‘Putting Old Wine in a New Bottle’: A Context of Nepalese EFL Teachers’ Professional Development
*Pramod Kumar Sah
English language teaching is going on to be more challenging with the changes occurring in and beyond the philosophy of teaching the English language globally. More advanced and effective teaching principles are being suggested recently, and they would benefit learners if adopted successfully. However, it is noted that English as a foreign language (EFL)/ English as a second language (ESL) teachers, especially from developing and underdeveloped counties, do not often have the knowledge and access to these sophisticated approaches to teaching the English language. This is perhaps why the outdated approaches, such as Grammar Teaching and Audiolingualism are still dominantly used in Nepalese EFL classrooms (Sah, 2014), which is causing the poor language education quality. It therefore requires English language teachers to keep upgrading themselves in order to help EFL/ ESL learners acquire English effectively. At the same time, the Ministry of Education (MOE) along with other agencies can have a significant part to play, but not by filling a new bottle with old wine. They would rather need to bring about changes in all aspects of EFL teaching, from designing courses to preparing teachers, to implement the changes effectively.
In this brief article, I have tried to discuss the situation of Nepalese EFL teachers’ professional development (PD) in terms of the opportunities they are often given and how they mediate them in their classroom practices. The discussion is largely based on a small scale survey of Nepalese EFL teachers.
The elements of teachers’ education
It is widely believed that the quality of teachers’ learning experience is directly linked to the quality of learners’ achievements. Teachers are thereby required to continue learning to help their students learn better. It is very unwise to finalize their learning with the completion of their university degree and teach with their limited skills and knowledge that often change over time. This is unfortunately a common situation in many Asian countries, including Nepal.
Over the last decade, some attention has been paid to educating in-service teachers for their professional development. As it is evident that professional development courses enhance teachers’ pedagogical skills and perhaps content knowledge (Radford, 1998), many countries have taken on designing and delivering in-service teachers’ education courses. This has also had some effect in the Nepalese context, however very limited. It can be argued that such professional training courses are in progress in Nepal due to foreign assistance, such as British Council, American Embassy, REED, etc. Such programs undoubtedly help teachers build up their skills and knowledge further provided that these courses are designed in accordance with the present development in the domain of EFL and are delivered effectively. There are a few elements of teachers’ education that can be of major concern in Nepal, for example, pre-service university courses, quality and length of trainings, teachers’ motivation for attending the training courses, and the environment and availability of resources to implement the new skills.
Pre-service university courses largely decide how skilled one becomes as a teacher in future. Student teachers are exposed to a range of pedagogical theories in their courses that seem to guide them in real teaching situations (Park & Oliver, 2008). However, if we look at the structure of ELT courses and the way they are delivered in Nepalese universities, the student teachers merely become the consumers of other people’s ideas. For example, while taking a B. Ed course, students are offered an ELT methodology module in their second year in Tribhuvan University. They are exposed to almost all the teaching approaches and methods available in the literature. Teachers just tell them whatever they have read in books about these principles and students make their efforts to comprehend them, and hence they can write about them in their examinations. Neither teachers nor students tend to look at the practical aspects of these approaches and discuss the integration of those approaches in Nepalese contexts, which is the most crucial activity that needs to be done. Eventually, when the student teachers go to their teaching practicum in their final year, the majority of them are not able to design scientific lessons. I would therefore argue that the university courses should focus more on practical aspects, such as designing and delivering a vocabulary lesson based on the Lexical Approach, rather than just telling them the theories of the Lexical Approach.
Quality and length of training can be a next general issue. There is no point in filling the new bottle with old wine; rather the training courses should be focused on introducing new teaching approaches that can address the present needs. For that, teacher trainers need to be highly skilled and have access to what is going on in the EFL world. It is very common in Nepal that a large number of teacher trainers merely have a graduate degree and some teaching experience. In the context of English speaking countries, English language teachers ‘must’ have a professional teacher training course, such as CELTA, DELTA, Trinity Certificate, etc., and teacher trainers are highly experienced with sufficient numbers of professional courses. In contrast, it is surprising that one can be an English teacher — and perhaps a teacher trainer — only with a university degree in Nepal. This is one of the reasons for the poor EFL teaching and learning quality in Nepal. Moreover, the duration of training courses also determines whether or not EFL teachers can develop professional skills. The common practice of very short training courses in Nepal can also be an issue.
