109. Public Speaking Guideline # 2


I really enjoy looking into the eyes of the audience when I’m giving a talk or doing a presentation. I love getting their non-verbal feedbacks. There’s a saying – eyes are the window to the soul. Therefore, while looking into their eyes, I feel more connected, intimate and real with them. This just boosts my self-confidence into a higher level and makes me feel right at home.

This is very important not only for the public speakers, but also for teachers or any leaders. Teachers are essentially public speakers inside the classroom among the students. By looking into the eyes of the students while teaching or doing a presentation, teachers can connect better, teach better and influence better.

Imagine that you are talking to your friend and she doesn’t even look you in your eyes. It gets awkward after a few seconds. You start feeling uncomfortable. You might also suspect that something is certainly wrong with your friend. May be she is lying. May be she is not feeling well. It could be any reasons.

But this is a very scary thing to do when we start out. During my initial days as a public speaker, looking into the eyes of the audience was a very daunting job for me. I vividly remember fleetingly looking into their faces, gazing toward the ceiling or scanning on the floor. I lacked confidence. I lacked conviction. As a result, I lacked any effect. 

So, desperate to improve my speaking and gain confidence, I started going through toastmasters’ videos and public speaking tutorials on youtube. I went through several hours of Tedtalk videos studying the art of public speaking and learning the psychology behind eye contact. I learnt how to look into their eyes so as to make them feel cared and respected. I also learnt that if our eyes are giving away anxiety or nervousness, our audiences will simply reflect anxiety and nervousness.

Now I don’t get scared to look into their eyes and communicate effectively. I just feel I’m on a different level when our eyes get connected.

So here’s my take on this. 

  1. Look them in their eyes, but not for more than two seconds.
    Connect with them but don’t stare at them. If you look into them longer, they might get uncomfortable, and as a result they might just tune you out.
  2. Also, look for “positive non-verbal feedback”. Head nods. Friendly facial expression. Open body language.
  3. Remember: non-verbal signals are contagious.
    If you have energy, the audience also shows interest in you. If you smile, the audience also becomes friendly with you. But if your body language is slumped and slouching, the audience starts snoring in a while.

And, please watch this TED video of Amy Cuddy. It’s not overtly about ‘eye contact’ but it’s about the power of mind and body language. If you’ve already watched it, give it a one more shot. :)

108. Public Speaking Guideline # 1


We learn by making mistakes. It is also true that we learn by seeing others make mistakes.

Recently, I took part in a public speaking session organized a club of a college. Everything went well until the final guest speaker ruined it for me and for everybody. He would not just stop talking. He kept on rambling about his school, his career, his work, his projects for over 45 minutes. I felt like he deliberately victimized us by throwing his frustrations and anger towards us.

How could he not see the impatient eyes and slumped body language of the audience! He eventually realized that he had been talking for a long time and said, “I will end my speech soon” and went on to talk for 15 more minutes. Before closing his speech (thankfully), he also managed to give a few tips on public speaking. How weird is that!

I wanted to sneak out of the hall but I was right in front of him and didn’t want to act rude. So I sat on my chair and listened to his entire speech, just for courtesy and learnt a valuable lesson. I promised myself – “I will never put my audience through such verbal ordeal”.

Now this is not a criticism thrown towards him but just a reflection of a super bored member of the audience. As an aspiring public speaker, I am writing this guideline for me as well as for others who want to be a truly amazing speaker. 

Guideline # 1: Respect your audience’s time

As a public speaker, you must respect your audience’s time in order to gain their respect. You have to feel privileged that they are allowing you their time to listen to your talk. When you show that you care about their time, it will help build trust and warmth between you and the audience.

Even if the organizer or the concerned person did not tell you your allocated time, it’s a good idea to ask them how many minutes you have. Then, tell this to your audience too as you begin your talk.

Here’s one way of doing it:

Hello everyone. Today I’m going to share with you some tips on becoming an effective public speaker. This talk will last around for 15 minutes and hopefully at the end, you will learn how to structure your speech, how to start and how to end your speech. So let’s begin.

