Literature in mother tongues

Students drawn to new Malay language course

Madam Zainun Hashim, coordinator for the Malay Language Elective Programme, with four Pioneer Junior College students in the programme. They are (from left) Hanisah Syahirah Mohd Yani, 18; Nur Salina Rahmat, 19; Siti Rezkiah Mohd Radzelee, 17, and Mi
Madam Zainun Hashim, coordinator for the Malay Language Elective Programme, with four Pioneer Junior College students in the programme. They are (from left) Hanisah Syahirah Mohd Yani, 18; Nur Salina Rahmat, 19; Siti Rezkiah Mohd Radzelee, 17, and Mikhyle Mat Nooh, 17.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

While presenting their thoughts on the poem Dalang: Episod Tiga by Singaporean writer Rasiah Halil, a philosophical take on leadership, Pioneer Junior College (PJC) student Mikhyle Mat Nooh found himself crossing swords with a classmate.

"The poem focuses on someone who is narrow-minded, and who is controlling society to think narrowly," said Mikhyle, a JC1 student.

Their teacher, Madam Zainun Hashim, 52, asked if they were in favour of such a leadership style.

The 17-year-old recalled: "We had different views on the role of leadership... On the surface it may seem bad, but I felt an autocratic leadership could be both positive and negative."

The session, part of a Malay Language and Literature (MLL) class last month, underlines why the subject holds such a draw for him. "It is a subject that isn't very strict... it gives us freedom to express our thoughts, analyse ourselves and showcase our ideas."

The inclusion of local texts, such as poetry by Kamaria Buang and a short story by Basiran Haji Hamzah, in the MLL syllabus has made a great difference when it comes to enhancing students' appreciation of the subject, said Madam Zainun, coordinator of PJC's Malay Language Elective Programme (MLEP).

Students in this two-year programme, introduced by the Education Ministry in a few schools here, are exposed to other elements of Malay language and culture, on top of taking MLL.

Students also go on educational trips and interact with writers.

"Sometimes, it can be difficult for them to understand foreign texts because they cannot immerse themselves into the setting. For example, some can't even imagine how a Malaysian kampung looks like," said Madam Zainun.

While students may lapse into English in class, Madam Zainun prompts them and helps them to identify the right Malay words to use.

Siti Rezkiah Mohd Radzelee, 17, a JC1 student in the MLEP, said there is value in studying the texts in their original languages, rather than reading the translated versions.

"Our mother tongue has a close connection to our hearts, and it is a reflection of the society that we are in. That's why it is important to read the texts in... our own mother tongue language, and not lose the meaning the language is trying to convey," she said.

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Students drawn to new Malay language course'. Print Edition | Subscribe