Nepalese English Language Education in New Era: An Interview with Professor Jai Raj Awasthi
by Sajan Kumar Karn
Of late, English Language Education in Nepal has undergone a radical change via revision of the Tribhuvan University’s courses for B. Ed. and M. Ed., degrees for prospective teachers of English at secondary, higher secondary and university level. The current socio-political, cultural and philosophical changes home and abroad have been a stimulating factor behind the amendment. Unlike in the past, this time, the course revision process has been bottom up to some extent. Further, this is the first time in the history of syllabus designing in Nepal that teachers involved in the instruction of the different courses were invited and were sought for their inputs upon the different roughly sketched first drafts. A foreign scholar from Unviersity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA Professor Numa Markee contributed significantly to the making of the courses through his expertise. Different teams of experienced teachers have been involved in writing of the textbooks for B. Ed. and M. Ed.
A number of other striking changes can be noticed in the newly prepared courses, such as a slight diversion towards interdisciplinary approach to language teaching, recognition of nativised varieties of English, divorce of Nepalese ELE from the mainstream. This is truly a paradigm shift in making of syllabuses in Nepalese ELE. The products are in the hands of teachers teaching at different constituent and affiliated campuses of Tribhuvan University.
Though teachers seem to have mixed reactions on the revision, majority have admired the strenuous efforts. In this connection, I called upon Professor Jai Raj Awasthi, Chairman of English and Other Foreign Languages Education Subject Committee, Tribhuvan University under whose leadership such a change could happen, for his personal and departmental observations.
Here are a few questions and the answers, Professor Awasthi supplied, in his own words:
1. Professor Awasthi, this is truly a far-reaching change that has happened under your vibrant leadership. The reactions from every corner seem to be appreciative. How do you take this success?
Designing or revising curricula is a very tiring but truly an intellectual and challenging work. It requires inputs from various scholars and practitioners working in the field. I have a strong belief that such a kind of academic work is an outcome of the collaborative efforts of many colleagues. There are many people from home and abroad who contributed significantly to this academic pursuit. In the history of Nepalese English Language Education and particularly in course of revising the curricula of B.Ed and M.Ed (English), so many heads worked together. I can claim that there was direct and indirect involvement of over hundred people to bring the curricula in the present status. I am really grateful to all the contributors, too many names to record here, whose genuine efforts made it happen including Dr Numa Markee from University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, USA. I really acknowledge the American Embassy here in Nepal for sponsoring Dr Makee’s trip to Nepal. In the whole process, I simply worked as a facilitator.
I am receiving mixed reactions from the stakeholders. Some people think that it is a big departure while others think that it is timely. Such reactions are, I presume, very common when we start a new venture. However, I am satisfied with the present accomplishment. The credit of this success goes to all the contributors.
2. How did you feel when the challenge of course making came upon your shoulder? You know, working with many heads is always very challenging? How could you become successful in integrating the giants of Nepalese ELT at one?
My predecessors Prof. Sarada Bhadra, and Prof. Shishir K. Sthapit had trained me as a very young practitioner in the matter of curriculum designing. I was one of the members of the curriculum revision teams in the 1980s and 1990s. In course of time, I gained experience in this sector. I am frank in my nature and consider myself a life time learner; as such I feel pleasure in learning, both from my juniors and seniors. During the course of curricula revision, my request was never turned down by any of my colleagues. All the colleagues thought it to be a life time work. So, I feel so fortunate to get support from all quarters to accomplish this project.
3. How contented you are when all the courses are with teachers and they are doing the courses? You might have received some reactions from the teachers? What is your personal observation?
I am, of course, very satisfied. I think we could make our courses in par with the courses on ELT/TESL/TEFL/TESOL worldwide. I have received mixed reactions from the stakeholders. Some people think that the courses are difficult as they require a lot of reading but a majority of them have shown their satisfaction that they are to their expectations. I believe that our students need to read a lot and read internationally recognized textbooks. The dissatisfaction may have come from some students as well as teachers because they rely solely on plagiarized bazaar notes compiled by non-academic and non-ethical compilers. Reading is a challenging job for both kinds of such people. But I am fully satisfied with the work.
