The paper presents criticisms of English only policy in Nepal, particularly with reference to institutional schools. It is believed that without proper management of low levels of teacher education, poorly designed/inappropriate curricula and lack of adequate school facilities, and most importantly teachers with no sound command over English and with no subject specialization makes teaching/learning activities disastrous in foreign language instruction. In the paper, highlighting on the inevitability of mother tongue based education, I focus on quality of education with emphasis on learners’ creativity. In spite of enhancing learners’ creativity, critical and analytical thinking, EMI from very early schooling promotes rote learning. As a result, the learners become unable to solve critical problems analytically and creatively. Moreover, EMI policy has made learning frustrating due to poor literacy and communicative skills.
People might wonder how the medium of instruction spoils creativity and quality education. The rationale is flawless as it is believed that language represents thoughts and thoughts represent our creativity. To justify this, let me share scenario of our country in some thoughtful questions. English is a foreign language in Nepal but it has been used as a medium of instruction in institutional schools from the early grade. This raises questions in my mind; why from early? And significant question, ‘Does English assist children’s learning’? My answer is ‘No’. People may ask again, ‘Why No’? The children in early grades are not capable enough to comprehend the text in their own mother tongue, and if so, how can they enhance their creativity in foreign language? Creativity is thinking beyond the boundary but it requires originality and imagination. Has anybody (non-native) ever imagined in English? Can someone’s (non-native) thoughts in other language be presented as originally as one can express in his/her mother tongue? Now let me share my anecdote here.
I have been teaching in institutional schools for eight years. As an English teacher, I always go to the class with an expectation that “Today, I will make my learners involve in a task where each of the students will discuss, take part equally and come up with a visible product”. With this conceptualization, I ask them to discuss in pairs and groups giving different kinds of tasks as per their needs. As soon as I assign them task they start their discussion in their mother tongue but, for my surprise when I remind them to speak English they almost become dumb.
To substantiate the above argument, let me share my own experience that I encountered about six months back. One day, I went to teach primary students though I would not teach primary level. That day, I had to take a class in grade one as their English teacher was absent. When I entered the class they stood up and greeted me, “Good….Morning…..Sir……..” I responded, “Good Morning”. The students seemed very excited, encouraged, and motivated. I was excited too. Then, I asked them sit down. No sooner had they sat down, I tried to involve everyone in an activity. For this, I divided the class into pairs. They were given tasks that suppose they were alone in their home but a stranger came to their home. Now their job there was to mention how they react to the person. At first, I told them practice in pairs using English. But, the class remained almost silence for a while. My intention was to involve each of them in the conversation but except a few bright students other almost did not take part. Then I asked them act out in Nepali to see their participation using mother tongue. There, everyone started talking to each other. However, after two minutes, I stopped them and then told them to come in front of the class and act out the same activity in English. Here, unfortunately again except a few so called smart students, most of them could not perform in English.
The very moment made me critically look at the impacts of foreign language on young learners. I raised a number of queries pointing to the effects of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) including English only Policy (EOP) on young minds. Is English language helping our learners become creative?” If they can perform well in Nepali then why should we teach them in English? Are we doing justice to young learners imposing EOP? Hence, these questions led me to come up with the following ideas.
The term creativity is hotly discussed all over the world but rarely has been well thought of it in any of the institutional schools. This has been a buzz word in the 21st century. Scholars believe creativity is an inherent quality of an individual. Stepping in the same line, Henriksen (2011) stated that creativity is a learner’s inborn capacity. It is an indispensable factor that gives birth to new knowledge and innovation, and also pivotal construct in the field of education. Creativity comes up with innovative idea and thinking beyond the four walls. In this regard, Read (2015) states that creativity is thinking beyond the box and bringing something new, different responses, innovative ideas and coming up with, new solutions to the existing problems.
Fehér (2007b) highlights on four features of creativity: imaginative, purposeful, original and of value. To become creative, one must be imaginative. Imagination is the source of innovative ideas. In this regard, Fehér (2007b) asserts that the scientific discoveries and inventions are possible because of imaginative thinking. Creativity exists when ideas can play freely and spontaneously in human mind (Read, 2015). The next feature of creativity discussed by Fehér is purposeful. In order to do something creatively one necessarily requires being purposeful. Here, my stance is that the task we are operating needs to be done with certain objectives in order to be successful. Similarly, originality is another important feature of creativity. In this regard, Woodward (2015) states, “Creativity is something bringing into existence, causing, developing of original ideas” (p. 150). Hence, creating new with inherited originality is considered doing creatively. Finally, creativity consists of value. Fehér (2007b) views that product or result has to be of value. He further argues that while evaluating our creation we need to ask question to ourselves ‘How does it serve the purpose?’