There are many effective ways to start your speech (by asking a question, by presenting a startling fact, by jumping right into your story, and so on) but make sure you also give them some sort of hints about how long your talk is going to be. This way, your audience knows how long you will be talking and accordingly they will prepare themselves mentally and physically. Because, common knowledge says – sitting on a chair and listening to someone attentively takes a lot of hard work.

I think rambling and not caring about audience’s need is a verbal disease people contracted from Nepali politicians who talk in circles and never end their speech on time. Once, I was listening to a speech by UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in a hall. I still remember how he said “aba antya ma”, meaning “in conclusion” at least seven times before ending his speech for real. Listening to him for that long was like a harsh punishment. 

Many politicians think that the longer and louder they speak (even when there’s a microphone in front of their mouth), the better their communicating. However contrary to their misguided belief, no audience enjoys an incoherent long winding speech (unless the hall is full of party cadres). But sadly, this twisted concept has crept into so many public speakers also.

This disease can be cured though.

So, give your speech and make a point. And end it in time. Just end it. Don’t give in to your urge to say more, share more and talk more. Don’t feed your audience with too many information because, chances are, they will not remember anything. Even worse, chances are your audience may not remember you.

106. Published: Monetary incentives to government teachers – a big waste!

Article published on the Kathmandu Post daily on August 8, 2014. I had to squeeze the article down to around 1200 words but here’s the full article with citations.

Kathmandu Post - Money for Nothing

Monetary incentives to government teachers – a big waste!

Umes Shrestha

How much money do you think the government has allocated for education this fiscal year? According the recent budget announcement, it’s a massive 86.3 billion rupees. And here’s what surprised me the most. Out of the total educational budget, almost 70% goes for government teachers’ salary only. This is mind boggling!

Government school teachers have a pretty good salary scale. As per the latest adjustment, it starts from Rs. 15,940 for primary level teachers to around Rs. 36,720 for secondary level teachers. That’s a pretty good salary scale if you compare those figures to what teachers in most private schools get.

In a few ‘rich’ private schools, the salary might be really really good, however most of the private schools are “B” or “C” and even “D” grade schools, and the salary for teachers in those schools is really miserable. In many of these schools, the salary range of teachers is Rs. 6500 in the pre-primary to around Rs. 15000 in the secondary level. These schools employ part-time teachers as well, mainly in the secondary level and their salary range is around Rs. 3500 to Rs. 4500 per class.

Now, one doesn’t need to be a mathematical genius to figure out that government school teachers are paid very well compared to most of the teachers in private schools. In addition, government school teachers get allowances, paid leaves, and facilities like incentive for Teachers’ Professional Development (TPD) trainings. They enjoy comfortable, safe and secured life similar to other government employees.

Now, here’s what I don’t get:

a) Why can’t most of the government school teachers teach as effectively as their counterparts in private schools who work for almost half of their salaries?

b) What’s stopping them from being effective, professional and committed to their work?

Let’s take this year’s SLC result as the barometer of quality education. The community schools are almost on the bottom of the pit with staggering 72% students failing the exam. We know there are other issues too related to the degrading quality of education, like our stupid SLC examination system, lack of course books, lack of teaching materials, lack of infrastructure, plus a multitude of social and cultural dynamics – which are basically out of a teacher’s control. That should not however make teachers come up with ninety nine different excuses.

Year in and year out, private schools have far better results in SLC than the community schools. Is it only because they have good infrastructure? Is it only because the ‘Medium of Instruction’ in private schools is English? Is it only because they have extracurricular activities? I don’t think so.

We know that teachers play a major role in students’ learning success. And it doesn’t have to be about the salary, infrastructure, or materials to play that role. It’s about, first and foremost, the teacher’s attitude, motivation and professional integrity. They should be teachers first, and then government employees – but it seems that their major motivation was just to get a ‘sarkaari jaagir’ and get settled for life. And when it comes to professional development, just like Sharma (2007) wrote, they would say: “Training? I think that’s for technicians. I am already educated and I can teach.” Many sulk away from training programs. And when they do attend such programs, many do it only for the monetary incentives.

In this article, my focus is not on trying to change attitude and behavior of government teachers but my contention is with the monetary incentives given to motivate the teachers to attend trainings. In simple words, monetary incentives don’t work and here’s why.

