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

By Praveen Yadav, Kathmandu, Nepal

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, 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!

praveenWriter’s Brief Bio: In addition to teaching business communication to undergrad and grad students, I coordinate the editorial team of NeltaChoutari, a monthly blogzine of English Language Teaching (ELT). I am also a correspondent for Republica, a national English daily published from Kathmandu, Nepal. My interests include writing, teaching, blogging, and engaging in professional development activities in ELT community and higher education at large in Nepal.

15 thoughts on “Teaching in Nepal: Choice, Chance, and Being the Change in the World

  1. Thanks Praveen for this post that describes so well your own growth by giving! Love this concept of growng by giving, and have been inspired by the ground-up approach of Nelta-Choutari from when I first heard about it. What do you think are the main factors behind the success of Nelta-Choutari? You mention several impressive stats, but what are the measures of success at you personally value?

  2. Hi Praveen, thanks for sharing your experience and your passion. I am extremely happy to read about your work and your love for teaching. Something resonated with me while reading: the following – “My own story of becoming a teacher started by chance at first”

    My own love story with teaching started very much by chance. In 2000 after submitting my undergrad thesis I started job-hunting. I spent over a month sending out stacks of applications to all sorts of companies (but not to a school or a University), with the hope that one would respond. That was June, 2000. By the end of August no response came my way. I was beginning to feel disappointed.

    However, as fate would have it (that’s how i now describe it), one day i was on campus aimlessly walking around and the then Dean of my Faculty asked me if i would like to come on as an assistant lecturer (a teaching assistant sort of). I did not hesitate. My answer was a ‘yes’, with a big smile. I gave no thought to what was ahead. I just wanted a job. And this was it. I will tell more of this later but to end off, even as i think about ‘chance’, I’d like to admit that I’ve had 14 amazing years since and would have it no other way. I love teaching.

  3. Praveen, what an inspiring post you’ve written! As a Brazilian EFL teacher and educator, I relate quite personally with a lot of what you’ve shared about the teaching profession. In Brazil, it seems to be no different with teaching as a profession, in that so many of us, especially English language teachers have actually been ‘chosen’ by the craft/job. In Brazil we also suffer from very similar problems, and one which is, unfortunately, become a strong part of our culture is the absolute lack of prestige in being a teacher. There’s lots to think about in your post, so thank you so much!

  4. Thank you Praveen, this was very interesting. It is wonderful you pursued an education past high school, and that the drive came from yourself. You are doing many great things for education! The more knowledge you gain, the more you understand!

  5. Praveen, this is a very well written and informative article. It really gives a great visual to the past and current academic system of Nepal. I admire your candidness about pursuing education by choice with the greater aim to better the academic opportunities for others in Nepal. I too became an educator by choice and will continue to obtain my masters degree in TEFL this coming September. Your words have further inspired me to keep shooting for my dream!

  6. Praveen, You and I talk about these issues on many networks, but I couldn’t help saying thank you here on the blog. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that I have not seen many people like you (even in Nepal) who come from really tough backgrounds and make tremendous progress, and make it with a vision for their profession and the society at large. In other words, I’ve seen few people who give as much and grow as much as you have done.
    Btw, I think the question Maha has asked is a very important one. Also, while Maha has asked about what you personally value as measures of the community’s success, it would be great if you or someone currently running Choutari blog/network share more general thoughts and ideas about how the community grew/succeeded and what challenges/prospects you see ahead.
    Last but not least, I find it really inspiring to read comments by other colleagues from different parts of the world in which they say that they share similar experiences and that they’re inspired by your story. Thanks again for sharing it.

  7. This is a very relevant story which perfectly reflects the profession in Nepal. Underappreciated, undervalued and underpaid. No one knows how the work load is killing teachers but teachers like Praveen set examples of commitment and dedication.

  8. First let me thank Maha, Lenandlar, Clarissa, Laura, Patrick, Shyam, and Umes for the encouraging comments. It means a lot for me that you found my humble story interesting. A colleague in our network wants to submit a more detailed blog post soon, focusing on how we’ve run and what we’ve achieved on our network, so let me share just a few points about what I personally value about our network as factors of our success (as Maha has asked).

    On the side of running the show, the best thing is that we never give up 🙂 There have been ups and downs, and even now, it often seems that everyone is busy and the next monthly issue won’t happen. But with some coordination and prompting, we somehow always amaze ourselves. So, behind our success, I value our rapport as a team, our commitment, and our willingness to back up one another. Another thing is regularity, which it is hard to achieve, but we’ve developed mechanisms for collaboration. Once facilitators and audiences form habits and expectations, it becomes much easier. This could also be seen as brand building! I must add that there are things that I “don’t” value but are necessary, like “leading” the team, but someone has to. Someone has to be willing to do extra work when everyone seems busy. I am starting to learn how to delegate all work to others so I don’t need to do anything 😉 But seriously, we address this issue by taking turns and asking anyone who can’t find time to step aside and asking anyone who can to lead the network or major parts of it.

    On the audience side, we similarly value one person’s contribution at a time, one comment, one blog post, one Facebook like, one retweet, one encouraging comment. The audience is everything and invest time to engage them. The blog was started when, as Shyam can tell you more about, he and his two colleagues simply moved longer email conversations on critical pedagogy to a blog in late 2008. They tell us that they only expected the blog to be read by “five other English teachers back home five years down the road.” I guess it was easier to stick to the project because they were okay with small achievements, whatever their dreams were.

