Schools Have Capacity To Expose Students To A Worthy Literary Heritage

The current generation of young people is totally at sea when leaders make reference to incidents in literary works in their public speaking initiatives.
Kennedy Buhere

The current generation of young people is totally at sea when leaders make reference to incidents in literary works in their public speaking initiatives.

I got this feeling recently when Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof. George Magoha made a reference to one of the gloomiest episode in Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist.

In his speech, CS Magoha recalled the agony he went through seeking guidance from his counterpart in Ministry of Health Mr. Mutahi Kagwe to conduct an exercise crucial to the ongoing curriculum reforms implementation.

Prof. Magoha wanted data on all educational institutions compiled and was at a loss—with the crisis and ensuring Health Protocols Covid-19 had occasioned – how the exercise would be carried out without compromising the health and safety of research assistants.

“The first time I went to our health Minister, Kagwe, he gave me permission to proceed but with strict guidance.  I accordingly assembled a smaller number of research assistants who did the work. But like Oliver Twist who asked for more, I went back to him and I was glad he gave me further opportunity but with my undertaking to take all the health protocol on Covid-19 in account,” Prof. Magoha said while addressing the students at the Centre for Mathematics, Science Technology in Africa (CEMASTEA).

In Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver, the main character, is an orphan since birth, spends much of his childhood at a “child farm” – the equivalent of Children’s Home in Kenya today – with too many children and too little food.

One night, after being served his portion of gruel (food), Oliver asks for a second helping. The request for more earned Oliver Twist a savage beating and is thrown out of the orphanage.

Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof. George Magoha made a reference to one of the gloomiest episode in Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist.

This is the episode Magoha was referring to:

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver, while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

Unlike Oliver who was beaten up, Magoha’s request for more additional opportunity to conduct the exercise was granted.

Students, acquainted with the book, could appreciate the ingenious reference to the incident in Dickens’ novel. The absurdity of Health Minister Kagwe beating or chasing away Magoha like the Master of the Orphanage did to Oliver was lost to the young research assistants, who otherwise, had done excellent work.

I made a quick inquiry from some of students if they know Oliver Twist. They didn’t just know Oliver Twist was, they had not heard about Charles Dickens!

Pop culture would include just that; culture which is popular, easy to understand and entertaining to the majority of young people. For example, pop music, romantic Hollywood comedies and soap operas. High culture, on the other hand, may include renaissance art, classical music and opera. The latter is arguably more sophisticated, intellectually challenging and intrinsically rewarding.

Does it matter if young educated Kenyans have a literary heritage? A literary heritage refers to the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of a community, a society, or a civilization or civilizations. It is preserved in words, in folklore, in written literature and in nonfiction works. It is about the society understanding of itself and the environment.

Literature about in the classroom and in the school library effectively feeds into this aspect of the goal of education. By its very nature, Literature gives the students opportunities to know, understand and appreciate cultural heritage. It is about the best that has been thought and said by the finest thinkers about humankind, life, society and its institutions as well as about the natural environment—living and non-living.

It is this shared literary heritage that shapes their conversation educated people; it is the same heritage that shapes public discourse on public policy issues, problems and challenges.

Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha

The Ministry of Education recommends extensive reading of literary texts—fictional and nonfiction – throughout the four years of secondary education. Students in High School have the mental aptitudes to appreciate fictional and nonfictional texts by some of the best writers in Africa, Europe, and the Americas and in the Asia literary heritage.

The vision of the integrated curriculum is a continuum: it starts with East African literary heritage, and pans out to the Rest of African and the rest of the world. Under this vision, students should be exposed to Kenyan Literature, East African literature, Africa and the rest of the world. All these regions have enduring literary texts—folklore, novels, poems and plays—students can be exposed to during their 12 years of basic education.

The Integrated English in the high School Curriculum is not therefore limited to the three or four set books that students are formally introduced to in Form Three for purposes of siting for integrated English in KCSE. It is broad enough. It has by implication taken into account fictional and nonfictional texts as appropriate texts for use in the instruction of learners.

The inclusion of such items as memos, speeches, summaries, minute, report and letter writing implies that schools expose students not just to the techniques of expressing thoughts, ideas, and feelings in different formats, but also that they expose students to the actual models of Memos, speeches, summaries, minute, report and letter writing available.

Textbook writers under the defunct Kenya Preparatory Examinations (KAPE) and Cambridge Examinations in the 1850s and 60s incorporated actual documents that public and private institutions had generated in their policy and operational undertakings as teaching aids. I believe this helped students see the relevance and connection of the knowledge and skills they are learning and the real world of affairs.

A good school stocks the library with books on different themes and different formats just like the Kenya National Library Services. It is not enough to have an impressive library—traditional or an e-library. Create ample time to allow students to patronize it during student-directed study period.

The Basic Education Regulations 2015 has provided school hours which takes into account time where students take charge of their own education each day of the week.

The class hours that the Ministry of Education has stipulated in the Basic Education Regulations 2015, from 8.00am and 3.30pm—with breaks in between for rest and lunch—is for educational purposes, sufficient to ignite learners to educate themselves four hours each day when he wakes up and before he goes to sleep at 9.30pm as the Education law prescribes. The students will devote part of four hours Preps and weekends to read as many books (not coursebooks) as possible.

That is what Magoha has always said the Founder of Starehe Boys’ Centre, the late Geoffrey Griffins used to do. He encouraged students to read as many books as possible in the School Library.

Current generation of school leaders should similarly encourage their students to read as many books as possible—books that can build the knowledge and skills they need to make meaning out of life.

Kennedy Buhere is Communications Officer, Ministry of Education,




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