First introduced to the English language under the shade of a tree in rural Nepal, Ganga Ram Gautam has dedicated his life’s work to improving the standards of ELT in rural Nepal to empower students and teachers with English language education and to open doors to higher education.
Ganga Gautam (GG): I am from rural Nepal and some of the classes were given under the tree in the open field. There were no desks, we wrote on a stone slate with stone chalk. After high school, I went to university. It was a 3 days walk from my hometown; I carried a big rucksack on my back. I would walk the whole day, stay in a tea shop overnight, and then walk again next day to reach to the university campus. I stayed there in a rented room and studied there for about 3 years before I started my undergraduate study in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
My first initiation to English was in university. My teacher started with a warmer and asked me to make a sentence in the simple present. The sentence I made was wrong. My classmates laughed at me, and at that point I decided it would be my major. I worked hard, and joined the British Council library and attended the American Language Centre that taught English conversation.
After that, my colleagues would poke me to ask questions [in English] to the teachers in my university class. I got a master’s in English education. When I was in the master’s level, my teachers Prof. Jai Raj Awasthi and Dr. Ram Ashish Giri started talking about NELTA. Since I was one of the few students who asked questions in English, they inducted me as an executive member of the NELTA founding committee.
Sherry Blok (SB): What is the role of English language education in Nepal? What are some of the issues related to ELT in Nepal?
GG: English is taught as a foreign language, but now with political restructuring the new constitution gives an option to choose the medium English or Nepali. There are 123 recorded languages in Nepal. To accommodate the needs of linguistic communities, the decision in the near future might be to use English as a common language. English is a very powerful language, but the policy has not yet been clearly defined. There are different opinions on both sides of the spectrum. Ground level English language proficiency is a big issue at the moment. Teachers don’t have enough language to deliver English in school.
SB: How does English language education tie into empowerment and global citizenship in Nepal?
GG: I think if you are talking about empowerment, one of the tools is language education. Knowing English is empowering because it allows you to reach out to the community. When I was in the NELTA, I reached out to poor children in the community to provide extra English support. I am from a public education system, so the students I teach now are from public education background, low income band. Ministry of Education, U.S. Embassy, and British Council and other agencies allocate scholarships for higher education for the students from rural Nepal. However, those who have good English are normally from richer backgrounds and they get those opportunities. The English Access Micro scholarship Program implemented by NELTA and funded by the U.S. Embassy is meant to be given to the right people, to improve English for kids in the rural community. Students are taught how to speak and write well and develop reading skills. This program has helped them to get good scores. It has been going on for more than 5 years and many children have received scholarships. That is the way to empower people—from having nothing to scholarship.
SB: You are a cofounder of NELTA and have a great hand in shaping professional development for teachers in your country. Can you tell us a little bit about this teachers’ organization?
GG: We grew from 12 to over 3,000 members and 43 branches throughout Nepal. We organize an international convention every year and bring in the celebrities like Diane-Larsen Freeman, Penny Ur, etc., who our students have read. It is a big inspiration in [their] professional development journey. When they meet these speakers at a NELTA conference, it is a life-changing transformation. That is what a professional development association can do and should do.
SB: Ganga, you served NELTA for 17 years. Why did you decide to pass on the torch?
GG: In developing countries, leadership training is weak. We groom young colleagues and let them take over the rules and responsibilities when we form the new committees. That is very powerful because it is an element of trust. When you trust new teachers and allow them to be in charge, you empower them.
SB: How would you define best practices?
Best Practices in Teacher Training
GG: I teach in both the bachelor’s and master’s programs and at the end of their courses, students go for teaching practice. They are fresh and panic, so we pair these student teachers (1 male, 1 female) and teach them how to co-plan and co-deliver the lesson. We put the students in the same class at the same time. For example, there might be two stations where one teacher might work with the weaker learners and the other with the stronger ones. If there are two teachers, there is a lot of sharing, and they complement each other. This is the second time we’ve done this and this is a wow moment for me.
Best Practices in English Language Teaching
In classroom teaching, I used project-based learning in Nepal successfully. I suggest taking [preservice teachers] outside the textbook and curriculum to find ways to think beyond the box and engage students in creative activities.
Best Practices in Curriculum Development
If we talk about my best practices with NELTA, I and my colleagues developed a 100-hour modular course for primary English teachers because unless you improve English language proficiency, they can’t teach English.
SB: In a report from your experience studying at Boston University as a Humphrey Fellow (congratulations!!) in 2010-2011, you stated that one of your biggest takeaways was, ‘’How U.S. teachers use cultural and linguistic divides as a resource in the ELT classroom.’’ How are you integrating this approach for Nepalese educators?
GG: Because Nepal is also very diverse as in the United States, if your curriculum is guided by monoculture hegemony, then how do we address these diversities in English language teaching? When I was observing classes in the USA, I noticed they use resources from all over the world. If the textbook is written by a group of people not aware of the impact of textbook on ethnic communities, the authors include their things, such as festivals. Maybe it is a festival of the authors’ community, but not of the students. There is a huge impact on the students when the input is meaningful. Thus, it is important to make textbook and pedagogy more inclusive. I was appointed a curriculum board member by my university, and we have included Englishes from around the world, i.e., texts from Israel, England, and America. Students are exposed to all varieties of English.
SB: Can you give any simple advice to like-minded educators who would like to bring professional development to teachers in developing countries?
- Start with what you can and share what you have.
- Be open minded to learn new things even if it is not applicable in your context. Even if it sounds irrelevant at the moment, it could be relevant in the future.
- Never think you are inferior or weak. Everyone has a hidden gem to offer to the community.
- Be proactive in learning and professional development. There are plenty of opportunities waiting for you!
SB: Fantastic advice!
Interested in sharing your best practices? Contact me!