133. Then and Now

then and now.001

Everything has changed. Transportation. Communication. Banking. Market places. But the structure of the classrooms remain the same.

At least we have classrooms and schools, you might argue. That’s true. But the arrangement of classrooms, with fixed benches and desks, everyone facing the same direction, and made for no movement at all – the classrooms are the most brain unfriendly places in the whole school. The only possible reason the classrooms remain the same is it’s easy for the cleaners/janitors to clean the rooms after the school. Or, from a teacher’s perspective, to keep the students quiet and stationary during the class.

What do you think?

132. A Whole New Brain for Teachers

I’ve been a great fan of Dan Pink since the time I stumbled upon his Tedtalk on The Puzzle of Motivation. His presentation help me understand the crucial differences between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation, how it could also be related to teachers and in education in general. I started reading Pink’s books like a maniac. And this slideshare is a result of reading his “A Whole New Mind”, twice. Even though the book focuses on the business world, there are a lot of insights for teachers like me on how to merge R-directed teaching/learning into the traditional L-directed teaching/learning.

If you’ve read this book too, let’s share some of the learnings.

131. Three Lessons Learnt Outside the Classroom

Originally published in NELTA ELT Forum September 2015 Issue

Hello. This is a short reflection about learning. In it, you’ll find me sharing with you three minor incidents that have significantly shaped my perception about English language and how it should be spoken. These incidents have helped me become more open minded about English language not as the end itself but as a means towards meaning making and understanding. I hope you will feel the same too when you finish reading this.

How to sound American?

Use a lot of “umm…”, “you know”, “kinda”, “sorta” and “right”. Deliberately. Well, this is just a theory that I came up with after watching all sorts of English movies and serials during my teenage days. And, a lot of WWF (wrestling) too.

I started using those expressions a lot while talking with friends. Of course, a lot of talking would be in Nepali but the conversations would be peppered with a range of English words along with “umm…”, “you know”, “kinda”, “sorta” and “right”. I had thought, using these American expressions would make me sound cool and look cool.

Years later, when I started getting interested in public speaking and presentations, only then did I realize that using umm.. after every five words or so kinda disrupts you know the flow of communication. It dawned on me that using these ‘filler words’, only made me look ridiculously arrogant and literally ‘full of air’. If you were my friend back then, you’d probably mumble: what a poser!

It took me some time to stop using those filler words deliberately. Now, when they force themselves out of my mouth – which happens rarely these days – I am not trying to sound American anymore. It’s a cold realization for me but I imagine, what if filler words did make me sound American. Nope. That would be too convenient.

Funny ENGLISH accent! (Nepali movie)

Those of us – so called urbanites who studied in private boarding schools in Kathmandu – we have a general perception of what is good English and what is poor or ‘funny’ English. This attitude is pervasive, especially among the youth who are exposed to American or British form of English through movies and now through the internet.

Here’s one instance. This is a short clip of a Nepali movie uploaded on youtube.com. The link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axGCz_7abcA


It’s a scene from the movie where the two characters are having a very heated dispute during which they are switching from Nepali to English frequently.

Girl: Now you shut up.
Boy: You shut up. Your daddy is not human. He is bloody bastard and gangster. He wants me to kill you.
Girl: It is impossible.
Boy: It is possible.
Girl: Relax, relax, relax.

I want to be honest with you. I almost laughed myself to semi-death when I watched this clip for the first time. Even a bum in the street can speak better English than that – I had yelled. And I was not alone. Just go ahead and read the comments posted below the video, you will find examples of people making fun of these two actors’ English. The comments show how people in general assume that an English graduate should have ‘proper’ English pronunciation and accent. If you don’t have that, you’d better prepare your soul for heavy criticism and mockery.


Yes. I laughed at them and made a joke about them. I even posted the video link on my facebook wall trying to collect more derision and gloat over the comments.

Thinking about it, I’m a little embarrassed that I acted such a snob.

Adrian Underhill’s Pronunciation Masterclass

Adrian Underhill is an icon in the ELT communities all over the world. Since I joined, M.Ed. ELT, I’ve been religiously following his blog and youtube videos. And naturally, meeting him in person was a big thrill for me. I felt really lucky to have attended his workshop during my recent participation of IATEFL Conference 2015. The workshop was on pronunciation and how to use his Interactive Phonemic Chart. After explaining to the attendees how to trace vowels, diphthong, consonants and other sounds through his chart, the lanky ELT legend asked us for a demonstration.