Presenting hard evidences from social science, American author Dan Pink (during his Ted Talk titled – The Puzzle of Motivation) screams out loud that incentives work well only for routine mechanistic jobs. And that rewards and incentives by their very nature narrow our focus and restrict possibility. Thus monetary rewards and bonuses might motivate bus drivers or waiters or manual laborers but not innovators or teachers or leaders.

Pink cites an experiment conducted by Harvard economist Dan Ariely in which a number of MIT students were offered three levels of rewards according to their performance. The experimented found that “as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance”. And here’s the most revealing finding of the experiment – “but once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance”. This experiment has been replicated over and over again in different contexts and the results have always been similar.

Let’s connect this revelation with teaching. Naturally, teaching is not a mechanical job. Some part of it may look mechanical (take attendance, wipe the board, conduct exam, etc) but real teaching is beyond that. Real teaching requires a teacher to be creative, innovative and to possess social and cognitive skill. Thus essentially, giving monetary incentives to teachers so that they get motivated to work better usually does not work.

Here’s another report on the correlation between teacher incentives and student achievements. After conducting a study in the public schools of New York, USA, Fryer (2011) emphatically concludes, “I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior”. He further argues that teacher incentive is one of the reasons for decreasing student performance.

So, here’s my argument.

There is a huge mismatch between what the government says it is doing to uplift the education and what the years of SLC results say. (I know that exam result does not truly reflect one’s learning but just to be aligned with the government’s policy, let’s say SLC result is the yardstick for quality education.) It’s written in the wall with big bold letters – most of the government teachers have not been effective at all. This implies that the trainings and TPD programs have not been effective. But the government still insists on committing the classic mistake by trying to entice its teachers for trainings by offering them monetary compensation. The government is simply dumping a huge amount of money down the drain.

And here’s one more ugly side of government’s training programs. Ram Abadhesh Ray, an English teacher from Birgunj expresses his disgust over the trend among the government teachers to participate in trainings only when there is “a handsome allowance”. Or if it’s in a star-hotel, with good food and drink. And when there is less allowance or no allowance, the teachers don’t even talk about attending training (Ray, 2012). This is hypocrisy at its best! On one hand, these reluctant, change-resisting teachers are only throwing dust into everyone’s eyes by exploiting trainings as milking cows rather than professional development opportunities. On the other hand, the government is deliberately squandering the money knowing that the desired change is not happening.

Monetary incentive and allowance, which are a form of external motivation, don’t work at all because if they did, the teachers in community schools would be very effective; the schools would be thriving and beating the private schools by a long shot. But, as we can see, the reality is quite depressing. Behaviorial economists, like Dan Ariely, say that extrinsic motivations – money, bonuses, reward, threats, punishment – only boost performance for a short burst of time and then it quickly dissipates. Incentives hence have only made most of the government teachers less effective, less creative, and probably very selfish.

Therefore the government needs to cut down all monetary incentives, especially the allowance for TPD programs, and invest the money on infrastructures or building toilets in the government schools. The government teachers already have a ‘convenient’ pay scale. (I believe that the primary teachers should get paid more; but that’s another issue.) Plus, there are tons of literatures and reports claiming that the TPD program hasn’t been effective. Even the Ministry of Education’s National Center for Educational Development (NCED) acknowledges this fact on its website.

What should the government do then?

The trainings should not be mandatory at all. There’s a saying – you can drag a horse to a pond, but you can’t make it drink the water. Adults are like that. The ‘mandatory’ system coupled with monetary incentive just kills the drive because it somehow feels forced upon. Social science tells us that adults learn or change only when they want to, not when they are forced to. Therefore the trainings should be ‘voluntary’.

But what about the haajir-garera-taap-diney culture? Well, here’s a solution.

The government should make its teachers PAY for the trainings because if the teachers invest on trainings, they will definitely take it seriously. Yes. Make them pay for the trainings. This idea sounds outright blasphemous and there will be a huge uproar initially. But that’s the only way to make the teachers assume ownership of the training and fight the haa-taa culture. As a result, they will show some trace of ethics, integrity, and responsibility.

