Celebrating East African Writing!
Way back in the late 90’s when I was in class 8 was the time I realized that I might actually like writing, just for fun of course. My mum had given me her small Collins dictionary that was older than me and with it my vocabulary got better and better. I always looked forward to the “composition writing” bit of our exams. I experimented with words and phrases and always ensured that the endings of my compositions were dramatic. I read many books back then with the only difference between now and then being the ease of access to reading materials and the magnitude of it all. Though I have read a few books in the last year, what I have read from blogs and e-Books have been more than sufficient in both quality and quantity.
The world changed in the last decade and Kenya with it. I had not seen a computer then but kids today type even before they can learn to hold a pen right. There have been drastic changes in this decade and these have significantly altered how people write, reasons people write, the audience they have, the platforms they have at their disposal to communicate and the amount of reading material that people have access to. By and large, these changes have been due to the technological advancement in the country and more so due to the advent of social media which allowed self publishing. Increased access to computers, greater internet penetration levels, and the craze around social media has had a large population of Kenyans, young and old, typing online.
But even with such drastic advancement where self publishing online (be it on Facebook, Twitter, or Blogs) has taken over every free time of our young preteens and teens, schools still insist on… “Write a composition starting with following line – I was walking home from school one night and the suddenly………” Please! I have always had issues with our education system and this is one more reason precisely why! From a University standpoint, I hated the fact that we were taught 18th century economic theories and not the progressive theories that better explain this dynamic and in so many levels intricate and ever changing economic system that John Keynes and John Stuart Mill could not possibly foresee. From a primary and secondary school perspective, none of what these kids are being taught has embraced the changing times. Theirs is grandma education in a Y-generation timeline.
Blogs In Place of Compositions
Compositions as currently constituted are just leading stories we wrote on paper to pass exams. Reading through some of the compositions that kids write today, you would think they live in a forest where their fathers are hunters and mothers gatherers. They write about killing lions and frankly, this is the same sh*t we wrote when we were their age. Creativity has been squashed with the leading sentences that teachers put at the beginning of compositions. Experimentation and play with words has been murdered by the overuse of cliché phrases like (my heart was beating like the Ashanti Drums) in every freaking composition. Walking home from school! These kids have never even walked home; they are carried by schools vans. Hearts beating like Ashanti Drums! The only thing that makes my heart beat are the dreadful speakers in Matatu’s. Writing should be about context but kids still collectively write of running in forests being chased by leopards and sh*t. This has to stop.
New Age of Writing
What I propose is encouraging free thought in the creative process, letting creativity reign supreme with the role of teachers being to that of nurturing and giving direction as opposed to their current creativity stifling role that controls how compositions start and even how they should end. Sarah Lacy of Techcrunch wrote a very impeccable article on why bloggers are excelling in Journalism than trained journalists themselves. Her take and I tend to agree was that what Journalism schools did was tie their students thought process around how, who, when and where and therefore effectively killing creativity as they focus on very technical issues to writing and not the joy of it. The same is the case with composition writing in our schools. Kids are directed to write compositions to fit a certain format because that is what passes exams. I am sure many of us have do not even recall what we wrote or where the dozens of compositions we wrote are.
It is for this and many other reasons that I propose blogs instead of compositions to be used in our curriculum. Blogs unlike papers which we lose become our babies which we watch grow in traffic numbers, comments, subscribers or influence as we grow literary, socially, and intellectually as writers and people.
Schools need to set up a mechanism in which students get to blog as their writing assignments. A weekly blog post does not sound so bad, does it? Students get basic lessons on how to setup blogs among other blogging basics and then get left on their own to do what their creativity allows them to do. From the onset, they get introduced to words like plagiarism and how easy it is to find plagiarized work so that effort and thought will be put in these blogs. They get to write about anything they choose (within reason) and discussions will then proceed on the works posted. Teachers would then subscribe to all these blogs and mark them through the comments section or through the teacher’s own blog where (s)he points out the mistakes and gives props where they are due. After students move on to secondary schools, they move with their respective blogs and continue to write as part of their high school assignment.
It was only after writing this previous paragraph that I went to do a bit of research on whether blogs are being used for educating purposes. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only is this happening but a whole platform that supports both student and teachers blogs in already up and running and is currently powering over 400,000 blogs. EduBlogs is blogging for teachers and students made easy. It is precisely the interface that I had conceptualized when I began writing this post. This makes adoption in Kenya much easier.
Importance of Blogs to Students
What blogging will do is bring out the best of each student because more than writing lessons, these blogs offer life lessons through developing life skills.
For instance, by allowing students to blog about whatever it is that is of interest to them, each will write about what interests them and consequently a career path that they would like to pursue. Those seeking to become writers will write to develop a particular style of writing. Those who want to be teachers will write about the calling of teaching and the new teaching techniques that are coming up. And the same will go for doctors, lecturers, environmentalists, social workers, lawyers, Human Rights activists and so on and so forth. Better yet, in order to write about their areas of interest, they will need to research on these areas by reading other blogs and writings in their respective fields. This will not only develop students who can articulate their thoughts very well but will create a very informed young people who understand what they want to be, how to get there and the challenges that lie in their wake.
And as is the nature of social media, networks of friendships will be developed based on these mutual interests by students across the country and even beyond. Networks between students and experts who can serve as mentors will be established in the course of this period. So in addition to getting to know themselves, they will get to know the who’s who to help them get there as mentors, role models, and Facebook friend. Through blogs, we will have set our children free to do whatever the desires of their hearts are. For that, we will have more entrepreneurs and a more focused and informed people that will dare to dream greater things for this country. Not kids who dream about Lions chasing them in the Forests at a time when we don’t even have forests.
What say you students, teachers and parents?
© Marvin Tumbo 2010
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