What you need to know:
- According to the KICD, the new measures were introduced to allow for fair evaluation of the texts.
- The unnerving implication of this arrangement is that a not-so-good book could outdo, in marks, the best text in terms of technical evaluation.
In March this year, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) put out a call on publishers to submit literary texts in Kiswahili and English to be evaluated for possible use in the country’s education system.
Among other requirements, a literary text had to be submitted without the title of the work, the name of the author as well as that of the publisher. Furthermore, a text had to be submitted in a spiral-bound format in Times New Roman 12 points.
To meet this requirement, if a publisher wished to submit a literary text that is already in the market, they had to convert the text into the required font size and create spiral-bound manuscripts. To achieve these requirements, publishers whose texts were published years back and who, therefore, did not have soft copies of the texts, found it necessary to key-in their texts so as to create Times New Roman 12 points spiral-bound manuscripts.
Another requirement of the new way of doing things at the KICD is that besides publishers submitting spiral-bound copies to the institution, they were also required to pay Sh140,000 for the evaluation of each text.
Moreover, publishers were required to submit financial proposals in which they indicated the price they would sell the book to the Government of Kenya should the book successfully go through the technical and financial proposal evaluations.
Finally, if a text successfully went through the two evaluations, the publisher would be required to pay further Sh100,000 to the KICD for what the Institution referred as “corrections”.
These requirements had no exceptions. They would apply across the board, whether a publisher was submitting a newly created text or old texts such as Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, Said Ahmed Mohamed’s Utengano and Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine.
According to the KICD, the new measures were introduced to allow for fair evaluation of the texts. That’s why, according the institution, the names of the author and publisher, the title of the text and any other features that could lead to the identification of the text were to be omitted.
If this requirement was intended for newly created texts, perhaps, avoiding identifying the works with their authors and publishers could have been achieved. However, as I have already pointed, the requirement had no exceptions.
Masking names of authors
And that’s where matters begin to baffle many people. Would converting Mikhail Gogol’s The Government Inspector or Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People prevent old hands in literature from identifying the texts with their authors and publishers?
Would a Kiswahili expert engaged as an evaluator by the KICD fail to recognise Kithaka wa Mberia’s Kifo Kisimani, Ebrahim Hussein’s Mashetani or Wole Soyinka’s Masaibu ya Ndugu Jero for the reason that they are reading a spiral-bound, manuscript-like text?
And, supposing a publisher of Romeo and Juliet submits the text with both Shakespeare’s name and that of the publisher removed, what would the publisher do with the characters of Romeo and Juliet in the text?
Agreed, we have a malignant tumour of corruption in this country. But is masking names of authors and publishers the best way to achieve fairness in books evaluation? Don’t our referees fairly handle football matches without the players having to wear balaclavas and over-coats to mask their identity?
Don’t some of the very same people who evaluate books for KICD adjudicate in the Kenya Music Festival and the Schools and Colleges Drama and Film Festival? Don’t they deliver credible verdicts in the performances without the need to keep secret the names of participating schools? In our law courts, doesn’t the bench listen to cases, arrive at fair determination and deliver credible judgements notwithstanding the fact that they can clearly see the faces of litigants?
Moreover, there are many competitions, both local and international, where books are evaluated for awards. None of these competitions require that the names of authors, publishers and countries of publication be blocked out before the books are submitted for the competitions.
So, if I may ask, what is so extra-ordinary about evaluation of literary texts and set books in this country so as to require publishers to convert sometimes centuries-old literary texts into anonymous spiral-bound manuscripts?
Cheapest priced text
As for the requirements that texts be submitted in Times New Roman 12 points font, from where did that come? Do Forms Three and Four students require such fonts? Let’s accept it because it’s a fact, among Kenya’s institutions outside the universities, KICD is one of the entities with very highly trained staff.
The institution’s personnel have solid academic credentials capable of conducting credible research. Is the requirement to have literary set books type-set in Times new Roman12 points font an outcome of the institution’s research? I highly doubt it. The decision is more likely a product of an individual’s whim - a whim that is extremely costly to publishers but of no value to learners.
Thinking of fonts and length of books brings me to, perhaps, a more ominous point. Since the length of a text is part of the evaluation parameters, we should not be surprised that, if a Times New Roman 12 points font reprint of An Enemy of People is submitted for evaluation for potential inclusion among English literature set books, it will be shut out of the school system on the grounds that it is too long for a work of drama! I said maybe; I don’t know.
But consider Bertolt Breched’s The Caucasian Circle which, in the past, has been a set book in Kenya. If the last edition used in our school system is converted into Times New Roman 12 points, the artificial length of the play will jump to roughly 180 pages. My bet is that, from the advice of the literary evaluators, KICD will not touch the book with a long pole. Why? Because the book is too long to be studied in schools!
In the financial proposal segment of the text book tendering, the cheapest priced text was to be awarded the maximum 20 per cent which, together with 80 per cent reserved for the technical evaluation brings the total marks to 100 per cent.
The unnerving implication of this arrangement is that a not-so-good book could outdo, in marks, the best text in terms of technical evaluation which comprised elements such as the theme, plot, characterization, language use and values. In such an event, the text with the highest marks, never mind its mediocrity on artistic grounds, wins the day as the set book for our children.
When you or I go to a shop, do we declare the cheapest dress or shirt the best attire, pick it, and rush to the cashier holding our wallet? And yet, we shout on rooftops about Competence-Based Curriculum to turn Kenyans into people capable of supporting themselves and the economy through self-employment.
Is forcing mediocre works of literature on secondary school students the best way to nurture future poets, dramatists and novelist? Is the National Government’s intention to buy books at half the price of a plate of chips the best way to inspire people to pick up pens and put them to paper?
The writer is an author and publisher