4. Textbook compilation has been immensely democratic and inclusive this time. Involving a number of heads-experienced and new but promising ones- in preparation of the textbooks such as New Generation English, Expanding Horizons in English and others is commendable.
Thanks a lot for the compliments. Text book writing, compiling and editing are very challenging jobs. I think working with many heads and brains yields a better result. We have many capable faculties who can contribute to this field. Many people working collaboratively can bring standard materials. Therefore, I thought, all of us working together can learn from each other and bring something fruitful. This collaborative work has to be expanded to the extent that all our colleagues will, one day, be able to create all the learning materials needed by our students based on their real needs and eventually be able to replace the international authors. We have started this venture in a very humble way including as many enthusiastic academicians as possible. This work will be furthered in case our colleagues think it good for them. I think the meeting of minds is crucial in this venture. So all seniors and juniors can contribute equally and go hand in hand learning from each other.
5. At a time when English is being nativised in the countries where it is used, incorporating the texts in different varieties is worth appreciating? What could be the justification against the long established tradition of inclination towards British English officially?
You are right when you say that English has no longer been the property of formerly known as English native speakers. It is the property of those who use it and spend money on its promotion. It is evident that all the countries of the world spend a significant amount of money in its teaching and learning. It is in this context, we realized that our students need to know not only the so called British English variety but also other Englishes prevalent in the world including our own. We all know that varieties emerge in course of time due to various reasons. The British English also underwent several varieties such as American, Australian, etc. which are now termed as American English, Australian English etc. We thought that our graduates need to know all these emerging varieties of English so that they can survive wherever they go and work. We have not undermined the established tradition but have extended it making it richer than before.
6. This is the first time; interdisciplinary approach of language teaching has been followed in the courses prepared by Department of English Education? Is not it like emulating Department of English under the faculty of Humanities? Has there been a realization that language based approach has not fetched much and therefore, let us try out something different?
We have not followed the tradition of Humanities and Social Sciences at all. We have ever been ahead of them in every aspect. We introduced ‘Reading Writing and Critical Thinking’ before they did it in humanities and social sciences. Some other reading and writing courses we have included in the curricula are continuation of this spirit. Thus, we have more English and ELT courses in B.ED compared to BA. However, we thought that our students need more reading along with the pedagogical knowhow. After completing these courses our graduates will be hot- cake in the global market if the courses are followed in true spirit making the students read all the prescribed textbooks.
7. In M. Ed. Second year, all courses carry 50 marks only. What could the rationale behind such fragmentation? Do we want our prospective teachers to be jack of all and master of none?
The reason behind breaking the courses into 50 marks is to offer wide varieties of courses to our M.Ed students so that there is nothing left unlearned for them, if they compare themselves with the comparable degree holders in ELT/TESOL/TEFL of any universities of the world. This was not possible in the existing curricula structures of our Faculty where our students are bound to study the courses that do not have pragmatic value when they go to the work force.
They will, thus, become experts of their area of studies but not ‘jack of all trades.’
8. How do you justify the course at B. Ed. English for Business Communication for the prospective teacher s of English?
We presume that our graduates can take any profession in future. It is true that we intend to prepare them as future ELT teachers; however they can opt for business as well. The courses on mass and business communication are elective ones, therefore the people who want to go for mass media or business can opt for them. Many so called language institutes in Nepal are doing business without leaning as to how to speak in business English. Therefore, our graduates can establish such institutes and be media persons as well after they take these courses, if they wish so.
9. Particularly the course Expanding Horizons in English has been a hot cake. Even the people from other departments talk about the nature and coverage of the course? This is the whole universe from Humanities, social sciences, human rights education and language teaching globalization east and west etc. This has been felt too demanding on the part of teachers and students? What tips do you give to teachers particularly who find it very troublesome?
Expanding horizons is definitely designed to broaden the linguistic as well as thematic horizons of students through a variety of reading materials. Some of the stakeholders have felt uneasy as they are not used to read new materials. I have received hundreds of calls from both teachers and students. Many of the teachers made their students call me to enquire as to why so many difficult passages are kept in the course as their teachers are also unable to teach them. But I told them that the book is for the students and they are the ones to read it several times and comprehend the themes so that they can go beyond the texts and critically review them. I think, the course is , though demanding and we have introduced critical thinking and creative writing for the first time in the curricula. It is not different but it is a continuation of the previous course ‘ Reading, writing and critical thinking’ that the students have studied in the first year.
