I was in Nairobi and on my way back to Abidjan in the KQ flight; I was given the Daily Nation newspaper of Monday, August 5, 2019. Good quality paper with high reporting standards and graphics. However, that is not what struck me and got my attention and made me to think about newspapers in the Gambia and their contents, readership and audience. Accompanying the Daily Nation newspaper is a Monday weekly pullout magazine called “Juniorspot” that comes free with the newspaper that is sponsored by some companies and international NGOs. This pullout is for children ages 9-14 years and I was extremely impressed that I thought Gambian newspapers could learn from their counterparts in Kenya. This is African peer-to-peer learning.
In the Gambia, we complain about the low standards in education and we are looking for innovative ways to encourage and stimulate primary and secondary school children to improve on performance especially in English, Maths and the Sciences. Would it not be a good idea and an innovative way to encourage the reading culture of young people ages 8-16 years if our newspapers have a child friendly pull out magazine with stories and quizzes for our children? Can we in Gambia also develop a young reader development initiative and newspapers in education and schools program? Reading is formal starting point of all learning.
Let me share with you some of the stories for the children in “Juniorspot” to give you an idea of the contents of the pullout for children. It is the summer holidays now, the paper front-page headline is: – “Any plans for August holidays” and one of the key feature stories is that of apediatric gastroenterologist who narrated why he specialized in treating children and problems of the digestive systems in children. He talked about how he became a doctor and his school journey up to university to study medicine. The story ended with a career advice to the children who want to become pediatric gastroenterologist that they should develop a culture of reading and read widely especially sciences.
Another section of the paper is called “My Say” Holiday: time to have fun and grow talents – in this part, children ages 9-13 from various schools across the country have a paragraph on what they will be doing during the holidays and who is their role model. A 13-year-old boy said he hopes to grow his talent playing football during the holidays and of course his role model is Victor Wanyama who plays for Tottenham Hotspurs (our noisy neighbors in North London – I am an Arsenal fan through and through lol). A 9-year-old girl said she loves dancing and hope to learn new moves and grow her skill and another 13-year-old said he love to draw and paint, so this holiday she will spend time polishing his artistic skills and would love to meet the Nation media group cartoonists so that he can learn a few tips JJ. Then there is a definition of talent with advice to the children reading the paper that they can grow their talents into a successful career especially they passionately exploit it early in life (Serena and Venus Williams did just that).
Then there is the main feature article for the children on “talent academy”, featuring activities in schools around the country with pictures of children showcasing their talents. There is also facts with fun, which give statements and the children choose the one which is not fact, email the right answer and the names of the first three winners are published.
There is also a history and geography sections which give useful learning practices for the children that can help them in school. In this edition, the map of North Africa drawn and Libya was the feature country. It gave the name of the capital, nationality, population, languages, religion, flag and currency, then the map of Libya’s neighbors was drawn and the children asked to name Libya’s neighbors, with answers to be provided the following week’s edition. If a child has a history exam question on Libya, they will be able to name its capital, population, currency as well as names of the countries that share a border with Libya. Small things like these can make a difference between getting an A grade and a B grade in any subject. There is also the “Juniorspot” Trivia. Would it not be interesting for Gambian parents to work with their children to answer 10 questions such as, what is the name of the minister of Women’s Affairs, how many women are in the cabinet, what is the name of the Governor of CRR. This will be such fun rightJ. Answers and names of winners are then published in the magazine.
What excited me the most with the “Juniorspot” pullout magazine is the reproduction of Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams papers. The edition of 5 August featured english and social studies KCPE exam questions. Would it not be a good practice especially during the summer holidays for school kids to test themselves by answering these exam questions with their parents, older brothers and sisters at home and then check the answers to see how well they are progressing? The same can be done for maths, sciences, etc. Imagine if the whole WASSCE grade 9 and grade 12 exams papers are reproduced in newspapers with permission of course and in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary education for the children to practice past exams questions. I have no doubt in my mind that we will see improvements in exam scores all across the whole country.
The back page of course is on sports, riddles and crossword puzzles for children to test their word power and vocabulary.
The Nation media group is collaborating with schools to set up “Juniorspot” reading clubs in schools with activities such as Spelling Bee, Essay Writing, Public speaking, Book reviews, Art and Storytelling. The requirement for the school is to have termly subscription of 300 copies, i.e. 20 copies weekly for the school that can be in the library for the children and a “Juniorspot” patron in the school. I did mention earlier that the pullout magazine is free and sponsored in partnership with some companies and NGOs. I would like to see companies in The Gambia support such initiatives so that all primary and secondary schools in Gambia have a reading club. Whatever they invest financially will be tax deductible. The resources will not be going directly to the treasury, but it will be contributing directly in improving learning and education outcomes of school children.
Our children have not been performing very well in schools as shown by WASSCE exam results and the failure rate in English and mathematics is very worrying. We need to encourage our children to get into the habit of reading, and nothing is more attractive and exciting for children than to have children reading stories for children, about children and learning subjects that they do in school. I might be a dreamer but New Gambia has to dream BIG. We have to do business UNUSUAL if we are going to change the status quo. The media is a very powerful tool and the media council, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, the West African Exams Council and PTAs can join forces to support our children’s learning by having pullout magazines designed and edited specially for our primary and secondary school children. Of course, this means that the Gambian media fraternity has to step up to the place and build capacities of children editors who will be able to write in plain and simple English that the children can read and understand. The Gambian media is free from the shackles of the devil residing now in Equatorial Guinea. Be innovative. I have thrown the ball in your court – Take the bait.
Anecdote: note that I am concentrating on print media. I was also in South Africa some few years back and the state media SABC had teaching programs for students in high schools and it goes through the syllabus and exam questions in all the key subjects. In Gambia we definitely need it for Maths and Sciences. As most high schools in Gambia do not have equipped science labs, the science lab that was built by the Rotary Club can be used to broadcast nationwide practical experiments in biology, chemistry, physics and agricultural science, so that students can visualize the experiments. In South Africa, students can phone in with their questions and together with the teacher doing the program live, they solve the problem together. I was so fascinated by the program when I used to go on mission to South Africa that I will be watching in my hotel room with my pen, paper and calculator during maths sessions. Can GRTS, which is the national TV that is beamed all across the country, do the same? Such nationwide learning program will give all students across the country from Banjul to Koina the same learning opportunity that will be reinforced with what they will be learning in their respective schools. The technology is available to do such programs. USE IT.
#NewGambiaBeTheChangeYouwantToBe. #GambiaWillRise. #IBelieveJustDoIt.
Basil Jones is the Gender and CSO Program and Policy Coordinator in the African Development Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department. Prior this he was the Advisor to the Special Envoy on Gender and Vice President of the African Development Bank in November 2015 to December 2016. Other positions he has occupied in the Bank are Assistant to the Chief Economist and Vice President, of the Economics Complex from June 2012 to September 2015 and Principal Capacity Development Specialist in the Bank’s Fragile States Unit from June 2009 to May 2012. Before joining the Bank, he worked for 8 years as a Senior Program Specialist with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Senegal and Kenya. He worked at the Central Bank of the Gambia Economic Research Department from 1988 to 1997. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Hull in UK.