A Proposal for Instituting EL Teachers’ Support Mechanism in the System of Education in Nepal
* Dinesh Kumar Thapa
“Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results is the definition of insanity.”— Albert Einstein
This paper proposes for initiating ELT reform in Nepal through an intervention in the teacher support mechanism in the system of education. It attempts to create a deliberate discourse among ELT stakeholders and the academia for the provision of English language teaching support center in the educational system of Nepal. Arguments for this are made to advocate for enhancing professionalism of the Nepalese teachers of English, and, ultimately assuring improvement in the teaching and learning of English in the classroom. While doing so, perspectives and justification for the proposal have been drawn from areas as diverse as classroom practices to the demands of education in the 21st century. This paper envisions to making English language teachers more accountable to effective ELT reforms and quality instruction in the schools, an agenda that is rightly in high demand in the contemporary educational discourse of Nepal.
Teacher development, professionalism, ELT support center, medium of instruction, supervision, ELT reform
It is a common wisdom among educators working in the field of teacher development that, teachers, young and old, new and established, should be given the time to develop, to share and to train in order to meet the needs of the evolving generation of students. Therefore, every country/ state has set up departments/ agencies to support, to train and to supervise teachers, so that students are educated in the best possible ways along with the goals and spirit of education. In Nepal as well, Ministry of Education and its departments and line agencies; different Universities and their teacher education departments, Non- governmental institutions, teachers’ professional organizations, and so on are involved in one way or another in the preparation, training and monitoring of teachers, including English language (EL) teachers. However, a layman experience at the receiving end of educational service delivery suggests that the existing teacher support and monitoring system is inadequate and inefficient in many respects.
The Nepalese system of education has entrusted the responsibility of teacher support and supervision upon National Centre for Educational Development (NCED) through its Education Training Centres (ETCs) and Teacher Trainers (TTs), and District Educational Offices (DEOs) through their School Supervisors (SSs) and Resource Persons (RPs)/ Resource Teachers (RTs). These authorities are supposed to design and implement programmes for in- service teacher development, and monitor teachers’ classroom performance (Education Regulations, 2002). However, the practice so far shows that there is a desperate neglect regarding teacher support and guidance. In this connection, CERID (2003) found that teachers in both institutional and community schools show their grave concern over the lack of supervision of their work, and a decline in the support they receive from the responsible authorities. Supporting this claim further, NCED (2006) categorically states that the transfer rate of primary teacher training in Nepal is 50%, and argues that the major hindrance for such a condition is due to the lack of a proper mechanism for monitoring and evaluation of teacher performance at the classroom level. It has also pointed out that so far Nepalese teachers, including EL teachers, have not been enabled to cope with the rapid changes in the classroom practice.
A cursory observation of the teacher support practice at present reveals several oddities. The RPs as such are overburdened with administrative activities, and, in most cases, they have practical limitations to support teachers. Similarly, the provision of Roster Teachers at each school cluster is also marred with ineffectiveness, and this mechanism, too, has also been no more useful than a formality show. Likewise, Head Teachers (HTs) also do not have the required time to devote to teacher support activities as they are also full time teachers, and in general they lack expertise for effective strategies and tools for the same. When courses, textbooks and pedagogical innovations are implemented from the central agencies, such as Curriculum Development Centre, teachers even do not get the information on time. The existing strength and capacity of NCED also seems inadequate to support teachers in practical terms. Because trainers in NCED system are responsible only with training teachers; because they do not supervise and assist teachers on the spot; and because trainers there are trained in the ‘top- down’ supply model and are appointed from classroom- teaching independent context, a valid suspicion arises that they do not possess adequate ‘teaching sense’, and, so, cannot support teachers in practical terms. Indeed, appointment of such trainers was made as cadres with the mission to train in- service teachers for long- term (10- month) purposes at the time when there were no departments of education/ ELT in the Nepalese universities. More importantly, as ELT needs and innovations come in place in no time, there is ever an urgency of more efficient teacher support mechanism.
At present, the government has been implementing Teachers’ Professional Development (TPD) programme starting from the year 2009 with the vision to update teachers through 30- day long refresher training in five years (MOE, 2009: 38-42). These TPD events are purported to cater for the day- to- day classroom needs of the teachers. However, experience from the field suggests that there is an utter lack of ELT resource teachers at the TPD training hubs, on the one hand, and the training packages throughout the training hubs seem just a reproduction of contents from methodology courses lacking the contextual diversity of different classroom needs, on the other. Assuming the very trend in practice, it is next to impossible to expect a visible impact of TPD in EL teachers’ professionalism and improvement in the teaching and learning of English in Nepal. In the lack of specialist support for teachers, there is now a higher possibility of stagnation rather than innovation in ELT. An indicative case for the same is reported by Pun (2013), in which in a TPD event, a teacher who had wanted to be able to teach English through pictures ended up practicing a case- study writing format. Pointing to a similar dismal situation, Shrestha (2012) comments that both the existing pre-service and in-service training systems need a thorough reform (p. 41) as they have contributed for making teachers develop more a native attitude than an innovative one. From an ELT educator’s perspective, continuation of TPD in Nepal as such will be no more than instilling apathy and frustration in the teachers, which can even germinate a feeling of resilience to ELT innovations. These practical concerns, therefore, imply that there is a need for change in the teacher support mechanism in Nepal, and it is more pinching for ELT.