There was my turn and he asked me to tap with a stick through the phonetic symbols for the word “morning”. I was supposed to tap through m – ɔː – n – ɪ – ŋ but I tapped m – ɔ – r – n – ɪ – ŋ.

One of the attendees was quick to correct me, telling me that there’s no r sound in the word “morning”. Then came the divine intervention. With a broad smile in his unshaven face, he said, “If he hears the r sound in his head, then of course the sound is in the word”. I smiled back to him and everyone must have seen how victorious I had felt at that moment.

That statement alone was enough to destroy so many prevailing myths about proper pronunciation and how English should sound like.

Connecting the dots

There’s a proverb in Nepali, which goes like this: naya jogi le dherai kharani dhascha. A new beggar scrubs more ash on his face. Everyone has to go through the ‘new beggar’ phase but mine was filled with an embarrassing yet a very humbling one. From trying to imitate Americans, to mocking Nepali English accent and to learning from one of the best – I believe I have started to understand subtle nuances of English language and English language teaching. The ELT program of M.Ed was definitely the key turning point in my phase. The program helped me develop myself professionally, socially and more so, personally.

I believe that I don’t need ash on my face anymore.

130. Meeting the one who arrested God

Samrat Upadhyaha

Today I got to meet Samrat Upadhyay in person. He was way taller than I thought he would be, and way nicer than I imagined. And, unlike many writers, he had an amazing voice and impressive presentation skill (many good writers are bad speakers, most of the times).

Thanks to Edushala, I was invited to participated in a two hour mini workshop with Upadhyay (and two of his students from an American university). It was 120 minutes well spent. We did a few activities to help us generate ideas and content for any creative writing. But I enjoyed listening to him explain about his writing process and his style.

Thank you Samrat sir for your suggestions on how to make my writing more realistic fiction.

Here are some of the excerpts from his talk:

“I am a hardworking writer. I am not a genious writer (like Laxmi Prashad Devkota). I have to go through multiple drafts, sometimes even 20 drafts.”

“Read a lot. Reading is half writing already. But read the classics. I don’t recommend you read stuff like Chetan Bhagat. Well, if you want to read that kind of stuff, read it but don’t get influenced by that kind of writing.”

“It’s okay to imitate your favorite writer’s style, because eventually, if you keep writing, you will get over that style and will create your own.”

“There is nothing pure or original in art.”

129. Should a teacher hold grudge towards student?

Last week, I came to find out that a student had complained about me to my coordinator. Naturally, my first reaction was: WTF!

Yes, I got angry for a while. I imagined punching the teeth out of that student’s whiny mouth. Then my anger gradually frothed to cold grudge towards the student. “Wait, you asshole. You’ll see how your internal marks will look like”. I wanted to teach that student a lesson.

I am a teacher but I am not a superhero. Nope, I don’t have that feeling anymore. May be it was a genuine complain. May be it was a miscommunication. But I’m so fallible. So damn fallible that I might screw up some day.

128. Woes of Education


The head teacher said, “If only we could implement the system similar to the boarding schools, our students would not drop out”. I didn’t understand it right away. He added, “If only we could teach the students in English, if only we could provide them two sets of uniforms, if only we could have proper khaajaa system, the number of students will increase in our school too”.

We were at a public school in a not so remote village of Madadevsthan, Kavre. As we chatted away with the head teacher, we could feel his distress about the high rate of student dropping out. I know there’s a huge English-mania in our context but naively, I had never thought that uniforms and khaajaa made such a big difference in student attendance.

“Last year, our teachers collected some money on their own and provided the students khaajaa for three months since the start of the session”, the head teacher continued, “there were around 100 students then. Now there are only 48.” And it makes sense. The majority of students are from the marginalized community of Danuwar. They are not doing well, otherwise “they would have sent their kids to a private school”. In other words, they are poor and they have no other choice but to send their kids to the public schools. “Rinn kaatera bhaye pani, people send their kids to private schools.”

The head teacher, clearly helpless, wringing his both hands described, “Some kids start yelling ‘bhog laagyo’ right after the assembly and some run away after the break. And people expect good results from public schools.”

Even before we argue on the effects of English as the medium of instruction, even before we discuss on the nature of assessment, I believe we should think about the hungry ones, the dirty ones. Because when your stomach is rumbling and your uniform is ragged, being a ‘good’ student is not in your priority.