However, in my opinion, creativity of the learners has been discarded in the institutional schools. In the same line, Maley (2015) opines, “There is also a good measure of agreement that the current educational ethos is damaging to creativity” (p. 5). This is because, the schools’ education is result oriented and the learners are made to mug up answers/questions orienting to exam.
It is well accepted that one as a language teacher requires being aware of creativity skills in order to make his/her learners learn language effectively. While teaching, the teacher often needs to come up with some innovative ideas which fit in the class according to the situation, time and learners’ interest. In fact, it is believed that language learning itself is a creative act. It is because we transform our thoughts, imagination and feelings in the form of language which people can listen and understand (Fehér, 2007a). Not only this, as Chomsky claimed we also can produce the utterances or even larger texts that we have not heard before. However, in my opinion this is not possible to young non-native learners. Rather, they become dumb where English is used in spite of their mother tongue.
My argument is that some people cannot learn language unless they are allowed to be creative. They necessarily have to be creative in order to be competent in language (Fehér, 2007a). At the same time if they are competent, they get motivated or inspired create something valuable. Moreover, when they create something they develop their self-esteem. Justifying the very idea, Maley (2015) opines that using the creativity learners can come up with their own solutions to the problems which ultimately develop their self esteem. This also enhances students’ self-worth and makes more committed and more effective learning. Further, for creativity enhancement, Fehér, (2007a) believed that if the learners are assigned creative tasks that make classroom enjoyable and varied individual thoughts, ideas, and talents are enriched. However, the reality of the institutional school is completely opposite. It is because, the young learners in such schools lack literacy and communicative skills which are essential for learning and creativity. They are not competent in their own language but they are made to speak, read and write only English in the school. From this we can assume the situation of at least early graders.
Language is closely connected with the culture of the particular speech community and so is with creativity. In the same line, Deutscher (2010) claimed, “A nation’s language, so we are told, reflects its culture, psyche and modes of thought” (p. 1). With this stance, it can be stated that a person cannot be imagined to be creative unless the person is permitted to express his/her ideas in mother tongue. It is because; one feels comfortable to express one’s innovative ideas in mother tongue. In this regard; it is widely accepted that children who have schooling in their native language in early grades tend to have higher learning outcomes and significantly higher literacy levels. (Global Campaign for Educational Policy Belief, n. d.).
Furthermore, a number of advantages of mother tongue based education have been highlighted by Benson (2005). He states that use of the mother tongue in the early years helps students acquire and develop literacy skills along with understanding and participating in the classroom. It also allows students to learn the new language through communication rather than memorization. Similarly, students can express their ideas, teachers can diagnose what students have learned, what remains to be taught and which students require additional support. Finally, learners’ confidence, self-esteem and identity are enhanced raising motivation as well as creativity.
In contrast, the English medium institutional schools with EOP for its popularity do not allow the learners to use their mother tongue in the class and even outside. From my eight years’ teaching experience, I have realized that the focus on English in the context of Nepal has led to rote learning in school education. From the very first year of their schooling students encounter English which they have not heard before. This makes their learning panic and frustrating. It takes them almost four/five years to become able to comprehend the simple text but by the time they can comprehend, they already develop memorization skill rather than critical thinking, analytical skills. In other words, due to pitiable language command and result oriented educational system they mug up the answers without comprehension which has led to rote learning. Hence, EMI is a burden for learners because it has put them under water without teaching how to swim (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, as cited in Benson, 2005).
Highlighting on problems, Benson (2005) also states, “Simply changing the language of instruction without resolving other pressing social and political issues is not likely to result in significant improvement in educational services” (p.4). He further emphasizes that problems can arise in the country like Nepal where are chronic difficulties such as low levels of teacher education, poorly designed and inappropriate curricula and lack of adequate school facilities, EMI makes both learning and teaching extremely difficult, particularly when the language of instruction is also foreign to the teacher.
Threats of English only Policy
It is believed that in Nepal the English medium schools are better than the community schools; use Nepali as a medium of instruction. The point to substantiate this argument is that the English medium schools’ percentage of pass out students in Secondary Education Examination (SEE) is higher than of community schools. They claim that one of the reasons behind that result is English. In this regard, Shah & Li (2017) state that the outcome difference between institutional and community schools have given an ideological impression in parents that English-medium schools provide quality education.
