Why KICD should introduce English Project paper in schools

Prof. Charles Ong’ondo, Director, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) cautioning schools, parents, and members of the public against the use of non-approved KICD curriculum support materials is in contravention of Section 27 of the KICD Act of 2013 (Revised 2019). This writer opines that English Paper three should be a project that examines practical aspects of English both as a subject and a language. PHOTO/Courtesy.

In the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), technical subjects like Agriculture and Computer Studies have three papers.

Paper one and two tests the theoretical bit, while paper three focuses on projects, where the examiners dedicate ample time to test practical aspects taught in those subjects.

This begs the question: “What if we also have a project paper in English as core-career subject taught in our secondary schools?”

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) should think about this, do the necessary research and decide on the matter for a better future for our children.

I hold the view that the setting of English papers two and three can focus purely on theoretical aspects, but paper three should be a project that examines practical aspects of English both as a subject and a language.

Firstly, experts in some spheres of knowledge must have ascertained quite early that it is prudent to weld theory with practice because they are close cognates with just a slight nuance.

It is what made Albert Einstein say, “In theory, theory and practice are the same, while in practice, they are not.”

Again, in theory, many assumptions are made to explain the phenomenon and concepts, whereas, in real life, there are no assumptions.

Somehow, conditions are also peculiar.

No wonder, on consanguinity of theory and practice, Leonardo da Vinci postulated in the distant past, “He who loves practice without theory is like a sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”

As a budding expert in the English language and literature, I see a lot of practical aspects in it as a subject or discipline which can be tested on a broad scope.

In addition, English as a language focuses on skills that can be tested practically through engaging students in a project.

Ideally, we have four major skills taught in English as a subject: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Skills like critical and creative thinking are also tested to some extent.

English paper one tests students majorly on functional and oral skills.

Paper two examines comprehension and literary skills.

Paper three pitches its tent mostly on testing writing skills honed by learners in their peregrination in secondary school.

Up to that point, I think that the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) is testing the practical aspects of English as a subject and language with an attitude of finitude.

Somewhat, they should expand the scope by introducing the project paper.

This can be purely paper three. As a proponent of this proposal, I look forward to seeing students being assigned projects which strive to test their profundity and proficiency in English as both a language and a subject.

For instance, let us think through it together.

Don’t you think it will be a wonderful experience to ask candidates to engage in writing projects of genres like short stories, playlets, or poetry?

Don’t you think it will be the best way to test whether, through it all, they managed to become imaginative, creative and innovative as far as mechanics of writing are concerned?

Still on this ambit, what if we make things like Elocution, Public Speaking, Debating, and Poetry Performance (aspects of oral skills) part of the project?

This can be used to test two critical skills: those performing on stage will scoop marks on speaking or oral skills, while those who are part of the audience can be tested on listening skills.

Moreover, aspects of the English syllabus like pronunciation and enunciation can also be part of the project.

Sometimes, I find it pointless when exams examine phonetical and phonological spheres in high school through theoretical means.

For instance, asking candidates to identify silent letters in words, citing homophones, homonyms, minimal pairs, and pointing out stress in words and sentences, et cetera.

In my view, these are practical issues in language, which can be part of projects tested in the language laboratories.

On a live basis, they can be asked to cite synonyms and antonyms.

Academicians should consider having real oral tests, just as it is done in foreign languages like French.

This will be a suitable dimension because it will compel both learners and teachers to also focus on proper pronunciation and articulation, which are key in serious communication careers like Mass Communication and Journalism.

It is embarrassing that some of our English teachers focus a lot on teaching good grammar and vocabulary but dedicate scant attention to training learners on how to puff words correctly.

The wonder of wonders, some of us teachers of English fail to train learners thoroughly in matters of pronunciation because sometimes we teach what we do not practice.

Some of our pronunciations are wanting, but we do not care.

No wonder most of our schools manage to churn out plenty of graduates who can afford to write correctly, but when they speak, their defective pronunciations make you yearn to block your ears.

Think of an instance when mother tongue supremacy makes a person confuse the term ‘bandit’ with ‘pundit’ while speaking English.

The consonants /b/ and /p/ that come at the front end of those two words make a big difference.

Confusion between the two words dents their meaning to a great extent.

A ‘bandit’ is an armed robber, while a ‘pundit’ is an expert in something.

In a larger sense, if our educational system only focuses on teaching and testing theoretical English, students will cram the content and pass with flying colors.

Unfortunately, they will fail when they are required to manifest practical skills like speaking and writing with some fineness and finesse.

Haven’t we met people out here who share bragging rights that they scored A’s in English in the KCSE exams but cannot demonstrate basic ability in both spoken and written English?

The writer rolls out English Improvement Programs in schools. Contact: vochieng.90@gmail.com

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Mr. Ochieng' is an editor, orator and author. His contact: vochieng.90@gmail.com


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