. The doctors suggest people to maintain physical distancing and isolation which prevent the community spread of the virus.

Physical distancing and isolation are essential during the time of lockdown. Physical distancing can be taken as the opposite state of social gathering. It can also be referred to maintain distance with all people of the society including family members. It maintains the physical distance among the people. Likewise, isolation can be taken as the act of keeping a person alone. In other words, it is a state of being isolated from other people. It is obligatory to protect people from COVID-19 at present. COVID-19 virus transmits from one person to another through droplets. When the infected person sneezes or spits carelessly, the others are affected if they come into the close contact of the droplets. The systems of this virus are seen in the person after two weeks of being infected. Doctors suggest that physical exercise and vitamin C contained meal are essential to increase immunity power.

Chinese doctors had already informed the people of the world about the precautions of this global pandemic virus. The countries of the world have been locked, are being locked and are going to be locked. Socialisation has conversed and isolation has been maintained as if Stone Age is going to be restarted. In the Stone Age, human beings used to live in dens and caves because the sense of socialisation was not developed till that time. They had the feeling of fear from others such as strange wild animals and other humans who would be strangers. At present, in the same way, no one is allowed to come in the streets; shake hands and go to temples, stupas, churches, mosques and other social gatherings. If there is the presence of an infected person from COVID-19 in such gathering, the people who are with him or her can be easily infected by it. It is sure that the infected people return back to their home and the whole family members will be infected soon. To stop the transmission and infection of the virus, it is essential to maintain physical distancing. That is why, during the period of lockdown, physical distancing and isolation should be strictly maintained. Due to lockdown, people stay safe at their home so that they couldn’t be infected from the pandemic virus. Instead of walking on the streets, they have been passing time by watching the news and some evergreen movies such as Ramayana and Mahabharata which have been broadcasting from Doordarshan National and Doordarshan Bharati (TV channels of India) respectively. In this crisis of pandemic, individuals are frequently listening to the words and word phrases like lockdown, isolation, physical distancing, self-quarantine, stay safe, stay at home and so on.

Isolation is the process of keeping self away from others so that the isolated person couldn’t be infected from the virus. It is the condition in which people are advised to be isolated whether the symptoms of the virus are seen or not. Now I want to discuss the movie Ramayana in which some important scenes are relevant to reveal the context of physical distancing and isolation. I watched the movie Ramayana in Hindi presented and directed by Ramanand Sagar. The protagonist Ram Chandra is a central character whose role is crucial from beginning to the end of the film. Though the story of Ramayana belongs to Hindu mythology, its essence is above the religion. According to the story presented in the movie, there was the widespread expansion of murders, criminal activities and tyranny of violent kings in the world. So, the world was at risk. The supreme Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva compelled to think about how to save the world from the sinners? The God, Vishnu, decided to take evolution in the form of human being and other minor gods decided to take evolution in the form of monkeys. The aim behind their evolution was to get victory over demons and to save mankind from the cruel tyrannical demons who were misusing their power, prestige, spiritual and material properties. The powerless were victims and praying the God to bless from the dangerous and injurious demons. Some major events that reveal contexts of lockdown, self-quarantine, physical distancing and isolation found in Ramayana movie are discussed by connecting to the present context of lockdown in the following different headings.

Ram Chandra and his brothers in isolation for learning archery

Dashratha, the King of Ayodhya, had three queens namely Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, however, no queen got a baby. So, Dasharath was worried about his future dynasty. One day he organised Yagnya (a ritual organized for getting what is expected). The Rhisi (saint) gave the prasad (an edible substance to be blessed) to the queens and Kausalya and Kaikeyi gave one halves of prasad to Sumitra which they, three, ate happily, interestingly and eagerly. Happiness resided and extended in the palace when Kausalya gave birth to Ram Chandra, Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharat and Sumitra gave birth to Laxman and Shatrughan. The king became very happy. Later, when the children were grown up, the King sent them with the Rishi to learn life skills in his Kuti (hermitage). The Kuti is the symbol of isolation where the saint or hermit lives alone. Ram and his brothers were also isolated from the palace and stayed with the saint to learn archery, war strategies and so on. When they were in isolation, they learned how to handle the bow, how to throw the arrow and how to meet the target. In this isolation period, Ram and his brothers became perfect in archery and learned war strategies. They fully utilised the time and learned various life lessons. They didn’t feel isolated even though they were sent in the Kuti. If people properly handle the isolation, it seems to be meaningful in this present lockdown context of Nepal as well. Though it is a chance for conducting virtual classes for the conduction of the regular formal classes for campus and university level students, it is challenging for the continuation of classes for the school level students. Because of the lockdown in Nepal, the movement of people is restricted throughout the country. In this condition, for the school level students, the teachers can utilise social media to teach their students. As Ram Chandra and his brothers maintained isolation staying away from home, they obeyed their father’s suggestion. In the same way, following the suggestions of the government, Nepalese people can also play the role to win the Corona Virus pandemic by keeping themselves in isolation.