The teachers teaching this course have to read the texts themselves in detail to set the tasks. They also need to know about the authors and the themes on which the texts are designed. They are all authentic texts and contain the themes from a variety of disciplines.
The teachers have to follow three stages of reading: pre-, while- and post- reading. For the background study, they can refer to the manual compiled and edited by Prof. G.R Bhattarai. A detailed glossary can be prepared by the students in groups. Each group takes five- ten texts and prepares the glossary using appropriate monolingual dictionary, such as Cambridge or Oxford. All the group works can be compiled distributed. The teachers have to set tasks for pre-while and post- reading stages and students read and re-read the tasks to complete them. They can use the exercises given in the texts as well. In addition, for the tasks beyond the texts, the teachers have to follow the process writing approach conducting brainstorming in the class to facilitate the students create their own piece of writing semi-creatively.
If the teachers use the traditional approach of teaching reading, they can not finish the course in a stipulated time. Hence they need to update their methodological knowhow before they venture to handle the course.
10. Very often teachers complain of lack of level of competency and understanding on the part of students to grasp the course, let alone critical interpretation of the text? How far do you agree with this? How would you defend?
I do not agree this statement. I am proud of our graduates. They proved themselves in the whole world. I t is a lame excuse to say that our students have low level of competence and understanding. They are the ones who have created the people who have gone to Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Michigan, Tokyo, and similar ranking universities of the world. I believe that we have never exploited their potentialities. We have never made them the collaborators of learning and teaching. We have never practiced autonomous leaning and made them autonomous learners. Thus, I can say that the prejudice against our graduates will ultimately be null and void if the teachers teach them properly using proper strategies.
11. Here are teachers who still paraphrase the texts, give one way lectures and dictate answers to the questions in the class and complain of not finishing the courses such as New Generation English and Expanding Horizons in English? What tips of teaching would you like to suggest them?
Reading and paraphrasing the texts by the teachers do not help the students at all to learn English. The textbooks are meant for the students and the reading texts given in the text books are also ultimately meant for the students. Therefore, the teachers need to design such tasks that require the students to read the texts several times to accomplish them and have full understanding of the themes of the texts they read. Teachers’ duty is to facilitate the learners in their understanding and enhancing their language skills. If they follow the procedures mentioned above, they can finish the course in time with full satisfaction. I request all the teachers to change their traditional spoon-feeding methodology and adopt a student-centered one.
12 .There has been a growing demand of a manual for tackling the courses prepared in accordance with post method trends. Would you like to make any commitments to them?
I am not in a position to commit it from where I am now. This does not mean that I am negative to it. I believe that manuals are required. As you know, the subject committees under our faculty do not have their own offices, budget and things like that. In case the Dean’s office becomes positive in it, we will rather be more than happy to accomplish this task also.
13. Readings in English for M. Ed. second year seems to be the continuation of the Expanding Horizons for B. Ed.? Is it so?
It is a very advanced reading course. You may take it a continuation of the B.Ed course as well. However, this course is not a compulsory one and as such the students have other options to choose from. Those who still think to take a challenge of reading diversified texts from different themes and disciplines can opt for it.
14. When it is obvious that ELT practicum in most cases has been reduced to a ritual and nothing else. However this continues to exist. How do you defend it?
I agree that practicum has become a ritual now though it is a main and very crucial component of teacher education. There are various reasons behind this practice. One of the crucial reasons is the rapid increase in the number of the colleges affiliated to TU. In addition to it, we lack the manpower to supervise practicum. We had proposed that we can conduct a year-long micro teaching so that our students can develop the anticipated skills in them but our orthodox system is resistant to any positive change to this respect.
15. At the time when method is said to be dead and ELT is deemed to be in post method era, what do the titles such as ELT methods…..and Advanced ELT methodology indicate? Could the terms like methods or methodology be omitted?
