LITERATURE

Set books still as useful as ever

In Summary
  • The texts picked by KICD usually contain universal morals or significations
  • Jesus Christ, who is considered by millions as the greatest teacher, is famous for using parables to disseminate his teaching and principles

As much as I agree with one Ashford Gikunda that some reforms are needed not only in English as a subject but also in the entire education system in Kenya, I have a conviction that his sentiment that set books are an unnecessary baggage is ill-informed. His opinion that ran in the Star edition of on March 4, 2021, elicited mixed reactions. In my book, the writer speaks from a point of view of ignorance.

Under the current dispensation, English and English Literature are taught using an integrated approach. We teach four skills-reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Teachers may use the set books, among other reading materials, to guide learners in reading intensively and extensively. This is a requirement of the syllabus.

Needless to say, in order to be a good writer you must read a lot. Reading helps the learner to be a better communicator. Legendary investor and billionaire Warren Buffett urges young people to focus on learning how to write and speak clearly. He submits that failure to communicate is akin to winking at a girl in the dark—nothing happens. Knowledge is only important if you can transmit it.

More importantly, English as a subject is tasked with teaching polite behaviour and morals. One of the general objectives in the new syllabus is the inculcation of universal human values such as contentment, love, selflessness, generosity, industry, tolerance, etc. We use stories in set books to advocate virtues while deterring learners from acquiring detrimental vices such as greed, selfishness, conflict, etc.

The texts picked by KICD usually contain universal morals or significations. Many societies the world over use stories, folk tales or fables to instil ideas, attitudes or habits or to convey morals.

Jesus Christ, who is considered by millions as the greatest teacher, is famous for using parables to disseminate his teaching and principles. The story of Kino in The Pearl is a perfect parable for teaching about the evil nature of greed.

Most teachers are still stuck in the past traditional method of teaching literature. They simply make students cram the flow of events in a book, the themes, the characters and the stylistic devices. Thus, the lessons lack practicability in real life. They should instead use stories as parables to convey morals.

Gikunda argues that set books are useless in careers and that many form four leavers remain unemployed after studying almost 10 set books. Blaming something innocuous as the reading of books for the scourge of unemployment in the country is surely ludicrous.

The assertion that the late Henry Ole Kulet’s novel Blossoms of the Savannah is about women empowerment and fighting against FGM is erroneous. The novel is all about change—a topic Gikunda bitterly espouses in his article. Kulet singles out education as an agent of change and underscores the fact that culture is dynamic.

The same theme is captured in the short stories The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which preaches the need for transformation and Missing Out by Leila Aboulela, which challenges cultural rigidity and alienation while endorsing embracing positive cultural and religious beliefs.

The syllabus does not limit the learners to reading other people’s work. They have the freedom to express themselves through functional and creative writing.

Most teachers are still stuck in the past traditional method of teaching literature. They simply make students cram the flow of events in a book, the themes, the characters and the stylistic devices. Thus, the lessons lack practicability in real life.

They should instead use stories as parables to convey morals. Learners should understand that it is good to have ambitions but if the ambitions are excessive they may cause us pain or lacerations as is the case of Kino in The Pearl.

Those who are ambitious to be rich should acquire sound financial literacy by doing thorough research on the internet, talking to mentors, reading financial self-help books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki or The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clason and understand that Rome was not built in a day as opposed to resorting to gambling, fraud, robbery or sexual immorality.

They may therefore ape Resian in Blossoms of the Savannah, since she remains resolutely steadfast in her quest to join Egerton University despite the innumerable obstacles she encounters. She cheats many challenges, including gender-based violence, a vice that is rife in our contemporary society. Both males and females can learn that more often than not, resoluteness leads to victory.

In brief, the teaching of set books as part of English and Kiswahili subjects is indispensable since its basic fundamental is, like in religion, to discourage vices and encourage virtues.

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