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Literature: Enriched and enlarged

The education authorities in this country are can be commended for taking a bold step to ensure that education in literature in this country is given the requisite attention.

This comes into mind with the roll out of the current Secondary School Curriculum Assessment and Reform which was effected as from September 2015. It has been argued time and again that literature shapes the mind of a human being. This has so far been proven practically.

There was once a time when literature was delinked from language in schools; and that literature became an elective subject. The situation was very catastrophic. Most of the students grew cold feet and opted to drop literature all together. The after effects were very adverse.

It was at this time the nation realised that the repercussions thereon even affected the human resource development programmes. The work force is best capacitated with the background of literature; this is no mere song.

In our days, the junior secondary was packed with literature books, both in Chichewa and English. And there was a variety; I still remember the titles like The Red Pony and Old Mali and the Boy. And more fascinating was in the senior secondary school in which we used Mkwatibwi Wokhumudwa; Kukula ndi Mwambo and Bwampini, among others, for Chichewa. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease; Camara Laye’s The African Child and Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons. That was sometime back.

I have been following the trend up to the contemporary times. We started with specific themes; that is such themes as beliefs and conscience, social justice, and growing up. Then I could monitor when other themes such as gender came in.

As at now, the main issues are centred on the world’s emerging issues and these are gender, entrepreneurism, climate change, environment, disability and governance, among many more. This time around, the approach is open and may be studied and approached on a situational basis.

It is this situational basis that has necessitated the approach to change for the current curriculum. All along, we have been considering the delivery of education based on objective approach. Under this, it simply refers to the fact that a teacher has to deliver. The success is accrued to him or her. The modern curriculum is outcomes-based. What the outcomes are out of the exercise. This then demands that the learning has to be student-centred. The student must be developed into a critical thinker starting from this age.

Because of the expectations, the student must be equipped with the necessary tools to enable him/her develop as is expected. This therefore demands that the materials, in this case, books must be available to the student. The status quo is that the books are only made available to teachers. However, this is not a policy; but because of the adverse economic situation, they are not made available. Students are either using photocopies of the chapters from the prescribed books or even having nothing at all.

The commendation that I alluded to at the beginning of this write-up is the richness that the just rolled-out curriculum is and the variety that it carries thereof. The Chichewa junior secondary books have blended the titles; there are titles like Mkwatibwi Wokhumudwa, Kukula ndi Mwambo and Bwampini which were issued in as far back as 1965; and Msinjiro za Chiyankhulo and Kwalimba Uta ndi Nthano Zina that are recently issued. The scenario here is that there is a chord that links the gap thereby portraying a cultural heritage. And this is important in that one of the objectives of literature is to portray and preserve culture.

The English component has such titles as The Play of to Kill a Mocking Bird, Maru, African Short Stories, which are dated sometime back aligned together with the more recent issue of The Familiar Stranger – English Literature.

As is expected, the senior secondary school level is loaded. Coincidentally, this has just been unveiled in the past month for use in schools as from September, 2017.The novels, Nthondo that was issued in 1933 is featuring alongside Njakata, a 2016 release. Ntchito ya Pakamwa, a publication of the 60s, for a which I had a tutorial for way back in 1972, is featuring alongside Mawu Koma Awa, a recently published collection.

However, it is in English Literature that I am personally enjoying the scenario. Novels under the titles of Animal Farm, I Will Try, The Pearl, Things Fall Apart, Weep Not Child and Mine Boy are together with Madala’s Children and Madala’s Grand Children. Mangadzi was Here and Other Stories, Contemporary African Short Stories are in the same close with The Conductress and Other Stories. Of another interest are anthologies, The Unsung Song and English Literature in Senior Secondary.

I have always commented on Shakespeare. The theme of the literary world this year, these block of years, is Living Shakespeare, following the 400 years commemoration of William Shakespeare. Marshalled by the United Kingdom, the issue in the world now is about the celebration of the life of William Shakespeare.

In our schools, it has been a tradition to study Shakespeare. Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet have been retained; Much Ado About Nothing has been added onto the list. Maybe this is our way of commemorating Shakespeare as well—a number of 5 titles is not bad. However, let it be noted here that Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons has not been left out. It is the sixth title under the genre of plays.

The fact that I used some of these books during my years of study is not the only course that I commend government for. It is the understanding of the relevance of literature as a remedy for social ills in the world. The emerging issues that I have mentioned above are by reference and inference been exposed and understood better through the choice of these titles.

And since the curriculum calls for critical thinking and not about mere memorising, the books offer constructive challenges and go even to the extent to reshape the characters of our students.

Through my career, I have read most of these books and have even zeroed on specific issues that are zoomed in thereof. It is up to the teachers to guide the students accordingly. Issues of governance, entrepreneurialism and climate change are very practical and through experience, by the time that a child reaches eight, he or she is already experienced in same. It is the application to what we read from this fiction that we may advance our thinking capacities.

The world is open, it is one village and let us all join the race. The new curriculum offers such.

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