The notion is forwarded by a few ELT practitioners only in order to give freedom to the classroom teachers to make use of their own imagination as how to teach English. This concept was also developed against the tradition of prescribing the methods claiming them to be universal.
I take the term Methdology as the concept and philosophy of teaching and it can not die because the teachers build their teaching strategies on it where as the term Method can be made individual by individual teachers as per their needs. However, a discussion on these two terms in a broader perspective can be made further.
16. What could be the rationale behind introducing the course English Teacher Development in M.Ed. second year?
We are teacher producing institution. Hence, we should not forget to let our students know as to what they need to do after their graduation from our institution to remain updated in their field. Through this course we have tried to make them feel that the certificate they hold is not enough for their life-long career. Therefore, keeping in view the notion of ‘learning as a life long process’, we came to the conclusion that the prospective teachers need to realise that they have to practice several things in order to keep themselves updated or else they may not be able to cope up with the emerging changes brought out in the fields of teaching and learning. This course enables the students with the skills and knowledge they require to play various roles in their life. The contents of the course enable them to be a/n teacher, trainer, and expert as well in ELT.
17. Advanced academic reading and writing is alternative to thesis writing. Some question if they are equal in terms of challenge?
It largely depends upon how we approach them. In case, thesis writing, as has been mentioned below, becomes a ritual and mechanical process only, we do not anticipate much from our students. But if the ‘Advanced reading and writing’ course is taught in its true spirit, the students can get maximum benefit out of it.
18. There has been a voice from some corner that our thesis writing has remained more mechanical and less academic? Do you agree with it? What are we required to do in order to improve the existing scenario?
Thesis writing is a special skill that requires the students to be creative and produce a piece of original work. I agree that this has not been taken seriously by both the supervisors and researchers. I think, the researchers need to show their linguistic, analytical and interpretative skills in thesis writing and supervisors should take it as a learning opportunity, too. I believe that we learn from each other. This activity should be taken as a collaborative one. Many supervisors are found not to have written thesis themselves but they are prompted to supervise the students for their personal benefit. There is much plagiarism in students’ writing. Supervisors seem to ignore them. Students do not have reading habit in them, nor are they prompted to do so.
In order to make thesis writing a creative piece of work both researchers and their supervisors have to take this task very seriously.
19. Often it is heard that learning materials are being prepared? Where are we in the preparation?
We were really busy revising the courses so far. It took us a year and half to complete it. Now we have to think to produce learning materials. The bazaar is flooded with cheap quality notes either the plagiarized ones or written by inexperienced teachers. Now the time has come to team up and do a substantial work. We need to team up ourselves and prepare the learning materials suitable for our learners. New Generation English and Expanding horizons in English in the students’ hand are the beginning of this venture. There are a couple of them in preparation, which will come out soon. I request all the colleagues to team up and start a new beginning. I am ready to give my support to them in this venture.
20. You have been the leader of ELT survey team too. Where are we in the surveying now? How long will it take to accomplish it? Is the survey too ambitious?
We have developed the proposal and the survey tools so far. I have heard that our new ELF Dr Law has reviewed the tools for piloting them. Since it is NELTA undertaking, I am tirelessly waiting for a go ahead signal. NELTA is exploring the possible financers to see it keep going.
21. How consonant are we with the wave of change in ELE around the globe? Post modern wave is blowing swiftly and it must have moved us. How do you feel?
We have tried to catch and consolidate the global ELT perspectives in our curricula. We are definitely along with the wave of post-modern world but have not forgotten our own realities. I hope that our colleagues will materialize the spirit laid down in the curricula in their hands.
22. What directions do you think Nepalese ELE should take in the days ahead? What efforts are needed? What challenges do you face ahead?
ELT in Nepal cannot remain aloof from the other parts of the world. It has to change its course, but not forgetting the ground realities we have to work in. We have to set in mind that we are producing human resource capable of working in any part of the world. The ELT survey, if conducted in future, will tell us the ground realities of ELT in Nepal to make future plans for its improvement. The challenges ahead are enormous. We need resource allocations, attitudinal changes, human resource development etc. to go in par with the world ELT perspectives.
Thank you very much for your time and contribution.