What you need to know:
- The move to integrate English and literature, in my opinion, was not informed by research and its implementation was haphazardly done.
- With integration, literature shifted from being fully tested in paper 3 to papers 2 and 3.
On March 13, 2021, Mr Ashford Gikunda wrote an article titled, “Re-evaluate the place and value of set books in the curriculum” in which he castigated and lampooned the value and role of literary set books in secondary schools.
He argued that set books in high school are an unnecessary baggage and a waste of time. That they: add no value to our lives, deprive us of creativity and originality, and are just for entertainment and passing time.
I submit that the points and argument by Ashford are valid but debatable.
As much as I agree with Ashford’s sentiments, I cannot espouse the abolishing of set books as they are the heartbeat of the discipline called literature. The problems in the Kenyan literary house can be remedied but not by discarding the set books. I opine that the problems are caused by the armchair policy makers, the examinations mentality and the teaching and learning methods employed in literature.
First, the move to integrate English and literature, in my opinion, was not informed by research and its implementation was haphazardly done. How many teachers understand the concept of integration? With integration, literature shifted from being fully tested in paper 3 to papers 2 and 3. In other words, in paper 2, literature is reduced to comprehension passages!
Secondly, in the Kenyan context, for many, reading ends after Form Four. The grade one gets is what “matters” as the 8-4-4 system is examinations oriented.
Consequently, the teaching and learning of literature is geared towards the so called excellent results. Some literature teachers are thus forced by circumstances to use whichever method that will yield the “quality grades” because the employer and other stakeholders only value and recognise “quality grades.”
Strategies like only analysing episodes in set books as opposed to the traditional analysis of: plot, setting, characters, themes and stylistic devices is now the norm. These teachers have studied KCSE questions and they know that they focus on the episodes, hence, by zeroing in on them, their students will pass the examinations.
Other teachers train their students to write an imaginative composition in form one, cram it and plant it in all composition questions set. Thus, these students master their composition and regurgitate it in all exams to the final one!
The philosophy, aim and objectives of teaching and learning literature have been thrown to the dogs. In the end, products of literature lessons: do not read after school; cannot write a simple poem; cannot communicate fluently; are not critical and analytical; are inhumane and are immoral.
To conclude, I agree with Ashford, indeed “…high school candidates should carry out real projects of writing…they script their own plays, films…” especially in the novel CBC. Music and drama festivals for schools and colleges should be having students as the script writers, directors, actors etc.
Teachers and other trainers should just be adjudicators. In addition, in the senior school more than 5 compulsory set books for literature should be studied. Also, creative writing should be offered as a subject to complement literature if we are to produce serious writers to address the problem of what Ashford calls literary bareness. But for the creative people to eke a living, Kenyans must consume the plays, songs, novels, short stories etc.
The writer teaches literature