Chris Sowton of Global Action Nepal trains Nepali teachers to teach English to students.
Many scholars, pundits, essayists including poet Laxmi Prasdad Devkota (essay “Hi Hi Angergi”) have highlighted the importance of English language and its rising influence in Nepali society. No English, no future, parents tell their kids. With a strong desire to produce global citizens, English is taught from the very beginning in the school along with Nepali. Ka, Kha, Ga- A, B, C. Side by side. Sanskrit, the mother language of Nepali is banned by the Maoists but English is gaining more importance in education system. The “Gai khane bhasha” (language of beef eaters) is no more an imperialistic language.
I met an English man, Chris Sowton, a few days ago in Kathmandu who was training around two dozen English language teachers from around Nepal. The teachers’ training program was organized by the British Council in Kathmandu. Chris is the president of London based Global Action Nepal (GAN), a charity that works in fields like youth development and teachers’ training. Chris has nearly a decade long experience of working with teachers and students in Nepal. He said, “Students are forced maintain pin drop silence in class room and teachers only speak [in the name of teaching]. Teachers should not behave as Guru but as teachers. They should let students talk to each other and interact among themselves. That will give them opportunity to practice speaking English.”
A teacher whose class is noisy is considered inefficient in Nepal, Chris said, and other teachers start taking about him as being unable to handle students. That is very bad, he said. “Students do have knowledge and if they are encouraged to talk (in English of course], that will prove more fruitful. While listening to him, I remembered my own days in school when teachers used to spend most of the time in making sure no student was talking.
There are quite a few ironies in our approach to English. In some schools, speaking English is taken so much seriously that students are fined for speaking in Nepali. Santosh Acharya, a reporter friend of mine in Nepal Weekly, said that his daughter was fined Rs. 5 for speaking Nepali in school he had to go to the school and remind them that they were living in Nepal! “That is too much,” said Chris. “If you say you don’t know Nepali but emphasis only in English, that’s not good. English should always be your second language.” His tips to improve English included speaking with friends and writing. I told him that I have rarely heard folks in my office talking in English, not even in the Kathmandu Post. I also told him that I started this blog to practice writing in English because, as I am a reporter working for a Nepali daily newspaper, I had no forum to express myself in English. “Grammar is not important as long as you feel you are being able to communicate effectively,” said Chris.
There is whole lot of craze among youths in Nepal to learn better English but the same folks will not hesitate to pass the comment like “kay saan diyeko English bolera” [showing off the language skills] when someone starts conversation in English. I have also seen some people speaking English just to show that they are different from the rest and are thus special. For some, its fashion to let others say that their Nepali is poor and prefer speaking English. So it varies.
What about in villages? I spoke to a teacher from far west Nepal who was attending the training session by Chris and other two (Sue Leather, Colin Davis). “Primary school teachers don’t have good command in English,” said Ramji Hamal of Dhangadi. “How can they teach good English to students? Government must appoint teachers who are qualified to teach English.”s
Hamal said most of the students aren’t aware of what they speak in English. For instance, Hamal said, when a students wants to enter inside the classroom, s/he stands outside and says, “May I come in sir?”
“Many of them don’t know what does that mean,” he said. “That is why many students simply say [in rhythm] ‘My comin sir!'”
>> Here is what I wrote in Kantipur about my meeting with Chris and other teachers.