For the symposium on ‘Teacher-research for Difficult Circumstances’, IATEFL 2017 – Prem Phyak

Unable to be present in person (though the symposium had been his original idea), Prem Phyak contributed the following to be read out during the introduction to the symposium, on 6 April in Glasgow. There was only time to read out the first paragraph, so we reproduce Prem’s words in full here: 

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Although governments in ‘difficult circumstances’ keep focusing on ‘teacher training’, as the most dominant approach to teacher professional development, the status of English language teaching has not yet improved. For example, in Nepal, the Ministry of Education claims that more than 90 percent ELT teachers have been trained, yet both students’ and teachers’ low level of English proficiency and teacher-centered classroom pedagogy in schools demonstrate inadequacy of ‘teacher training’ for both teacher professional development and effective English language teaching. What is wrong with the current practices of teacher professional development, then? Why are teachers not able to perform well in the classroom? Answering to these questions, first, invites us to engage in exploring and understanding teachers’ own agency, informed by local socio-cultural context. This symposium seeks to explore the ways in which teachers can be engaged in conducting exploratory research activities to unleash and strengthen their agency in difficult and super-difficult circumstances.

I use the term ‘super-difficult circumstances’ as a concept which embraces the complex intersectionality of multitude of difficulties that affect teaching-learning activities and pose serious problems for teacher professional development. This concept redefines difficult circumstance from a holistic ecological perspective and argues that the scope of teacher-research goes beyond fixing classroom problems. While acknowledging teachers’ voice, agency and existing knowledge, teacher-research provides a transformative space for teachers who are dealing with super-difficult circumstances, ranging from natural disasters (e.g. the 2015 earthquake in Nepal) to refugee crises of Europe.

My own ongoing work with teachers, both in-service and pre-service, in Nepal demonstrates that we should move from the discourse of ‘teacher training’ to ‘teacher-research’ to empower teachers in addressing the connectivity of multiple issues such as lack of materials, poverty, distress from disasters, issues of dislocation and low motivation in learning. The governmental and non-governmental agencies have been providing ‘training’ for teachers working in the disaster affected schools; however, what is missing from the current practice is sustained support to enable teachers in exploring and capitalizing opportunities, knowledge and resources available at the local level. As teachers have said, most teacher training programs do not actually address local needs and ‘teacher expectations’.

The papers in this symposium pay close attention to how teachers in difficult circumstances can be empowered so that they see their own selves as a ‘teacher-researcher’ and transform the ‘teacher-vs-trainer’ dichotomy as reproduced in the traditional teacher training discourses and practices. In sum, this symposium contributes to the recent discussion on ‘teacher-research’ by looking at the cases from different contexts of difficult and/or super-difficult circumstance. We would like to invite all of you to rethink the traditional practices of teacher training and redefine teacher development from a teacher-research perspective.

Prem Phyak, Central Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

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