Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Back To Square One


Somy Paudyal


Education in Nepal began from Gurukul education system where 'gurus' used to teach the students and they were the sole source of learning. Students learned whatever the teachers taught and relied on teachers for everything. Hence, teachers have always been seen as an important source of knowledge in the context of Nepal. This also implies that teachers are credited for students' success or failure which puts the teachers under a lot of pressure to teach well.
The formal training of teachers began with the establishment of Basic Education Teacher Training Centre in Kathmandu in 1948. The institute trained primary level teachers. Teacher education programmes began with the establishment of College of Education in 1956. In 1963, mobile normal schools were converted into Primary School Teachers' Training Centres (PSTTC). Furthermore, all the teacher training programmes were brought together under one umbrella called Institute of Education (IOE). The government further tried 'distant education programme' to train teachers through radio around late 1970s. In some remote places like Jumla, teacher training began as soon as one reached the sixth grade.
Education and training of teachers is still going on under different institutions. Formal teacher education is also provided at Bachelor's and Master's levels. According to National Education Statistics of 2017, there are 89.48 per cent trained teachers teaching in lower secondary level. Similarly, there are 88.67% and 97.27% of trained pre-primary and primary level teachers respectively. Furthermore, the percent of trained secondary and higher secondary level teachers is 88.705% and 88.010% respectively. Tentatively, 88% of teachers are trained at all levels.
The aforementioned data shows that there are quite a lot of trained teachers now, but very little research is done on whether these teachers are usually applying what they learned in the training. They are trained (according to the statistics) but are they comfortable using the new ideas and techniques learnt in the training?
New terms and concepts are introduced to teachers in training. The most popular ones these days are action research, student-centered teaching, post-method pedagogy, student directed learning and teacher's autonomy. Furthermore, new concepts like extensive reading, e-library, student's club are being brought forward.
Trainers come from national and international arenas and give training to the teachers. However, the training from the international level, however attractive it may sound, require resources which rural schools may not be able to afford. In the earlier days, the trainees of Nepal were sent to the USA or Philippines to get trained. We still find a lot of professors who have had some sort of degree from the UK or the US. They come to Nepal and start giving training to teachers but the concept they share with the teachers are entirely from foreign countries.
The Nepali trainers somehow forget that the resources found in developed countries are not so readily available in Nepal. It is interesting to note that the trainees that received training abroad usually don't teach at primary or secondary levels. They teach university students or become teacher trainers. Therefore, they never quite understand the local context of teaching and the challenges of applying foreign ideas in the native soil.
However, it is customary in Nepal to follow foreign ideas. Therefore, teachers getting training from those professors try to implement foreign ideas in the local classrooms which doesn't quite fit and hence every theory, every method fails and they retract to their traditional way of teaching i.e. lecture method. They at least trust this method as it was practiced by our forefathers in our native land.
Therefore, teacher training, for the most part, has just been a banal word. It has been 71 years (1948-2019), since the government and other agencies started training the teachers, yet the method most practiced in our everyday classroom by teachers is lecture method and the most common learning strategy of the students has been rote learning. Why so?
Teacher training has been a sort of forced activity too. Teacher training programmes are either funded or supported by organizations like UNICEF, NORAD, UNESCO and so on. There are other independent foreigners, those that do not work with any organizations, who may organize some programmes to train the teachers but they train the teachers to run the teaching-learning activity according to their way and not the Nepali way. There has been teaching imperialism for many years but the teachers have failed to see this. There are some teachers that are enthusiastic to try out new things and bring change but deep down in their hearts, they know that the most useful method again is lecture method and the best way for Nepali learners is rote learning.
Ours is a culture based on believing rather than testing. We believe in whatever is written in the Vedas. We believe what our parents or teachers tell us. There is no culture of testing or questioning our seniors because we believe that there is no need for that. The modern approaches ask us to question our culture, to sort of debate. These modern approaches believe in post modernism and maintain that everything is in a state of flux and hence should not be believed just like that. Sadly, this thinking is against our culture, therefore the students and the teachers both are in confusion most of the time as to what their role should be.
Had the teachers realized that lecture method is the best method long ago, had the government valued its own way of teaching, there might have been a lot of improvement in the field of teaching. I do not mean to say that lecture method is the best method but it is possible that it is the most appropriate method for our culture and nation but we have failed to sense it. Had we started revising this method 71 years ago, we would have developed it to its full extent and we would not have had to rely on foreign methods of teaching. We might just as well be back to square one for the time-being.

The author is an M.Ed. student of English at Tribhuvan University, Kritipur