May 7, 2021

Praveen's Webspace

writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Teaching in Nepal: Choice, Chance, and Being the Change in the World

Here's the link of this article written for & published in EdConteXts, Int'l Network of Educators.

Teaching, especially in schools, in Nepal is considered an easy profession. In fact, people in many other professions use teaching as a convenient start to their careers. Due to limited job opportunities, teaching is an easy way to fund higher education for young people.

So, when I was invited by a colleague at EdConteXts to share my personal and professional stories about teaching in Nepal, I did a quick survey with 72 teachers in a business college where I am working. My key question was:

“Is teaching your choice or did you pick it by chance?”

I wanted to know what factors affected the “choice” to become teachers.

Seventy percent of responders said that they chose teaching by chance. While those who chose teaching deliberately had studied “education” as their academic stream, those who picked this profession by chance said they did so because this was their only choice. A few colleagues chose it as hobby first and then developed an interest or even passion later on.

My Own Story of Becoming a Teacher
My own story of becoming a teacher started by chance at first.

Born and brought up in a poor family in remote rural district of Saptari, I could sense my parents struggling to send me to school as early as middle school. As pragmatic and simple village folks, they decided not to send me for further studies when I somehow finished high school. They wanted me to support my younger siblings to get a high school education.

Photo Local ContextFortunately, there was teaching! I could teach in a private school and earn my way into college. The only obstacle was that it was not easy to physically move to a place where I could receive my own further education.

But somehow, my parents allowed me to let me move ahead, even though they did not see why I needed education beyond high school. I started at the primary level and moved up to high school as I advanced in my own education.

For some time during and after master’s degree, I switched to working for development agencies, serving organizations like Plan International, a child centered development INGO. I traveled to the US and Thailand for conferences and professional development programs, and I could see making progress in that direction.

But something about education in Nepal pulled me back, and that something is what I want to share a little about in this blog entry. I am currently teaching and working as a mid level administrator in a good private college while I pursue my long term academic/professional development goals.

Community as Profession
It is hard to explain what drags me back into the classroom is, but I think it is my desire to dedicate my life to help the next generation of Nepali youths to cross the threshold between seemingly impossible places that they come from and the world of opportunities they can pursue in many professions. I may stay back in the river like the proverbial boatman, but I want to see as many as I can going past the mountains on the other side of the river.

What is even more satisfying about being the person who helps others cross that river is to be part of the community of people with inspiring social visions.

Desirous to be a part of an impactful professional community, I joined Nepal English Language Teachers Association (NELTA) and even more importantly, a small group of its members at home and around the world. And I was excited by the possibility of building scholarship from the ground up when I joined the professional networking initiative started (in 2008-09) by Shyam Sharma, Bal Krishna Sharma, and Prem Phyak (who later became my friends and mentors). The initiative was centered around a blog magazine named NeltaChoutari.

Seeing the impact of professional conversations around locally grown scholarship on English language teachers across the country, I chose this subject for my master’s thesis. Eventually, I also accepted the offer to coordinate the network, and now work with an editorial team of almost a dozen ELT practitioners (since the beginning of 2013).

The impact of new avenues of professional networking on Nepal’s ELT is tremendous. To focus on NeltaChoutari blog (now, our community uses materials from it for facilitating trainings, for developing teaching activities in the classroom, for citing in research and theses, for printing offline collections, and for organizing discussions on ELT issues. Younger scholars share their ideas and expertise through the blog, where nothing like it would be possible otherwise in a culture like ours. We make downloadable .pdf versions of our monthly issues available for readers with limited connectivity, and we provide resources and a mentor network for new writers. Just to put it in numerical terms, Choutari blog has more than 171000 views in five plus years, along with nearly 500 original posts, 1000 comments, and an increasing readership of more than 3000 people who seem to visit from more than 40 countries around the world. We call it a professional network hub and not just a blog.

The Periphery is Our Center
Nepal is a small but very diverse society with more than a hundred languages spoken; it is rapidly changing while going through a protracted political crisis. Rising cost of education, digital divide between rural and urban contexts, brain drain, lack of infrastructure and basic services, and political corruption even within educational institutions make it very hard even for the motivated educator to survive. However, nothing seems to stop communities of young professionals who want to “grow while giving” as one of Choutari’s founders used to say while promoting the project.

We are at the periphery of a rapidly changing world of higher education where a few global centers are becoming increasingly dominant. But it is wherever we are that the real acts of teaching and learning happen. Even as many in our society continue look to the centers for all good ideas, networks of people who actually do the real work of education are redefining scholarship and research, teaching and learning from the outside in. This doesn’t mean that we are resistant to any good ideas from outside, but we are critical when good ideas from one place are pushed as useful for all contexts.

When I read the responses of my colleagues about what kind of choice teaching was for them, I thought about my own professional career: how I started it for a need, then chose it for its social value, and continue it to be a part of a global community of teachers and scholars. I remembered that Gandhi once said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” In Nepal, we are beginning to deliberately “choose” the change that we wish to be, especially by turning the power of community into professional development for a new generation of educators.

Given the enthusiasm and optimism about the power of professional networking even in this small country far away from the centers, I am thrilled to be invited by a group of educators from around the world to reflect on educational practice in Nepal.

My best wishes to EdConteXts!