Building a Community: What We Value

Praveen K Yadav, Umes Shrestha, and Uttam Gaulee
(facilitators of ELT Choutari, an English Language Teachers’
and bloggers’ network from Nepal)

praveenThe world is getting far more connected, but not all connections are the same. Nor do connections automatically achieve the social, professional, and other purposes that the Internet is often credited for by those who have full and unhindered access to it. So, building a professional community, developing resources for it, and engaging its members from the ground up takes a lot of time, courage, and collaboration by one or more members who can stick to it through ups and downs, excitement and frustration.

Here's the link of the article co-authored for & published in EdConteXts, an int'l network of educators.

umesIn this blog post, we’d like to share the story of how we, a group of English language teachers in Nepal gradually built an online professional development community by the name of ELT Choutari. In a sense, this post is a detailed answer to the question that was asked by a colleague who commented on a story that one of us (Praveen) wrote for EdConteXts in June:what do we value as measures of success of/in our network?

uttamELT Choutari is probably the first English Language Teaching (ELT) blog-zine of its kind in South Asia. It was formed in 2009 by a group of dynamic ELT professionals of Nepal who felt the dire need of scholarly and professional engagement in the virtual world. To involve teachers across the country in professional development through online conversations, the team set up a blog, which was called ‘Nelta Choutari’ until recently. NELTA is the acronym for Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association where members of this informal group belong, and Choutari is a Nepali word meaning the space under/including a tree, the traditional public square where members of the community gather to share ideas and debate issues, tell stories to pass on or generate knowledge, solve problems, and sustain community.We changed the name to ELT Choutari in order to emphasize the group’s independence and informality and to be inclusive of the international scope of our readership—even as we remain grounded in Nepal and continue to share ideas and experiences of teaching/learning in our unique context.

Blogging as perhaps the most impactful affordance of information communication technology has helped us to connect the Nepalese ELT community from within and with other ELT professionals around the world—including our own Nepalese colleagues who work or study around the world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the meaningful, resourceful, and impactful connection that we’ve worked on for almost six years now has brought about a small revolution in our field in Nepal. Started as a humble way to share ideas with each other by Shyam Sharma, Prem Phyak, and Bal Krishna Sharma, and later joined by Sajan Kumar Karn, Kamal Poudel and Hem Raj Kafle, the group soon grew into a platform for hundreds of Nepalese English teachers to share their ideas/experiences and scholarship about teaching and teaching English. We’ve also published blog posts by scholars from around the world, including by prominent scholars from the UK, US, and Australia.

Measuring Success of Choutari from readers’ perspective
The best way to share what aspects of our success, experiences, and ambitions we value most would be to let the most active members of our community speak in their own voice.

Ashok Raj Khati, a former editor who collected the voices of our readers for our fifth anniversary issue earlier this year found that our readers “translate” knowledge, skills and resources from reading ELT Choutari to their workplaces and other venues of professional development. Overall, Ashok found out that blogging has become a powerful means by which Nepalese ELT practitioners not only meet the world but also grow while they share ideas among themselves. Our community blog and other group and individual sites are helping to promote professional conversation, building local scholarship and creating new and local resources in ELT. Here is the blog post, titledHave Your Saybased on the study.

Measuring Success of Choutari through the team’s eyes

A recent discussion that EdConteXts prompted among the current editors of Choutari also produced some interesting issues about Choutari’s success, including strengths, values, benefits, challenges, and prospects.

First, Choutari has been a successful forum for the team because members of the core group have developed strategies for collaboration and coordination of their efforts. While being very informal and flexible, they take turns and back up one another when necessary. Its feature of being interactive and bringing local ELT practices to light has made popular among the Nepalese ELT practitioners. On top of that, the intrinsic motivation, team spirit and passion to contribute to larger community within the team to learn, share and contribute are some reasons behind enabling the team to work well, publish monthly issues without fail and create a significant impact in the community at home and abroad.

Secondly, the best part of working in Choutari that the team personally values is “growing by giving.” The team’s working as editors for Choutari comes with benefits on personal, professional and community level. Behind our success, we 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. The team itself is learning how to delegate all work to others but 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. The most significant benefit of working for the Choutari team is the opportunity that we get to connect with great professionals and leaders, locally and from all over the globe.

Finally, on the side of running the show, the best thing is that we never give up. No doubt, 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. Despite such challenges, we’ve been publishing on time. The first few years are always full of challenges for any action, but the team has overcome many of those challenges faced in early days. However, things like lack of time and losing motivation among the core group are still there as factors to fear. The team’s determination and their long-term vision for Choutari have always overcome these challenges.

The digital divide is still one of the major challenges that hinders the widening of readership of Choutari as large chunks of the Nepali community still lack proper electricity and internet access. Another key challenge for any ELT community like Choutari in the country is overcoming the lack of  ‘writing’, ‘reading’ and ‘critiquing’ culture among teachers, students and educational leaders. But we have been promoting rigorous academic reading and writing culture among teachers and students alike.

At the same time, the prospects are tremendous, both for the team and the community. Learning and networking opportunities abound as our team has come up with great new projects such as mentorship and monthly writing workshops to support and groom novice and potential writers. The social media platforms beyond the blog are growing exponentially, and there is room for growth in many ways. For sustainability, we find there are many capable people willing to join the blogging community as readers, contributors, and the facilitators.

Choutari is also a place for mentorship. We normally do not reject submissions when our colleagues want to share their ideas through Choutari; we try to provide resources/guidelines (please seejoin the conversationtab), and we try our best to help the writers on a one-to-one basis through a review process as best as we can.

