Gender studies should zero in on the writing skill and its indispensable sub-skills where boys have remained underachievers. This is critical to bridging gender disparities in performance and achievement. Failure to research into this skill and its basic sub-skills continues to feminize achievement in measurable educational outcomes and militates against the realization of EFA goal FIVE--eliminating gender achievement disparities in education. Basow (2008, p.287) has posed a pertinent question to those who are interested in campaigning for the improvement of the performance of female learners in education and all stakeholders in education saying a 'legitimate question, however; why are boys not achieving educationally [in terms of grades high, graduation rates] the same degree of girls?' This scholar's stance underscores the urgent need to focus on subject areas (sub-skills) where the male learners' performance and achievements are unsatisfactory.
It follows that to eliminate gender disparities in measurable learning outcomes, one of the inevitable concerns is the boys' unsatisfactory achievement across education system in all subjects. As Jha and Kelleher (2006, p.x111) rightly aver, 'we want therefore to understand and address boys' underachievement in the contexts where it is an issue whilst continuing to focus on girls' access to education. It is not either one or other.' This requires comparing boys' and girls' performance with a view to establishing performance gaps in order to strategize on how to assist the underachieving gender to be at par with the other. As Adeyemi (2008, p.2) rightly contends, 'the right to perform well in all subjects in schools should be seen as the right of all students, irrespective of gender'. It is therefore gender bias and discrimination to continue ignoring conducting studies aimed delving into subjects in which girls are underachievers as boys continue to trail them in language skills such as writing and reading.
On writing about the significance of learning outcomes such as literally skills, Nkinyangi (2005, p.2) notes that, 'those who enroll in school and go through full cycle should have tangible skills to take home so that they justify the time, energy and resources they put in the learning process'. Among these skill is the writing skill and its sub-skills. Studies that have been done have demonstrated that females (girls) are better writers. For instance, Adeyemi's (2008) study on composition writing indicates that girls significantly outscored their male counterparts. The findings of his research dictates that the causes of boys' underachievement be unearthed in order to institute measures with a view to assisting them to be at par with their female counterparts as regards writing ability. Failure to carry out research to establish the causes of boys' underachievement maintains the status quo or even worsens the boys' performance and achievement in the writing skill and its essential sub-skills.
One of the indispensable strands of the writing process is spelling. This is why Gathumbi and Masembe (2008) refer to it as a basic skill to the writing of the skill; because of its semantic and communicative roles. Its significance in the writing process cannot be gainsaid. On underscoring its importance to the entire writing process, Schonell (1985, P. 8) contends that, "it is only possible to succeed at a task if we possess the necessary skill and ability to spell is obvious fundamental part of writing". This implies that a learner who is lacking this sub skill will flounder in his /her writing achievement Murphy and Snell (1991, p.11) have underlined the significance of correct spelling averring, "Poor spelling is one of the characteristics of poor writing. It defeats the purpose of words, which is to communicate meaning. It annoys readers." The former and latter quotes indicate that a learner who is a poor speller jeopardizes his /her achievement in Kiswahili compositions. Abell (1994) cited in Boras (2003, p.9) has also pointed to what happens to a poor speller saying they, "often feel embarrassed about their lacking of skill and are unhappy about allowing others to see what they have written." Thus, the gender that is faced with the spelling inability performs poorly such as in Kiswahili composition paper 101, in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education where its marking is given precedence.
Studies that have been done globally revealed that there are gender differences in spelling. It is on this premise that Boras (2003, p.13) says that, "looking specifically at gender differences in spelling development between adult learners and children, there is a difference." It is important to emphasize that female learners outscore their male counterparts in the spelling sub skill. A study carried out by the State Department of Education in 2000 (State Moves, 2000) revealed that boys have difficulties with spelling as well as reluctance to write as compared with their female counterparts. If girls are superior to boys in this critical sub skill of the writing process, the inevitable question to the boy researchers is, what causes the boys to trail the girls? This question is geared towards unearthing the major types of the spelling errors and how they impinge upon the achievement of both boys and girls. As spelling remains one of the mechanical difficulties to effective communication and subsequently achievement, it is necessary to establish what linguists consider as the major sources of spelling errors and in particular phonemic interchange spelling errors that make boys to goof more than their female counterparts. This is important to researchers and teachers of Kiswahili who are interested in intervening to ensure boys do not continue to trail girls in Kiswahili compositions as a result of their spelling inability.
Various scholars have pointed to L1 interference as the source of Kiswahili spelling errors (Msanjila, 2005; Norrish, 1987 & Richards, 1971). These spelling errors that result from L1 are caused by lack of phonological awareness and in particular phonemic awareness and an in-depth understanding of both L1 and L2 phonological and orthographic systems. As Adams (1990), Bradley and Bryant (1983), Stanovich and Siegel (1994) and Share (1995) say, "Phonology is critical to the development of reading and writing". This implies that a limited phonological awareness and in particular phonemic awareness of L2 contributes to committing phonemic interchange spelling errors.
Taha's (2006) study of Arabic indicated that girls are better processors of phonology. His study established clear gender differences on phonological spelling errors. Since phonological spelling errors emanate from lack of phonological (phonemic) knowledge between L1 and L2 phonology systems, there is need to compare the phonemic interchange spelling errors made by boys and girls. As Little (1973, p. 89) correctly states, 'a systematic comparison of the phonological system of the native [Ekegusii] with that of the language to be learned we discover the learning problem'. Therefore, identifying, classifying and delineating phonemic interchange spelling errors resulting from Ekegusii, leads to an in-depth knowledge of the types of phonemic interchange spelling errors committed by the two genders. Consequently, this forms the basis for strategizing on how to assist the boys to acquire spelling ability and enhance the spelling ability of the two sexes.
Substituting correct phonemes with wrong ones results in misspelling of Kiswahili words and this impacts negatively on the learner's ability in this basic language skill. The non-existence of some Kiswahili sounds such as (/d,f,l,p,z,j,[eth],[??]/) in Ekegusii results in misspelling of Kiswahili words as a result of phonemic interchange (substitution). There is scant literature on the type of wrong phonemic interchange that results in spelling errors of phonemic interchange in Kiswahili and whether or not both boys and girls commit the same spelling errors of phonemic interchange. Delving into the phonemic interchange spelling errors among Ekegusii secondary school learners unearthed how boys and girls made spelling errors in Kiswahili compositions.
Unearthing the type of spelling errors of phonemic interchange committed by both boys and girls is critical to instituting appropriate interventions aimed at "equalizing" the boys' performance and achievement with that of girls. Knowledge of types of spelling errors of phonemic interchange would form the basis for eliminating the gender gap in spelling ability in Kiswahili functional writing and Kiswahili language in addition to improving the spelling ability of the two genders.
One of the major concerns of the writing skill researchers should be - which sub skills of the writing process are mechanical obstacles to being a good writer? Writing is the skill that demonstrates one's academic ability since it plays a key role in taking examinations. This requires all learners to be well versed in the writing skill and its critical mechanical components such as the spelling sub skill. The spelling sub-skill plays a pivotal role in communication particularly when the writer adheres to its conventions. On the contrary, misspelling of Kiswahili words impedes communication and renders the written work difficulty to understand. What follows is the question as to whether or not the...