Education system has killed interest in books

The declining state of literature in the country has dominated literary discourse on these pages for some time. While many factors such as the Internet and the high cost of books have been blamed for this dire situation; critics have laid the blame on the Kenyan educational system, specifically on the poor pedagogical approaches of teachers of literature.

Last Saturday, literature teachers were on the receiving end in Dr Tom Odhiambo’s article titled ‘You Don’t have to know themes to appreciate literature.’

In the brilliantly composed article, Dr Odhiambo blames teachers for adopting rather skewed pedagogical skills in teaching literature. He took issue with the common approach used by teachers of analysing the plot, themes, style and characters in set books.

He challenges teachers to ask themselves why students should be bothered to study literature when they have many other interesting things to engage in.

While I agree with him that teachers have played a role in the dwindling interest in literature, they are not entirely to blame. The entire education system is to blame.

Our education system is heavily geared towards passing national exams. Students no longer learn to acquire knowledge, skills and values.

Teachers of literature — most are products of the same system — have been left with no alternative but to toe the line. They help students analyse the set texts based on the plot, themes, characterisation and style simply because the exams reflect the four.

Take for instance, English Paper Two, which carries an extract from one of the compulsory texts. The common questions have to do with putting the extract in its immediate context (tests on plot); traits of characters in the extract, themes and aspects of style in the extract. English Paper Three tests the students’ ability to decode themes and style.

Teachers who mark national exams have raised concerns of the rigidity of the chief examiners in English when it comes to coordinating the marking scheme.

It has been alleged that those who set the English exams also publish literature guide books, which prescribe the plot-characterisation-themes-style approach. Consequently, teachers are compelled to teach according to the demands of these national examiners.

In addition, a poor reading culture among students is largely to blame for the approach teachers have adopted. Odhiambo opines that he could go to the public library in Kisumu to read novels as a hobby. He is not alive to the fact that this kind of student no longer exists today.

Teachers are handling students who find reading a boring, time wasting endeavour. They would rather Tweet, Facebook, watch movies, listen to music and or bet.

What is more, the ministry of Education has overloaded students with syllabus content. Besides the five set books, learners have to deal with a wide English syllabus including oral literature, poetry, grammar, functional writing, and oral skills.

Simply put, the integrated approach to teaching English has made students dislike literature.

Teachers on the other hand, find it extremely hard to balance all these areas in English in their teaching.

Besides, universities and colleges do not prepare the teachers adequately in teaching of literature. Lecturers are guilty of using the same plot-characterisation-theme-style approach in training literature teachers.

The answer lies in overhauling the whole system.

 

The writer is a teacher of Literature and a Daily Nation writer based in Kuria East, Homa Bay County

by Vivere Nandiemo

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Let students make own choice on optional subjects

Secondary school students do not sit exams for optional subjects of their own choice. Astounding but true. Philip Ochieng (Sunday Nation, December 4, 2016), in his article titled ‘Exam cheating was widespread even during colonialism,’ asks: “Is our curriculum so designed as to help our children to become clear in their minds what subjects to specialise in with maximum usefulness to society after school?”

The curriculum should have learners’ interest at heart. However, students are forced to take subjects they have not the vaguest idea about and they end up developing a negative attitude towards the tutor and his or her subject.

For one, some big schools introduce students to specific subjects in Form One and teach it through the four years. Two, some teachers, especially principals, make it compulsory that students take the subject they teach.

Thirdly, while it may be argued that some students are weak in certain subjects, many teachers tend to hate low performers.

In primary school, pupils are taught history and geography, andchemistry, biology and physics as one subject called social studiesand science, respectively. These young minds get to secondary schoolwith not a single idea of what subject would be good for them. It’s only when they reach Form Three that it is assumed they know what to do.

by Ochieng-Obunga

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