Teachers’ motivation for training courses has a major part to play for effective teachers’ PD. Studies have evidenced that the success of professional training courses depends on the level of motivation teachers have for developing their professional skills. In the Nepalese context, the new generation of EFL teachers seem to be relatively more motivated toward enhancing their professional development; however, this cannot be taken for granted. Hence, motivational programmes can be introduced prior to organizing training courses.
It is equally important to build up suitable environments and availability for teaching resources, so that teachers can implement the skills and knowledge that they have acquired through training courses. For example, Nepalese EFL teachers are also receiving trainings in terms of using media and technology in classrooms, yet the majority of Nepalese EFL classrooms do not have access to computers and the Internet. It is more important to make the resources available before designing and delivering such training courses.
Findings of the survey
In order to examine the Nepalese EFL teachers’ beliefs in relation to the effects of teachers’ professional development, a small scale survey was conducted. The participants were 12 Nepalese EFL teachers at Nepalese secondary schools.
|Participants (P)||Amount of experience (in years)||Age group of the students|
The issues raised in the survey are as follows:
Institutional support for professional development
The responses show the variation in terms of whether or not they receive any support for their PD. Although, the P4 and P5 appear to receive some amount of support, the majority of them do not seem to receive such for their PD. The P3 received a general orientation and the P4 discusses various new approaches and methods among their peers, an example of the existence of collaborative work. This is also in line with Qiang’s (2003) argument for reflective teaching as an effective approach to enhancing EFL teachers’ PD. Moreover, the participating teachers expect the organizations to facilitate the EFL classrooms with teaching equipment to maximize the teaching and learning experience. They also focus on the need-based professional training courses. As mentioned earlier, telling the stories of different methods practiced in other situations will not benefit teachers; rather, they need trainings specific to their own classroom situations. At the same time, teachers should be self-motivated and take the initiative for developing their professionalism. Delli Carpini (2008), in this regard, noted that teachers’ collaboration plays a significant role in enhancing their PD.
This statistical diagram shows that the majority of teachers, i. e. 45.45%, receive a little training; it is therefore necessary for the institutions and the MOE to offer more opportunities for EFL teachers to further enhance their skills.
Access to teaching resources
Almost all the participants reveal that they do not even have access to the basic teaching resources apart from textbooks and physical materials. However, the P5 who worked for a foreign-funded program, namely the English Access Micro Scholarship Program, reported that they had access to all the teaching resources they needed in their classrooms. The teaching resources they need to maximise their teaching and learning experience are:
- Reading materials on practical classroom dealings
- Research reports that can answer a number of queries that they have regarding their classroom practices. If they wish to read about similar contexts, they can implement these useful research findings in their classrooms.
- Access to electronic devices and digital resources that can help them expose their learners to virtual real life situations.
- Actual and digital library that they can use to develop their knowledge further.
Possibilities for teachers’ professional development
Before beginning the discussion on the possibilities for teachers’ PD, it is worth looking at how professionally skilled the EFL teachers believe they are. This data may not demonstrate how skilled they are in reality unless taking a classroom investigation; however, this data gives a general idea. The majority of them believe that they are fairly skilled; however, a few of them consider themselves highly skilled and the other small group feel a little skilled. This clearly shows the need for helping EFL teachers for their PD.
