In Nepal, “English is required for a higher education.” (Burnett, 2012, pg. 13) It allows “access to textbooks, lectures, and journals” (Malla, 1977, p. 16), and is “the medium of instruction [MoI] in science, engineering, medicine, and technical institutes in the universities of Nepal…” (Bista, 2011, pg. 3). It is also necessary for government operations, being an international language (Ministry of Education, 2015, pg. 9) and “the only language of communication used to promote Nepal’s increasing diplomatic relations with the outside world” (Bista, 2011, pg. 3). Furthermore, “English proficiency is required for many jobs in the tourism sector and with the many non‐governmental organizations that operate in Nepal. These jobs are lucrative and prestigious” (Burnett, 2012, pg. 40) as well as crucial for the continued development of Nepal.
However, public English education in Nepal is deficient. Looking at the questions of the 2015 exam for the School Leaving Certificate (“SLC”; the equivalent of a U.S. GED), one can find numerous grammatical errors, ambiguous questions, and awkward sentences like “It’s been popular by now,” (SLC Questions, file W-RE-101, page 5) “We can have some good time together,” (SLC Questions, file W-RE-101, page 6) and “Would you get me some way out?” (SLC Questions, file FW-RE-101, page 5) The SLC is the single most important test in a student’s life and is developed by employees at the highest level of government; English incompetence here is indicative of widespread English deficiency at every other level of Nepali government and society. Public school teachers’ English proficiency is the equivalent of native English speakers at “Grade two to Grade four… with only a few exceptions.” (Bista, 2011, pg. 5)
Public schools often don’t offer English lessons, but even when they do, “most [public] schools are not resourced in terms of teachers or of teaching and learning materials to effectively deliver the curriculum in English” (Ministry of Education, 2016, pg. 47). One report found that “English language classes… include frequent and considerable use of Nepali language, and students hardly get exposed to English… [English Language Teaching in] Nepal is in a despicable condition owing to poor physical facilities, improper teaching methods and materials.” (Bista, 2011, pg. 5)
The systematic barriers to public education in general and English education are substantial and diverse, with overcrowded classrooms, inadequate teacher training and ineffective teaching methods, and a basic lack of “teaching materials/aids like computer[s], TV, over head projector[s], copy machines and course materials” (Bista, 2011, pg. 7). The Ministry of Education bemoans the lack of government data on its schools (Ministry of Education, 2015 pgs. 10, 12), and details numerous deficiencies in textbooks, book corners, student and teacher assessment procedures, teacher training, pupil-teacher ratios, and teaching techniques (Ministry of Education, 2015 pgs. 13-17).
Besides these systemic deficiencies of the whole public education system, the delivery of services is broadly inequitable. A 2014 report coauthored by the Nepali government and the UN concludes that “Broad regional inequalities in human development and productive abilities persist,” (National Planning Commission, 2014, pg. 128) along lines of class, gender, ethnic group, language, familial occupation, and geographical region. Starting with gender, the male adult literacy rate is %72, while the female adult literacy rate is %49; the percentage of Nepali people enjoying some secondary education is 39.9% for males and 17.9% for females (Empowering Adolescent Girls and Women, n.d.). These educational disparities contribute to other sexist inequalities: the average female per capita income is %64 of the average male per capita income in Nepal (National Planning Commission, 2014, pg. 93).
As for caste-based inequality, it is revealing to compare the low-ranking Dalit caste – which suffers from poverty and “widespread forms of deprivation” (Dalits in India and Nepal, 2007, 52) – with the high-ranking Brahmin caste. In the low-lying Tarai plains of Nepal 37.5% of Dalits attend primary school while 93% of Brahmins do; 7.2% of Tarai Dalits attend secondary school while 48.5% of Tarai Brahmins do. (Huebler, 2007) Government funded school subsidies have been illegally withheld from Dalits (Chapman & Koirala 2014) and Dalit children are subject to “corporal punishment, denial of access to school water supplies, segregation in class rooms…” (“Dalits’ Access to Education,” 2009 pg. 2) and “indirect discrimination by teachers, such as neglect, repeated blaming, and… social exclusion” (“Dalits’ Access to Education,” 2009 pg. 2) The results of this are predictable: the Brahmin caste averages an income of 49,878 rupees per capita, while the Dalit caste averages an income of 33,786 rupees per capita (National Planning Commission, 2014, pg 97).
Due to the earlier discussed systemic deficiencies in public education, families who can afford it send their children to private schools. These schools usually charge fees, only hire certified teachers, teach all classes in the English language, have small class sizes, and rigorously assess student and teacher performance – all in contrast to public schools (Andersson & Lindkvist 2000, pg. 16). In 2015 the SLC pass rate was 89.3% for private school students and 33.92% for public school students (Sharma 2015). Besides, because English is the language of nearly all postsecondary education, “the majority of parents like to send their children to English speaking schools” (Bista, 2011, pg. 4). Parents who can’t afford those schools face exceedingly difficult choices for themselves and their children’s futures (Aryal 2013).
These trends are likely to continue. The Nepali government has not effectively led the fight for better public English education. The government has not officially defined English’s status in the country – it isn’t labeled an “international language,” nor an “official language,” nor a “language of wider communication,” nor even a “second language” (Shrestha, 1983, 45-59; Shrestha, 2008, 191-210). Public schools are independently “switching to English MoI … to stave off the threat from private schools and to try to keep their enrollments declining” (Ministry of Education, 2015, pg. 13). It remains unclear whether public schools can overcome their preexisting inadequacies, deliver quality English education, and stem this loss of students.
High-quality public education can be a powerful tool in providing opportunity, and English proficiency is necessary for Nepali people to access postsecondary education. However, the public system has failed to provide high-quality or equitable education of any kind, let alone high-quality English teachers or materials. As in the case of Dalits vs. Brahmins, the privileged receive quality education and advance to remunerative and influential positions in society, wherefrom they may have no inclination to fund the public schools their children won’t attend. The underprivileged may have no means to influence this rifting society. But, as of now, English’s potential to positively transform the lives of Nepali people remains largely underdeveloped.
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