Ministry Of Education


Curriculum Not to Blame For Poor Reading Habits

A host of writers on this column have repeatedly vilified the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) for the poor reading habits of educated Kenyans. 

The latest such writers were Abungu Tawo and Tom Olanga who argued that the institute has not included any of the great English playwright, William Shakespeare for study in the integrated English syllabus for over a decade now( Daily Nation, April 27, 2013.) 

Students have joined the general criticism of the curriculum going by the remarks by Mohammed Hussein Hassan, a student at Daraja Mbili High School in Kilifi County in an article entitled Blame the curriculum for poor book habits (Daily Nation May, 11, 2013.

The Kenya Institute of curriculum Development has very little to do with the poor reading/book habits among educated Kenyans. The institute does not micro-manage the teaching and learning of language arts in Primary and Secondary education.

The institute has outlined general guidelines that provide the foundation for an effective teaching and learning experience in English as a subject. The ultimate aim of the teaching of English is to enable the learner achieve fluency in the speaking and writing in that English. The English language teacher must, for this reason aim at developing in the learner flexibility and dexterity in the handling of and response to the written and spoken English.

There are two main methods of imparting this fluency in the learner: through extensive and intensive reading of.

Language experts in fact point out that extensive reading should be at the core of the English Language syllabus. The key features of this method are reading of large quantities of material or long texts; for global or general understanding; with the intention of obtaining pleasure from the text. This reading is highly is individualized, with students choosing the book they want to read and that the books are not discussed in class.

The Kenya Institute of Education, as it then was, developed two books by highly experienced teachers of English to guide the teaching of English, entitled  a Guide to Teaching English by H.A. Curtis & J. M. Park, published and Teaching English in Kenya Secondary Schools, both published by Jomo Kenyatta Foundation have systematically outlined the kind of teaching and learning experience necessary for learners to develop mastery not only of the English language as a medium of communication, but also one that enabled him/her develop in character and emotionally. The two books strongly recommend that teachers of English develop a well thought out reading programme for students in forms one and two—books that are rich in language, thought and imagination.

Students derive many benefits from this. It helps to build learners' vocabulary, introducing them to words and language chunks that may not be included in short texts, and giving them a sense of common word partnerships.

It also develops their understanding of grammar by allowing them to see all sorts of grammatical structures in use. A language is acquired by exposure, and it is factors such as the level of difficulty, quantity and variety of texts that influence the learning outcomes. Because learners choose the text to read by themselves, this increases their motivation and confidence, and creates a more positive attitude towards reading and language learning. 

But what has been the scenario in our schools? The students are plunged into intensive reading of the literature texts they will sit for in the National Examination without having been exposed to a wide range of readings. While intensive reading is important, learners never become fluent and confident readers if this is the extent of their reading practice. 

Knowledgeable and skilled teachers of English actually follow these guidelines. They expose students to as many books as possible while in Forms one and two. They also strongly advice school administrations against continuous teaching during normal class hours and outside class hours as this deny the students the opportunity for the independent reading that extensive reading requires. Some of the most profitable extensive reading is done during holidays. One of the most revolting features about holiday tuition and teaching outside normal hours is that it denies the learner the chance to roam among books for pleasure and not for examinations.

The wide latitude the curriculum gives to the English Language teacher and the relatively more contact hours the school timetable gives him/her means that, the teacher has capacity to expose the learners to some of the finest fictional works in English. Students can complete High School having read the finest novels, the finest plays, and the finest poems in the English language over and above the literary texts they study for Literature Papers for the Kenya Certificated for Secondary Educations examinations.

In point of fact, some of the most accomplished people in the academia and the world of affairs—in business, politics and government—nurtured their intellect and all that we admire in them through extensive reading that flexible teaching hours allowed them.

Teaching to the examinations most schools and parents are obsessed about, has killed reading for pleasure. We go terribly wrong when we blame the curriculum developers or policy makers for this.

The Ministry of Education has developed policy guidelines to education that have the ability to provide first rate education to our students; Education that is of high quality. But the commercialism that has permeated public and private school systems is killing the potential to turn this nation into learning and thinking nation. Drilling, cramming can never develop the 21st Century skills the Ministry of Education is poised to offer to learners following the adoption of the new policy on education and training it has developed.

We should blame ourselves and not the curriculum and not the students for the apathy we all have, as a nation, towards reading.   

The current generation of learners is not difficult to teach. It is the poor teaching and learning environments that we have created that make them appear difficult to teach. We can transform our learners into highly motivated learners even with the TV, the Computer and the Internet around them if we teachers who are themselves ardent readers of books and not textbooks only.


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