Context of Nepal: Marginalisation, ICT and English

By Kamal Raj Devkota

Marginalization is a process of forcing a person, a social group or a community to live the life of marginality. It is rooted in “margin” which often underlines “gender, racial, political, cultural or economic oppression” (Hall, Stevens & Meleis 1994, p. 25). Education is another social factor that perpetuates marginalization of those who are ‘ignored’ because of their regional, ecological, economic, social and/or linguistic backgrounds. In this blog article, I will focus on how access or lack of access to English language learning and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) is connected to marginalization in educational contexts in Nepal.

Education and Marginalization in Nepal
Marginalization has become an undeniable part of the Nepalese society. It is a shocking reality that it shapes the life and identity of a large section of its population. Though the state is often projected as the state of “char jat chhattis varna ko sajha fulbari” [a common garden of four castes and thirty-six ethnicities], the disparities and marginalization sustained on the grounds of regionality, caste, ethnicity, poverty, gender, etc., are at odds with this depiction. The complex intersectionality among these factors has reinforced even ‘double and ‘triple’ marginalization of people from marginalized and disadvantaged communities. Such a condition of marginalization is apparent in educational contexts. ‘Social selection’ of the privileged (Valentin, 2001) and ‘selective exclusion’ of women, so-called lower caste citizens, and linguistic and ethnic minorities (Caddell, 2007) are the prime causes of unceasing marginalization in education in Nepal.

English and ICT: Redefining to challenge marginalization
Modern schooling particularly English-prioritized schooling and its unequal and uneven distribution across the nation have added another tension in the educultural landscape in Nepal (Devkota, 2019). Nepali, the national language, and English, the language more valued for its role in global communication, are foregrounded in every sphere of people’s lives in Nepal. The hundreds of indigenous languages which each give voice to individual culture and identity have still not been integrated into national language policy, language education policy, and pedagogical processes in tangible terms (Phyak & Ojha, 2019; Giri, 2014; Tin, 2014). Therefore, this situation has not only resulted in linguistic marginalization of indigenous languages and their speakers in policy, but also pushed these local tongues into gradual death. In the context of Nepal, English language is charged to promote social marginalization in two senses. Firstly, it perpetuates children’s unequal access to education, institutionalizing the dichotomy of English-as-a-medium-of-instruction (EMI) and non-EMI schools. Students whose parents cannot afford more for EMI schools are obliged to attend non-EMI or English-poor schools. Such an uneven schooling practice in relation to English and EMI has pushed a large section of children especially from economically disadvantaged families as well as those living in remote settings to be further marginalized. Secondly, Nepali schools today are oriented to set up ‘more English exposure’ and EMI, ignoring the children’s mother tongue(s) or the languages that children are more familiar with. However, in the absence of required language resources to facilitate learning, teachers’ attempts fall short of quality instruction. Rather, the strategy has devalued indigenous language skills and knowledge, and hard-pressed children from diverse linguistic communities to experience being ‘disregarded’ in the classroom context.

More recently, ICT and its access and use in student learning has drawn people’s attention. Shields (2011) argues that ICT is often attributed as the symbol of modernity and progress in the policy discourses in Nepal. However, the expansion of ICT and its application in student learning is still meager. As evidenced, during the pandemic thousands of students were completely disconnected from learning, nevertheless, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and concerned government bodies appealed to continue teaching and learning through alternative modes including the internet. With a lack of proper ICT facilities across the country, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children is widening (Dawadi, Giri & Simkhada, 2020). Students experience a harsh digital divide when they get disconnected from learning due to poor ICT infrastructure, ICT knowledge, and internet access (Devkota, 2021). Particularly, children from rural settings and from poor family background are all found to have been marginalized. Such a marginalization process may continue further since ICT development is still slow and uneven in the country.

One more argument to highlight here is that seeing English and ICT as the unequivocal forces of marginalization becomes a monolithic and biased judgment. English and ICT are both prerequisites for global citizens today. No matter where the people are born and brought up, they experience (OR aspire to experience) diverse forms of globally circulated information, messages, images, ideas, and ideologies. For access to circulated messages and information, one needs to build up English communication skills and ICT knowledge. However, when there is an inequality in the access to learning English and ICT exposure, there continues to be marginalization of the ones who are deprived of the opportunities. Therefore, to conclude, to reduce marginalization of people in Nepal, use of English needs to be redefined in the multilingual, and even plurilingual framework in
Nepal’s education policy, and ICT needs to be accessible to all students in Nepal, including the ones that are marginalized and disadvantaged.

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Dawadi, S.; Giri, R.; Simkhada, P. (2020): Impact of COVID-19 on the education sector in Nepal – Challenges and coping strategies. Sage Submissions. Preprint.
Devkota, K. R. (2019). Unraveling English language space constituted in model school construction in Nepal. Education and Development, 29, 30-44.
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Valentin, K. (2005). Schooled for the future? Education policy and everyday life among urban squatters. Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing Inc.

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