SINGAPORE - Works from Singaporean writers will continue to be incorporated into the literature syllabus for O-level and A-level students. This is part of a growing effort by the Ministry of Education to include local works to help the subject stay relevant.
Some of the works being introduced in this year's examinations include plays by the late Kuo Pao Kun such as The Silly Little Girl And The Funny Old Tree, and Kopitiam. Another is Lines Spark Code, a newly commissioned collection of local poetry from both veteran poets such as Associate Professor Boey Kim Cheng and Professor Edwin Thumboo, as well as younger emerging poets such as Jennifer Anne Champion and Theophilus Kwek.
Here is a look back at the first local texts to be selected for study, including some that have been studied by students abroad.
1. Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore (1978), by Catherine Lim and Sing to the Dawn (1975), by Ho Minfong
Home-grown author Catherine Lim's short story collection, Little Ironies, was selected as one of seven standard texts for the N-level English Literature examinations in 1986. It was the first time a local author had been selected for the syllabus and was studied by students here. Lim's stories mainly depict the everyday lives of Chinese Singaporeans during the 1970s. That same year, Ho Minfong's short story, Sing To The Dawn, was also selected for the N-level syllabus. Ho, a Chinese-American, was born in Myanmar to Singaporean parents, and was also considered a local author despite her nationality. Sing To The Dawn depicts the struggles of Dawan, a Thai village girl, who seeks to study at a school in the city despite the opposition of her father and brother.
2. Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories (1980), by Catherine Lim
Another of Lim's short story collections was selected by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate for the O-level examinations in 1988. Singapore's Ministry of Education had submitted a total of six works by local authors for consideration. While Little Ironies and Sing To The Dawn had only been studied by local students, Or Else, the Lightning God was studied by O-level students worldwide from 1989 to 1990, a first for local authors. The titular story deals with themes of superstition and family, set in a time when children were warned not to misbehave, "or else, the lightning god" would punish them. Lim's collection was followed by Singapore Short Stories (1978), an anthology edited by Robert Yeo, for the 1991 to 1992 syllabus.
3. Day I Met the Prince (1988), by Kuo Pao Kun and Off Centre (1993), by Haresh Sharma
Adapted from the classic French novella, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Kuo's play, Day I Met the Prince, was introduced to the O-level Chinese Literature syllabus in 2006. The following year, Haresh Sharma's Off Centre became the first Singapore play to be selected for the O-level English Literature syllabus. Off Centre tackles the subject of mental health through its portrayal of the friendship between Vinod, a high-flying junior college student who has depression, and Saloma, a vocational institute graduate who has schizophrenia.
4. Fistful of Colours (1993), by Suchen Christine Lim
Suchen Christine Lim won $10,000 in the inaugural Singapore Literature Prize in 1992 for her then-unpublished novel, Fistful of Colours. The story explores themes of identity, race and gender in 1980s Singapore through the eyes of Suwen, a young teacher, as she navigates the expectations of society and her family. It was also the first Singaporean novel to be selected for the A-level English Language syllabus in 2007.
5. Telltale: 11 Stories (2010), edited by Gwee Li Sui and Everything but the Brain (2010), by Jean Tay
Telltale: 11 Stories brought together the works of six local authors: Alfian Sa'at, Wena Poon, Jeffrey Lim, Tan Mei Ching, Claire Tham and Dave Chua. Everything but the Brain, a play by Jean Tay incorporates comedy, tragedy and a time-travelling physics teacher who tries to save her dying father. These two works were selected as recommended texts for O- and N-level Literature in 2014.