NNEST of the Month
LAXMAN GNAWALI, MA (Nepal) and M ED (UK), is Associate Professor of ELT at Kathmandu University and Former Senior Vice President of NELTA. He is a dedicated EFL professional with wide experience in teaching English to primary, secondary and tertiary level learners and also in training primary and secondary level teachers of English in Nepal. He leads and facilitates degree and short-term teacher-training and trainer training programs in the field of ELT in Nepal. He has written EFL school textbooks for younger learners and special education learners in Nepal and co-authored an English language improvement course for English teachers of South and South East Asia. He has contributed papers on teacher training and teacher development to national and international collections. He has presented papers at a number of international ELT conferences in the South and East Asia region. Currently, he is pursuing his PhD, doing research on EFL teacher professional development through teacher networking.
NNEST Blog August Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
1. Why did you decide to become an educator? Please talk a little about your Englishlanguage-learning and English-language-teaching trajectory.
I think I became an educator because perhaps this was the only profession I had seeneducated people would take in my village. The question why I became an English teacher is related to my heart. When I was a school student, I was fascinated by the people who spoke English. I used to imagine myself speaking to people in English. So, when I was in college, I enrolled in the Education stream and chose English as my major. This was my first step towards the English teaching profession. When the stipend I received from the college was not enough to support my living and college expenses, I sounded out if somebody knew about a vacant teaching position. Luckily, one of my classmates was a school principal of his own private school and he offered me a position at his school. I went to college in the morning and taught during the day. I was doing my BA at this time. And this was the time when I improved my English language proficiency.
Though the trajectory above sounds linear, I underwent a winding path of English learning and teaching. The school I went to up to Grade 10 was a Sanskrit school. Though English was one of nine subjects we had to study, most students did badly in English as the focus was on Sanskrit. For me, written tests did not bother me much, but speaking was a problem. I could hardly say a sentence in this foreign language. At the college, I secured good marks on written tests but speaking did not improve. My first job at the private school brought a turn. The school was an English only zone. We had a rule: if anyone was found speaking in Nepali and not in English, he/she had to take all teachers to a restaurant after the school was over. A school teachers’ salary and a restaurant bill would not go together, so everyone used English whatever the quality. The result was that everybody’s fluency in English improved. After completing my BA in English Literature and with good English language proficiency, I moved to Kathmandu for an MA. Due to political ups and downs, the University calendar was disturbed and it took four years for me to complete a two -year Masters. Besides my study during this period, I taught at a school to support myself.
After my Masters, which I finished in 1991, I went to my home village to teach at a higher secondary school. But my aim was to become a University teacher, so one year later I returned to Kathmandu and started working as a Lecturer at Kathmandu University. In 2000 the Hornby Trust gave me an opportunity for a degree programme in the UK. I was placed in the College of St. Mark and St. John (Marjon), Plymouth (now University College Plymouth St. Mark St. John) where I did M Ed in TTELT (Teacher Training for ELT). This was the time when I improved my speaking mainly in terms of the stress pattern. Since my return in 2001, I have been working as an English teacher educator at the School of Education, Kathmandu University. I teach M Ed students Study Skills and Academic Writing, ELT Methodology, Curriculum Design and Materials Development, Teacher Development for ELT, and Classroom Research. Apart from course delivery, tutorials and counselling, I supervise dissertation research. Outside the University, I have co-authored a school textbook series, Symphony: An English Course, and conducted teacher training throughout the country. I also work as a simultaneous interpreter between English and Nepali during high profile workshops and seminars. The last two activities have helped me to explore different nuances of English.
2 – You are the Acting President of NELTA (Nepal English Language Teacher Association). How and why did you get involved with your country’s teachers’ association and what have you learned through this experience?
I first attended the annual conference of NELTA in 1996. I felt that if I joined NELTA I would learn, so I took membership and started attending and delivering workshops it organized mainly in Kathmandu. In fact, the opportunity I received to study in the UK came to me because I was an active member and this scholarship was given to only active NELTA members. Since my return from the UK, I have been heavily involved in the NELTA activities and I would like to quote from my Presidential Speech I delivered in the last Conference to say what I have learnt being part of NELTA:
In Sanskrit, there is a saying ‘Sanghe shaktih kalau yuge’ which means organization holds the key to strength in modern times. Here the word organisation means association and network. Being on a network makes a crucial difference in one’s career and professional attitude. With the help of network, one not only develops and rises, but also snowballs strength to help others to move on. The members help the network to grow. This is true to NELTA. At NELTA, there has been a literal give and take. NELTA is what Emilie Durkheim calls organic bonding which acts as a tool to help the individuals grow in the profession, self-actualise and be recognized in a broader circle. It helps them realise their full potentials. NELTA provides its members with opportunities to realise their potentials and with those realised potentials, the members explore newer avenues for NELTA to grow into a bigger platform. Mike Solly rightly put at the end of his presentation in an ELTeCS meeting in Sri Lanka a few years ago:
Tell me and I will… Forget
Show me and I will. …Remember
Involve me and I will…Understand
Network me and I will. …Grow (and help others to grow)
This is not just a theory now. It is a reality.
