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Quality scrutiny in materials isn’t merely a formalization process: Ganga Ram Gautam, PhD

Ganga Ram Gautam, PhD

Dr. Ganga Ram Gautam, Associate Professor of English Education and Director of Open and Distance Education Center (ODEC) at Tribhuvan University, trains English teachers of all levels of education and contributes to the development and dissemination of teacher education curricula in English Education throughout Nepal. He is one of the founding members of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) and Teacher Educators’ Society Nepal (TESON). He has co-organized a number of national and international conferences and capacity building workshops for the NELTA leaders, school principals, university faculty members and trainers. Dr. Gautam has worked on a number of community development projects that focus on children’s education, school development, school governance, vocational education, women’s empowerment and girls’ education. Dr. Gautam has authored a number of articles, book chapters and presented in workshops, seminars and conferences in Nepal and abroad.

Our Choutari editor, Jeevan Karki has spoken to Dr. Gautam in the periphery of production and use of ELT materials in Nepali. Moreover, this interview also unpacks some issues like the quality of materials, teaching in low-resourced context and exploiting the online resources. Now enjoy reading this exclusive interview.

1. How is the situation of the use of resources and materials in ELT classes in Nepal at present?

There are different modes and practices regarding the use of ELT resources and materials in Nepal. In some public schools, teachers solely rely on the textbooks prepared by the government while in some other public schools, they use additional textbooks from the list provided by the Curriculum Development Center. In private schools, they use the materials of their choices. Some schools use the materials (mostly books) written and published in Nepal while some others use the textbooks from international publishing houses. So, there is no uniformity in the use of resources in the ELT classes.

Apart from the textbook, there is not much organized effort, so far, in producing, developing or preparing complementary/supplementary English language learning and teaching materials in Nepal. However, there are some organizations at the non- state level, which have been trying to produce reference materials, like reading materials. Some NGOs have produced reading materials in English and other local languages.

In terms of software or digital resources, some technology companies are digitizing the materials, both curricular and additional materials in the digital form and they’re also available in the market today, like OLE Nepal, which has digitized curriculum and textbook materials. Also, there are some commercially available digitized materials which are connected to the English language textbooks and other content area textbooks. So, there are some initiatives, but I feel that they haven’t been established as the mainstream contributors in the ELT space. Thus, there are certain very important things to be done like consolidation, streamlining, refining and polishing the materials.

2. You’ve mentioned that teachers are mostly dependent on the textbooks inside the classroom. What is the scenario of schools in the urban areas, to be specific?

I have visited some schools in urban areas too and mostly it’s upon the teachers’ proactive initiative to use the additional teaching learning materials, rather than the institutionalized efforts. So, some organizations are trying to produce the materials and resources around, but they have not been institutionally driven and guided by the system. There are also schools in urban areas, which produce their own additional materials and do not use solely the textbooks. They go for resource-based teaching. To be short, things are evolving but we need to institutionalize them and use that effort in the mainstream education.

3. How can teachers in the low resourced context give best to the students?

This is a very good question. I’ve seen that some teachers even in the rural areas are trying to find resources available online and they adapt them in their classes. At the same time, I’ve also met many teachers who only produce excuses by saying that resources are not easily available in the rural parts of Nepal.

In my observations, there are many ways teachers can give best to the students in the ELT classes, provided that teachers are aware of the availability of the resources and materials at their fingertips. Now, the mobile phone is very common across the country and internet access is very common. There are plenty of online resources teachers can access even with the low internet bandwidth. We don’t need to rely on the printed materials only. Teachers can find the materials available online and they can then connect them to the contents they teach from the textbooks. What we need to do is to orient the teachers in the low-resourced context to find those materials guide them on how they could best use those resources to integrate to the curricular contents.

4. Are we the contributors or merely the consumers of the ELT resources and materials?

Recently, there has been a growing tendency to produce the resources, particularly the textbooks, locally. But this is not adequate. We need to produce resources to teach English. We should also encourage teachers to develop their own resources in their local contexts. There are plenty of resources around and teachers can make use of those resources in their English classes but they need to be shown how they could do it. We need to develop confidence among teachers by engaging them in developing the resources, not just by asking them to do on their own. We need to mentor them and work with them so that they can gradually learn how to do it.

5. Where are the Nepali ELT scholars in terms of producing ELT resources and materials in Asia?

If we are talking about the textbooks, there are many people in Nepal who are engaged in this business. The question, however, is not a number. It’s about quality. Producing good quality materials requires a focused and systematic engagement. One has to develop expertise in it. Random picking of the texts and developing a couple of exercises from them is not materials development. There is no scrutiny in the quality aspects of the materials produced in Nepal. Without reviewing them from the rigorous quality parameters, it would be unfair to exactly say how those materials are. So, there are materials around and people have shown their interest in writing materials in Nepal but the issue of quality is still a question to be answered.

6. So, how to maintain quality in these materials?

There are quality accreditation parameters of the government. For instance, Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) has that mechanism, which consists of a subject committee and textbook writers. And the materials produced by them should go through the quality scrutiny process. However, you can obviously question about the quality of the processes itself. On the other hand, in the private publication system, there is no any established mechanism to ensure the quality of the materials produced by the local authors. If you look at the practices of the international publishing houses, they have a group of experts, who minutely go through the manuscript produced by the authors and the authors are given constructive feedback. After a series of scrutiny only, the materials are accepted and published by the publisher. Our local publishing houses have to learn many things from these practices. I’m not saying that all the materials produced by local authors so far are of low quality, what am I saying is we need to check whether the materials maintain the quality so that students learn good English.

