Third Eye

Expose learners to great people in national heritage

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022 00:12 | By
Expose learners to great people in national heritage
Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Magoha inspecting preparedness of schools reopening at Mjini Primary school, Murang’a County. PHOTO | BERNARD MUNYAO |

When veteran politician and lawmaker Martin Shikuku died in August 2012, young university students could not make out who Shikuku was. Then, I couldn’t help sympathising with university students’ ignorance about one of the most compelling politicians Kenya has had.

Shikuku was one of the founding fathers of this country who at age 28, was the youngest member of the Kenyan delegation to Lancaster House Conferences (England) where independence Constitution was carved. He was at the centre of nearly every turning point this country has had.

That young generation had not heard of him when he died is regrettable. They cannot be so ignorant had we, adults, done our duty of preserving history in readily accessible formats or platforms.

Great men and women of this nation live in the pages of parliamentary Hansard and newspapers, TV and Radio clips, which are inaccessible to many except perhaps, researchers.

This shouldn’t happen!

Children in the US, UK, India, Japan and Brazil, for instance, readily access the lives of their great men and women. The countries collect and organise statement policies and opinion leaders make in response to the challenges the countries face.

Nations respond to situations through speeches by policymakers and opinion leaders. They also respond to situations through Acts of Parliament, court decisions, media editorials, letters and photography.

Some countries have published responses the political leaders have made during turning points for future references. Publishers of educational materials have also copiously used landmark statements, speeches and editorials as teaching aids for students in grammar, comprehension and functional writing classes.

For example, Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (1776), Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1864), JF Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a Dream speech grace books on composition writing in the US school systems. Newer books on rhetoric are now using President Barack Obama’s Speech on race.

We have documents right from the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s, the various colonial ordinances, treaties between colonial government and indigenous communities, and other public documents that shaped Kenya over the years. We also have speeches nationalists made during the struggle for independence, culminating into President Jomo Kenyatta Inaugural speech in 1963. We have had landmark situations that elicited responses since 1963. We ought to avail them either in whole or in abridged form to students.

Use of texts of speeches, reports, letters and memos as models of writing in textbooks serve many purposes. Besides being models of excellence, the primary sources help students develop critical-thinking skills. The study of how predecessors handled public policy supports good citizenship, which is requisite for effective democracy. Primary sources enable students to explore the documentary evidence of a nation’s history—the roots of its government and value systems. By understanding the past, students come to appreciate the present as they chart the future.

History is made by great if not exceptional men and women. First-hand knowledge of the words, thoughts and ideas of the exceptional men and women who commanded the stage in the past enable the students to know the circumstances of the statements, and how they responded to them. It also widens mental horizons. This aids in maturation.

I don’t know of a strategy to nurture children into citizens other than through studying history. I don’t know how you can enhance the political consciousness of youth other than through exposing them to the verbatim statements of great political, religious and business leaders within a nation and across nations, decades and centuries.

High ideals, honour, duty and integrity are played out in those documents. The document apprehends a problem and ways of solving them.

In the hustle and bustle of practical life, in politics, words are the tools with people to get to the handle of issues. It is the same words that solutions are captured.

The student who unconsciously studies this and comes to appreciate the place of words in the pen and mouth of the great and exceptional men and women he reads about—either as part of his formal education or for leisure reading purposes.

Either way, the ambitious student has excellent models of writing and thinking to learn from.

The learning is fortified by background knowledge about the men and women who have shaped his country and civilisations across the centuries.

— The writer is communications officer, Ministry of Education

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