More schools including local books for literature studies

MOE said teaching students local literature allows them to "engage with national issues and perspectives" and what it means to be Singaporean. (Above) National Institute of Education lecturer Dennis Yeo speaking to secondary school students at the Na
MOE said teaching students local literature allows them to "engage with national issues and perspectives" and what it means to be Singaporean. (Above) National Institute of Education lecturer Dennis Yeo speaking to secondary school students at the National Schools Literature Festival in July.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

More Singaporean books on O-, N-level lists but study resources hard to find

Local literary works are slowly finding a place in Singapore's secondary schools.

In 2011, just 18 schools included local texts as part of their upper secondary literature studies. There are now 32 that do.

However, there are still around 50 others which offer these courses but do not teach Singaporean works.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has included them in the exam syllabus since 2007, from which literature departments can choose which books to teach.

The latest list for the O- and N-level exams includes two Singaporean productions - Telltale: 11 Stories, a collection of fiction by local authors such as Alfian Sa'at, and Jean Tay's play Everything But The Brain.

The list also features classics such as William Golding's Lord Of The Flies, Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman and Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet.

The MOE said teaching students local literature allows them to "engage with national issues and perspectives", and examine topics such as what it means to be Singaporean and their cultural identity.

Mrs Mahtani Hoori Vikram, who has been teaching literature for 15 years, believes students feel a stronger sense of connection with local texts, especially contemporary ones.

"They recognise something of themselves in the characters, the setting, the dilemmas," said the 56-year-old Bedok South Secondary teacher.

But even with the MOE's encouragement, the take-up rate of Singaporean works has been slow.

Ms Naznin Rehana Begum, who teaches literature at Dunearn Secondary, said it was not an easy decision to teach her students Singaporean works.

The main reason against doing so was the lack of study resources and research material available for them, compared with the likes of Romeo And Juliet.

Telltale has just one study guide produced by National Institute of Education lecturer Dennis Yeo.

There is no such study guide for Everything But The Brain.

"There are also no past-year questions to refer to," said Ms Naznin, 35, meaning teachers have to make their own notes.

Still, she decided to use Singaporean works as students relate better to them.

"The themes are universal but they have a local context and students find it easy to connect with the characters," she said.

Ms Naznin added that platforms like the National Schools Literature Festival - an initiative started by literature teachers - help teachers to share resources.

The chase for grades also plays a part in deciding whether to pick local texts.

A literature teacher, who wanted to be known only as Ms Chua, said: "Schools might have produced good results in the past when they taught, for instance, Romeo And Juliet, and teachers may be more keen to stick with them."

For Ms Chua, who teaches in a secondary school in the north, using Singaporean works is a way of getting her students - most of whom do not read often and are put off by essay-writing - interested in reading.

The 28-year-old teacher added: "When we read Singapore literature, the students are familiar with the themes, which are accessible and relatable, and allow them to engage at a deeper and more personal level."

leepearl@sph.com.sg