In the context of Nepal, there are a large number of schools using English as the medium of instruction and most of them are private schools that prescribe English textbooks from foreign publications, mainly Cambridge and Oxford University Press. This has led to a situation where many of our school children consider foreign culture and even languages as more valid in comparison to their native culture and languages. And in many cases, children cannot write and speak in their native languages properly. The craze for English is so strong that young learners normally neither fully identify themselves with the foreign culture nor they appreciate their cultural values. It is partly because such prescribed textbooks make them alien to their socio-cultural settings.
After nearly two decades, the curriculum for Grades XI and XII compulsory English was finally upgraded. Since the 10+2 curriculum was first introduced, the country has witnessed a sea-change in terms of cultural awareness, political awareness, social values, and other fundamental aspects of human life. The development of the new curriculum and the textbooks was expected to reflect such critical changes. This article seeks to examine how well the new compulsory English textbook of Grade XI designed by Nepal’s Curriculum Development Centre, caters to the needs of today’s generation and accommodates the changes vis-a-vis the national interest of promoting the native culture. Further, I have shown whether or not the contents included in the textbook are in line with the spirit of the 2019 National Curriculum Framework (NCF).
Representation of texts in the textbook and their critical analysis
The Grade XI textbook has been divided into two sections — Language Development and Literature Studies. Under the first section, i.e. Language Development, there are 20 units with themes ranging from humanity, ecology, history to science and technology. The relevance of the literary texts kept under each thematic units can be a matter of discussion but the way various kinds of activities have been incorporated in the section is of course praiseworthy. The Literature Studies section is divided into four units. Literary texts under this section have been categorized into four literary genres — short stories, poems, essays, and one-act plays respectively. The course designers have seemingly tried to make this section more inclusive and diverse so that students can enjoy a variety of literary works. However, the rationale behind the selection of these predominantly foreign canonical literary texts and the selection criteria for those texts call into critical deliberations for Nepali educationists.
The new textbook has seven short stories, five poems, five essays, and three one-act plays. Among the short stories, The Oval Portrait by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, God Sees the Truthbut Waits by Russian Writer Leo Tolstoy, The Wish by British writer Roald Dahl, Civil Peace by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, Two Little Soldiers by French writer Guy de Maupassant, An Astrologer’s Day by RK Narayan, an Indian writer, have been included in the textbook. One cannot deny the greatness of these literary writers and their timeless works, but when we talk about teaching culture through language we expect the short stories of Nepali writers’ writing in English too if we have to sensitize today’s generation to the cultural and other issues of the Nepali society. Although texts have been adopted from multiple contexts, including India and Nigeria, which are non-Western countries, more numbers of Nepali texts would be beneficial and culturally reflective.
Likewise, in the poetry section, of the five poems, one is by Nepali Poet Vishnu Rai and others are by Robert Burns, a Scottish, William Shakespeare, an English poet, E.E Cumming, an American, Tran MongTu, a Vietnamese. It is true that these writers’ works are timeless and have universal appeal, but it is never a good idea to ignore the work of Nepali poets who have tremendously depicted the pains and sufferings of Nepali citizens in their literary works. Vishnu Rai’s poetry has been included, but the poem Corona Says may lose significance by the time these textbooks reach the students—it’s not reflective of Nepal’s linguistic, cultural, and social context although it portrays a current picture of the COVID-19-induced crisis. It can also appeal to stop the mindless activities of humans but doesn’t represent the unique Nepali culture. The poem All the World’s a Stage by William Shakespeare already features in the textbook of Grade X optional English. It is now beyond one’s understanding of what urgent need the textbook designers might have felt while choosing this poem. It could also mean that the author did not consider building cohesion across grade levels.
The third section has five essays (one is a speech by Steve Jobs). Most of these essays are of American writers except for the one by a British-Indian writer. Much can be debated about the relevance of these essays for Nepali students. In this section too, Nepali writers have got no space. The last section contains three one-act plays. One of the three plays is Refund which is so popular that there would be hardly any school which has not staged this play on different occasions. More importantly, today’s teenagers are more attracted to reading fiction. Instead of three plays, one play and one novel by a Nepali writer could have been included in this section. But quite obviously, the course designers have utterly failed to address this issue. And it should also be noted that the first section of the textbook — Language Development — does have both literary and non-literary texts. Except for one interview with social entrepreneur Mahabir Pun, there is nothing that represents the Nepali columnists and writers who write in English, and the issues faced by Nepali youths in particular and Nepali people in general. The preface of the textbook further states that an attempt has also been made to incorporate the emerging needs of the learners. But the way, literary texts have been selected, it seems that neither the cultural issues nor the students’ interest have been taken into consideration. While selecting literary texts, one should accord top priority to the interest of the target group, but the literary works have been selected as per the literary taste of a few individuals involved in designing the syllabus and the textbook.