Fourteen-year-long banishment as physical distancing

Due to the old age, Dasharath wanted to hand over the rule in the hand of Ram Chandra. But, Kaikeyi, the second Queen demanded two boons from Dasharath. The two boons were the banishment of Ram Chandra for fourteen years and enthronement of Bharat. So, Ram Chandra heartily accepted the banishment and went to forest along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman. If they didn’t go to the forest, the people of Ayodhya would raise the question against the dignity of the trustworthy King Dasharath. To save the dignity and the prestige of his father, Ramchandra decided to leave Ayodhya. They spent fourteen years in the forest. This fourteen-years long banishment can be taken as the period of physical distancing. Ram Chandra, Sita and Laxman maintained the distance from Ayodhya and other people. They kept themselves in isolation for fourteen years. After fourteen years, they returned back to Ayodhya. So, in the context of lockdown in Nepal due to COVID-19, it is compulsory to maintain physical distancing to win the global pandemic virus. So, Nepalese people should follow the guidelines of lockdown to save self and others from the fatal disease. In the case of learners, they should also stay at home and focus on self-study. By doing so, the learners can utilise the time of lockdown maintaining physical distancing.

Crossing the Laxman rekha as violation of lockdown

Unfortunately, one day, Surpanakha, the devil sister of Ravan, came into the cottage where Ram Chandra, Sita and Laxman used to live. She proposed Ram for marriage. Then, Ram Chandra laughed and informed her that he was a married person. Then, she talked to Laxman and proposed him for marriage. He ignored her and she threatened them that she would kill Sita. With the help of a knife, Laxman cut her nose at once. By weeping and crying, she went back to Lanka where his brothers used to live. She informed Ravan that Ram Chandra, Sita and Laxman had lived in Chitrakut Mountain. Then, Ravan planned to kidnap Sita. So, he went in Marich’s hermitage and forced Marich to be a golden deer so that Sita could be attracted to the deer. When Sita saw that deer, she requested Ramchandra to catch or kill the deer. Ram Chandra ran after the deer and reached far. When Ram Chandra left the arrow, the golden deer appeared in the form of a human being. He was Marich and shouted in the voice of Ram Chandra loudly. Sita heard the voice and asked Laxman to go for searching Ram Chandra forcefully. Then, Laxman drew the line around the cottage. Before leaving for searching Ram Chandra, Laxman requested Sita not to cross the line until he returned back. Later on, Laxman left the cottage and immediately Ravan came to the cottage in the form of a hermit. As Sita crossed the Laxman Rekha (the divine line drawn by Laxman to protect Sita from the danger of outside), Ravan caught Sita and took her Lanka in his Pushpabiman (a type of plane belonging to Ravan).

Due to the violation of lockdown, Sita was kidnapped by Ravan. So, this event of the Ramayana movie can also be connected with the present lockdown context of Nepal. As Sita violated the lockdown drawn by Laxman, the problem appeared in front of Ram Chandra. That is why people of Nepal should also be aware of the possible harms that can be created due to the violation of lockdown. The learners including school children should welcome the lockdown in this critical period of COVID-19 so that they cannot be infected from the deadly virus. The learners can protect themselves and others by staying at home. They can read books at their own home to utilise the time.

The devil King of Lanka as a symbol of Corona virus

Ravan was a very powerful demon king of Lanka and was blessed by Lord Shiva. He could lift the Kailash Mountain in his hands. After being blessed by Lord Shiva, he became proud and tyrannical with gods and goddesses along with human creatures. All gods and people were afraid of Ravan. So, Ram Chandra was born as a human and killed Raval. The blessing given to Ravan by lord Shiva was for doing good deeds on the earth, but he misused Shiva’s blessing. Ravan created situations of terror and horror in the world. Ram Chandra killed him because he kidnapped Sita. Symbolically, he was the chief coronavirus of Treta Yug (the second era according to Hindu mythology). As COVID-19 has been spread all over the world, people should be aware of this global pandemic virus. To control the spread of the pandemic, the government of Nepal has declared total lockdown. In this critical situation, all people should maintain physical distancing and isolation to keep them safe from the deadly virus. Lockdown is not imposed, but it is used to keep the people safe from the infection of the invisible deadly disease. It will be defeated as Ravan was defeated in Treta Yug. The country will surely win the virus if people follow the rules of lockdown.

Personal reflection on physical distancing and isolation

After watching the Ramayana movie, I felt that the exercises of lockdown, physical distancing, isolation and self-quarantine were in existence in the Ramayana era. So, the study and application of eastern philosophy, as well as its publicity, seems to be quite essential in the present-day overpopulated world. As Ram Chandra maintained physical distancing and isolation to overcome from the possible harms and dangers, the people of the present era should also maintain it properly. We should also learn lessons from Sita’s violation of Laxman Rekha which ultimately brought problems in her life. Not only Sita but also Ram Chandra and Laxman took a great risk due to the violation of lockdown. To be safe and secured, people need to follow the procedures of lockdown such as washing hands frequently, staying at home, avoiding social gatherings and so on. Should we live following the moral, social and humanitarian behaviours of the protagonist? Should we leave the brutal behaviours of the antagonist? Isn’t the antagonist as a symbol of Corona for mankind? These questions remain unanswered if we don’t follow the lockdown by maintaining proper physical distancing and isolation. Humans should have only one religion i.e. humanity which leads them towards humbleness. Indeed, humbleness reveals the height of spiritual culture in each deed done by an individual. It also directs each person into the direction of progressive human civilisation. Humiliation never creates humanisation so that progress can be felt. The feeling of overpower leads towards destruction which is ultimately very painful and sorrowful. We can perceive isolation as a miniature of socialisation so it should be maintained properly. Socialisation seems to be a miniature of globalisation. So socialisation should also be maintained to restrict unnecessary social gatherings. In this global era, everything is being globalised whether the thing is good or not.

Some pedagogical implications of physical distancing and isolation

Using the means of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) available at home, the teaching and learning of any subject in general and English language, in particular, can also be conducted. The reading materials related to the English language are widely available on the Internet. Virtual classes can also be conducted to continue teaching during the time of the lockdown period. Being an autonomous learner, the lockdown period can be utilised by the learners within their home. In the case of English language teaching and learning, the teachers and learners may use social media for teaching and learning. Learners can surf the Internet at the time of lockdown to expand the horizon of their knowledge. Teachers can conduct exams through the Internet which helps to maintain physical distancing and isolation. Teachers can send reading materials through email. Learners can take an exam through the Internet when teachers send questions related to free writing.

Conclusion
Corona Virus pandemic has taught us a great lesson regarding lockdown, physical distancing and isolation. By maintaining physical distancing and isolation, we can be safe from possible harms and hazards. As physical distancing and isolation maintained by Ram Chandra in Ramayana movie, it can be a source to know about the lockdown, and physical distancing. Isolation can also be useful for brainstorming which helps to foster our intuitive knowledge by which the learners investigate the various possible solutions of the personal problem. It is essential to be safe in the time of a great crisis. Teachers and learners can utilise ICT for teaching and learning English during the period of lockdown. The COVID-19 can be defeated by only maintaining physical distancing and isolation. People should become alert to tackle the possible challenges of other sorts of pandemics as well.

[Note: since you have come up to here reading it, please share your feeling, feedback or any question related to it in the comment box below, which will encourage the author. Thank you!]

[To cite it: Dhami, B.S. (2020, April 20). Lockdown, social distancing and isolation in Ramayan: An overview. [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://eltchoutari.com/2020/04/lockdown-physical-distancing-and-isolation-in-ramayana-an-overview/]

The Author: Mr Dhami is doing a Masters in English at Kailali Multiple Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is a secondary English teacher and has been teaching at Holyland Secondary School Attariya, Kailali since 2006 AD.

Certification and Licensing of English Teachers in Nepal

Kiran Thapa
Kiran Thapa

Late in the Saturday evening, I received a call from my colleague who happily announced that her eldest son had passed the exam of Nepal Medical Council. Now with this license he can freely practice medicine in Nepal.

License!

A month ago in this summer, I had my other colleague who received a message from her husband. Her husband had failed the exam of Nepal Bar Association. He needs to wait for few more months before he could start his law practice.

Again License!

These two encounters with ‘License’ made me look into the issue of licensing and certification from a different perspective. Even after a rigorous study for four to five years, the doctors and lawyers need to have a license to work in their respective areas.  Because licensing ensures that they have demonstrated minimum standards of skills and are now recognized by laws. Likewise, we need driving license, pilot license and so on. All these are highly skill oriented works too. This made me wonder why we, as teachers, do not need a license before entering into the field of English language teaching.

Language Teaching as a Skill

Before I discuss on this question, let me first quote Johnson (1996) on what a skill is. Skills are goal directed hierarchically organized, non-stereotyped behaviors. From the environment, the performer receives information along various parameters. The performer’s response is selected from a large repertoire of possible responses. It must be appropriate along all the relevant parameters (hence exhibiting considerable combinatorial skill), and in many cases must be executed speedily (Johnson, 1996).

Now the question is- does English language learning fall into the skill category? Definitely yes, Johnson (1996) further mentioned that a language fulfills the entire requirement to be a skill, what is said about the skills can be equally applied to language and those who use it. He further added that second language acquisition has much in common with other forms of skill learning and that there is much to be learned about the business of language teaching. Thus if learning a second language  or foreign language like English in our context is a skill learning, then definitely a teacher teaching this second language must be skilled. In this light, incensing and certification of teacher is the must as to control over the entrance of incompetent English teachers to school education, be it a private school or government-funded one.

Certification in Nepal

Licensing and certification of teachers in the UK, the USA, Australia and many other countries are the requirement to get entry into teaching profession like in Nepal. In Nepal many universities are offering teacher education courses who educate their graduates and certify them. Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University and many other newly established universities offer teacher education courses. They have B.Ed. M.Ed. MPhil degrees in English language education to prepare teachers and teacher educators. These degrees allows the graduates to get entry into English language teaching in Nepal. Besides these universities, British Council Nepal, TEFL international and some other globally recognized organizations have introduced courses like CELTA, TESOL and TEFL.  Several non-governmental and teachers’ professional organizations are also involved in teacher preparation program. Universities and these organizations provide certificates after the successful completion of their training and makes the candidates be eligible to teach in schools and colleges.

Licensing

Regarding the licensing of the English teachers, Teacher Service Commission (TSC), an independent body under Ministry of Education is authorized for all sorts of licensing processes of teachers. To get a teaching license, a candidate need to sit for a written examination. To be eligible for this examination, the candidate must be graduate from education stream or have gone through minimum ten months teaching training courses of Ministry of Education (MoE). The government of Nepal has made teacher license mandatory for every teacher in order to continue teaching across the country. However, it has been optional in large number of private English medium schools, nor it has been mandatory for all teachers recruited in community schools.  It has only been obligatory to be qualified for government quotas (government paid quotas) in government-funded schools.

Significance

I believe, the provision of certification and licensing to get entry into teaching is indispensable in Nepali setting as it allows qualified candidates enter into teaching profession. In several cases, if someone gets him or her jobless and failure in other professions, then he or she is expected to join teaching in our context. Therefore, it is more significant. Certification and licensing system is more important as they bring professionalism and minimum standards into teaching profession. In addition, the provision assists to filter qualified and trained teachers to come into this profession. In Nepal a few years ago, there was a strong belief that one who can speak English fluently can teach English. So many private English medium schools used to hire teachers from India, especially from Darjeeling. Now the trend has been changed. The focus has been provided on pre-service teacher education and training the candidates have received.  It definitely helps to improve quality of education.

In a nutshell, teaching English in Nepali context or elsewhere demands demonstration of teaching skill and ability as per the demand of curriculum and context. Certification to teach English language in Nepal and India like countries has not been taken seriously. To ensure the quality of teaching, certification and licensing system need to be mandatory.

Conclusion

In Nepal, MoE seemed to be flexible for not making license compulsory for all teachers in both types of schools. For instance, licensing is not compulsory for teachers in private English medium schools. Nor these schools provide focus on the pre-service teacher education program. For instance, there are several teachers working without prior pedagogical knowledge and skills. It shows University degrees holders from any streams could join teaching in those schools. It might underrate the ethics and standards of professionalism. Nor it would help to improve the learning achievement of students.

Furthermore, TSC conducts examination and is providing the license to all candidates from different academic subjects.  There is no doubt that one needs have a particular knowledge and skill to teach a language like English. The provision of examination is appreciative to get license but government needs to think over the implementation of licensing system. Therefore, MoE needs to implement the policy of certification and licensing effectively in the education sector and it further has to improve the existing policies, plans and the strategies of TSC to make licensing provision more prestigious and practical.

Ms. Thapa teaches English at Little Angel’s School in Lalitpur. She is in her dissertation phase of MPhil in English language education at school of education, Kathamndu University.

References

Johnson, K. (1996). Language teaching and skill learning. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.