Adding Spices to the Conference: Panel Discussion on ‘Policy Issues in ELT’

*Laxmi Prasad Ojha

I have been attending NELTA International Conferences for about a decade now and have learned so much from colleagues from home and abroad. I attend conferences to share my ideas, listen to other people’s ideas and network with people from around the world. The beauty of these conferences is that they give us energy to advance our professional life.

This year’s NELTA conference was another mega ELT event in my life. The conference hosted two key note speeches, 10 plenary sessions and 161 concurrent sessions. But, two penal discussions were the most highlighted events of the conference and many people waited for these two events eagerly form the beginning of the conference. Because of my interest in the area of language policy, I was anxious about the penal discussion on “policy issues in LET”. Although there was a change in the panelists scheduled initially, one could not afford missing it. As penal discussions are not a regular part of NELTA conference, these events gave a new flavor to the participants.

Moderated by Bal Krishna Sharma, a PhD scholar at University of Hawai, the discussion captured the attention of everyone irrespective of the country they belonged to and the level they taught. There were three panelists from Nepal, India and Pakistan in the discussion. Prof. Jai Raj Awasthi, Vice-chancellor of Far Western University, Mahendranagar and past President of NELTA, Prof. Z. N Patil, a retired professor from English and Foreign Language University, Hyderabad, India and Prof. Zakia Sarwar the founder of Society of Pakistani English Language Teachers (SPELT) expressed their views on various issues related to English language teaching in their countries.

Bal Krishna Sharma raised various issues on the spread, use and future of English in South Asia besides the policies adopted by various countries regarding the teaching of English. Beyond my expectations, most of the panelists shared similar observations and views on why English is taught; when to start teaching English; what role English should be given in the education system, etc.

It was a real pleasure to listen to the three great scholars from neighboring countries share their ideas on a single stage. Although having different history of English language teaching, Nepal, India and Pakistan have so many similarities in the policies and practices of English language. In all these countries, English language has been both contested and adored so much side by side. On one hand some people, mostly the politician and linguistic rights activities, have been opposing the ‘over use’ of English citing that the spread of English will destroy the indigenous languages and cultures. On the other hand, there are people at the ground level – the common people – who think that English will bring prosperity to their lives.

Another interesting facet of the English language teaching in South Asia revealed in the penal discussion was the contradictory policies adopted by the governments. The governments have taken double standard in the introduction and teaching of English in government-funded schools. For example, the government of Nepal has taken a policy to promote mother tongue of the children in early grades and has developed curriculum and materials to help schools and teachers do so. On the contrary, the government has initiated the policy to introduce English as a medium of instruction from primary level in the same government-funded schools. Prof. Awasthi argued that this has happened because of the lack of clarity on the policy on the part of the government. Prof. Patil and Prof. Sarwar also added about how the governments in their countries have different policies on ELT at different time.

Overall, it was very enriching experience to listen to three renowned scholars of ELT in South Asia together. I believe, like me, all the participants must have enjoyed the discussion on the policy issues in ELT. Thank you NELTA for bringing this opportunity!

(*Laxmi Prasad Ojha teaches at Department of English Education, Tribhuvnan University, Kirtipur. A central committee member of NELTA, he is also an editor of “Journal of NELTA” and “NELTA ELT Forum”. He can be reached at laxmiojha99@gmail.com.)


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