    All told, I think it is about whether we find value in giving back and in dedicating our time even when we don’t know if you will be successful. There are risk and uncertainty factors (Will I seem nothing but silly? Will I hurt others’ feelings? Is this all worth it?). But there are also huge rewards (such as being connected to amazing people across the country, inspiring others, creating opportunities, and so on. I think we’ve made it work well because we value these rewards a lot. We’vebeen able to challenge traditional modes of professional development, as I discuss in a recent article . It seems to me that this network is also inspired by the same kind of desire, as other colleagues like Clarissa and Lenandlar have highlighted. I value how we are able help teachers share ideas and inspire others (which now they can do literally across the world) and be inspired to transcend limitations of their tough situations.

    Thanks again everyone for the encouraging comments.

    1. Wow thanks Praveen for such an inspiring post and comment. So encouraging to read about how you built (and are building) such a vibrant community / hub, starting small one step at a time, never giving up. Love that you acknowledge the challenges, without sugarcoating them, but at the same time sell the rewards. There really is something special about building something from the ground up through sheer passion and commitment to the cause. And very inspiring to hear the story of how it was done. Thank you. Look forward to working towards something similar for edcontexts – inspired by the efforts of you and your team!

  9. Thank you Tanya for your words of appreciation, and I am grateful to EdConteXts and the team for providing me such a unique opportunity to share my personal story along with our local initiative that we find today have becomes successful so far. We look forward to collaborating with EdConteXts in the days to come.

    Such a linkage between Choutari and your initiative would serve the common cause of bringing several pedagogical issues across contexts for discourse, building networks and further theorizing local practice to develop resources. Besides, I think sharing the resources from different contexts would also provide an opportunity to replicate from one another and further scale up those thriving initiatives.

  10. Thank you, Praveen, for writing such a wonderful post. I think the post largely reflects the reasons behind choosing the teaching profession in Nepal. I too was there by chance. However, as you point out, there is nothing wrong with that when teachers develop interest in it and make the work their “profession”. Continuous professional development is the key. I think you are doing a wonderful work by soliciting and publishing local English teachers’ narratives of their teaching-related experience in Choutari.

    One reason behind choosing teaching job in Nepal is the availability of these jobs and a relatively less regulation from the policy level. When I think of my days in late 90s, there were actually very few opportunities of paid (prestigious?) jobs at my locality. There was only one bank and a few government offices. Then where would you go to look for a job? There were so many private schools and they were looking for teachers. And yes, schools and teaching was at my easy access. This may resonate with other people’s experience too.

  11. I have also a story that, I think, is not less interesting , so I want to share it with you. I was educated in a community school and after the completion of high school, I chose Education in my college studies. After completing my B Ed degree with good marks, I started to teach in a private school where I had to teach some literature portion such as poetry, essays and fiction. Truly speaking, I had a very hard time , and frankly speaking, I could not even make a simple synopsis of a piece of poem I had to teach. With the help of some of my good friends I learnt the basic concept of teaching literature and by cheating, not teaching, I completed some months over there and quit it for my further studies.
    The story I am telling here is not for any other purpose but to tell you how the so called B Ed degree in Nepal trains you to be a teacher. An English teacher with the B Ed degree in English can’t teach a school level literature! And I really feel ashamed to them who proudly say I am an English teacher with my B Ed in English, I am a trained teacher because I have a B Ed degree……. Poor guys. So, I did not join an M Ed but did my MA from Tribhuvan University Nepal, and truly speaking I learnt a lot about English and literature there. After my MA, I got a job to teach in Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus, a Tribhuvan University affiliated campus where I have taught literature to BA and MA students for nine years. Since 2010 August, I have been in Canada. As a landed immigrant in this country, I have come to know the real teaching profession. I have been working as a Social Worker ( Youth Worker) in a globally recognized organization (YMCA) here, I am not missing my teaching job in back home because I know no one wants to be a teacher there but happens to be one as an accident! I don’t believe the claim that thirty or forty percent teachers choose teaching as a profession in Nepal; that is a lie since almost all the people in this profession are frustrated.

  12. Dear Hari Rijal,
    Thank you so much for going through my blog entry. Thank you for starting with how you started teaching, how our so-called education program can’t sufficiently help us how to teach, why you switched to literature to gain in-depth knowledge, and finally those knowledge and skills you have transferred while teaching in a TU affiliate colleges for around a decade when you were here.

    When you say ‘almost all the people in Nepal happen to be in teaching profession just by accident’, you made a good point. There is no proper data or study that can reveal the exact figure of those who choose teaching just by chance. My data of the teachers who chose this profession either by choice and chance was based a quick survey done among the teachers at a college in Kathmandu. But I think that our stories represent those of most teachers.

    We can’t deny the reality that involving in teaching is a training center, as I have seen and found that many best managers, trainers, motivational speakers, and great thinkers were once teachers. When people are involved in teaching, they groom their professional careers because they not only enhance teaching skills, but also develop various interpersonal skills, including leadership, communication, management, and so on.

    I am glad to learn about your new work as a Social Worker in a globally recognized organization in Canada, which I think might be one of your dream jobs that makes you no longer miss your teaching job back home. Since working with and for youths here in the country has always been my interest, the same enthusiasm drew my interests in the social sector, working for NGOs and INGOs like Plan International in the past. Even as I am teaching here, I work with younger scholars through http://www.neltachoutari.wordpress.com .

    Finally, I hope we can find ways to share ideas toward empowering aspiring youths here at home to enhance their soft skills and helping them develop them professionally. Hopefully we can start conversation on these issue some day.

  13. Firstly, I would like to thank you sir for such an inspirational article that inspires and encourages a lot. It also proves how passion can invite so drastic change in one’s life. Sir really , got to learn plenty of stuff from your life… In fact, we young professionals in ELT along with nepalese community needs such a visionary and laboriousbas well as creative mentor like you.

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