To conclude, we are an excited and optimistic bunch. Despite any challenges, we believe we can and should give back our best to our profession and community. We want to bridge a generation of scholars with teachers who have built our professional community from scratch. We want to transform the existing ELT picture by sharing the ideas and experiences of our professional colleagues across the country. We are dedicated to transmit knowledge, skills and resources among scholarship and classroom, trainings and publications, and conversations offline and online; and thus make a huge impact in our field. As we have started doing more recently, we help promote professional development through training and conference presentations, workshops and conversations, and professional networking in virtual communities across the country and across the world.

With the expansion of readership, we are truly excited and eager to serve the community even better than we have done so far.

And, we are very excited to be able to read what educators from around the world share through EdConteXts. Thank you again for the opportunity to share our ideas and experiences.



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

Here's the link of this article written for & published in EdConteXts, Int'l Network of Educators.

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 (now, 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!

Student Interest

Voice of The People (The Kathmandu Post Daily, Oct 14, 2011)

It would be useful for educationists and government officials to go through the editorial which advocates reform in the education sector (“Everybody’s a genius,” October 11, Page 6). Reflecting on the school life of technology giant Steve Jobs, the editorial makes a plea for reform in the current education system which isn’t encouraging creativity. ….{Click me to view full post…..}

Coming across a Linguist

There are many things unnoticeable but what happening is we at once encounter such things. There’s a statement ‘Common sense is a sense that is uncommon in common people’. This obviously is not untrue. Even a common issue, which common people don’t care, may be the subject to discuss and scrutinize intensely for those who have interests in specific topics. Here’s an anecdote which I get to meet during a trip to my home town Rajbiraj from Birgunj, a prominent economical hub of Nepal.

As I was going to my birth place Rajbiraj, the headquarters of Saptari district, I boarded the bus at the bus park from Birgunj. I noticed a quite common thing that is likely to be uncommon for the common. The conductor in the bus asked me for fare in Bhojpuri, a language mostly used in Birgunj and nearby areas. Though I am not a competent and fluent speaker of the local language, I did not amaze thinking that he belonged to the language community. The way and his confident of speaking the language made me trust that he belonged to that language community.

As the bus reached Pathlaiya, I found him speaking in Nepali with passengers who belonged to Pahadi community. He was very fluent in the National language too. This time I didn’t get astonished because I thought that he might have done schooling where the language is obligatory for teaching.

Then we just headed towards our destination what exhausts me in traveling in crowd. The crowd stayed till the bus halted at Dhalkebar. Thank god, I got relaxed as the crowd lost there. The place separates from the road which leads to Janakpur, a religious and tourist site in Terai. At the station two western couple got into the bus. They got their seat at the couch. I talked to them. They felt nice to talk to me since they didn’t face difficult to comprehend me and they also needed to get some information about traveling to Biratnagar.

Meantime, as usual the conductor came over there and asked them, “Excuse me, sir…. could you please pay me the fare and where are you going to”.

I kept on staring at the brief excerpt between the tourists and the conductor. I, being a language student teacher had my brain stormed on the crucial issue of linguistics. That was not just the end, the bus got to Lahan, a famous town of Siraha district where almost all the people speak Maithali language. Similarly, I found him conversing with passengers in Maithili fluently. I knew he is familiar with four languages though he lacks the theoretical knowledge of those languages. But I would like to call him a linguist simply. Is it right for us to call so?

Flowers – Fine Art OF Nature

There are hardly few people, on the earth, who are not fond of flowers. The flowers are recognized as fine art of nature. They possess a great mystery within them .They are so beautiful that everyone wishes to be in touch of them. Therefore flower plants are planted for their own benefits.

Planting flowers is accepted according to people’s own choice. Growing flowers is known as floriculture. Some people plant flowers for decoration, some for business and some just to worship .If our houses lack fair looking, it can be fulfilled with a nice blooming garden. Some people plant flowers for religious purpose. They are offered to God to appease Him. Without these pretty things one can’t pray to God. They are planted for business as well. They are exported and from them various types of perfumes, soaps, aromatic oils, etc. are extracted. Making garlands and bouquets they are sent to market for sale. Nurseries and seed production can also be adopted to have better earnings.

Besides them, the flowers are tended to pass our time. It is said, “An empty mind is a devil’s workshop.”If we have nothing to do, our mind may be filled with nonsense.

So, to avoid them, tending flowers is the best way. As we are in the company of flowers, we get the ideas which can be very useful for our life. A flower’s companion has remarked as a good gardener or a flower lover can be best parents only. In other words, one who dislikes flowers, how can he love his kids?

Poets compose miracle poems noticing their charming beauty. So, the poets are also named as nature lovers. The things that cannot be expressed audibly can be delivered to others by gifting the beautiful creations. Such case is with lovers and beloveds. As we go through great people’s biographies, we find they are also fond of flowers. For instance, we can have our sights in our community too.

Here’s a fact experienced by one of my respected Gurus, ‘A common sense is the sense that is uncommon in common people.’ Suppose you are gardening in the garden, you have servants or others who are not educated; they may laugh at you or call you fool since they don’t realize its importance. That’s it. They are common people and flower is a common thing. They don’t have such hobby. The fact we get here proved.

There are many things we can learn from flowers. As I have experienced once, there was a question arising within me – “Why are people attracted to flowers?” As I kept on considering on it, I came to know that they have the qualities like they are always cheerful, colourful, harmful, fragrant and useful. Therefore people can’t help loving them. Thinking over it a person is loved by everyone if he has some qualities as cheerful, helpful and wisdom. To make people love you, you won’t fall behind others but they follow you, you have those qualities. Flowers can be compared as an ocean of knowledge for the people who think. Here’s the thing said above is a drop only from the ocean. You can have them tending them. To sum up, this beautiful thing is needed from our cradle to the grave.

Published by The Young Guys Weekly,  English Weekly Newspaper Publishing from Birgunj