Backgrounds notes

This post is based on parts of the preface to my book on international graduate students.

Since I had landed in the city of Louisville in Kentucky about a month earlier, along with my spouse, in fall 2006, I had been feeling as if my ability to navigate any physical space and social system had somehow become impaired. From finding transportation for getting to essential places to figuring out a way to call home, and from understanding basic academic concepts and practices like “course registration” to reading about “tutoring” at the writing center (where I would start working), every step in the transition process had been overwhelmingly new.

But when classes began, I had started feeling more comfortable. As I walked into the third and final class meeting of the second week, I was actually feeling jubilant about a grand achievement I had just made, albeit largely out of luck. Having learned about something called the Student Housing Office earlier that week, I had visited it and been offered an on-campus apartment where a student had just vacated a unit (a rarity at that point in the semester, I was told). Moving into a building that was well furnished and located right across from the Writing Center where I had started working as a tutor was a relief for an international student who came from the Nepalese capital city of Kathmandu, an overcrowded place where basic amenities were becoming increasingly inaccessible after a violent conflict for a decade and dramatic internal migration. So, having taken care of accommodation, transportation, work permit, and the like, I was truly ready to enjoy the university as an MA student and teaching assistant in English and Writing Studies.

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English Dreams — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Oct. 11, 2017

English, most of us believe, is an “international language,” one that offers greatest economic opportunity for everyone, as well as tremendous cultural capital and connection to the “whole world.” Facts related to these claims are a little more complicated, as I will follow up in the next essay; in this one, let me describe a few historical and geopolitical dynamics behind the above assumptions.

English has an interesting political history in Nepal. Although English speakers had reached the region in late 1700s, the rulers of a nation that was being established started learning “Angreji” as they developed a love-hate relationship with British colonizers in India in the mid-1800s. So, English facilitated geopolitical power struggles in the region, especially when Nepal’s rulers supported British colonizers during the 1857 Indian Mutiny, in exchange for favors related to national sovereignty and suppression of democratic forces at home. Similarly, while a permanent residence for a British envoy was established in Kathmandu in 1792, the language entered formal education when the first “modern” and also English-medium school, Durbar School, was established in 1853. The school was only meant for children of the ruling class, since the Shah-Rana regime (1846-1951) wanted to keep the country politically isolated from the world outside. But more and more people around the autocratic rulers kept learning it as a means of privilege and power.

In a striking case of politicization of English, the ultra-nationalist Panchayat regime tried and failed to make it inaccessible to the public. King Mahendra’s national education policies attempted to enforce a Nepali-only language policy, seeking to ban English while also destroying other local languages rather callously: “If the younger generation is taught to use Nepali as the basic language,” said the Nepal National Education Planning Commission of 1956, “then other languages [of ethnic minorities] will gradually disappear, the greater the national strength and unity will result. . . Local dialects and tongues other than Nepali should be vanished [banished?] from the playground as early as possible in the life of the child.” In fact, the regime used the national census to show the number of languages in Nepal declining from 44 in 1952 to 17 in 1971 (as we know, there are more than ten dozen languages now). Continue reading

Lazybones Versus Easy Kill — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Mar. 6, 2018

If the society has punished public institutions for their sluggishness, it will punish private colleges for the shallowness of the education they provide.

When I finished high school in the early 1990s, I looked up to an older cousin as one possible role model. He had an “intermediate” degree and proudly taught at a primary school. Two decades later, when his son dropped out of college and went abroad to make money, along with many of his peers, I found it shocking that the new generation didn’t pursue more education than ours.

Years later, I learned that there is nothing surprising about new generations deciding to skip college or to get a different kind of education. While fewer students than in the past are going to college in some countries, in others, their proportions are changing by gender, class, region, and so on.

Students also move back and forth between the public and private sectors, which is the focus of this essay. Continue reading

Translingual Benefits — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on October 24, 2017

“Throw fast na”, said a teenager to another at the school I first started teaching, back in the mid 90s. “You ta what-like, what-like playing, yaar.” After listening to students in the playground for a while, I realized that they were actually speaking a certain type of English (teachers had to police and punish if they didn’t). I later learned that linguists call such language “pidgin”, a rudimentary means of communication developed by enslaved or colonized people, especially when they are isolated from other speakers or are prohibited against speaking their native language with each other.

