[lg policy] Nepal: Recognizing multilingualism in education

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jan 26 13:00:22 EST 2018

Language in education.
Recognizing multilingualism in education

Although Nepal has rich linguistic and cultural resources, educational
discourses and practices hardly recognize and capitalize on them for
quality learning. Contrary to the evidence that shows strong cognitive,
academic and social importance of multilingualism in education, schools,
both public and private, are increasingly adopting English as medium of
instruction (EMI) policy.

  However, whether this policy contributes to quality learning of children,
who speak languages other than English at home and in the community, is
questionable. British Council’s position paper on the English language in
basic education, attempts to address this question and focuses on why it is
not desirable to adopt EMI policy in the early grades. Informed by a deep
analysis of cases from multilingual countries, the report makes the stance
of British Council on language education policy clear: EMI for the early
graders whose first language is not English creates a barrier for quality

Although this claim has long been discussed by researchers in second
language studies, this report is quite relevant for two reasons. First, as
a position paper, this report highlights British Council’s commitment
towards equitable, inclusive and quality education by recognizing
linguistic diversity as resource for learning. This commitment is
particularly important “to prevent misconceptions arising about the British
Council seeking to promote English over mother tongue” (p. 4).

As stated in the report, British Council, the organization popularly known
as the promoter of English globally, embraces the fact that “children’s
participation in well-designed multilingual programmes underpins learning
in all subjects, including English, through use of the mother tongue or a
familiar indigenous language” (p.3). With this position, British Council
not only acknowledges the substantial body of knowledge that shows the need
for multilingual education for quality learning, including English, but
also, and perhaps, more importantly, communicates its stance that
multilingualism is not a problem rather a resource for helping children
learn creatively and effectively.

Secondly, the report focuses on educational aspect (i.e., how early grade
children learn effectively) to analyze impact of EMI policy on students’
learning in low-income countries. Adopting the evidenced-based approach,
the report critiques a deeply rooted misconception that considers EMI and
teaching English as subject (EaS) as similar. In low-income and
multilingual countries (e.g., Nepal and India), EMI policy is increasingly
adopted with an assumption that children, who speak languages other than
English at home, learn better English if they are taught academic content
(e.g., Social Studies, Mathematics and Science) solely in English. However,
as robust research has  consistently found ,  teaching early grade children
in a language they are not fully competent is detrimental to learning both
second language and academic content.

As the report highlights,  “there is little or no evidence to support the
widely held view that EMI is a better or surer way to attain fluency in
English than via quality EaS” (p. 3). Therefore, British Council clearly
states that the organization is not supporting the practice of the early
introduction of EMI policy. However, they will continue to support and
promote high quality teaching of English as a subject.

Overall, British Council does not just make its position on language in
education policy explicit through this report, but also recommends for
“well-designed multilingual programmes” to strengthen effective and
equitable learning of all subjects, including English. To achieve this, all
concerned stakeholders, including parents, teachers and communities, should
work together to create a multilingual educational space where students
from all linguistic and cultural backgrounds see themselves as source of
knowledge, which they can use, with the help of teachers, fully and
creatively in learning processes.
NIITE trained over 7000 teachers

*Vaishali Pradhan Programmes Manager – English *

*What has British Council done for improving English Language Teaching
(ELT) in Nepal? *

British Council has been working in Nepal in the areas of English language
teaching and learning and wider education and skills for the past 60 years.
We have done many projects in partnership with the National Centre for
Education Development (NCED) to support and promote the continuing
professional development of teachers.

We have examples of successful projects like English for Teaching, Teaching
for English (ETTE) and ETTE+ which we delivered in collaboration with
District Education Offices in different districts. From 2008 to 2016, more
than 800 English language teachers were trained on language and pedagogical

We believe that in order for training to be implemented at classroom level,
it is essential to have a cadre of well-trained teacher trainers who are
not only able to plan and deliver, observe others and give constructive
feedback but are also reflective practitioners who take responsibility for
their own professional learning as well as supporting teachers with theirs.
Over the years we have been able to build the capacity of over 175 teacher
trainers, many of whom are still working as government roster trainers for
various projects. We are now working closely with NCED to develop their ELT
training curriculum and will be piloting it in a few districts very soon.

*Which level of teachers does British Council focus on for its teacher
training initiatives? What has been the impact?*

Our past ELT projects have been for teachers at primary level however we’ve
gradually shifted our focus towards teachers from grades 6 and above. The
level of teachers really depends on the content and structure of the
project being delivered. The ETTE project had a major focus on developing
the English language proficiency of the teachers themselves whereas ETTE+
had a balance between teaching skills and language skills. Project
evaluation reports have shown major impact in both these areas with
teachers feeling confident to use English more widely as well as being
capacitated to use effective communicative teaching techniques in their
classrooms. I’ve been to many schools myself during the implementation
phases and have witnessed active and engaged classrooms.

*You recently concluded a project that supported teachers from English
Medium Schools. How did the project go and what were the achievements? *

Our most recent project was the National Initiative to Improve Teaching in
English (NIITE) which was developed and implemented in partnership with
NCED.  It came as a result of a large number of teachers requesting support
from NCED as their school had changed to EMI but they felt ill-equipped to
deliver their lessons.

The objective of this project was to build teacher confidence in their own
knowledge and use of English in the classroom and to build their awareness
of language supportive approaches for teaching in English Medium contexts.
Over three years, the project trained over 7000 teachers from grades 6-8
and build the capacity of around 120 trainers. Moving away from a
traditional style of teacher training, NIITE had a strong focus on
continued support for teachers using self-access materials, online support,
classroom observations and feedback and the use of TeachApp (mobile app).