But there’s another side too. The teachers themselves. I asked him, “Aren’t they responsible for the degradation of public school system? Otherwise, why would a poor family take loans to send their kids to private schools?”

His answer was plain and simple. Politics le bigaaryo. “Teachers in private schools work hard from 9 to 4, but teachers in public school are busy working for the parties. In some ways, I’m involved in this game too, other wise I wouldn’t have been able to be in this school for all these years”. He shrugged his shoulders.

I am not stating that all government teachers are selfish, irresponsible and opportunists. But sadly many are. So, is it possible to make them caring, responsible and hard working? What if we could change the education policy and reform the system of teacher’s permanent appointment. Every teacher works under a contract, say a 3 year one, and the contract gets renewed based on his/her performance evaluation and recommendation by parents. What if we can wipe out all the political affiliations from schools and universities, and end the criminal-like political appointment of teachers, head teachers, rectors, deans and chancellors. And what if there are teacher bodies and student councils but without any political aspiration and backing.

But it’s not that plain and simple. The whole education system – from the bottom to the top – is muddled in politics. And when there’s no politics, there’s our society with hopeless crater of economic divide, there’s private schools with glamour and grandeur of English based education, and there’s people with desperate dreams and hungry stomachs.

How is it possible to end this injustice?

127. Destroying old structures to build a New Nepal

[Nepal after 2015 Earthquake]


We know the earthquake has destroyed our lives. It has destroyed temples, schools and houses. We have lost a lot of lives but we know the earthquake has also brought all (hopefully) Nepali people together.

But amidst this chaos and devastation, we have a perfect opportunity to destroy further.

Just like the earthquake, we should and must destroy the structures our societies are built upon: discrimination (based on religion, caste, gender, ethnicity, culture, color and status), superstition, prejudice and injustice. Out of all these, two things come to my mind.

It was the second day after the earthquake. Every one in our neighbourhood was outside the houses praying and hoping that the quake won’t come back. We were taking shelter under a large tent and started preparing relief-khaja (cheura, noodles and dalmot) for all of us. Suddenly, I heard one respectful elderly woman say to a girl, “nani, timi 2 din ko bhako chau, ali parai basera khau”. You are on the second day of your menstruation, you stay a bit far from us and eat. I couldn’t believe my ears. While everyone’s trying to make sense of what’s happening, this elderly lady was still bothered by the presence of a menstruating girl. Even on the face of terror, some people forget humanity and stick with their own ill-logics.

I heard a friend of my sharing his frustrations. He was in Bhaktapur for relief distributions and some people in a Bahun community told them that they won’t take any relief food touched by dalits. It doesn’t make any sense at first, but some people are ready to die in the name of their tradition and culture. These are proud people. Arrogant people.

Without destroying these cherished structures, we can’t imagine a new nation.

The second structure is our education system.

The news says over 20,000 schools have been damaged completely or partially. One million students have been said to be effected. If there’s something to be optimistic about this dismal situation, it is about the opportunity to build new schools, new curriculum and new education policies.

And as we rebuild the schools, we also need to think about the real purpose of schools and real objectives of education. Our schools reflect factory model (remember, students are referred as ‘products’). Our curriculum promotes one shot three-hour final exams. Our education promotes obedience. These concepts are obsolete. And these need to be dumped into the Bagmati.

Let me clarify why schools are exploitative by prodding on one omnipresent factor in schools – the fear factor. Schools teach students to be fearful. Fear the teacher. Fear the principal. Fear the exam. Fear the society. Fear the future. And eventually, students fear of being oneself. They fear of being different. They fear of speaking out.

Fear is the primary weapon our schools wield against students to make them uniform and complaint. Our schools destroy children’s natural inquisitiveness with years of one-right-answer mentality and leave them without spontaneous creativity. And for this travesty to end, the system that demands obedience has to go first. And we need to replace it with one that promotes creativity, critical thinking and independence. We can build our new education system on the foundations of reality, empathy and social justice.

The earthquake has destroyed our houses and ruined our lives (for now), but we also need to destroy these old structures that has been crippling us. I believe it’s never late to change and this is the perfect time to change. It’s time to build a new hope. A new country where there’s no discrimination. A new country where children grow to be fearless. A new country where everyone loves everyone.