This tendency to look down upon the local writers who strive to take the Nepali literature in the international arena, on the one hand, is counterproductive for protecting national identity and diverse cultures of the country and, on the other, discourages them to write further in languages such as English. Many promising Nepali writers are writing in English but this kind of apathetic and indifferent attitude towards them and their literary creations might render a severe blow to the growth and expansion of Nepali Literature.
Nepali writings in English emerged as early as the 1950s with Laxmi Prasad Devkota being the pioneer of the first generation of Nepali literary writers in English. Many followed Devkota in the coming decades such as Mani Dixit, Tek Bahadur Karki, Abhi Subedi, Ramesh Shrestha, Padma Prasad Devkota, DB Gurung, Laxmi Devi Rajbhandari, Deepak S. Rana, Kesar Lall, Dhruba K Deep, Yuyutsu RD Sharma, and M L Karmacharya. Many of them could not come to the limelight mainly due to lack of good readership in the country and also because of policymakers and educationalist’s personal prejudice. Yet, many of them are still actively contributing to the Nepali literature in English. Towards the turn of the 20th century, Samrat Upadhyay, Manjushree Thapa, Sheeba Shah, and Sushma Joshi emerged as the new names in the field of Nepali literature. These literary figures got recognition across the world. These writers have, to a larger extent, helped to promote Nepali literature in the global arena, but these writers not getting any space in the English course books for Nepali students to read is very unfortunate and exposes the indifference of those involved in designing the textbook.
The decision to change the textbooks for Grades XI and XII was appreciated by teachers and other stakeholders. They were expecting that the textbooks would introduce something new that could cater to the needs of the present generation. But the way literary texts have been chosen for the course, it seems that course designers are still motivated by the ideology of Westernized knowledge and the fact that a good representation of English has to be measured only through British and American canons. The textbook writers have yet again followed in the colonial footsteps of their predecessors and repeated the same mistakes.
A language is the reflection of culture and tradition. Thus, it is obvious that when we learn a second language, we do learn about the culture embedded therein. In recent years, we have seen how cultural awareness and identity issues have taken the entire world by storm, including in Nepal. Even teaching of other languages in schools is seen as linguistic encroachment, mainly when they don’t draw on the local. The belief that the English language is a must for academic and professional success has been challenged and subverted to some extent. People have become aware of the cultural encroachment transpiring through language. As a result, English is often claimed to have multiple varieties own by local speakers. A variety of English languages have been widely accepted and given recognition too. Efforts are afoot to teach local and foreign cultures through second languages in recent years. While teaching second languages through literature, it is imperative to see the cultural aspects as well. But such a serious concern has been completely ignored, which is very unfortunate, and to some extent against the spirit of the curriculum and the NCF. The preface of the new textbook states that “the National Curriculum Framework advocates for the promotion of skill-oriented, life skill-based, employment-driven, and value-based school education. It envisions developing the human capital dedicated to the nation, nationality, national integrity, and Nepali specialty” (DoE, 2020, preface). By largely ignoring the works of native writers, one cannot think of producing human resources with Nepali specialty. I do not claim that the only way of promoting nationality and national integrity is through the inclusion of native writers’ literary creations, but it will certainly be the first step towards this end.
I, personally, believe that many students in the country now have better linguistic competency in English than Nepali, or any other native languages for that matter, especially in urban areas. They prefer reading literary texts written in English. This shows that they are also the victim of the poor mentality that Nepali writers cannot write better in English.
Finally, it is high time the policymakers and course and textbook designers need to take took the issue of language and culture seriously. Talking about cultural encroachment through language and linguistic chauvinism is not enough. The incumbent government is hell-bent on introducing a clean-feed policy for the foreign television channels broadcasted in the country. And the government is defending the new policy stating that the clean-feed policy will help stop cultural encroachment done through various advertisements created in languages other than Nepali. If television advertising in foreign languages is considered cultural encroachment, what about the literary texts that are completely based on foreign contexts and cultures? If we cannot promote Nepali literature through Nepali languages, why cannot we promote Nepali literature by translating them into the languages, such as English, spoken by more people across the world? So, let’s begin this movement first with our academic courses, especially such courses which are compulsory for all students. The inclusion of local writings in academic courses will not only help protect Nepali diverse cultures but also take the Nepali literature to a new height and help produce more affluent Nepali writers in English.
About the author: Umesh Singh Saud is the Head of the English Department at DAV Sushil Kedia Vishwa Bharati School, Kathmandu. He is also a sub-editor at ‘The Himalayan Times’ national English daily.
Department of Education (DoE). The national curriculum framework. Kathmandu: Government of Nepal.
Saud, M. S. (2020). English (Grade 11). Sanothimi, Bhaktapur: Curriculum Development Centre.
Cite as: Saud, U. (2020). Undermining of “local” in new English textbook for Grade XI. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/10/undermining-of-local-in-new-english-textbook-for-grade-xi/