As Covid-19 continues to affect all walks of life, equitable access to education remain a grave challenge in Gambia, despite the distance learning initiative by Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MOBSE). It is little over two months when this initiative was first introduced by MOBSE. Though, great strides are made to make this initiative as effective and efficient as possible, yet some students are left behind, particularly few subjects are been sidelined systemically, one among them is Literature-in-English.
Recently, we learned about Gambia Teachers Union’s (GTU) donation of some radio sets to vulnerable communities for their children to benefit from the distance learning initiative. This is a laudable effort and deserves recognition. However, the fact remain, people living in the rural setups in the Gambia are not benefitting from this initiative in as much as they should, compare to those in the urban setups. Equivocally, Internet is more reliable and affordable in urban settlements than the rural settlements. Besides, some rural settlements struggle to get radio coverages ,only few radio stations are viable, such as (GRTS) Gambia Radio and Television Services, which is the least reliable among the lot. It is important to note that, students in the Upper Basic doing Literature-in-English are left behind, marginalized. This subject is an examinable subject at both Upper and Senior Secondary level (GABECE & WASSCE), moreso, Literature-in-English augment english grammar, improve students’ critical thinking ability, while honing their writing as well as literal skills.
The subject is intrinsic to the life of a social science student; in journalism, communications, public administration, law, public relations and international relations. Yes, these are few among the prospects social science students could pursue open completion of a course in literature-in-English domain areas. Moreover, it deepens student’s worldview, as literature students are often exposed to texts and books about different cultures, different worlds and diverse walks of life; ranging from humanity, work, academia and governance. Through these texts, poems and books, students of literature become informed and aware of other civilizations, and cultures that altogether make up this world. The diversities they’re exposed to, groom them to be tolerant, respectful, compassionate and critical in thought as well as in action.
It is quite disheartening to say the least, that students doing this subject are left behind during this pandemic, thanks to MOBSE’s distance learning initiative. For over two months they have witness daily, from Monday to Thursday, lessons offered in almost all other subjects except literature-in-English, which is bias. They are blatantly disregarded, disengaged and pretty much neglected. To define equity in its broadest terms; it is having the opportunity and resources that everyone needs to succeed at whatever level, thus, where is equity in this initiative? When one section of the students benefit from all the opportunities that this initiative brings along, whilst other students are left behind indiscriminately. This are the unchanging growing opportunity gaps which keep widening the achievement gaps in our education system.
While education policies of the country may provide for equity, the educational response to covid-19 crisis remain inequitable and bias.
Literature-in-English is optional\elective at Upper Basic level, as a result, many students do not choose it due to how the subject is treated. Consequently, reading habit has become pretty much a hard-earn-currency for many that find reading and writing sophisticated. In hindsight, Literature-in-English could have been the medium in which reading hobbies are inculcated in Upper Basic pupils’, as this will further develop their passion for the subject, simultaneously diminishing phobia for voluntary reading habit, as such that, when they arrive at high school, reading and text analysis become a skillset for all of them. This terrain of unjust treatment of literature-in-English in our schools continue to have an overarching ramification on the growth of our creative industries in Gambia.
Meanwhile, one may argue that, there are numerous emerging poets, authors and passionate writers, especially from the country’s highest institution of learning,(University of the Gambia), yet one can count how many are really reading Gambian literature out of their course work, or reading for the love of books. As that habit have not been nurtured at the foundation level, Upper Basic and certainly Senior Secondary, a by-product of the irrelevance often mildly attached to the subject, as evident in MoBSE’s distance learning initiative. While education policies of the country may provisioned equity, the educational response to covid-19 crisis, lacks equity. The ministry and the team behind this initiative must be wary of a futile adventure, because Literature-in-English, likewise Physics and Financial Accounting are all very relevant to students, and ought to be treated with the same degree of importance. To sum this up, how would they examine them when that is due? Which they’ll, inevitably.