Teacher’s Mind: The little ones speak out again

The world is still trying to recover from what some have termed as the ‘Obama hangover.’ This refers to the period of euphoria from the time the black senator won the Democratic Party nominations to the day he was sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States of America.

The world is still trying to recover from what some have termed as the ‘Obama hangover.’ This refers to the period of euphoria from the time the black senator won the Democratic Party nominations to the day he was sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States of America.

Just before the inauguration day, The New York Times newspaper published an interesting story titled, “Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice” in its New York edition.

The story highlighted the outcome of a writing assignment where young children were asked to write letters to the then president-elect, Barack Obama. In the letters the children were expected to express their thoughts, hopes and advice to Mr. Obama. 

One particular eight year old from San Francisco, Mireya Perez listed ten things that Obama should do first as the president. I need to point out here that most of the things on his list were revolving around education. Thus it caught my attention. 

For purposes of space I will dwell on just two items on this child’s list. Item number nine was, “Give teachers raises.”

I think this is quite spot-on if we are to look at what has been happening in Tanzania and Kenya where teachers have been demanding better pay. The same can easily apply to many other countries in Africa where teachers are paid peanuts yet the cost of living is high. 

Perez’ item number one surely deserved to be number one. According to this bright young chap, the first thing that Pres. Obama should do is, “To make everyone read books.” Now this child is really talking wisely. The benefits of reading books cannot be overemphasised.

I think this child was aware of the fact that Obama is one of the most read American presidents ever. Obama is known for reading and also writing some of the bestselling books.

This habit has helped him a lot to emerge as a great inspirational leader and one who has helped reignite the reading passions in some people’s lives. Many people have read his two great books which many agree were masterpieces indeed. 

My wish is that a child here could also write a letter telling President Kagame to make everyone read books. But even before this can be done, the message is safely home. Books contain a lot of vital information and help one to improve on their language skills as they acquire knowledge.

It is a fact that the reading culture here and in most of Africa is quite despicable. This has got profound negative effects on the country’s education system and the senior officials in the Education Ministry ought to look into this with more seriousness.

The recent policy switch that prioritised the use of the English language means that a large number of students and ordinary citizens are faced with a Herculean task of learning and mastering the language in a rather short time. This calls for a concerted effort and may not be easy to achieve without a better reading culture.

Schools that have just switched to the English based teaching should devise effective strategies to teach the language. One of the most tried and a tested strategy is that of ensuring that the students do a lot of reading especially in their free time.

Parents should not be left out. A wise parent should be able to buy a book (not necessarily a text book) for his or her child to read at home. This can be done at the beginning of each term and the pace increased gradually as the reading improves.

Let us all listen and heed what young Perez wants Obama to do. Let us all read books; all of us starting from the president to the young ones should take time to this advice. I think you will now join me in paying a little more attention to the younger voices. 

Contact: ssenyonga@gmail.com

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