Nsempiisms: The Sorry Spelling Saga

After finishing 6th form in mid-1993, I was invited to help with vacation classes for the last batch of ‘O’ Level students at the secondary school in my holy village of Wasa Akropong, which I did from August till October. I thereafter worked through the school authorities to present my name to the National Service Secretariat and so I was posted officially to the school for my national service which I did from November, 1993 till December, 1994, teaching Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Core Science, for mainly the new senior secondary school streams. Before this time, I had spent some time teaching, during vacations around 1990 – 1992, at the middle school opposite our house at the Low Cost Estate, now called Bassanyin LA Junior High School, where my late uncle was the Headteacher. His nickname was ‘Therefore’.

On the matter of marking of exams scripts and general assignments, one of the first tips the regular teachers gave us during National Service was this: ‘mark the idea and not the grammar’. Their argument was that if one tried to focus on the grammar, the teacher wouldn’t consider the answers at all.

I have never been a fan of the new educational stream, mainly from the position that we expected too much from the middle schools which were upgraded to Junior Secondary Schools and which were expected do the same jobs that established secondary schools were doing between Forms 1 and 3. They may have the same contours but the cat and the tiger cannot perform the same jobs. Between Forms 1 and 3 in the old system, some fundamental issues not sorted out during preparatory and middle schools were straightened, as students were exposed also to various subjects and the teachers had time to groom and nurture. Forget for now my candid view that grammar and syntax styles are built mainly during preparatory school. As I argued in Sebitically Speaking, what we have created is a tale of two systems: where those who can afford it take their children to good schools which are able to provide better, above average, tutelage and the larger, regular system which is fed with government handout of educational repast, which is less than average.

This experience of mine is over twenty years old and the grammatical slide has continued, with more acceleration. The lack of reading skills, the evolution of technology and predictive text, the general lack of attention to details and excellence, the propensity to say ‘English is not our language’, the acceptance of shorthand in general texting…all these have conspired to bring us to the point where our national publications now read like the scripts I used to mark many years ago in Wasa.

This malaise has even affected official textbooks used by pupils and students. Full of grammatical errors. The GTV we knew, the GTV parents used to tell us to watch to learn English, is no more. Daily Graphic daily gives us grammatical and spelling bullets. Journalists are no longer benchmarks for great presentation and language. I won’t attempt to write about news portals, which sometimes read as if the articles were written in Twi and Google translate used to get the English versions.

My father was educated only to Middle School Leaving Certificate Level. My mum just about the same. But my parents read. My father nurtured in me the love of magazines, newspapers and books. I got from him the practice of walking to buy The Mirror every weekend and we would spend time reading it together. I caught him reading and I caught the bug. When my mum visits us today in Tema, I walk into her room to greet her every morning and to ask how she is doing. I always find her reading her Bible. My parents taught me about reading and they inspired in me the desire to be more learned than they ever were. Today, how many children see their parents reading anything apart from their text messages, Whatsapp and Facebook messages? How do we expect to raise reading children when the parents don’t read?

The effluent has hit the fan and the aroma has spread into our nostrils. Enjoy the nunu scent.

Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.


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