7. Private publishers are there with a business motive. When they have a pool of experts to check the quality, that will cost money, which will affect in their profit. So, why would they go for it? In this context, what is the role of the state?

It is a managerial issue. What I’m talking about is the academic issue. So, if you ask me “Can we compromise the quality at the cost of the managerial issues?”, I would definitely go for ‘no’. So, how the private publishers maintain the quality is something they need to think of. And what the state needs to do is another crucial question. State should also develop a mechanism to check the quality of the materials produced at the non-state sector. What we have so far is only the formalizing process and preparing the list of materials from various publication. I don’t see the ‘rigour’ in this to ensure the quality of the materials.

8. How can teachers make the best use of online resources and materials in teaching learning?

Online resources could be overwhelming if teachers do not know how to use them. You can find anything online and there are so many sites where you can find the ELT resources. First of all, you need to know how you can use them to help the learners who are learning English with you. It will be unrealistic if you think that you can use the online resources as they are. Customization will be required and as teachers we need to know how we can customize them for our learners.

9. How can teachers customize these materials?

There are mainly two issues with it. Firstly, there is too much information and it’s overwhelming for teachers. It might be difficult to decide where to begin. It’s like when you have so many books on the shelf, it takes so much of your time to decide which one to start with. Secondly, in order to use the online resources, the teachers have to take a big shift from their conventional teaching approach. If you just ask them to use online materials, they don’t know how to make the shift. In order to make that big shift, moving from printed materials to online materials, they need to develop their confidence. This confidence can be developed if we can build on their existing strengths and give them some support step-wise, like Krashen’s ‘i+1’ concept. For instance, we can show them how to access the materials and resources online and download from their smart phone. So, they need a structured guidance to make the shift from print materials to online materials. Then we have to guide them to integrate and adapt the online materials with the curriculum contents.

Many teachers see and use the online resources for fun activities. They don’t see the connection between the online materials and the curriculum. Therefore, they need training/facilitation and most importantly mentoring support and guide to boost their confidence to use the online materials effectively.

10. If there are individual teachers who are trying to integrate the online resources into their curriculum, what do you suggest them?

Like there is a lesson in the textbook, which is intended to develop reading comprehension in children. So many teachers have a feeling that it’s the story they’ve to teach not the particular language skills. But if you look at the underlying principles in the curriculum, there is a particular reading agenda behind the text. There may be a reading soft skill, which is the focus of that particular story, like skimming or scanning. So if teachers understand that underlying principle behind the story, they can connect the lesson with online resources which focus on skimming or scanning reading activities. Now the teachers can take students online (if there is computer lab), find some simpler stories online, set questions based on the text and ask them to read the story and do comprehension activity. After the students do a couple of practices, now the teachers can ask them to do the same activity with their story in the textbook.

11. How can teachers utilize the online resources best for their professional development?

Online resources could contribute immensely in our professional development. We can not only enhance our English language skills but also sharpen our pedagogical skills from the online resources. There are courses for English teachers and there are online journals. We can attend the course, learn the skills that we need, publish our experiences and network with the like-minded people from around the world.

For teachers and ELT practitioners, there is a focused webinar series in Nepal, run and coordinated by Regional English Language Office of the American embassy. Teachers in Nepal can attend these webinars online and interact with the people around the world and benefit from global perspectives and ideas. Likewise, there are plenty of recorded webinars free, which focus on professional development, like the English language pedagogy of teachers and all. For example, https://americanenglish.state.gov/ and https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/ can be helpful to them.

Apart from them, conferencing opportunities are also equally helpful for teachers’ professional development. There are online announcements of such conferences, which provide us opportunities to present our work and participate. So, teachers can explore English language education conference calendar on the web to be up-to-date with these opportunities. Moreover, there are also funding opportunities to travel to such conferences and attend. Many teachers think they may not be qualified for these opportunities. Actually, these are meant for teachers and ELT practitioners like us. We should give a try.

12. Recently TU also has announced the call for distance education. Can you explain what is it and how can teachers benefit from it?

There is Open and Distance Education Center (ODEC) in Tribhuvan University (TU), which I head currently. It also runs online Masters’ program in English language education. So, working teachers who cannot come on-campus for the Master’s program, can benefit from this course from their home. They can apply for it and sit for the entrance examination to be qualified. Then they can join our online course and learn from our virtual classrooms. In the beginning of the semester, we have a two days orientation, which introduces students to the virtual classroom and its process and procedures. After that their virtual study begins, where they study, discuss, submit their assignments and so on.

The lessons are set in weekly units and in the beginning of the week, we upload the weekly lessons. Then the students will access them, download and study offline in their own time. The materials contain some readings, some audio or visual materials etc. They are given some assignments, which they have to complete. Then based on their study, they also have to contribute to the online discussion, interaction and reflection every week. Every week it goes like this. In the middle of semester, we check-in by inviting them for a couple of days but it’s not mandatory. If they don’t have any issue and if they’re doing ok, they don’t need to come for this but if they have certain issues that they want to discuss in person they can come in the middle of the semester. They also can come and see us in person, if they struggle or have any issue. At the end of the semester, they must come for the examinations. 40% evaluation is done through online assignments and the rest from the 4 hours end semester examinations.

It’s a two years course but students have flexibility to complete it within 5 years.

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

[To cite it: Gautam, G.R. (2020, January 25). Quality scrutiny in materials isn’t merely a formalization process: Ganga Ram Gautam, PhD [blog post]. Retrieved from: https://eltchoutari.com/2020/01/quality-scrutiny-in-materials-isnt-merely-a-formalization-process-ganga-ram-gautam-phd/]