Stay relevant by being skilled in literature - and science

In the world of digital technology, life is not complete without music, novels, recreation and human interaction ("English literature in schools: Time to update the plot?"; last Friday).

Literature is like a mirror that reflects life for us. The controlling purpose of literature is to simplify, deepen and focus; in short, to interpret human life.

Through literature, we develop our moral imagination, our capacity to sympathise with other people and our ability to understand our very existence.

It helps us develop our critical thinking and read between the lines.

However, while literature can offer us a platform to explore and think in a more complex way about ethics and ethical relations in the world, we cannot insulate ourselves in the humanities, as we are living in the modern era of robotics and technology.

Students with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects are in high demand by employers.

The average advertised starting salary for entry-level Stem jobs with a bachelor's requirement has been found to be 26 per cent higher than jobs in the non-Stem fields.

Governments, such as in the United States, are also trying to motivate and inspire students to excel in these fields.

Yet, literature, which makes our lives richer, surely has a place in the school curriculum. But a tweak would be in order.

To some students in Singapore, Shakespeare's 16th-century plays could be a little daunting. Perhaps students could begin with books such as Catherine Lim's Little Ironies: Stories Of Singapore, or Malaysian writer Zen Cho's Spirits Abroad, which would be more contemporary and relevant to students' everyday experience.

They can then progress to books such as The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck's poignant tale of family life in a Chinese village in the 1930s, which throw light on cultures and beliefs other than our own.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Stay relevant by being skilled in literature - and science'. Print Edition | Subscribe