Literature in mother tongues

Studying Tamil texts helps them think critically, write confidently

JC2 students (from left) C.H. Sanjana, Sangeetha Muthukumar and Deenah Haja Maidin are reading both local and Indian texts as part of their Tamil Language and Literature classes at Yishun Junior College.
JC2 students (from left) C.H. Sanjana, Sangeetha Muthukumar and Deenah Haja Maidin are reading both local and Indian texts as part of their Tamil Language and Literature classes at Yishun Junior College.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Before 17-year-old Deenah Haja Maidin took up Tamil Language and Literature (TLL) at Yishun Junior College (YJC), she had a negative perception of the subject as being "too much about history".

But she grew to enjoy the subject after realising it was similar to Literature in English, a subject that she is taking at the A levels.

"We studied poetry and short stories, and had opportunities to meet writers. One of the poets we met is a famous Indian lyricist, and we got first-hand information about his thought process when he writes," said the JC2 student.

TTL teacher A. Malika, 59, noted that the number of students taking the subject has dropped on average since a decade ago. Now, about four to 10 students a year take it at YJC.

At the school's open houses, she encourages students who have done well in Tamil at the O levels to take up TLL, even if they had no background in the subject.

"There are no right or wrong answers in literature, and I tell them that, if you can think critically, you can never go wrong," she said.

She said that, even though it is important that students have a strong foundation in texts from India, the stronger representation of local texts since the syllabus review in 2014 has made the subject more engaging for students.

"The Indian poems have more depth, but the students do enjoy the local texts because they are easier to understand," she said.

The school exposes its students to a wide range of activities too. They attend a yearly Tamil Literature seminar, presenting their thoughts about the texts they study. They also speak to writers in partnership with the Singapore Writers Festival's Words Go Round programme, an education outreach initiative.

Ms C.H. Sanjana, 18, who is in the science stream, said that she found it hard to express her thoughts as well as students from the arts stream did when she first took up TLL.

However, the JC2 student now dabbles in creative writing after having been inspired by writers she met - she even took second prize at a poetry-writing competition held by poetry society Kavimaalai Singapore.

"I never had much confidence in my writing but, surprisingly, my work had a tremendous reception. Seeing the writers made me realise everyone had a humble beginning."

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Studying Tamil texts helps them think critically, write confidently'. Print Edition | Subscribe