Nepal is a multilingual and multicultural country composed of various ethnic groups. Nepal bears 123 languages that are spoken as ‘mother tongue’ among 125 ethnic communities (Population census, 2011). Nepali is the largest language of Nepal which is spoken by 44.6% of the population as the mother tongue and used in government offices, courts, schools, and other public spheres. The number of native speakers of English in Nepal is 2032 (0.01%) which is too much less in comparison to other languages but people in Nepal are motivated towards teaching their children English language. The English language was formally introduced in the Nepalese education system during the Rana period which functions as a 'foreign language' and a 'lingua franca' in Nepal. English is widely used in the field of education, research, business, tourism, mass media, international communication, socio-cultural gatherings, family weddings, birthday celebrations, and it is introduced as a compulsory and optional subject from grade one to Bachelor level. Moreover, English has been used as a Medium of Instruction (MOI) in school education in Nepal.
When we look back at history, there were no specific policy documents regarding the medium of instruction (MOI) in the Rana regime and before that. After the establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1950, the government allows the public to open the school. To manage the education system appropriately by following democratic norms and values, the first democratic government established the Ministry of Education and also formed the Nepal National Education Planning Commission’ (NNEPC) to recommend the policies for educational reforms in the country. The commission recommended the Nepali language as the medium of instruction in school education because the practice of only one language facilitates national integration by mentioning in the report as "If the younger generation is taught to use Nepali as the basic language, then other languages will gradually disappear, and greater national strength and unity will result". The recommendation provided by the commission regarding only Nepali as a medium of instruction and banned to other languages in school premises is not democratic in a multilingual context. It is against the democratic norms and values as in a democratic system all languages need to be considered equally. Holding monolingual policy cannot create national unity among people but it develops frustration towards the policy among the speakers of other languages.
In the Panchyat system, the Government implemented the National Education System Plan (NESP) which determined the goals of education as 'to promote development through the unification of the nation under one language and culture'. This plan nationalized all schools and also declared Nepali as the sole medium of instruction in school education. The Panchyat regime continued the monolingual policy by focusing on the use of the Nepali language in the name of national unification as ek bhasha/ek desh niti (one nation/one language policy). The MOI policy obtained by the Panchyat regime was directed to eradicate all languages other than Nepali in our multilingual and diverse country by ignoring to develop all languages correspondingly which is against the linguist human rights of the speakers of minority languages.
After the restoration of the democratic system in 1990, the newly formed government declared a new constitution that recognized Nepal as "a multicultural and multilingual country" by stating, "All the languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are the national languages of Nepal". The Constitution of Nepal (1990) is more autonomous and lithe towards addressing the rights of minorities people because it confirmed the right to education in mother tongue and also made provisions to promote the languages, literature, scripts, arts, and cultures of each ethnic group of the country. However, the government obtained the neoliberal economic policy in the country, and many Institutional (private) English medium schools are established which is contradictory to the policy of providing education in mother-tongue at school education.
The constitution of Nepal 2015 redefined Nepal’s identity as a ‘multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural" nation. Further, the constitution has given much more priority to other languages in addition to Nepali as, "all languages spoken as the mother tongues in Nepal are the languages of the nation". Moreover, the constitution has 'Right relating to education as fundamental rights of people in which there is the provision of the right to get education in the mother tongue. Furthermore, the constitution has mentioned "to pursue a multi-lingual policy" in the education system of Nepal in the 'policy of the state'. The provision that is given in the constitution denotes that either mother tongue-based or multilingual education can be done in the school education of Nepal.
The government has developed policies, acts, and frameworks to implement the provisions of the constitution practically. The provision of the medium of instruction in school education has been mentioned in the seventh & eighth amendments of the Education Act (1971) and the Act relating to Compulsory and Free Education (2018) that the medium of instruction to be provided by the schools shall be the Nepali language, English language or both the languages or mother tongue of the Nepali community. Likewise, the 'Medium of Instruction and Languages for Education Police' has referred to Nepali or indigenous languages as MOI up to Grade 3, Nepali as MOI in Grade 4 and 5. Regarding Grade 6 to 8, Nepali is used as MOI for social sciences, languages, and arts, and English as MOI for Math and Science. Moreover, Nepali is continued as a compulsory subject, and English is used as MOI for other subjects in Grade 9 to 12. Recently launched, the National Curriculum Framework of School Education (2019) has asserted that the medium of instruction will be students' mother tongue or Nepali language, and/or English medium can be used for teaching other subjects except for social studies, moral education, Nepali arts, and culture in basic level education. Nepali or English can be a medium of instruction at the secondary level but the subjects such as social studies, moral education, Nepali arts, and culture need to be taught in Nepali.
It is found that the policy documents related to MOI in education have focused on the use of mother tongue or multi-languages for the basic level and Nepali or English for the secondary level. But, the stakeholders of community schools are shifting the schools into EMI to provide education in English medium from the initial class without paying attention to the cognitive development of the children to learn the language at a small age which is not more than the misconception of people towards EMI as the quality myths. The policy is on one side and the people are demanding English medium in school education which creates significant confusion in the practical implementation of MOI policy. As a result, we produce academically weak students from the basic level of school education in the name of quality education through EMI so that it is not to be delayed to remove the confusion between policy and practice of MOI policy.
(The author is a Lecturer at Siddhajyoti Education Campus Sindhuli and a Ph. D. Scholar in English Education at Tribhuvan University)