The Straits Times helps bring lessons to life

Shakespeare's character Shylock took centre stage at Yishun Junior College (YJC) yesterday.

The moneylender from the Merchant Of Venice had unreasonably demanded a pound of flesh as collateral for his loan. That he finally had to write off his repayment - or have his debt 'restructured' - became an analogy for one solution to the euro debt crisis.

Using elements from the play, Straits Times senior writer Andy Mukherjee explained complex economic terms to 620 first-year students in their school hall.

Understanding debt and credit is important, he said: 'They are the engine oil on which the locomotive of global commerce runs.'

Mr Mukherjee was one of two Straits Times experts at the two-hour session.

Associate editor Janadas Devan also spoke, on the subject of globalisation and income inequality. Supporting his arguments with figures, Mr Janadas pointed out: 'Globalisation is a permanent revolution. We have to get used to living on its cutting edge.'

The lively session was the first of six campus talks to be held over the next few months, in the run-up to the inaugural Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz - or The Big Quiz for short.

Alongside the talks, a series of primers on current affairs topics is being run in The Straits Times on Fridays.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is providing teaching resources on these topics that General Paper (GP) teachers can use in classroom discussions.

The talks, articles and lessons address current events issues - including sports, education, politics and science - and will culminate in The Big Quiz in July and August.

Competing teams will face off in a general knowledge showdown. Teams from 23 pre-university institutions - including junior colleges, the Millennia Institute, and the School of the Arts - are expected to participate.

The event is a first for The Straits Times, and is part of its efforts to reach out to pre-university institutions. Through the talks, correspondents and editors will meet students to answer their burning questions on various issues.

Students came prepared for yesterday's session, lining up at microphones to ask questions.

Khairul Roshdie, 17, asked Mr Mukherjee if he thought the euro would collapse, while Lavina Wee,16, asked him whether a single currency was possible in the Asean bloc.

And Mr Janadas had to give his take on whether Singapore should implement a minimum wage, in response to Mark Chia, 17.

Several came away enlightened. Shawn Ng, 16, said he realised that Singapore is not alone grappling with economic problems like a widening income gap.

'We should think of a more global perspective in solving these problems,' he said.

Indeed, the talks bring to life the primers that YJC first-year students have been studying in class. They find them 'intense' and 'exciting', said Madam Jennifer Lim, the school's head of department for English language.

'The Straits Times has been a very valuable resource for GP teachers... we hope their collaboration (with the MOE) will continue.'

The next primer, on income inequality, will run tomorrow. Madam Lim is confident about her school's chances in the Big Quiz, because YJC has its own annual current affairs quiz. Its internal quiz will conclude next week, and its top performers will represent the school at August's national event.

'It gives the students something to look forward to, and not just use what they've learnt in GP essays,' she said.

Additional reporting by Nicholas Teo and Linette Lai