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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Interview with Dipak Tuladhar of Modern Newa English School

Interview with Dipak Tuladhar of Modern Newa English School 

Luke Lindermann

Luke Lindemann is currently a research assistant for the Texas-German Dialect Project at the University of Texas and language coordinator for the Multicultural Refugee Coalition. He was a 2010 Fulbright scholar and English teacher in Nepal, and he graduated from Pomona College in 2009 with a BA in Linguistics. His home is in Austin, Texas.

During my last few weeks in Kathmandu, I sought out people that I thought had interesting opinions on language rights and language education in Nepal, and sat down with them for informal interviews. I wrote about the first of these interviews here.

The second interview was with the director of the Modern Newa English school, Dipak Tuladhar. I met with him at his school, which is on Kathmandu's Durbar Marg, close to one of the most famous luxury hotels in Kathmandu, the Yak and Yeti. The preschool looks like one of the many new preschools in Kathmandu, the ones whose flashy advertisements throughout the city boast modern European educational techniques and are emblazoned with popular cartoon characters. But this school is unique in an interesting way:

Here are the notes transcribed from my interview. The words of Mr. Tuladhar:

"What makes this school unique is Newari language instruction. Speaking in the mother tongue is punished in most schools, but this is totally against human rights. Children want to speak in their own tongue, and forcing them to speak in another language is a barrier to their learning. But we can't change the system completely. We feel that mother tongue in pre-primary is necessary, and when students are older there are different situations.

There is a misunderstanding in our society that mother language in the classroom impedes learning. But comprehensive communication is very important in education. Children must be taught in a language they understand.

I started in the commerce field, but I changed fields because of my sentiment. I do the policy for this school, but expert teachers do the teaching. I invested money to create this school. It is now independent, and all fees come from student tuition and transportation. There is no support from NGOs. We do not provide scholarships because we have to pay teachers and other staff. We do not let any teachers work for free in our school. In my view, free service will not last longer.

We have native English speakers Anglo-Indian and American part time teachers for better English of our students. We publish our own Newari textbook, but the other subjects are taught in English.

Our textbooks are in English, but the medium of speaking is in Newari. At first we thought there should be Newari texts, but these are hard to find, and we want our students to be able to compete with other students when they leave. Starting from age two, the kids are in play group, then nursery, lower and upper kindergarten.

I started the Newa School Abhiyan, the Newari School Campaign, to fund other schools like ours. One is the Thecho Newa English School, which has the same modality. It is three years old, and has been independent of support from us for a year. It is necessary to be independent and not take money from NGOs, because if you only take money then you don't work hard. The main criteria of their contract is that they use Newari for instruction; everything else is up to them. 

We've started eight Newari pre-primary schools now, and this school is 8 years old. We give support to many other schools that want to have single classes in mother tongue. There is also an unaffiliated Newari high school which recently had SLC toppers (Jagat Sundar Bwonekuthi). This shows that mother language education works. Students and parents are also happy with the mother language education of our schools."

Having spent time talking to policy and educational planners and linguists about the language situation in Nepal, I thought it would be interesting to visit some of the schools that use mother languages in the classroom. I had visited a pilot mother language government school off in a tiny village near Palpa back when I was in college, where I heard mixed reviews and polite complaints about government interference and lack of support. But now I was restricted to the Kathmandu Valley.

There is an intense cultural pressure placed on government schools to follow in the footsteps of the prestigious private schools and teach entirely in the medium of English. For example, of the ten schools in the Kathmandu Valley that I visited in preparation for the arrival of the next year's English teachers, all but one of them were English medium or were in the process of becoming English Medium. Those that didn't teach entirely in English taught in Nepali, and not in any of the other languages spoken in the valley (primarily Newari and Tamang).

Because of this pressure, and because of the importance placed on national testing assessments, it is not surprising that there are few public mother language schools. But the thought occurred to me that private schools could lead the way by showing that mother tongue education can be beneficial, and this is why I visited Modern Newa English School, which seems to prize the international language of English alongside the traditional cultural language of Newari. It is different than other schools that I have visited because it is a preschool, which I believe is a fairly new concept in Nepal, and thus it does not have to compete with primary and secondary schools with national testing scores. It also enforces the language while the students are young.

As an outside observer who is not an educational professional, I cannot say how successful this school is, but I think that it is encouraging that the idea of combining modern educational techniques with mother tongue education is out there in the public discourse.

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