A Dip into Literature Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
August 13, 2006

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…And then the students took over the class. Ten, eleven-year-old girls and boys, regular children, just finish writing Secondary School Entrance Examination (Common Entrance), moving on to some of the top secondary schools in Georgetown. As the end of the project drew nigh, the participants indicated to the facilitators their intent to plan the final session of the venture. No thank you, we wouldn’t need any help from you, our respected teachers. It was dramatic but not unexpected. The facilitators, though intent on imparting knowledge, and who planned their every succeeding instruction from responses and feedbacks of the participants, knew something was afoot. The whole process especially the take-over was an inspiring learning experience for the facilitators – pupils educating the teachers.

The occasion was the second staging of A Dip into Literature, organised by the Juvenile Department of the National Library and implemented on location during the month of July 2006. It consisted of eight sessions of one and a half hours each, extending frequently for another thirty minutes, as the mood dictated.

The programme offered a varied and flexible scheme introducing literature to students in transition from primary to secondary school, to whet their appetite, to increase their appreciation of literature and to uncover and nurture talents. The ultimate aim was to break down the daunting barriers associated with the study of literature. Fine-tuning of the annual project is an ongoing process befitting moods, issues and responses. However, the prevailing emphasis is always to make reading fun, as fundamental tool in achieving clear thinking and clear expression.

As far as possible, the sessions conducted last month consisted of reading aloud, facilitators to students and vice versa, all experiencing how reading for leisure could stimulate the mind and imagination, increase stock of ideas, provide new insights and enrich lives. This improvement of reading skills was designed to take the burden out of reading for study purposes.

The project sought also to encourage good listening habits and remember well what is said. En passant, techniques for good writing were highlighted and basic aspects of public speaking put into practice.

Material used was sourced mainly form the suggested reading list for English B on the CSEC syllabus. But works written by the facilitators and relevant sections of local newspapers were utilised. Selections were based on their craft and artistry and how well they said something worth saying, resulting in them lasting generations and even centuries.

In poetry, works written by authors from around the world were shared including poems by David Dabydeen, John Agard, and Louise Bennet; in fiction, trips were taken to many parts of the world, experiencing different customs, going on adventures in science fiction, mythology and history.

In drama, many specially prepared short plays with delightful punch lines were enacted. Drama sessions were the more exciting ones of the project because groups of participants tried to outdo each other, constantly raising the bar of performance.

This second Dip into Literature 2006 was spearheaded by Petamber Persaud, literary activist, supported by Sally Stevenson, a development worker from the UK living in Guyana, Sheila King, writer of children literature, and Valerie Ramsay, former teacher and youth worker.

When A Dip into Literature started last year, it was a novel literary project for Guyana (the novelty hasn’t worn off). The idea was conceived by Sally Stevenson who spearheaded the event in July of 2005. It, said Stevenson, ‘was prompted by personal experience of receiving children into Form 1 and of parents' reports of their children having done ‘Common Entrance’ exams and then being left much on their own devices for a term as the focus swung to the next batch of students. This was an attempt to encourage the children not to waste their long vacation but to use it to explore the world of literature in as wide a manner as possible. Hence the focus was not on any one text but an exploration of snippets of prose, poetry and drama from as wide a selection’.

That idea came to fruition with assistance of Mrs. James, head of the Juvenile Department of the National Library, who included the project in the activities for August Vacation offered by the library. The other two facilitators were Valerie Ramsey and Petamber Persaud.

‘A Dip into Literature 2006’ was a vast improvement to the 2005 event, effecting some of the recommendations resulting from the 2005 affair. This year, in addition to certificate of participation given to participants, corporate Guyana came on board with other offerings. The Bookseller donated fifteen novels, Guyana Entertainment Magazine (GEM) supplied copies of the magazine to the top two participants, and Wireless Connections twenty assorted gift packages (due to unforeseen circumstances the gifts were presented after the ‘graduation’ ceremony).

The final session of A Dip into Literature was covered by the electronic and print media via National Communications Network Inc. (NCN television) and Kaieteur News. The ‘graduates’ did not shy away from the close attention, reflecting the effectiveness of the short course. In closing the 2006 session, both participants and facilitators expressed sadness at the parting of ways but also expressed joy that it was an experience to last the young minds a lifetime. Of course, plans are already afoot to make ‘A Dip into Literature 2007’ bigger and better with consideration in train to take it to other parts of the country.