Why students like or dislike the subject
LIKE most fellow Singaporeans who love literature and appreciate the power of the written word, I am disappointed at the declining number of students pursuing the subject at the O levels ("More subjects to choose from, so fewer take pure literature"; Tuesday).
I am a former literature teacher and current tutor, and I have asked students why they enjoy the subject and, conversely, why they do not.
Common reasons cited by those who do not enjoy it include the lack of exciting discussions in class, teachers asking them to fill in worksheets rather than engaging them in sharing and defending their views, and teachers expecting "fixed answers" while penalising views that fall outside the suggested answer key.
In addition, O-level texts - for example, a novel about the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya - are sometimes irrelevant to our students' areas of interest.
Books closer to home - such as Telltale: 11 Stories, written by local authors - are rejected as O-level texts by many schools as, I suspect, there are no ready notes and guidebooks for them.
Most perturbingly, when some students wish to study pure literature in school, they are rejected as there are not enough students to form a class; thus their wish to pursue literature goes unfulfilled as pragmatism supersedes interest.
Also, rather than listening to only adults' perspectives on the issue, let us ask students for their views on literature. While I suspect that most will express indifference, there will still be a sizeable number who want to pursue it as an academic subject if given the opportunity.
One comment I received from a 15-year-old on the subject was: "Literature opens up beautiful new worlds for me, be it circumstantial, emotional, or intellectual. I feel that the value of English literature lies in its ability to influence my thoughts in such a way that enriches my whole being - to feel, act and perceive the world more acutely and passionately."
I hope students do not have to fight hard to pursue a subject they love and, more worryingly, that the day will never come when literature is regarded as an elitist subject because of its small candidature.
Ng Seow Hwee (Ms)