School students struggle with the change of medium of instructionA new government directive to teach ‘Social Studies’ in the Nepali language is giving a hard time to both students and teachers.
Aayush Phuyal, a 14-year-old ninth-grader from an English-medium school in Baluwatar, Kathmandu, has found himself a new challenge since May.
Like Phuyal and his classmates, many students in English-medium schools across the country use the English language as the primary medium for learning.
But a new directive for middle school by the Curriculum Development Centre to teach ‘Social Studies’ in the Nepali language is giving a hard time to both students and teachers who are struggling to adapt to the new norm in the classrooms.
“English is the first language in our school. We are used to learning in English,” said Phuyal. “Now we will be taught an important subject [Social Studies] in Nepali. It will add to the difficulty of understanding the subject for us.”
Phuyal says that he has consistently scored good marks in Social Studies but has struggled since the school switched to Nepali medium (subject) and fears terrible grades.
“It is challenging to learn Nepali phrases in Social Studies. I’ve never taken a coaching class for this subject, but I need to do it. I am used to learning and writing almost all my other subjects in English.”
For students like Phuyal, the decision to implement the subject in the Nepali language has left them with no choice but to get on with taking the course in Nepali with only a year remaining for the Secondary Education Examination, an essential milestone in their education.
Babu Ram Dhungana, Information Officer at the Curriculum Development Centre, says that the decision to teach Social Studies in Nepali followed experts’ suggestions and studying practices by South Asian countries.
“We decided to teach social studies in the Nepali language following our decades of experience, suggestions from experts and students, and after observing the teaching practices of similar subjects in our neighbouring countries,” said Dhungana, “As the subject is about Nepal and our society, it reflects us, so it was advisable to teach the subject in Nepali.”
But despite the positive intentions of the authorities, experts and stakeholders say the curriculum implementation and transition of learning the subject in a different language could have been done more smoothly, which would benefit the students.
Talking to the Post, Suman Raut, Principal of Balambu Higher Secondary School in Chandragiri Municipality, said that the students who are used to learning in English medium might have difficulty adjusting to Nepali.
“It may be hard for the students even in government schools as we have also taught all subjects in English for the past five years,” said Raut. “But we must follow the government's decision.”
Raut said that it has been stressful for the students to change their medium of learning and hectic for the schools to manage the teachers accordingly.
The stress isn't limited to classrooms where students and teachers have just begun learning to adapt to the new changes in the wake of the directive. At the end of their terms, students have to sit for exams and educationists say there could be another problem.
Heramba Raj Kadel, Principal of Viswa Niketan Secondary School in Tripureshwar, said that students have been complaining regarding difficulties in writing their papers in the Nepali language. However, the school conducts internal exams in English and Nepali per students' preferences.
"Students are not comfortable writing the subject in Nepali. They constantly complain to me that they are anxious concerning their grades. They think that they may fail the subject due to the change in language," said Kadel. "We are following the rule and have told students to take English textbooks as a reference for their ease."
However, Dhungana said students and teachers could be prepared accordingly with the Teacher's Guide available on the ministry's website.
"There's a teacher's guide for the teachers on the ministry's website. Changing subjects in Nepali doesn't mean we won't have reference materials. We should follow the curriculum, not the book."
Dhungana also clarified that the students could write their exam papers in English.
“Although the centre has prioritised exams in Nepali language, students can write their papers in English,” said Dhungana, “The respective schools will take the decision regarding that and our focus is more about learning rather than writing to pass exams.”
With the new changes in the instruction medium, Viswa Niketan Principal Kadel worries that students might hit a wall when choosing majors that require good marks in Social Studies.
“Some students love to study social science or humanities subjects at the secondary level, but higher education is all done in English, even in Nepal,” said Kandel. “So, yes, there are several issues that need more in-depth study if the government's move is to see successful results.”
Kandel says that his school has been conducting extra classes on Saturdays for students to cope with the change in language and help them understand the subject in both languages.
“We felt that this is necessary on our part as it will make students feel comfortable and can learn in their respective classes without stress,” Kandel said.
As hundreds of students, teachers and school management across the country adapt to facilitate the change of medium of instruction, experts say an abrupt change in the language, even for a single subject, could disrupt the students' learning process.
“Our wish as educators is to make students feel comfortable,” said Dambar Chemjong, head of the Central Department of Anthropology at Tribhuvan University. “Language change in a single subject could bring severe disruptions to the learning process as per the linguistic psychology of school level students.”