The EL teachers in Nepal who are at the front of delivering the fruits brought about by the capacity of the English language are themselves caught up with several day- to- day practical issues. ELT challenges and innovations come in place day-by- day: one day it is reform in assessment; next day it is teaching for independent reading; another day it is using reference materials; next, employing information communication tools (ICTs), teaching English for jobs, creative writing, task-based ELT and so on. Therefore, it is time all concerned people gave a serious thought to create a robust professional support mechanism for EL teachers, which would be radically unlike the hitherto head- count system of supervision, and which, in visible terms, would work for empowering, sharing and cooperating with teachers for successfully discharging their every bit of duties to producing excellent future citizenry, and making them accountable for their results of teaching. In other words, we are in dire need of materializing such a support mechanism which would work with EL teachers to transform our classrooms in practical terms.
It is a common observation that our classrooms display traits of stagnation in terms of delivery, resources, interaction and modes of learning, even if almost all teachers are supposed to have been fully trained (DOE, 2012). However, studies, as well as commonsense wisdom, affirm that classroom interaction is the single most determinant for effective EL learning. Interventions through audio- video texts, communicative courses, project- work oriented textbooks, better infrastructure and so on depend exclusively on how the teacher and the learners interact with them for achieving language learning goals. Here lies the urgent need for teacher support to materialize these innovations. One can collect evidences even from a causal meeting with EL teachers that they are desperately looking for a sustainable support for their professional development and quality teaching. As English is a language as well as a subject in our schools, EL teachers have concerns and issues quite different from other subject teachers. Teachers would like to employ newer teaching techniques; they want their classes to have been observed and feedback given. However, even during decades of their teaching years, they do not get such a support at all. Then, it is natural for them to feel that there is not any agency from whom to seek assistance for comments and improvement, or to share innovations. Indeed teachers want to know how well they are doing, and how they can improve their classes, but the current system does not provide for this. This is the reality of Nepalese teacher support mechanism. This very defunct support system is responsible for the low quality of English language teaching in Nepal.
Reform in the existing teacher support mechanism is also felt urgent from the perspective of ELT innovation and sustainability. An innovation, whatever form it be, involves a change, and the change requires on-the-job support for its implementers. Whether it is integrating technology or improving classroom interaction, teachers can make meaningful changes only if they get practical support where it matters most, and it is usually in the classroom. Regarding the imperativeness of a support mechanism to sustain innovation, Traver, Moliner, Llopis & Candela (2012) opine that an innovation in education requires well-managed, student-centered classrooms with a cause-effect support to teachers connecting to what teachers are or are not doing (the cause) with what students are or are not doing (the effect) (p. 25).
Similarly, contemporary discourses on ELT innovation, such as learner centered- constructivist pedagogy, critical language pedagogy, project/ task- based pedagogy, guided perception, learning as doing, construction of knowledge- skills, online language learning, etc. demand for a rigorous teacher support mechanism. Some of these innovative ideas and practices have also been implemented in the classroom, yet with a very dismal result. Indeed, we are yet unknown about the joys and pains of Nepalese teachers of English regarding their struggle to bring about innovations. In this regard, White (1988) indicates that innovations tend to result in an increase in teachers’ workloads in preparation, planning lessons and materials, in the classroom, after the lesson in addition to the reality of day-to-day teaching pressures (p. 114); there is yet not any reliable support mechanism for the Nepalese EL teachers to soothe these problems. Elmore (1996) has also pointed out that a change in the core of teaching entails change in structural arrangements of schools, such as, the physical layout of classrooms, student grouping practices, relations among teachers in their work with students, as well as processes for assessing student learning and communicating it to students, parents, administrators, and other interested parties. Finch (2001) further implies that an intervention in the normal teaching condition creates an unpredictable pattern, and the repercussions may emerge beyond the teacher’s capacity to tackle them. Therefore, a reform in teacher support mechanism is deemed urgent in order to ensure that the devised ELT reforms really get realized into each and every class as deemed of. Support for teachers at the classroom level plays a significant role in facilitating the implementation and sustenance of ELT innovations.