Next, the government should invest in ‘training follow up’ programs to bridge the gap between the training sessions and classroom teaching, and monitor those programs. A trainee teacher should also, for instance, submit a report of implementation to the ministry within three months. And the policy should favor only these teachers for, let’s say, promotion or salary raise.

Even better, teachers and school districts should compete for government funding with which they can organize professional development events. Such funding should be based on the progress report submitted by teachers and experts from local education offices, and student evaluation. If rewards should be given, they should be given for producing results, such as higher pass percentage in SLC and other forms of evaluation.

Lastly, this is what the policy makers, MoE and other authorities should provide the teachers: autonomy. Autonomy in teaching, in method, in syllabus, in assessment and in deciding how to develop professionally. Only then may the government teachers discover deep intrinsic motivations to get out of the rut, find a purpose and stretch their wings towards professionalism. Intrinsic motivation is the only key. May be… just may be, the teachers then transfer some part of trainings into the classroom and the government education becomes more effective.


Fryer, R. G. (2011). Teacher incentives and student achievement: evidence from New York City Public Schools. Retrieved from http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/teacher_incentives_and_student_achievement_evidence_from_new_york_city_public_schools.pdf

NCED. (n.d.). Effectiveness Study of Teacher Professional Development, 2070. Retrieved from http://www.nced.gov.np/download.php

Ray, R. A. (2012). Teacher training: for money or for professionalism? ELT Choutari. Retrieved from http://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/are-our-teachers-professional-at-all/

Sharma, S. (2007). Professionalism in Nepal. Retrieved from http://shyamsharma.net/professionalism-in-nepal/

TED. (2009). Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y

105. Published: Giving Students a Benefit of Doubt

Article: Giving Students a Benefit of Doubt
On Op-Ed page of the Republica National Daily

Benefit of Doubt - Republica

I am a teacher who likes being very liberal while checking answer papers and on this article I am going to talk about why I detest our testing system; why I give a benefit of doubt to the students; and why doing so, I believe, helps foster their confidence and reinforce their learning.

Besides teaching, I am also pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. It is a semester system, which means there’s a final examination every six months. And I find it really stressful; in fact I have always found examinations very stressful throughout my life. I may not know my strengths but I know one of my weaknesses for sure – I cannot read books or notes to memorize answers. I do understand the overall concepts but I can’t memorize them in order to spill them all over the answer sheet. I can’t do it even if my life depended on rote memorization. Far worse, my attention span is shorter than an ant’s tail. I cannot remain calm for more than 10 minutes. I am always drowning in a sea of distractions. Family. Friends. Facebook. Music. Home. Job. Deadlines. I can’t quite keep up the concentration. I get itchy and I have to take a short break every 10 minutes or so. My mind operates that way.

While taking exam, I can’t think fast enough to frame and organize my answers. I need time to generate ideas, plan a structure and write essays. I make a lot of spelling errors because I heavily rely on spell checkers. My handwriting and presentation look impeccable in the first two pages but they soon start deteriorating as the clock in the exam hall ticks away in a flurry.

So that’s my story. I don’t like being tested in such constrained time and in such ominous hall. I feel it is completely unfair to be judged on what I write in three hours. And to add to my frustration, I am always haunted by the usual mentality of language teachers who are very strict while checking answer papers. And I’m pretty sure there are many out there, teachers and students, who can perfectly relate to me. Thus for a moment, put yourself in your students’ shoes.

Imagine yourself being a teenager, surrounded by technology and media, having access to unlimited knowledge and resources, having friends who are hyperactive on the internet and social networking sites, having too many options at hand. Imagine yourself sitting in the class for hours and hours, sitting on the same desk and ‘listening’ to the same boring teachers. Imagine yourself not knowing (or doubting) the relevance of the traditional education, getting certificates, getting degrees, joining the workforce and doing the same boring jobs.

And you tell them to write an essay on festivals of Nepal. You tell them to give a speech on Nepal’s historical figures. You tell them to write a complaint letter with date, salutations, body and closings in a precise format. You want them to write coherently and cohesively. You want them to write without any spelling errors.