The current educational condition in Nepal, where more and more children are forced to use pidgins like the above, is a dangerous social experiment. Just to be clear, English is an extremely important world language; but how we realize our “English dreams” is just as important.

In the last piece here, I described the historical/political dynamics behind the widespread belief that English is a global language that promises everyone greater economic opportunity and social advantage. Continue reading

Internationalizing Higher Education? — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Aug. 17, 2017

One of the words most frequently heard in discussions about higher education in recent years is “internationalization,” sometimes used for describing the adoption of “international” standards and sometimes in the context of educational “exchange.” There have been some encouraging new developments in both areas in the past few years, but many old habits also persist. Some of the bad practices must really go, while some emerging ones deserve a boost.

Perhaps the worst practice used in the name of updating education is our university officials going on expensive trips abroad without much of an educational purpose to begin with. Certainly, some of the institutional leaders and scholars do it with a vision, learn and bring back new ideas, and foster change. But, much more often, it’s all limited to signing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with foreign universities, then some shopping and (nowadays) a lot of photo updates on Facebook—with little or no follow up with the signatories after the traveling heads of our institutions have returned home. This is utter corruption of the idea of creating exchange and partnership, and if it isn’t stopped, even honest efforts will continue to be seen with suspicion—both at home and abroad. Continue reading

Covering the Fields — [Republica Repost]

Published in the Republica on 17th Nov, 2015

Students, parents and society need to take popular beliefs and assumptions about different fields of study with a grain of salt

covering the fieldsAmid yet another crisis at home, one issue that worries me is how the education of younger generations is being affected. I’ve written about privatization and phony ideas about quality education that are making it increasingly difficult for the children of the vast majority of poor people to become successful on the basis of their talent and hard work alone. Rising cost of education is one of those forces that lead parents and students to ask the wrong questions about what to study and what career to pursue. So as they pursue higher education in the fog of crisis after crisis, how are members of Nepal’s young generation choosing what to study, what career to pursue?

Full article on Republica (Nov 17, 2015)

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A Higher Calling — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on July 10, 2017

“The system must change first,” said a colleague. “These things are above the power of mere teachers when it comes to changing higher education.” His argument was that only administrators, especially at the top, can prompt significant systemic changes and ensure major shifts in teaching/learning culture.

That was at one of the webinar (web seminar) sessions for which an inspiring group of Tribhuvan University professors were meeting a few months ago. To share a little more of the context, this informal group has been meeting every first Saturday of the month since last year. Building on a similar project at Midwestern University the previous year, three Nepali scholars at different American universities facilitate these one- to two-hour online training sessions. The group practices strategies for improving semester-based education in their classrooms and institutions. The professors, including scholars who are in significant academic leadership positions in both public and private/affiliated institutions, are essentially training themselves to train others in the future, using additional expertise from their colleagues abroad. The project has been greatly productive. And it has raised important questions about innovation and change in higher education. Continue reading

Part I: Translingual, Transcultural, Transnational — From Buzzwords to Teaching Strategies

Reposted from Transnational Writing blog

When reading the increasingly rich scholarship on translingual, transnational, and transcultural issues in the teaching of writing, I can’t help thinking that these terms, too, will soon be replaced by newer ones—criticized as insufficient, rejected as counterproductive, avoided as too political or impractical. As scholars have started emphasizing (at conferences, calls for proposals, and publications), if our discourse aboutteaching translingual skills, promoting transcultural/cross-cultural communicative competence, and incorporating transnational/global issues into the curriculum remains too abstract for too long, I think that it will backfire. We must complement the necessary theory-building with concrete pedagogies, practical applications, and accessible language if we want to engage fellow writing teachers, members of other disciplines, and administrators in conversations about curriculum and higher education at large.

Fortunately, in the last few years, it also seems that when we return from conferences to classrooms, we have started testing, adapting, and developing more concrete strategies for teaching the above skills and knowledge. In this post, I would like to share a few activities, assignments, and teaching ideas that were inspired by professional conversations in our field. Taken from two specific courses I teach, one in the Writing Program and one in a different department, these are works in progress and I would appreciate your comments and feedback on them. Continue reading