3 – Could you please provide some examples of teacher development initiatives that NELTA helps promote and explain how these initiatives have contributed to the improvement of English Language Teaching in your country?
NELTA promotes teacher development for ELT through its own initiatives and also in collaboration with other organizations. It organizes annual conferences which are attended by over 1000 teachers. Short-term teacher trainings are a regular phenomenon for teachers of different parts of the country. NELTA members receive free personal copies the NELTA Journal and the English Teaching Forum on a regular basis. Most branches have a resource centre with books on ELT. Exposure visits to other countries mainly to attend workshops and conferences are regular opportunities for Nepalese English teachers. NELTA also gets Hornby scholarships for its members to do a Masters course in ELT in the UK. TEFL International provides scholarships each year for its certification courses.
These opportunities have been instrumental to develop ELT situation in the country. At least in the urban areas English teaching has visibly improved. We now have trainers who can travel to different parts of the country to run training. Until a few years back we used to depend on textbooks from India. Now there is a competition within the country among textbook writers and publishers. Nepalese ELT practitioners have started contributing to the International journals which is a significant sign of development.
4 – Many websites such as: http://www.projects-abroad.co.uk/volunteer-projects/teaching/nepal/ andhttp://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings /work/esl/articles/workinasia.shtml
offer teaching positions to native-English-speaking teachers with little training and experience. Is it because there’s a lack of qualified teachers in your country or do you feel that NEST have better opportunities than NNEST with the same experience?
Though there are enough NNEST in Nepal, there is still a feeling among the stakeholders that NEST are better because they speak proper English. So, it’s not uncommon to see individuals from the UK or USA working at some schools. However, the number of expatriate teachers who receive salaries for work is very small. Those NEST who come as volunteers do not replace NNEST. They come for a short time and help regular teachers in their classroom teaching. So, the advertisements the NGOs place are actually responded by people who want to gather some experience of working in a country like Nepal.
5 – In your Presidential Address given at the 16th NELTA International Conference in March (http://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/presidential-address-sixteenth-nelta-international-conference/) , you mentioned a survey of ELT in Nepal, in which NELTA working with the National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Education, the British Council and the US Embassy. Why was there a need for such survey and what type of information does NELTA hope to obtain from it? Do you have any preliminary information about the number of NEST and NNEST in your country and if there is a difference in their salary and teaching status, for example?
The survey I mentioned has been proposed in order to develop a common data bank and reference document on the ELT situation in Nepal. The first survey was conducted in 1984 and now the information from that report is obsolete. So, this second survey is expected to document updated data on the major aspects such as teachers, students, teaching learning materials, testing, trainers and training etc. Though I do not have an exact number of NEST and NNEST, I can now say that the number of NEST is very small. Only a very small number of NEST who are showcased to boost the business of the private schools receive higher salaries. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Nepal is not a market for those who are looking for a lucrative teaching job. The opportunities are limited to the British Council Teaching Centre, Lincoln School, the British School, Kathmandu International Study Centre and other schools, specially set up for children of the expatriates.
6 – As a teacher educator, how do you balance global and local tendencies towards ELT in general and teacher development, in particular?
Our ELT practices are directly and indirectly guided by the international development in ELT and also in teacher development. We always try to read the latest books and research reports from the BANA countries (Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and North America) thinking that there must be something out there. This is because very little has been published within the country. So, more than balancing, we try to import knowledge from outside. Yet, I have one particular issue related to the idea of balancing. The international trend is that the trainings and workshops should be participant centered, and participants should be encouraged to contribute; in the language classes, learners should be given a chance to speak and work on their own. But here in Nepal, many teachers expect the trainer to deliver content-rich lectures; otherwise, they think the trainer did not work, just fooled around. The same goes in the ELT classrooms. Teachers who have been trained in the participant centered environment try to organize activities and get students to carry out tasks. The result is that parents complain to the head teachers that the English teachers has fun in the classroom and does not actually teach. In such situations we try to take a middle path.
7 – What message would you like to leave to your ELT colleagues from all around the world?
Colleagues, if we are on a network, we can grow and help others grow. So, let’s join a network. If there is no network where we are, let’s start one and “learn and let learn” because together we can make things possible.