Monday, 9 July 2012

Globalization, neoliberalism and commodification of English in Nepal


Nepal never had an English colonial history nor has it recognised English as an official language in its constitutions until now. Yet, the English language has already become a principal component of the Nepali education system. Two key forces—globalisation and neoliberalism—have contributed in this regard. When Nepal opened its door to foreigners after the end of the Rana regime in 1950, the flow of foreigners for tourism, business, research, development, religion and education increased briskly in Nepal. The number of multinational companies and international non-governmental organisations is increasing these days due to Nepal's membership in various international organisations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the United Nations. With their arrival, foreign languages (like English) and cultures have also made their visible space in the country, especially in big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. Cinemas, cafes and English medium schools now proliferate these cities.
With the tourist industry booming, English has reached rural places like Jomsom, Muktinath and Dhorpatan. We see illiterate people who sell flowers, Nepali arts, clothes and other gift items in various tourist spots like Dakshin Kali, Thamel, Pashupati, and Pokhara speaking survival English to communicate with
foreign tourists. Realising the importance of English in tourist areas, public schools are gradually shifting their medium of instruction from Nepali to English, as has been the case in Ilam district as reported by The Post (25/01/2009). Quoting a fifth grader, Sandhya Rai, The Post reported, “Hundreds of children in this tourist destination are unable to realise their dream of speaking fluent English. Taking into account the need of English medium education in this remote village of Meghma, Saraswoti Primary School has begun teaching English from the very beginning'. English speaking tourists who visit this area mainly for trekking respond to their use of English and encourage them by providing books and stationery.
With the arrival of foreign tourists, major cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara have already become global cities marked by hybrid languages and cultures. Places like Thamel and Lake Side (Pokhara) are full of restaurants, cafes, hotels, bars,
and recreation centres. Even a rickshaw-puller communicates in broken English with foreigners in these places. Major cities are full of shopping malls where foreign goods are sold.
Technology is also contributing significantly to the expansion of English in Nepal. Although we have only had mobile technology in this country for the past 12 years, according to Nepal Telecom (NTC), the total number of mobile phone users in Nepal reached 14,104,011 in January 2011. Recent statistics from the Nepal Telecom Authority (NTA) shows that 4.78 million mobile subscribers use Ncell whereas 4.71 million use NTC mobile services. The International Telecom Union (ITU) estimates that more than 811,780 (2.8 percent) Nepalis use the Internet (March 2011). Facebook and Twitter are already famous social networking tools. The ITU estimates that 685,280 Nepalis use Facebook (December 2010), which is significantly less than the number 1,221,040  (4.22 percent of the total population), as reported by Socialbakers, one of the biggest Facebook statistics portals in the world. Whatever the exact number of users may be, Facebook now isn’t merely a popular tool for communication in English but equally important for various social and political campaigns. 

Neoliberalism and commodification 
Since its democratic journey began in 1990, Nepal has adopted a neoliberal economic policy—an unregulated free market in which the private sector and donor agencies have received a notable space in the nation building process. Owing to the state's mantra of private-public partnership, private investment has become a key source of the national economy.
Neoliberalism has not only legitimised the role of English as a global language but also projected it as a 'commodity' to be sold especially in education. It has paved the way for the opening of private schools (English medium), many of which are exploiting parents by using English as a key selling point. Generally, as private schools are primarily opened with a business purpose first; they are concerned with earning money in the guise of quality education.
Many private schools are successful in propagating this ideology: namely, learning English means receiving quality education. Innocent parents uphold the view that children will get better job opportunities if they are educated in private schools. The School Leaving Certificate Examinations (SLC) results seem to support this ideology in that, every year, the top ten students are mostly from
private schools. For example, the SLC results (2010/2011), which were published on 20 June, 2011, show enormous disparity between public and private schools in terms of pass percentage, a 90 percent pass rate in private schools and only 46 percent in public ones.
But how many students who graduate from private English medium schools get better jobs? Are they really competent for jobs available within the country and beyond? Do better SLC results equal a better education? These questions require further research and more discussion.
Phyak is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is also Secretary of the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA)