The state of English communication competence in Kenya is in crisis, was the consensus view at the start of the 2nd English and Communication conference at Strathmore University. The theme; Exploring Communication Competence in the Industry and Academy.
The conference, organized by Strathmore’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) and Learning and Testing Services (LTS), aimed at developing concrete proposals that would be applied to improve the standards of writing and speaking English.
The keynote speaker and Director of the Kenya School of Law, Prof. PLO Lumumba fervently decried the situation, observing that Kenya had sacrificed competency in communication at the altar of mediocrity.
“The standards of English competency have declined dramatically and we do not have far to look for the causes. Who teaches our young men and women at the foundation stage? In Kenya it is those who have failed. In other countries such as Finland, Doctoral degree holders are teaching at that level. We further need to consider what is being taught; interrogate the quality of instruction go back to the basics and begin to address them in a comprehensive manner,” Prof. Lumumba averred.
There is growing intolerance of communicative incompetence in academia as well as within professional circles. In Kenya, communicative incompetence is often associated with improper use of language and inability of individuals to express themselves effectively in a language. English and Kiswahili are the official languages in Kenya and increasingly many people are demonstrating challenges in effectively expressing themselves confidently in either language. This is despite the fact that they are exposed to and taught both languages from a very early age.
“Our children today, cannot speak any language competently. They cannot communicate in their mother tongues, in Kiswahili or English for that matter. And now a good percentage of graduates are unable to communicate effectively and coherently,” Prof. Lumumba quipped. He also urged the conference attendance drawn from the East African region, to ensure that any reforms to the curricula needed to be carried out in sync with all members of the economic bloc.
Dean of the Strathmore SHSS Prof. Christine Gichure, in her welcoming remarks, emphasised the importance of competent language use for effective communication, “Communication effectiveness cannot be achieved without language competence in any language. “
Mr. Kuda Nhiwatiwa, CEO of Learning and Testing Services East Africa, noted that English has become the de facto language of the global economy and that English proficiency provided a strategic advantage globally.
“For Kenya and the East Africa region to thrive in this competitive global economy, English is essential in exposing and realizing the immense human capital in the region. LTS and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) took action and conducted a national survey using the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language primary assessment to scientifically measure the English competency of pupils in standard 4-7, with some in 8,” Mr. Nhiwatiwa said.
Other topics of discussion included: Language and Communication in Contemporary Society: The Challenges of Teaching English as a Global Language: Job Application Letters as Communication to Potential Employers: Selling or Soiling and Does it Matter? A Student’s Perspective on the Call for the Use of Effective Communication: Development of English Literacy among Linguistic Minority – The case of deaf students in Nairobi County: Future Pedagogical Topography – The Integration of Mobile Phone Apps into Undergraduate Language Learning Spaces: The ‘sheng’ Identity, Cultural Background and Influence on Communication in Academic Endeavours – The Case of Machakos University College, among other topics.