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Ambitious, but no teachers to nurture their dreams

Some of the participants at the workshop

Stakeholders discuss problems associated with the teaching of literature at a three-day creative writing workshop held in Warri, Delta State, writes CHUX OHAI

For three days, a group of pupils selected from 10 secondary schools within Warri and its environs participated in a Youth Empowerment and Creative Writing Workshop led by award-winning poet, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, who teaches poetry and literature at the Texas State University, San Marcos in the United States.

The workshop was supported by the International Institute of Education, in collaboration with the State Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education. Its goal was to boost the teaching and learning of literature among secondary school pupils in the state.

Selection was done through rigorous writing and composition tests. In the end, 18 pupils – two from each school – were chosen to participate in the workshop. Two female pupils of Oghio Secondary School in Udu Local Government Area of Delta State, Hajarah Aboki and Ofega Ohwedor were among the chosen ones.

For both girls, the workshop provided an opportunity to upgrade their knowledge of the English Language and, more important, one of their favourite subjects, Literature in English.

Apart from being excited at the prospect of learning the rudiments of creative writing at the workshop, Hajarah and Ofega shared the same burning ambition.

“We want to become writers,” they declared, in an interview with our correspondent.

But there was a snag – a real obstacle that stood between them and the fulfilment of their shared dream. Hajarah was the first to open up on this problem.

She said, “We are both in SS2, but we don’t have English and Literature teachers in our school. The last time we had lessons in both subjects was two years ago. We were in JSS2 at the time.”

That was not all. The pupil said her class also lacked Mathematics and Chemistry teachers. Her own father had been trying to fill the yawning gap by giving her lessons in English, Literature, Mathematics and Chemistry – at home.

On the other hand, Ofega said that each time she moved to the next class, she would seek a solution to the problem from the vice principal of their school.

“Each time I went to him, he gave me the scheme of work for those subjects. Then I would buy the recommended text books and collect notes from my friends in neighbouring schools, especially from those in Ogbe-Udu Secondary School,” she said.

The principal of Oghio Secondary School, Mrs. Florence Ojomo, confirmed that the school lacked enough teachers to handle the core subjects.

She said, “With the recent distribution of teachers in public schools in Delta State, a lot of transfers were made. In my school, about 80 per cent of the teachers were transferred. I can tell you now that as it is I don’t have enough teachers to teach English, Mathematics and Literature in English.

“I have made several representations to my employers in Asaba and I have involved my community leaders, who in turn appealed to the authorities in the state capital. The latter have promised that teachers will be sent to my school. So we are waiting for government to fulfil its promise.”

Beyond this development, the writing workshop exposed other problems afflicting the school system in Delta State. Most of these problems were highlighted during a roundtable attended by Ifowodo and some teachers from the selected schools.

Many of the teachers complained about their pupils’ poor attitude to the teaching and learning of English and literature in the classroom. They attributed this to lack of motivation and poor foundation at the primary school level.

One of them, Mrs. Temile Adesua, who teaches at Hussey Model College in Warri, said, “My pupils don’t have Literature textbooks. They are not even prepared to buy. Apart from that, they speak Pidgin English all the time. I think this has eaten deep into them.”

Another teacher, Ms Rita Agonadi of Urhobo College said she was having a very tough time teaching English Language to some pupils in Junior secondary school who could not tell one alphabet from another.

As the workshop progressed, the participants were engaged in dramatised reading of selected literature texts. The exercise tasked their reading skills, as well as individual grasp of the English vocabulary and comprehension.

Then they were split into four groups of five pupils each and instructed to write short stories about memorable events or incidents that they had experienced in the past.

In an interview with our correspondent, Ifowodo expressed deep concern over the use of English among secondary school pupils. He said, “I don’t want to sound too pessimistic or angry, but I have to say that we are in very dire straits on this question of use of English, whether spoken or written. My experience shows that some pupils are literally translating from Pidgin English or the mother tongue, which are even then poorly spoken and understood. On the other hand, they don’t have a good grasp of the basic fundamentals of the English language.”

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Ambitious, but no teachers to nurture their dreams

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