Celebrating East African Writing!

Blogging in Kenyan Schools: New Age of Writing by Marvin Tumbo

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

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


10 comments on “Blogging in Kenyan Schools: New Age of Writing by Marvin Tumbo

  1. Kyt
    February 8, 2010

    Not going to happen in this decade. Next decade, maybe.


  2. Marvin K. Tumbo
    February 9, 2010

    Hi Kyt

    I actually believe that it can. I am hoping to write a proposal soon and approach a school to do a pilot project. I will write updates here and blog about it if I get the go-ahead. Internet is becoming prevalent and I think school will soon begin to see how archaic some models they are using are.



  3. jon
    February 9, 2010

    Marvin, you are guilty of the very crime you condemn: Generalization. The last time I checked, very few schools have electricity, let alone computers. Gauging our education system by the few schools around Nairobi is going overboard in the crime of generalization. That, basic and village oriented writings is what has taken Ngugi Wa Thiongo places. We cannot all be him, but we can learn some. Question, why would he, having lived in the West for decades, go ahead and publish a local narrative for later translation and not the other way round? Its about relevance, my thoughts!


  4. Marvin K. Tumbo
    February 9, 2010

    Hi Jon

    Thank you for your thoughts. Guilty as charged. Believe me when I say I wrote this understanding the reality of computers in schools and the dilemma of electricity in Kenya. I wrote this piece inspite of these challenges one because there are very many schools with computers yet the teachers themselves are alien to them and two because of what you aptly refer to as relevance.

    Expounding on the latter; if a school has access to and some even teach via PowerPoint presentations, Education blogs is within their grasp. The problem is that most of these teachers are of the same school of thought. Cliche phrases are what pass exams and consequently Compositions in schools have had the same script.
    Relevance to this time and age means paying tribute to the circumstances around one and adapting. For those who have no access to internet or electricity or both, they are coming. But before this reaches all schools, those with access now need to be creative in the usage of new media to teach and learn.

    Ngugi Wa Thiongo did what the technology of his tie allowed him to do.



  5. faith nancy
    February 10, 2010

    i agree, one sense creativity seems to be stifled by cliche composition content but on the hand i think creativity should be able o burst forth even it the ‘chased by cheetah’ scenario.there’s nothing wrong per se in that topic but how the pupil themselves interpret and deliver it.the cheetah could be a guilty conscience and the forest life..or even the real cheetah but how the story unfolds makes all the difference.a case of mind over subject matter.blogging may not be the answer entirely since one can still have a bogus blog.instead the student should be encouraged to read more books to develop first a love of narrative appreciate it and then delve into its waters.ur piece is definately food for thought though.


  6. Marvin K. Tumbo
    February 10, 2010

    Hi Nancy

    “blogging may not be the answer entirely since one can still have a bogus blog.”

    That is true. And I have seen many bogus blogs. Cliche content in compositions is still cliche in blogs. I believe that the teaching institution has exacerbated this by having a marking scheme in compositions that promote cliche phrases. For instance, when I was in school, it was drilled in us to use every cliche metaphor and simile in the book in our compositions. Then just last year, my cousin who was in class eight gave me her composition to mark. Guess what I read? Same lines are still at play a decade later.

    The reason I have used blogging as a symbol is because of the freedom to publish your own content without someone pigeonholing it to fit some set criteria. But as you aptly say, the same level of creativity can be reached away from blogs and while being chased by cheaters. But for that to happen, the freedom to be creative that blogs offer should extended to students too.

    Lastly, I cannot shake the feeling that most of these teachers prefer the status quo because with students writing more or less the same thing, it is easier to mark. And hence the reason compositions have the same beginning or ending; to standardize what is written therefore preventing creativity from running amok.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Kind Regards


  7. roundsquare
    February 11, 2010

    another white elephant project. allocating funds, managing etc would swallow it. why don’t we just invest more on the time honoured ‘traditional’ drills? it worked for us, right? increase the number of english language, i think we should have writing classes allotted in primary syllabus, separated from english ones.. & instead of concentrating more in/on literature in F3&4, those hours should go to creativity & writing..

    let me put it this way, we have 8 hours a week to teach: grammar (a million things here) reading (passages/comprehension) language skills (listening/speaking) literature (poems, oral lit, plays, short-story & novel) writing (summary, compositions)

    compositions have about 20 functional types (letters-formal & informal, email, blogging would fall here,) and four other genres (imaginative, descriptive, exposition, argumentative, etc)

    which head (let alone the HOD languages) would be crazy enough to concentrate on a silly piece/genre/creativity? when it’s after all only 40 marks in the overall english exam?

    that’s why in uganda & elsewhere, literature was divorced from language..

    i’d go for something practical. we call it journal/diary. every student kept one when i used to teach in high school. in it you can have your creativity reloaded!! it’s a form of blogging, but without being online. besides, no computers/blogging can’t enhance creativity, coz every learner gets what they deserve..what they invested into their early writing/learning experience, i think you only get what you invest in life, no luck..and with creativity, you need two absolutes..talent and seriousness.. training comes as a dessert and crowns your writing!!


  8. Marvin K. Tumbo
    February 11, 2010

    It depends on the manager as most things do.

    But here is the thing, when I cannot access internet at home, I have to wait in line at the cyber because these teens and others who have not even reached double digits have hogged all the computers at the cyber. They are chatting in facebook, sharing something, and most of the time just trying to stay relevant. And they find the money and time to do this every day.

    What Education Blogs will effectively do is ensure that the money and time that these young kids spend on the internet is spend doing productive things that they initiated themselves. They will still be on Facebook but now, instead of sharing funny pictures and lewd content, they will sharing their content be it poetry, photo’s they took, designs, writings, and responding to the reactions to them.

    I must say that these compositions through blogs are not meant primarily for raking in marks alone. I believe that what these blogs will do is set these kids on a growth path toward their eventual careers and callings. Blogs are journals but online and with interactive features. Take for instance this post; it has developed greater depth from the interrogations like yours in the comment section. And that is precisely the learning curve that our students need because it expands thoughts beyond one’s narrow view and one teacher’s impression.

    I believe in the feasibility of Education Blogs because either way, our kids are going online and EduBlogs is one way of ensuring that they are doing something productive while they are there.



  9. antony chambira
    February 15, 2010

    This has already started taking place.

    DALC students do their assignments online, the same are marked on line.

    Resault transcripts are also online….records are kept…

    I for one would like to revisit the compositions i wrote, from class one (when i couldnt construct sentences) to date…

    Its happening Marvin.


  10. Marvin K. Tumbo
    February 15, 2010

    It is indeed interesting to note that. I will make a point of visiting DALC to see how they do it.

    “I for one would like to revisit the compositions i wrote, from class one (when i couldnt construct sentences) to date…”

    Yes indeed… I am sure we would all have a good laugh doing that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: