Boost local content but do not limit learners

Form One Students at Jamhuri High School, Nairobi during the School reopening on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.[Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative Steering Committee that examinable set books in high schools should be locally written and capture local issues has triggered debate in the education sector.

In their proposals, the team suggested that all set books should be by local authors and with content relating to Kenyan life.

It specifically cites the works of leading Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, saying his works should heavily feature in the set books.

The committee also proposed that all books are written in English be translated into vernacular, to encourage children to take an interest in local languages and develop multi-lingual children.

The recommendations are noble. And they will obligate the Ministry of Education to expose students to more works of literature by Kenyan writers than before.

Literary works are embedded in English, which comprises the study of English as a language and the study of Literature in English.

However, the study of the Literature component is confined to only a few books in high school.

In secondary schools, the syllabus requires that learners engage in critical analysis of the prescribed textbooks which include a novel, a play and an anthology of short stories.

KICD has released new set books that will replace those whose timelines have lapsed.

For literature in English, set books by Oxford, KLB, Longhorn, Spotlight and East African publishers have been picked to replace the existing ones.

Kenyan novel, ‘Blossoms of the Savannah’ which lapses in 2022 will be replaced by ‘Fathers of the Nation’ in January 2023.

The play, ‘A doll’s House’ which lapses in 2022 will be replaced by ‘The rest of the World’ in January 2023.

‘The Pearl’ which lapses in 2021 will be replaced by ‘From the rest of The World’ in May 2022.

‘Inheritance’ which lapses in 2022 will be replaced by ‘Parliament of the Owls’ in January 2023.

Anthology ‘Memories we Lost’ which lapses in 2021 will be replaced by ‘A Silent song and other Stories’ in May, 2022.

And for Kiswahili Fasihi, Tamthilia ‘Kigogo’ which lapses in 2021 will be replaced by ‘Si Shwari’ in 2022.

Hadithi Fupi, ‘Tumbo Lisoloshiba’ which also lapses in 2021 will be replaced by ‘Pambazuko ya Machweo na Hadithi Nyingine’ in 2022.

Riwaya, ‘Chozi la Heri’ which lapses in 2020 will be replaced by ‘Cheche za Moto” in 2023.

KICS also released list of set books for Diploma in Primary Teacher Education. Tamthilia ‘Kifunganjia by Story Moja publishers will start in September 2021.

The novel ‘The Spider’s Web’ by OnePlanet will also start in September 2021.

And for set books for Diploma in Secondary Teacher Education, the Kenyan novel ‘Grain of Wheat’ which lapses in 2020 will be replaced by ‘Vanishing Herds’ in September 2021.

The play ‘The Successor’, which lapses in 2020 will be replaced by ‘A hole in the Key’ in September 2021.

An anthology ‘Give me a Chance’ by Bookmark Africa will also start in September 2021.

And the novel, ‘Maru’, which lapses in 2020 will be replaced by ‘Eyo’ in September 2021.

Outside these set books, the Ministry of Education has—regrettably—not spelled out books students should be exposed to as part of their exposure to the literary heritage of mankind and Kenya in particular.

English as a subject in Primary and secondary school is inordinately focused on Grammar, Comprehension and Composition.

There is no formal study of or exposure of learners to standard genres of Literature in English –prose and poetry, plays and the novel—in primary schools under the 8–4–4 system of education.

The same applies to High School English. Study of examinable set books starts in Form Three.

KICD has not outlined what books students in Forms One and Form Two should read—leaving many schools and teachers without guidance and compulsion to teach literary texts to students.

The study of English in all its facets—as a language and as a vehicle of culture–is supposed to among others, build to help students comprehend the meaning that the author tries to convey in order to enhance their reading ability.

Also supposed to enhance students' critical thinking and judgmental abilities develop students' writing ability by writing an essay or comments related to the topic of the literature.

It should ideally help students to develop speaking fluency in English by asking questions and sharing their feedback during discussion of a piece of work they are reading or have read as part of their extensive reading.

This should ideally happen right from class four when the learners have learned how to read all the way to Form Four.

This is how an education system can use English to cultivate the nurture the competences human beings need to survive in a complex world we now face.

The government, through the Ministry of Education, will have to radically review the English curriculum/syllabus to ensure that student’s basic education institutions are exposed to more materials of outstanding literary merit than the three or four books they study.

Some observations: Confining students to examinable set books has little or no educational basis whatsoever.

It inspires students to empathise with others, to find their own voice as they reflect on the human condition with discernment, and to consider the impact of their beliefs and actions on society.

The Basic Curriculum Framework—which is the blue print of Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC) notes that the study of Literature in English, should help students, develop “the capacity for critical thinking, personal growth and empathy, enhanced appreciation of diversity in human nature and culture.”

Restricting learners to local authors negates this.  The framework for teaching humanities and social science disciplines requires that students start from the known to the unknown.

They should start with an understanding of Kenya from local to global, to be expanded to East Africa, Africa and the world.

The Education the Basic Education Curriculum Framework we have referred to envision an education not just of imparting or cultivating skills. Rather, an education that is imbued with values.

“The teaching and learning of values will also enable them to value diversity in all people, and to demonstrate respect, empathy and compassion for all people,” it notes.

The “demonstration of respect, empathy and compassion for all people” refers all people, regardless of ethnicity, and nationality and race.

Students can only develop global awareness through exposure to literary texts that include not just local authors but also authors outside Kenya.

The Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) recommendations of examinable textbooks for its secondary school students are noble in vision.

It has enabled students not only to study literary texts by Ugandan authors, but also authors from Kenya, West Africa, South Africa, American, English authors and those from Continental Europe.

You can easily see insularity in our choice of examinable literary texts. The Recommendation to restrict examinable books to Kenyan will exacerbate the narrow-mindedness even further. It should not happen.

The other danger of restricting examinable books to Kenyan authors is that the Ministry of Education might be forced to recommend books of dubious literary merit for study in our schools.

We shouldn’t force students to study books because our compatriots have written them.

The books should be of high literary value in terms language, imagination and creativity, in terms of moral and cultural vision and also of values.

These books should make students to think deeply about life and all its imperfections and possibilities.

The Basic Education Curriculum Framework lists seven core competencies that should be to be achieved by every learner in basic education.

They are communication and Collaboration, self-efficacy, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Imagination, Citizenship, Digital Literacy, and Learning to Learn.

Confining students to local literary texts will not only undermine the achievement of these competences, it will also restrict the opportunities that exist for them beyond the boundaries of Kenya.

The government should broaden the study of English beyond grammar, Comprehension, and composition to include more reading matter of great literary materials—both fictional and nonfictional materials.

We should begin to see class learners in Grade four to Grade 12, getting exposed to folk literature not just of Kenya, but Africa, and the rest of the world.

The same should apply to short stories, novels, plays, poetry, essays, and speeches.

[email protected]