Thursday, June 23, 2011

The beauty of language

                                                          
The first semester exams at UPNG have come and gone in but a bat of an eye-lid. 

No doubt lecturers and tutors will be busy marking those exam papers. 

A question that needs to be asked though is how much time the academia itself will spend on looking at the sentences in those exam papers. Each sentence should reflect a lecturer’s satisfaction in initially giving hints to his students on how to write and express themselves well in the English language. A good essay, story, report on a scientific experiment, a mathematical treatise or even an anecdote in written form should give the reader a considerable amount of pleasure. And that is what we mean by the beauty of language.  

One hopes that our UPNG lecturer and examiner does not look at one paper, frown, put it away, and then pick up another for want of comfort in reading and enjoying a good essay. 
If that happens, then it is absolutely true that the standard of written expression at the Waigani Campus has dropped drastically over a very short period of time. 
Several factors surface as causes of such an abrupt drop of standards in the use of English and other areas of academic performance.
Firstly, the course loads that seemingly “overburden” our students. Each student in the BA stream is required to do four courses a semester. Exceptions are given to those at third and fourth year levels to overload, if they feel ready at a given semester to qualify as prospective graduates.
A load of four courses therefore means a lot of work, in the areas of reading, research, analysis and discourse. That number of courses affects second to fourth year students. It is the correct number, considering the demand of work load. A student who cannot handle that number of courses, particularly within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, ought to consider switching to the sciences or the medical school. Reading and writing can become too much of a bother for some sometimes.
Secondly, the state of panic that this number of courses can cause a student. The dreaded number of assignments, for example. Having four assignments to write every two weeks requires skill and time management. A very few manage to produce a good paper in that time frame. And the list goes on.
How to remedy such a situation. Here we look at the work load of the lecturer or tutor as mentor. A good mentor has time for his students. Even if there are 300 of them in a course he still must have time to know all of them. And he does so by carefully reading all of their assignments. A student is best known through his or her writing. And it is here, in this area of academic activity, that a lecturer comes to terms with the word selectivity. The lecturer must have time with the student to point out his or her strengths and weaknesses in writing. Otherwise it is pointless deciding who gets an A and who fails.
But the most important thing that storyboard is getting at here is cultivating the beauty of language usage in our students. Here are a couple of samples of how that can be done.
“These poor people can walk long distances leaving my village few kilometers behind just to get to PMV trucks at areas where the road conditions are quite good to take their produce into town (Port Moresby) to sell and even to visit their relatives or family living here because they are tired of eating the staple food banana almost the whole year.”
This writer will make a good politician one day. You can see that by the length of her sentence. But in order to become that good politician she must learn to be brief. Brevity is what we want here, both in speech and written form. Certainly a Dorothy Tekwie in the making. Call her in and tell her that.
“Being a loyal and devoted leader who has served his people well during his time of leadership, seventy-six year-old Faleasa Osovae has been so concerned about the future of his people and nation as a whole that he wants upcoming leaders to be sane, young, hardworking, honest, absolutely fearless, and utterly devoted to the welfare of the people.”
This other writer sounds rich with vocabulary. He needs to own little, slow down a bit with palaver and discard some of the unnecessaries in his choice of vocabulary. Storyboard feels he will do as a critical thinker and writer. He deserves a B.
We could provide more good examples but due to limited space all we can say here is that language itself is beautiful. We must be kind to it in our writing no matter how busy we are.