Gift of books by Singapore authors for schools to boost local literary arts

(From far left) Ramu And Rocky by Jensrani Thangavel; Go, Trishaw, Go by Francis Wong; and Sampan by Chua Hui Ying are on the list of Singlit book gifts to schools in Singapore.
(From left) Ramu And Rocky by Jensrani Thangavel; Go, Trishaw, Go by Francis Wong; and Sampan by Chua Hui Ying are on the list of Singlit book gifts to schools in Singapore.PHOTO: NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL

Books by Singapore authors in the four official languages will be given to primary and secondary schools to boost the literary arts

All primary and secondary schools in Singapore will get a set of books written by local authors, as part of a Government push to boost the local literary arts in not just English, but also the vernacular languages.

While Singaporean literature is already available in some schools, this effort by the National Arts Council will be the first to gift schools nationwide home-grown books in all four official languages.

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng noted in the debate on his ministry's budget last Thursday: "Our efforts in the literary arts scene have resulted in a strong talent base, especially in English, and more platforms for our writers to reach their readers.

"However, there remains much room for us to promote the Chinese, Malay and Tamil literary arts."

He added in Mandarin: "We hope that the early exposure to Singlit will allow them to develop a sustained interest in local literary works. These local stories will also serve as a shared experience as they grow up."

From next month, each school can choose up to 15 books from a curated list according to its students' reading preferences and abilities. These will enhance its libraries and may serve as supplementary reading to the syllabus.

The list is still being finalised, but will include titles such as Anak Ayam Bermain Dalam Hujan (Little Chick Playing In The Rain) by Amanah Mustafi and San Lun Che Pao De Kuai (Go, Trishaw, Go) by Francis Wong for primary schools; and Kauntilyanin Sathuram (Kauntilya's Square) by Sithuraj Ponraj and Tika Aksara Menari: An Anthology Of Short Stories by Djohan Abdul Rahman for secondary schools.

 

Chinese-language writer Liew Kwee Lan, better known by her pen name Ai Yu, will have her book, Bu Jian Le De Lan Se Qi Qiu (The Missing Blue Balloon), on the list for secondary schools.

Liew, vice-president of the Singapore Association of Writers and a resident writer in some secondary schools, says in Mandarin: "Students mostly don't encounter local literature and this is a chance for them to do so."

The 62-year-old notes, however, that putting the books in schools is not enough.

"Students are busy with homework and they do not have time to seek out the books. Teachers have to actively recommend them."

Commonwealth Secondary School strives to promote a culture of reading local literature through library displays, reading snippets of books in class and inviting authors to give talks and workshops.

Its English language and literature head of department, Ms Chang Tianju, 29, says teachers may not be too familiar with a broad range of local titles, so the book gifts are a helpful guide.

"Singlit provides a context that other books don't, so there won't be cultural barriers. It helps weaker readers, who are nevertheless interested, to start somewhere."

She adds: "Right now, students' understanding of Singlit is limited and they think great writers are all from overseas.

"We hope to show them that Singaporeans can create, and inspire them to be writers as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2018, with the headline 'Gift of local literature for schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe