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: http://eltchoutari.com/2021/04/english-medium-instruction-in-school-education-parents-perspectives/