As a result, a huge impact was seen on teachers using language supportive
approaches in their classrooms with Nepali increasingly being used in a
deliberate informed manner to facilitate learning, as described and
encouraged by the training. Students liked their greater participation in
lessons and wanted to learn to function in English, though often that was
difficult.  So, the main achievements we see are in the model of training
and the ability of teachers to directly apply their training in the
classroom.  However, we also see clearly the significant challenges of
schools shifting to EMI in this ad hoc, unplanned way.  In the future we
would like to see the NIITE model used to support schools and teachers
wanting a planned transition to English Medium Instruction.

*What level of achievements have you seen on students studying in EMI

That’s a very good question but very hard to answer because until now there
is very little data about the learning achievements of students from EMI
schools in Nepal.  It is only very recently that the Ministry of Education
started collecting data to look at this.  A few small scale studies have
been done in Nepal but the findings are not conclusive or representative.

Internationally there is a lot of very strong evidence that shows that
millions of children are not achieving learning goals in school because
they are not being taught in a  language they understand.  Going hand in
hand with this, is an equally strong evidence base that clearly shows the
young children learn best in a familiar language, ideally a home language
or onethey have regular exposure to outside the classroom.   Another thing
we know is that if you want to see improved achievement in English
proficiency, then being taught it well as a subject is more likely to
produce good results.

Many schools here have changed into EMI following parental demand and the
pressure of increasing student numbers. This demand for English is
legitimate but the answer to this isn’t necessarily English medium. There
is often a misconception that being good at English is synonymous with
English medium instruction. However, there is little or no evidence to
prove this. Evidence based research show that in low and middle income
countries, implementing EMI at primary level can actually have a negative
impact on the learning outcome of students.

Therefore we believe that teaching English as a subject well with trained
English teachers can be the answer to parental demands. And if schools do
wish to move to EMI at upper primary, a planned transition needs to be in
place where the ‘readiness’ of the school is assessed in terms of teachers’
capacity in English, pedagogy and access to good English resources.

*Teaching in mother tongue to improve learning*

 Article 31 of the Constitution has ensured the right to education. It
guarantees the right to learn in mother tongues. It has also entrusted the
Language Commission with the responsibility of exploring the possibility of
using mother tongues. The right to get education in mother tongues has been
enshrined in the law.

However, the guardians want that their children be taught in the English
language. The law does not prescribe separate mediums of learning for
public and institutional schools. Therefore, the right of every child to
learn in his/her mother tongue has been guaranteed in the Constitution.
However, the institutional schools have adopted English medium and the
public schools, taking their cue from the institutional schools, have
started teaching in the English language. National and international
researches show that the children who get education in their mother tongues
perform better and their English, too, is good.

Dr Lava Deo Awasthi, chairperson of the Language Commission, sheds light on
the issues pertaining to learning in mother tongues. Excerpts:

*Why has it become necessary now to make mother tongues the mediums of
learning at the school level?*

Not only now, we realized long ago that children should get the opportunity
to learn in their mother tongues. National and international studies show
that learning in mother tongues enhances the capacity of children. If we
want to improve their learning, we need to provide them the opportunity to
learn in their mother tongues. Researches have shown that it will help them
learn both Nepali and English better. The Constitution, too, has guaranteed
the right to get education in the mother tongue. We are committed to abide
by the Constitution. It is necessary to teach children in their mother
tongues in the schools.

*But even moral and social studies are taught in English in schools these
days. What do the students learn from it? *

This is a result of misunderstanding. Moral and social education is a
completely fundamental issue. Moral education cannot be learned in English.
This is true about social education as well. Social education works only if
the students gain knowledge about their societies. Social education and
society are interlinked. Moreover, moral education is linked to character.
These subjects are related to our own society. So, teaching these subjects
in a foreign language won’t work. Social education transforms our lives and
inspires us to be good. Moral education is not different. Learning in the
mother tongue is also related with our cultures and social values. So,
these subjects should be taught in the local language or mother tongue in

*We talk about teaching in mother tongues. But in institutional schools,
all subjects except Nepali are taught in English. In this situation, how
can mother tongues be made the mediums of teaching?*

The Language Commission has already submitted a report to the government,
addressing these issues. Our concern is that children should learn, whether
they go to public or institutional schools. It is more important to ensure
that children learn. It is meaningless if they do not learn. We have found
that children do not learn even in private schools. It is necessary to
teach them in their mother tongues. These issues are included in the report
we have submitted to the government.

*The school curriculum has a provision for teaching mother tongue/local
language/ Sanskrit of 100 marks up to Grade 8. However, schools teach
English instead of these subjects. What has the Language Commission
recommended to the government to tackle this issue?*

That’s wrong and we know that schools are doing this. We have made
recommendations to the government to address this issue. Schools are
misusing the provisions in the curriculum. The curriculum should be
strictly implemented.

*There are 123 languages in the country. Have arrangements been made to
train teachers to teach in these mother tongues? *

All languages cannot be taught in a school. There are different languages
in different localities. The medium of teaching should be based on the
locality. The commission is studying this and trying to develop a model of
teaching in 8 to 10 languages. The infrastructures and facilities available
in the schools will determine how to go ahead.

*It seems quality education won’t be possible in the provinces and the
local bodies if local resources are left unused. How to tackle this

 It has two dimensions. One, we all should abide by the Constitution which
has ensured learning in mother tongues. The local bodies or provinces
cannot go against this constitutional provision.

Two, they should be able to manage the local resources. That should be a
priority. So, local bodies must exploit resources to tap the potentials of
children for the development of nation.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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