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Nepal: Learning English at the cost of the mother tongues?
an article by Prakash Khadka

Once, a poor mother of a young girl asked my help to find a cheap college for her daughter. Why don’t you enroll in a government campus- I suggested, “No…, I can’t understand Nepali medium teaching properly”- the girl replied.

Poor government school (once upon time halted by Maoists) organising an exhibition in Dailekh; western Nepal.

click on photo to enlarge

A couple of weeks before where I was facilitating an animation training in central south, a large number of school children in the neighborhood were having their morning assembly. A teacher standing in front of them said loudly, “you are not allowed to speak Nepali inside the school premises, you should practice English”.

As private schools even though they don’t provide quality education with less experienced teachers are mushrooming to teach in the English medium, hundreds of government schools are already closed in major cities. A couple of government schools still in service are in deplorable condition at the heart of Kathmandu. The same condition exists in remote villages too. Even if a villager has little income; they send their children to the English medium schools.

One of my friends who teaches in government and private colleges in the capital said, "actually Nepali students are suffering; they hardly follow teachings. They even can’t question back if they don’t understand because it is matter of prestige for not knowing English."

Recently, Tribhuwan University (government) introduced semester system for the first time. All students welcomed the move and hoped that academic activities will be on time. Very soon, despite such expectation, many students left the class as they found medium of teaching was in English.

Commenting on some English national dailies, one of my Irish friends said, "Nepali reporters tried to show their language expertise by using old fashioned difficult words, in fact it looks rather funny."

People feel proud when they speak English. Especially some of the Nepali yuppie development workers and educators pretend to speak English mixed with Nepali.

Various social and economic factors have forced people to believe that "Knowing English makes you better." The main concern I am trying to raise here is how the Nepali language is being degraded as people have a growing tendency to learn English.

Nepal has 125 caste/ethnic groups and 122 languages/dilates according to the 2011 census. At the micro level, Nepali Khash Bhasha has dominated all mother tongues as country had been through vast Hindunizations process in its history. But at macro level, English has covered them all.

In this regard, Dr.Tove wrote me, "Sometimes English is learned at the cost of the mother tongues. The worst way of teaching people is to use English as the main medium of education from the very beginning. They have been fooled to believe that English-medium education leads to good competence. It often means that those children never learn their mother tongues and/or Nepali up to a high level, especially in writing."

In order to protect the Nepali language, the government needs to streamline Nepali medium education by controlling excessive English oriented teachings. But this may violate rights to choice; only an individual concern could be helpful in this regards. Hopefully, future federal states of Nepal may promote education in their mother tongue, protecting linguistic rights.


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This report was posted on May 9, 2014.