Even worse, you tell them to sit for three hour exams and expect them to compose perfect essays with their perfect handwritings; and you stress on neatness and cleanliness; and you write comments, underline wrong answers, you circle misspellings and with red ink you cross out answers that don’t match your expectation. That’s what we usually do, don’t we? There could be different ways to assess our students but at the end of the day, we (have to) judge students based on written examinations.

In the present context, there is no way out of this final written examination module but dear teachers, this is what I do, and as a teacher, this is what I propose you to do too.

I give my students a benefit of doubt while checking their answer papers. I understand, they don’t take exams because they like it. I have never come across any student who loves taking exams. On top of it, they have to take exams of seven or more subjects every term. I can perfectly relate to the maddening pressure to perform. They have no option, and neither do we. So while I check their answer papers, I gently remind them of their spelling mistakes but don’t deduct any marks for it. I overlook minor errors and slips like she don’t have friends. If they write any brilliant essays with a logical framework, I get super joyous about it. And I give it 10 out of 10. Why not! (This one student glared me back with disbelief and said: Sir, you gave me 10 out of 10? And I said: Yes, you deserved it.) If their essays look messy and are riddled with terrible structures, I don’t butcher their effort thoughtlessly. They would have done it better if they didn’t have any time constraints or if they had time to draft and re-draft the essays. I try to be sensible about their handwriting too, because writing for three hours straight is a real pain in the ass and the wrist. I go through the same pain every time I take an exam. One reason, many of us are used to typing on computer rather than writing with a pen. And I am never picky about grammatical errors. I have seen my professors at the university make grammar errors. I have seen me making horrible grammatical errors. We all do.

I try to keep track of the students, their progress, their assignments, classroom participation, portfolios – but I don’t judge them based on one written examination. I am definitely not seeking an easy way out. I communicate with the students who are lagging behind and make them feel safe. I do demand high, push their limits but I want to be realistic, and set realistic goals and realistic expectation. At the end of the day, I feel like I have done my part and go to bed without any resentment or bitterness.

Our testing system is full of holes, and it desperately needs a facelift. However, we can’t change the system right away, let’s be realistic. But what we can do is empathize with the students. Therefore, dear teachers, give your students a benefit of doubt, because sometimes we too need one.

104. Do you beat your students?


Words failed me and my jaws dropped when I read this article published on the op-ed column of the Himalayan Times today (July 16, 2014). I couldn’t believe that the author (probably a teacher) implied that beating the students should be allowed because the students don’t respect the teachers anymore. What a load of crap! I posted the photo of the article on my FB timeline and obviously there was a flood of comments. I think the conversation went very well and I am posting those comments just to make sure that those views remain in public blogosphere as well.

Person A:
I wonder if the education board plans to address this issue. Most of the times I hear students from Grade 2 – 3 saying “Mero mummy daddy ko paisa le yo school chalirako cha.” pathetic. I don’t think Nepal is headed towards development at all. Imagine a world full of adults who have had such ideas at such an age.

Umes Shrestha:
“If you beat me, my mom will kill you” I see it as good awareness in the student’s part because back in my school days, we would just remain silent. The student must have said so because the teacher was about to beat him/her. mero chorro lai hath haaleko thaha paye bhane tyo teacher ko khairat huney chaina.

Person B:
Bachha ta ho j ni bhancha nai ani petera tyo problem ko solution kaha aauncha ra?! Jhan bachha tarsincha….well I have been through that… was beaten up badly by a teacher in school when I was grade 5 just because I couldn’t solve a math sum. The teacher was well known for beating the students. I’d personally like to talk to this guy…. If you can plz number dinu na.

Person C:
From what I read and with my basic psychology education I can tell this guy himself got his ass whooped back in the days. He needs a serious reality check with what age he is living in. Sir needs to understand that you have to win and earn the respect not thrash it out of someone.

Person D:
All I can say is F**K! When I was growing up, I hated all the teachers who physically abused us. Those who physically abused the students were getting beaten by the students as well. The teachers who were respected by all students were assertive ones. Those who did not lose their cool but were very strong in their belief. Those who were able to make us feel guilty for not doing our homework with a smile on their faces. I have a list of these well respected teachers with me. This guy confuses fear with respect. Who would even publish an article like this?