Similarly, concerns regarding the relevance of education in this technology- driven age also demand for a well- resourced teacher support mechanism at place. The intense proliferation of media and technology, rise of literacy, expansion of cities and markets, greater international communication, etc. have impacted enormously on the way we do in classrooms. The present day Nepalese public is aspiring for more tangible learning outcomes, and this has in turn made teaching profession more challenging and more demanding. Teachers of English feel even more pressure at present. A teacher support intervention, therefore, has to enter the classroom in essence, and it should be visible with a change in teacher behavior, such as a teacher ensuring individual attention to students; offering maximum input through different media; designing the lesson with a variety of activities, tasks and projects; handling learning support resources; maintaining regular and formative assessment, and most importantly, teachers themselves getting a continuous support for these all. Therefore, it is high time policy makers and educators took away the dreaded ghosts in the name of teacher training and supervision, and devoted themselves from the deep of their hearts and minds to supporting teachers. Similarly, the concern of making a learner a lifelong learner also demands an innovative intervention in the teacher support mechanism. In this connection, Cope & Kalantzis (2009) regard that teaching in this century is not about skill and competence; rather it has now got the aims to creating a kind of person, an active designer of meaning, with a sensibility and openness to differences, change and innovation (p.175). Teaching at present, therefore, demands ‘adaptability’ as the major goal of education, and, hence, ELT. Now, we have the challenge to avert the commonly held perception that when it is done with school, it is done with learning as well. Now, teachers have the responsibility to train learners about how to continue learning without a teacher; about how to differentiate between skill and knowledge; about how to convert book learning into usable skills and so on. This is the idea of making an EL learner a lifelong learner. Working in consonance with this line is not an easy job. Learning for the 21st century world demands inquiry, projects, technology embedded classroom, collaborative learning, criterion referenced assessment, differentiated instruction, and so on. The 21st century students do not need to acquire knowledge just for the sake of acquiring it; they need to do something with it. In order to cater for the presses of education for the 21st century, the first reform needs to be made in the pedagogy, and for the same goal we need to reform the existing teacher support mechanism. We must change the course restricted ELT; we must change the too short (40 minutes a day) classes, again with only teacher talking throughout; we must start differentiated instructional model of teaching, maximize input and interaction for enhanced learning, and so on. These simple but lasting innovations demand a reformation in the entire components of ELT pedagogy, including teacher support mechanism.
Likewise, the hotly debated but coolly accommodated concern for English as medium of instruction (EMI) in Nepalese schools also demands for a close and at- the- doorstep model of teacher support mechanism. Now, English has transcended through the entire level of schooling in Nepal. Whatever reasons and motivations there be (for example, economic, hegemonic, intellectual, sociolinguistic, communicational motivations), EMI has created a new space for discourse in the entire pedagogical structure in Nepal. Despite some criticisms against EMI, such as, it causing a brain fag; making children crammers and imitators; disabling them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses (Gandhi, 1933 etc.); children forgetting their own ethno-linguistic identity (Phyak, 2010); it causing low-level of knowledge about the subject studied, excessive consumption of time, feelings of alienation and separation, and the least amount of participation in the classes (Arslantunali , 2011: 193); EMI has surfaced from the institutional schools into the urban community schools, to further to rural settings. The apparent phenomenon that even parents from lower social- educational strata are ready to pay for learning English seems strange as to why people in Nepal are willing to sacrifice the government sponsored free education and go for paid English medium education. This is a big issue for debate. This situation implies that the demand for more English is growing by leaps and bounds. Here lies the necessity for a strong and resourceful EL teacher mechanism in the system of education. As teachers, who were by terms appointed for teaching in the vernacular/ Nepali medium schools, they are now under enormous pressure to deliver lessons through English, and it must be a serious issue especially in the junior classes where language amounts for most of interaction and students’ achievement. Education in English in ESL/FL context is one in which teachers need to support learners both in linguistic and conceptual areas. In this regard, if Davies, et al. (1994) as cited in Awasthi (2009, p. 199) is of any indication of the pathetic level of English among teachers in Nepal, we cannot remain mum a while at the need for creating English language teaching support mechanism for the crucial role of helping teachers improve their linguistic and pedagogical skills; assisting them have a vision and plan to shift their medium of instruction and assisting them design strategies, resources and preparations for innovation. We are at the right time to think and to start ELT support centre to help teachers boost up confidence and competence for delivering content knowledge and language skills in EMI classrooms. Then only can we expect sustainable reforms in ELT in Nepal.
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(* Mr. Dinesh Kumar Thapa, a life member of NELTA, is serving NELTA Lalitpur as Assistant Secretary at present. He holds M. Ed. degree in English Education from Tribhuvan University, and is currently a scholar pursuing M. Phil. in English Language Education from Kathmandu University. He has been teaching English at different levels for over 10 years. He is also involved in EL teacher training. He has published on issues related to ELT in different local and national journals. He is one of the editors of NELTA ELT Forum .)