As it is widely discussed, suitable environments for teachers’ PD is lacking. However, there are possibilities that can lead to such development provided that they are supported by facilitating training courses and workshops, and offering access to technologies in EFL classrooms, digital labs, and teaching resources. The P1 believes that
‘online courses/trainings/workshops with plenty of resources whenever possible or local organization of EFL practitioners that addresses the needs and expectations of the EFL teachers through training, workshops, short-term courses, instruction, talks, publications and so on’
can help EFL teachers develop their professional qualification. At the same time, the P4 focuses on the availability of online resources for self-learning and development, and collaboration among teachers. Moreover, the P3 believes that the activities at trainings and workshops for PD are ideas copied from the Western contexts, and thus have not yielded effective outcomes. This, therefore, suggests training providers to base the input sessions on the local situations. It was also suggested to build the collaboration between urban and rural schools, and form discussion groups to share and discuss classroom dealings. Clandfield & Buddenn (2015) also discussed in favour of collaborating locally and internationally with support from international organizations, such as IATEFL and TESOL.
Furthermore, this diagram depicts that the EFL teachers do not often seem to collaborate with each other, although the collaboration could play a significant part in their PD. This especially supports novice EFL teachers to receive practical ideas from experienced teachers. The EFL teachers should therefore take an initiative for teachers’ collaboration, and institutions can also be responsible for organizing such activities. Setting up a mentor programme can be of high importance for novice EFL teaches.
Challenges that Nepalese EFL teachers face in terms of their PD
The overall development of a country has a direct effect on every aspect, including education. This may be the reason that Nepalese classrooms do not even have access to basic requirements. The majority of respondents divulge that they do not have access to teaching resources that they need to make the teaching more effective.
There are a number of challenges for EFL teachers’ PD. For example, the majority of trainings, seminars and workshops are urban-centred that deprive EFL teachers from rural areas of the potential of learning how to teach well. At the same time, they seem to be doubtful of the quality of the training providers. As mentioned earlier, teacher trainers in Nepal do not generally seem to be highly qualified. The majority of them become teacher trainers merely with a university degree. In addition, it is a common problem in Nepal that teachers sometimes learn new teaching skills but they do not have a proper environment to implement them into their practice because of the lack of teaching resources. The overloaded teaching hours have also been noted as a major problem that may not make it possible to introduce new teaching approaches and methods in their classrooms. Moreover, the lack of quality university education is also producing less effective EFL teachers.
The effectiveness of students’ learning depends on the pedagogical skills that teachers apply in their classrooms. It thereby requires EFL teachers to seek opportunities for professional development. In the context of Nepal, EFL teachers do not seem to find themselves professionally skilled, but they look forward to receiving support either from the institutional or external level. The poor quality of pre-service education (i.e. a university degree in teaching) is one of the major reasons for producing less-skilled EFL teachers. Although often exposed to the theories of pedagogical principles, they missed learning the practical aspects. In addition, when this group of teachers go in service, they are still not given opportunities for PD besides some very short trainings and workshops. These trainings and workshops are, however, questioned against the quality of the teacher trainers and training sessions themselves. Although some EFL teachers attempt to learn something new, they are not able to implement the new skills owing to the lack of teaching resources and over-loaded teaching hours. Nevertheless the new generation of EFL teachers seem to be self-motivated and are seeking opportunities for their PD. They strongly see possibilities for PD, provided that there are opportunities for trainings and workshops, and access to teaching resources. They also want to study research reports so they can internalize the findings, if appropriate, in their teaching.
Acknowledgement: I highly appreciate all the participants for their contribution, and strongly believe that their contribution would appear to help for EFL teachers’ PD.
Clandfield, L. &Budden, J. (2015). Professional development: collaborative teaching in EFL/ESL [Blog post]. One Stop English. Available at: <http://www.onestopenglish.com/support/methodology/professional-development/professional-development-collaborative-teaching-in-efl/-esl/146471.article>
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Sah, P. K. (2014). If only, it were true: problems with grammar teaching. NELTA Chautari. May 2014. Available at <http://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/if-only-it-were-true-the-problems-with-grammar-teaching/
Qiang, G. X. W. (2003). Reflective teaching: an effective approach to enhancing teachers’ professional development. Foreign Language Education, 02. Available at: http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-TEAC200302022.htm
(*Pramod Kumar Sah holds an MA TESOL with Applied Linguistics from the University of Central Lancashire, UK, and M.Ed. in ELT from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is one of the editors of ELT Choutari.)