Person E:
Most good teachers don’t have to whine like that. I said most because some of the issues could affect even teachers who do their best. Some issues have to do with things that are beyond a teacher’s or even school’s control–especially if they become “hot” issues picked up by the media. In the US right now, people leaving their kids in the car have become a source of national scandal and (while I absolutely don’t leave my kids in the car alone for a minute) I think that some parents are “caught” for going back into the house to get their phone! In this sense, the teacher may be talking about things that frustrate him, such as school children essentially saying, “You’re my parents’ paid servant.”

Person D:
I agree with you (Person E) but the problem is the teachers are still beating students. Even in Kathmandu Schools. The only schools where this does not happen are probably very rich top of the ladder schools. What he does not seem to understand is, corporal punishment is illegal. It is against the law. So, students have the rights to stand up against these teachers who think small children are their play toys. I have seen children who are 4 or 5 years old who are beaten up by teachers even in good private schools. We have in Nepal instances where students have committed suicide or even have had permanent physical damages because of this. But I agree with you that media can sometime really make a huge issue out of something really small.

Person E:
Oh, yes, beating is a thing of the twentieth century– it should have been one of the 19th actually. In that regard, the writer is just awful. But I also thought that he was bringing in other issues… although, the more I think about it, the more it seems that he’s sharing all those complaints in order to somehow justify corporal punishment? ! That side is totally pathetic.

Umes Shrestha:
He also laments the fact that “today, the student is very well aware of the fact that s/he will not be meted out any forms of physical punishment”. I want to thank the editor for deciding to print this article. It just shows how teachers still have criminally low ethical and moral sense.

Person D:
If I look at most schools today, nothing significant has changed since our school days and that really saddens me. I mean, the buildings have become bigger and more sophisticated labs and all but…. the idea is the same. The students don’t have to be respected. And it’s not just school. It has become our culture… someone who is smaller, less powerful or poorer than you somehow have less rights. There is not a lot of learning going on in schools. Its only when I hear ideas of teachers like Umes Shrestha and a few others, I become optimist. But otherwise, school still sounds like a 20 year life sentence.

Person F:
When I was in school I got my ass whooped almost every day… It was unfair, but come to think about it again, gluing the duster to the board was totally worth it !

Person G:
Wow so many comments that show true concerns by the stakeholders (some of us are parents, teachers and administrator of the same schools, who are blamed for the shameless act). But for the woes, we ourselves are responsible. If teachers/administration, children and guardians fulfill their responsibilities, the problem will sort out.

For instance, when a guardian does not make their children well-dressed and ready for the school, they are late and ultimately become victims from teachers. If the same teachers at school teach the students comprehensively and the parents make stationery and textbooks required for their kids, they will not fail to complete their assignments that prevent them from punishment.

Teachers who are unmotivated and poorly trained are more likely to resort to punitive and physically violent methods of control, but this is not always the case for all teachers. But, globally, the practice of corporal punishment in school is being rejected and promoted alternative non violent discipline method to facilitate children’s behaviour and learning activities.

103. An Appeal To All – Don’t fail any students


When every year – more than 50% of the total students fail the SLC exam – can you feel ecstatic about your brother passing with a distinction, or your sister, son, daughter passing with ‘flying colors’? How can you be even happy when over 300,000 students couldn’t make it through the ‘iron gate’ this year as well?

Our education system has failed us.
Our examination system has failed us.
Our government, policy makers, educationists and teachers – they have failed us.

I am a teacher and I want to make an appeal to all the teachers, examiners and those who check answer papers.

Don’t fail any students.

Yes, educate them, teach them and also let them through this stupid SLC system. Don’t push them back into darkness because they couldn’t impress you through this illogical three-hour exam system.

Give the students a benefit of doubt, especially to those weak students who perform poorly in exams.

Let them through.
Let all of them through.

Dear teachers, examiners and those who check answer papers. Please empathize with the students and send them through this exam!

If you can prevent students from committing suicide and save their lives, why not do so? As teachers, we are supposed to save our students’ lives, aren’t we? Screw the marks, LIVES are at stakes here. So, just send them through.

They will figure it out when they go to the real world later.
Just let them through.

(Pic: Internet)