Therefore, many Nepali medium community schools are being converted into English medium one after another. For this, Ministry of Education (MOE) enacted the Education Act (Government of Nepal, 2010 as cited in Shah & Li, 2017), which legalized the Medium of Instruction (MOI) to be Nepali, English, or both in community schools. However, there are some questions to be raised; have we ever thought of the creativity of English medium schools’ students? Does simply changing MOI enhance quality of education?
From my experience, I believe that even English medium schools lack quality education as most of them are in crisis of qualified, proficient and trained English teachers with strong pedagogical skills. Apart from this, they are exam oriented; the students are made to mug up contents and this has ultimately led them to good grades but not to quality. It is because, only the grades based on paper and pencil test cannot evaluate the students’ all the abilities. It can only test reading and writing abilities of the learners.
However, without knowing the fact, English has been enforced in schools from pre-primary level. The young are compelled to rote learn English alphabets without comprehension. The English medium schools insist only on English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) from the very first class. The young are enrolled from at the age of 2 or 3 years; the age in which they have not got mastery over their own mother tongue. Behind this trend, parental pressure and government ambitions are the two fundamental reasons identified (Simpson, 2017). Likewise, in this regard, realities showed by Hamid et al. (2013 as cited in Vu & Burns), who examined medium-of-instruction (MOI) policies in ten Asian countries, concluded that the implementation of MOI is “fraught with difficulties and challenges”. Moreover, Görgülü (1995, as cited in Kirkici, 2004) presenting the counterarguments against Foreign Language Medium of Instruction (FMoI) summarizes in the following points.
- Negatively affecting students’ concept formation in Turkish negatively
- impoverishing the Turkish language
- leading to a loss of the creative power of Turkish due to the creation of a mixture of two languages in which the rules of the foreign language spread into Turkish
- adversely affecting thought processes in children
- posing a barrier to learning
EMI is believed to be almost similar to submersion in worldwide; has brought a number of threats in school education or in maintaining quality of education. Benson (2005) states that submersion classroom is the place where a foreign language is used as an instructional language, which is neither spoken by the learner nor taught as a language.
As highlighted by Benson (2005) there are some threats of submersion programs which are: Students in submersion can decode but it takes a lot of time to discover meaning in they are “reading”. In submersion schooling they are compelled to translate or code-switch to convey meaning, which make concept learning inefficient as well as impede language learning. Similarly, learners’ cognitive learning and language learning are bewildered in such schooling, which makes it difficult for teachers to determine whether students have difficulty in comprehending the concept itself, the language of instruction, or the questions of the test. Moreover, learners are enforced to sit quiet or replicate mechanically that ultimately leads to frustration, repetition, failure and dropout. Finally, submersion program limits learner competence in both languages as it tries to promote skills in an L2 by eliminating them from a first language.
These are the bitter realities of submersion classes which is almost similar to EMI. We cannot imagine what the situation of learners in English only policy in Nepal where we not only teach other subjects in English but also we impose English to our young learners outside of the classroom since they enter the school compound. Unfortunately, they are completely restricted to use their mother tongue. We have not realized their pain, frustrations and challenges. This phenomenon has made failure in learning to many students ultimately leading to drop. Next, they are compelled to lack sound command on either of the languages.
Language is not merely a tool for communication. It is embodiment of culture, thought process and expression of our behaviors. One can express ideas, thoughts, and innovativeness when the person uses his/her mother tongue. Furthermore, mother tongue enhances learners’ classroom participation and cognitive learning process (UNICEF, 2016).
Unfortunately institutional schools are giving emphasis on EMI from early grade creating ideological impression that EMI is a key to quality education. Following this, even many community schools are on the way to adopt this system. For them, the achievement gap between institutional schools and community schools is due to English. However, they are unaware of that the schools lacking qualified trained and proficient English teachers with no sound pedagogical skills will be disastrous. This leads to exam oriented, rote learning education system including frustrating classroom environment.
Therefore, unless these problems are well addressed in the context of Nepal neither institutional schools nor community which are on the path of adopting EMI can maintain quality education. Students become rote learners, learning becomes frustrating, and learners’ intelligence and creativity cannot be enhanced effectively.
Benson, C. (2005). The importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality. The Quality Imperative. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005.
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Raju Shrestha is an M.Phil scholar in English Language Education at School of Education, Kathmandu University. He is Secondary Level English language teacher in institutional schools. He has worked as researcher at NCED to carry out research on ‘Review study on Research studies conducted in the areas of school Education between the periods of 1990 to 2015’. His areas of interest include: motivation, creativity/innovative pedagogical practices and transformative education.