• Reading is a pivotal skill that all students need to succeed in school and in life.
• Together with writing, they define literacy, the foundational skills schools cultivate in learners, other than numeracy.
At the close of last year, Education CS Ezekiel Machogu expressed concern that English composition paper was among the subjects that recorded a drop in performance in 2022 compared to 2021 KCPE results.
Machogu made the remarks during the release of the 2022 KCPE exam results on December 21, 2022.
“What do you think is the cause of the drop in English composition paper the CS has just talked about?” I asked a head teacher of a primary school in Nairobi hardly an hour after the announcement of the results.
“Lack of practice. Lack of practice in composition writing exercises,” the head teacher categorically replied.
“I see,” I answered her, not convinced by her answer. I, however, couldn’t challenge her assumptions, as she didn’t know me.
Had the environment been appropriate, I would have discounted her belief that the learners didn’t perform well in the paper because they didn’t have sufficient writing practices.
English composition writing is not an isolated skill or activity. It is intertwined with reading, listening and speaking skills. The English Curriculum aims to cultivate all these skills in the learners in equal measure.
Reading is a pivotal skill that all students need to succeed in school and in life. Together with writing, they define literacy, the foundational skills schools cultivate in learners, other than numeracy.
The educational foundations of any society is founded on strong literacy—the ability to read and interpret print texts. Ease in reading results in good comprehension, extensive learning, and enhanced enjoyment of what one is read.
Extensive reading that the English Curriculum prescribes means reading supports the acquisition of not just knowledge, but also the way that knowledge is conveyed in a language.
A child who has been exposed to extensive reading doesn’t have any trouble expressing himself or herself on any issue within their experience.
Reading provides the mental outlook with which to approach any writing assignment. It also provides models of writing which invisibly influences his or writing style—vocabulary, phrases, and sentence structure to say nothing about the structure of or her thought process.
Truth be told. Reading provides the raw materials from which the writer in this case, the primary and secondary school learner, draws from in writing on whatever topic or issue he is called upon to write upon.
What can schools do to help learners to prepare to write acceptably well?
They should make it a priority to increase the amount of time learners read books for leisure. Reading fiction and nonfiction is a major source of knowledge about sentence structure, text structure, literary forms and topics, ranging from the Holy books such as the Bible and the Koran, to current events.
Of the greatest importance is that schools develop a reading scheme for learners, right from Grade I to grade 4. In educational jargon, a reading scheme is a series of books that are carefully structured to help children learn to read. The scheme is principally meant to help children learn to love and appreciate books.
Once the love for reading is attained, then provide a reading list. Let the school recommend reading resources—novels, poems, plays, letters, essays, speeches, reports—that will further deepen and broaden the knowledge and interests of learners, particularly for learners in grade five all the way to grade 12.
They will see the full play of all the grammar and all the punctuation rules they have learned or are learning in most of these books. They will see models of excellent writing style: The use of different types of sentence structures, paragraphing; they will see examples of narrative, descriptive, expository and argumentative writing discourses. They will see striking or rhetorical usage of language by accomplished writers. They will also see correct usage of English language in terms of grammar, punctuation, idiomatic use of words and all other embellishment of English.
The dry teaching of grammar alone cannot expose learners to what English is capable of doing in compressing ideas, feelings and thoughts and sharing them.
A 12-year-old boy, who was interested in a career in law, once wrote to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the US, Felix Frankfurter, asking what texts on law he thought she should study to be a competent lawyer, like Frankfurter no doubt was.
In his reply, Frankfurter said: “No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you, I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking, which only a truly liberal education can give.
“No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career”.
It is not practicing writing composition that makes one to write tolerably well, important though it be.
Rather, it is by stocking “your mind with the deposit of much good reading.”
Communications officer, Ministry of Education