Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
English has been taught in Nepali schools for over eight decades and it is also one subject in which significant numbers of our students traditionally fail. In fact, education in/of English is generally perceived as offering better professional opportunities. Growing emphasis on English education is further exemplified by the fact that student enrollment in private schools has increased by leaps and bounds in recent decades. However there has been little debate about the quality of English teaching in our classrooms.
Over the years, improving the quality of English teaching has been a major government agenda. It had introduced a policy of integrating information and communication technology (ICT) in English language teaching (ELT) by 2017. But English teaching in our public schools suffer from many loopholes, which in turn may reduce the effectiveness of the ELT initiative.
In general, as Nepali schools lack adequate teaching materials, ELT in them is rather ritualistic. Since most have very limited financial resources, they cannot afford even basic teaching materials such as teacher’s guides and computers. Consequently, teachers have to adopt a textbook-centric teaching method. This way, inadequate teaching materials lead to poor standard of ELT process.
Similarly, the majority of Nepal’s public schools lack competent ELT teachers, and even those who have been trained have been found wanting. In many cases, training provided to government school teachers are not translated into actual classroom teaching primarily because teachers lack enthusiasm and motivation. In some cases, teaching English involves reading textbook, line by line, and then translating it for students while asking them to rote-learn grammatical rules. Lack of competent teachers is thus a big handicap.
Although the government has plans to integrate technology in ELT, in line with the global trend, Nepali schools will continue to fare poorly. This can be partly explained by their lack of ICT infrastructure and human resources. Most schools have neither equipment nor connectivity required for technology adoption. They are also short of trained human resources such as teachers, trainers and managers. In this context, English continues to be taught in the traditional way in our public schools.
Finally, the current English curriculum for grade 10 is lopsided because it gives priority to reading and writing (75 percent) over speaking and listening (25 percent). Further, listening and speaking component is arbitrary, as individual schools now have powers to conduct such examinations at their discretion. As many schools lack infrastructure for conducting such exams, teachers may allocate marks for listening and speaking pretty much as they want.
The state of ELT in Nepal will improve only if schools and government agencies avail teachers with necessary and timely teaching materials. In particular, the Curriculum Development Center and Sajha publication should produce and distribute teaching materials such as teacher’s guides, teacher directories and instruction CDs. They also need reliable computers and internet connection.
Since most ELT training is going to waste, as very few teachers seem to be practicing in classroom what they learn in such training, it has also become necessary to monitor whether teachers actually bring to use what they learn. All these measures could be highly beneficial to schools and students alike.
The author is a researcher at Martin Chautari, Kathmandu