An Experience in Teaching English in Rural Nepal

Teaching English to the high school students in rural Nepal did not prove to be as easy as I thought when I began my career as a formal English teacher in a village in Nawalparasi district. My school was named Canal Centre High School for being located between two canals. The school attracted students from two quarreling communities: a Tharu community on the one side of the canal and a Brahmin community on the other.

From the very beginning, I got depressed in knowing that English was taken as a very tough subject to pass in the examination. Neither the students nor the teachers thought it as a language medium of international scope. Students were asked to read like “parrots” the essays, letters, job applications, and other writings. And learning meant sheer memorization and never the learning of meanings, structures and forms. In case of a passage, the teachers just translated it into Nepali and wrote the answers of a fixed set of questions in English on the blackboard and made the students memorize word by word. Students were not offered any chance to practice the spoken English. It reminded my time as a high school student, when English was the toughest subject to pass for everyone including me. English was popularly known as the “Sarkari Rog” (Government Disease). Crowding of students wiling to take tuition of English before SCL examination clearly showed how difficult English really was. Despite all this, most of the students failed in SLC examination, which is considered as the iron gate of academic career.

Despite being amateur in teaching, I had a strong commitment and determination to do my best to make the students realize that English is not a mere subject to secure marks in the examination but rather a globally used language of communication. I sensed the need to be proficient in English if we were to be able to share what we have with others and to keep ourselves acquainted with the outer world. It was a challenge as well as an opportunity for me to make my dream come true to see the students speak, read and write English fluently. When I began pondering why the quality of education especially of English in our areas is so low, I found out that we, the English teachers, were the reason behind it. When we as teachers hadn’t received quality education, how can we dispense quality education to our students?

Most of the experienced English teachers in our locality blame the government policy of education and text books for the dissatisfying result of English. But, from my short teaching experience, I do believe that there is nothing wrong with the text books. However, I must admit that the insufficiency in educational materials and lack of access to the new and innovative method of teaching and learning have caused the hindrance to provide the quality English language teaching. And, most significantly our perspectives of teaching English language as compulsory English subject and to make the students secure at least 26 out of 80 by hook and crook has been the major reason behind this. Why don’t we teach it as a language, why don’t we try to enable our students to use it as a means of everyday language? The problem is that we are really stuck on outdated traditions when it comes educating our children. The same traditional method of “parrot learning” (memorization) has been used still now.

Having a vision in the mind that I will make my students proficient in English and make them not treat it simply as a subject to pass, I was accepting a really tough challenge. Despite being the students of high school level, my students didn’t know even the basics of English. With these bitter truths in mind, I took the first step in teaching English but I really got confused with: how and what shall I teach them first? They knew nothing of English, neither vocabulary nor knowledge of grammar. However, I had to finish the course on time for the exams. I was well aware of the fact that English had never been a practical subject in that school. Therefore, making them proficient in speaking, reading, writing, and comprehension was a very difficult task indeed. Had they had a good foundation, it could have been easier. But they had so little exposure to English from the beginning of their schooling. I began teaching them with Basic English grammar and enabled them to make sentences with the grammar they have learned. I enabled them to make as many sentences as possible using the same grammar and made them practice over and over again the structure they had just mastered.

Since the audio cassettes for practicing English did not match with the standard of my students’ English, I recorded simple English conversations myself with the help of my friend and showed to my students how particular structures were used, how the words were pronounced, and then enabled them to practice similarly. Making some conversations, I would ask them to practice speaking. I offered the conversations with some blanks in it to fill with the most suitable words and phrases. I was moving ahead in this way and the students too became interested in learning English language which was a great success for me. I knew if once I could create interest in them I could teach them better. Being inspired with my success in no time, I got really energetic and enthusiastic for teaching better than the best. I consulted with many experienced teachers, visited web sites, went through various educational materials to apply the best teaching method of English and tried to apply them in the class and chose the most suitable of them in the class.

I also attempted to use some English movies with Hindi subtitles on the bottom and Hindi movies with English translation at the bottom but this didn’t prove that beneficial because the language was too advanced for the level.

However nobody knew the reality of my students and surrounding environment. They were studying better than me so I started looking for new ideas and tried to invent new teaching techniques to fit my students’ standard. In the mean time, an idea of fun learning English came to my mind and I declared Friday classes as Funny English and recited many jokes and stories to the students. I enabled them to read poems to improve their pronunciation. It was really tough to make them understand the phonetic symbols especially vowel ones. However, I taught them consonant sounds and let them practice pronouncing. I made them participate in various games including the dictation contest, spelling contest, word meaning contest, and other games to make English language learning a fun. On one hand, I was always aware not to let learning be boring to student and, on the other hand, I was being pressured to finish the course in time by the administration. There remained the real problem: I was trying my best to make my students proficient in English but the administration wanted me to finish the course in time by hook and crook no matter whether the students would digest it or not.

When I look back, I can see that a lot of problems played together to contribute to the low quality of education in rural Nepal. School administration is also no less responsible for the low quality of education. Teachers are not well behaved, not well paid and not paid in time too; and a hungry stomach can’t serve better. Semi qualified and untrained teachers are contributing to a low quality of English language teaching but, most significantly, their ill approach towards teaching English language has made it the worst. On the parts of the guardian, they seem curious but not responsible for the good performance of their children. Since most of the people are of average income, they cannot afford more money to buy extra books for their children. Furthermore, children, especially girls, have to do various household works making it hard to manage time for the study at home. The foremost task that is needed to be done in order to improve English language teaching in rural areas of Nepal is to make the teachers and students understand that English should be taught as a language and not as collection of text book to memorize.

About Article:

Project Category: Project: Rural Education Nepal
Article Category: Memoir
Author: Deepak Pandey
About Author:  Deepak Pandey is an english teacher in Nepal who carries a vision to make his students understand english and not just memorize words and sentences.
Submission Date: February 2008

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