After Nepal went into the federal mode, it was expected that schools across the country would teach regional languages. Article 31 of the Constitution says: ‘Every Nepali community living in Nepal shall have the right to acquire education in their mother tongue up to the secondary level, and the right to open and run schools and educational institutions as provided for by law.’
The Curriculum Development Centre along with rural municipalities introduced a ‘local curriculum’ bearing 100 points. For instance, Bhaktapur and Gokarna municipalities have curricula designed to teach students about their own municipalities. While some schools offer mother tongues as an option, a majority choose the ‘local curriculum’.
In October 2020, Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya made it mandatory for schools to teach Nepal Bhasa from Grade 1-8. But there was mixed reaction from parents, with many feeling it would burden the students and their Nepali and English would suffer.
“We have tried offering students formal classes on Nepal Bhasa for many years, but there was not much interest from guardians even though we know children thrive when they learn new languages,” says Jyoti Man Sherchan, former Principal of Malpi International School, who introduced a Thakali language club in the school.
“Parents are more interested in their children being proficient in English or Mandarin. Change is possible only if the government intervenes and provides resources and training to teach our own mother tongues,” says Sherchan.
However, there are limitations in residential schools where students come from all over Nepal. It is impossible to make everyone speak different languages.
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Province 2 is different because the Tarai districts are the most multilingual in the country. In Birganj, for example, most people speak Maithili and Bhojpuri, and they also speak Hindi, Nepali or English.
“Although schools here do not teach ancestral languages, the majority of children continue to speak Maithili and Bhojpuri at home,” explains writer Chandra Kishore. “In my school English and Nepali were taught, but the medium language for explaining those languages was Maithili.
Languages stop evolving once people stop conversing in them. Ancestral languages are also needed to root a people in their heritage and give a distinct identity. This is becoming more and more difficult all over the world with globalisation and the Internet.
“My little children only speak English,” says Saraswati Lama who is married to a Rai, and works for a non-profit in Kathmandu. “My daughter learned it from YouTube and she taught it to her younger brother.” Neither Lama, nor her husband speak their own mother tongues, and use Nepali to speak with one another.
But these days, it is in the Nepali diaspora that the country’s linguistic heritage seems to be valued more. Sujan Shrestha was born in Kathmandu but moved to the US while he was in high school. Now a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, he says his wife and children only speak English and Nepal Bhasa, and no Nepali.
“Nepal Bhasa gives the kids an identity, and connects them to the extended family, especially their grandparents. It is about teaching our kids cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness towards other cultures and people.”
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