Third Eye

Premature exposure to set books counterproductive

Monday, October 14th, 2019 18:32 |
Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha. Photo/BERNARD MALONZA

Sometimes in 2016, Education Cabinet secretary Prof George Magoha wondered why, back in the day when he was newly appointed   KNEC chairman, teachers were relentlessly asking him to announce a list of the new set books for literature.

The teachers were apparently not concerned about the unparalleled cheating in national examinations that Magoha had specifically been appointed to deal with in 2015. They were not even concerned about the serious questions stakeholders had raised about the integrity of the administration of national examinations. All they wanted to know was the next set books for English and Kiswahili.  

Magoha noted that the request for new set books was unusual. Aside from Christian Religious Education and Islamic and Hindu Religious Education, Literature deals with ethical issues. Central among the values is integrity and sacrosanctity of institutions, and adherence to standards and regulations. Literature teachers who had the privilege to talk to him should have raised issues about the integrity of administration of the examinations and the stain on the credibility of the results. 

The teachers were, therefore, mistaken because the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) does not pick the set books for schools. It is the mandate of Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in conjunction  with the Education ministry’s Quality Assurance and Standards Department.

The appropriate stage for introduction of set books is in Form Three, not in Form two.  Any formal introduction of set books in Form Two is offensive to the curriculum developers. It grossly undermines the educational objectives which can be effectively achieved only when the syllabus is faithfully implemented.

The ultimate aim of the teaching of the English curriculum is to enable the learner achieve fluency in the speaking and writing in English. The teaching of English in high school aims at developing in the learner flexibility and dexterity in the handling of and response to the written and spoken English—regardless of the sophistication of the subject.

There are two main methods of imparting this fluency in the learner: through extensive and intensive reading.

Indeed, language experts point out that extensive reading should be at the core of the English language syllabus. The key features of this method are reading of large quantities of material or long texts: for global or general understanding. This reading is highly individualised, with students choosing the book they want to read and not necessarily to be discussed in class. 

In the early 1980s, the Kenya Institute of Education, now KICD, developed two books by highly experienced teachers of English to guide the teaching of the subject—A Guide to Teaching English by HA Curtis & J. M. Park, and Teaching English in Kenya Secondary Schools, both published by Jomo Kenyatta Foundation. The books have systematically outlined the kind of teaching and learning experience necessary for learners to develop mastery not only of the English language as a medium of communication. 

Extensive reading of fictional and non-fictional works has lots of educational value to the students. It helps the students to build vocabulary, introducing them to words and language chunks that may not be included in short texts, and giving them a sense of common word partnerships.

Premature exposure to set books denies the students this once in a lifetime educational opportunity. The learners have difficulties developing the literary and critical appreciation skills that are associated with exposure to authentic literacy. They are also denied the opportunity to roam in the imaginative worlds that great works of art have created. Extensive reading of books of great literary and aesthetic value prepares the mind to ably appreciate the set books. 

-—The writer is Communications Officer, Ministry of Education

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