READERS’ CORNER: Education system has killed interest in books

Friday May 19 2017

Our education system is heavily geared towards

Our education system is heavily geared towards passing national exams. Students no longer learn to acquire knowledge, skills and values. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Education system has killed interest in books

The declining state of literature in the country has dominated literary discourse on these pages for some time. While many factors such as the Internet and the high cost of books have been blamed for this dire situation; critics have laid the blame on the Kenyan educational system, specifically on the poor pedagogical approaches of teachers of literature.

Last Saturday, literature teachers were on the receiving end in Dr Tom Odhiambo’s article titled ‘You Don’t have to know themes to appreciate literature.’

In the brilliantly composed article, Dr Odhiambo blames teachers for adopting rather skewed pedagogical skills in teaching literature. He took issue with the common approach used by teachers of analysing the plot, themes, style and characters in set books.

He challenges teachers to ask themselves why students should be bothered to study literature when they have many other interesting things to engage in.

While I agree with him that teachers have played a role in the dwindling interest in literature, they are not entirely to blame. The entire education system is to blame.

Our education system is heavily geared towards passing national exams. Students no longer learn to acquire knowledge, skills and values.

Teachers of literature — most are products of the same system — have been left with no alternative but to toe the line. They help students analyse the set texts based on the plot, themes, characterisation and style simply because the exams reflect the four.

Take for instance, English Paper Two, which carries an extract from one of the compulsory texts. The common questions have to do with putting the extract in its immediate context (tests on plot); traits of characters in the extract, themes and aspects of style in the extract. English Paper Three tests the students’ ability to decode themes and style.

Teachers who mark national exams have raised concerns of the rigidity of the chief examiners in English when it comes to coordinating the marking scheme.

It has been alleged that those who set the English exams also publish literature guide books, which prescribe the plot-characterisation-themes-style approach. Consequently, teachers are compelled to teach according to the demands of these national examiners.

In addition, a poor reading culture among students is largely to blame for the approach teachers have adopted. Odhiambo opines that he could go to the public library in Kisumu to read novels as a hobby. He is not alive to the fact that this kind of student no longer exists today.

Teachers are handling students who find reading a boring, time wasting endeavour. They would rather Tweet, Facebook, watch movies, listen to music and or bet.

What is more, the ministry of Education has overloaded students with syllabus content. Besides the five set books, learners have to deal with a wide English syllabus including oral literature, poetry, grammar, functional writing, and oral skills.

Simply put, the integrated approach to teaching English has made students dislike literature.

Teachers on the other hand, find it extremely hard to balance all these areas in English in their teaching.

Besides, universities and colleges do not prepare the teachers adequately in teaching of literature. Lecturers are guilty of using the same plot-characterisation-theme-style approach in training literature teachers.

The answer lies in overhauling the whole system.


The writer is a teacher of Literature and a Daily Nation writer based in Kuria East, Homa Bay County

by Vivere Nandiemo



Let students make own choice on optional subjects

Secondary school students do not sit exams for optional subjects of their own choice. Astounding but true. Philip Ochieng (Sunday Nation, December 4, 2016), in his article titled ‘Exam cheating was widespread even during colonialism,’ asks: “Is our curriculum so designed as to help our children to become clear in their minds what subjects to specialise in with maximum usefulness to society after school?”

The curriculum should have learners’ interest at heart. However, students are forced to take subjects they have not the vaguest idea about and they end up developing a negative attitude towards the tutor and his or her subject.

For one, some big schools introduce students to specific subjects in Form One and teach it through the four years. Two, some teachers, especially principals, make it compulsory that students take the subject they teach.

Thirdly, while it may be argued that some students are weak in certain subjects, many teachers tend to hate low performers.

In primary school, pupils are taught history and geography, andchemistry, biology and physics as one subject called social studiesand science, respectively. These young minds get to secondary schoolwith not a single idea of what subject would be good for them. It’s only when they reach Form Three that it is assumed they know what to do.

by Ochieng-Obunga


Learn to read books just for the laughter

Working in a school avails me certain rare privileges, like access to library books. Sometimes, pupils will refer children’s book to me. Last week, I read one of those, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Double Down.

The tiny book is so humorous that I read it in one straight night. Two days later, I was talking to a bunch of other kids and I shared with them how lovely it was to read that book. They outright sneered. I was taken aback. “My mom says that I should not bother reading such books?”

Quite surprised, I asked why. “Because they do not add any educational value to you,” One of them persisted. “Miss, what value did that book add to you?” I had to think fast.

“It added laughter to me. It made me laugh all evening and it gave me such a pleasant and peaceful night after reading it.”

“Well, of course, but still it adds no knowledge to your brain.” They argued.

We encourage pupils to read and memorise for exam purposes. Should that be the only reason we read, though?

Not all books are written to satisfy the academic requirements of a student. Others will help you cut a slice off a stressful by adding humour to our bones.

by Judy Nyambura


Why varsities are breeding lazy students

University studies are most enjoyable when undertaken alongside relative supplementary reading and research. While crash programmes are important to help lecturers cover the course content, they are only geared towards passing exams. This is not what university learning is meant to be, and particularly the study of literature.

It is not justifiable to conclude that the reading culture is deteriorating in Kenya because students do not interact with the written word. Rather, it is partly because the system provides inadequate time, which is passed down to other generations. For how will a teacher without a love for books encourage his students to read?


The writer is a student of Literature at Moi University

by Martin Muchira Gachenge


Students need guidance on career choices

The 2016 KCSE candidates who qualified to join various universities and colleges will report to the various institutions from this month.

When releasing the universities and colleges placement result for 2016, the Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service chief executive John Muraguri disclosed that some students who scored good grades such as B plain and above missed their courses of choice since they went for options that they did not qualify for when clustered.

It is estimated that about 50 percent of university graduates are working in careers that are not related to what they studied at university.

During our time in school, career talk was programmed like any other subject. But with the latest craze of chasing after good grades, there is hardly any career talk going on in our institutions of learning.

It emerged that most of the 141 students who scored an A grade in last year’s KCSE exams chose to pursue medicine, pharmacy, engineering, architecture and economics.

Yet our students need to be guided to know that even the best among them can still pursue education, law, journalism, tourism or marketing. Not all A graders can be neurosurgeons or rocket scientists. As Suzanne Gachukia observed, “We have drama festivals every year. What happens to the winners? Why do they go to become lawyers, accountants, doctors and secretaries? (Saturday Nation, May 6, 2017).

A report on how Singapore developed a high quality teaching workforce points at how the country made deliberate policy choices to develop a coherent curriculum delivered to every school by highly trained teachers. The Singapore ministry of Education carefully selects prospective teachers from the top one third of the secondary school graduating class.

Another area of concern is the low number of girls who enrol for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. There is need to encourage girls to take up sciences.

This calls for a greater involvement with groups such as FEMSA (Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa), which aim to promote the participation of girls in mathematics and science education at the primary and secondary school level.

The ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Teachers Service Commission, should strive to equip our teachers with skills to offer quality career guidance to our students.


The writer teaches at Ng’iya Girls High School in Siaya County and is the author of Managing the 24 Hours of Your Day [email protected]

by Oginga Orowe