2010 Literature Symposium

August 5, 2010 at 11:47 am 3 comments

2010 Literature SymposiumOn 30 July, I attended the 2010 Literature Symposium hosted at Nanyang Girls’ High School and organized by the Ministry of Education and the National Arts Council. The theme for this year’s symposium was “Exploring Connections: The Text in the Classroom” and was illustrated through the Guest-of-Honor address, keynote speeches, panel discussion, and concurrent workshops on offer during the day.

The symposium was kicked off by the Guest of Honor address from MP Irene Ng, who has in her capacity as parliamentarian championed the teaching of literature and campaigned for its importance in the education of all Singaporean students. (Fun fact: she is the only MP in Singapore’s history  to read poetry on the floor of Parliament (PDF); the poem was “1959 and Fifty” by Edwin Thumboo.) Speaking of the value of literature in the 21st Century, Ms Ng said:

[Literature] is especially critical today when our children are bombarded with all sorts of ideas and influences from all over the world through the Internet. In our interconnected world, there is a kaleidoscope of sensibilities and views on morality, politics, race, religion, terrorism and so on.

We need to equip young people with the reasoning skills and values to be able to sort through the contending arguments and evidence, and come to their own conclusions.

The study of Literature supports this process by training the mind to interpret texts critically and creatively, identify key concepts, connect ideas, ask probing questions and formulate responses.

Whether it takes the form of the hard copy book, iPad or Kindle, reading a good story can be a way of journeying beyond oneself to other worlds; of discovering new thoughts and feelings.


Literature is the bedrock of our ability to communicate, to understand and interpret the world around us. And to also help shape it.

In the study of Literature, students are constantly given the opportunity to take an imaginative leap and become aware of new ways of perceiving the world around them.

The Literature curriculum at the Secondary Level is designed to expose students to works from different parts of the world, and with texts that range from the realistic to the fantastic.

This develops socio-cultural sensitivity and awareness in students, and also a sense of wonder, firing their imagination of possible worlds in the future. This ability to be open to the unknown or the unfamiliar is crucial in the 21st century world that is marked by rapid change.

The keynote addresses were delivered by Cherian George (author of Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation and Associate Professor of Journalism at NTU) and Rajeev Patke (Professor of English Language and Literature at NUS). George’s speech on “Journalism, Literature and the Worth of Words” was an intriguing look at the connection between journalism and literature, and how an understanding of both disciplines is necessary to develop our students into critical thinkers. Patke’s speech on “Eight Ways of Dealing with Literary Texts in the Classroom” was an entertaining and fascinating (and humorous) examination of the entry points to any given literary text, and how we can use those entry points to form the context for understanding.

Two anthologies from Ethos Books were launched during the morning activities: Telltale: 11 Stories, a prose collection edited by Dr Gwee Li Sui, containing works written by authors born after Singapore’s independence; and & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond, a poetry anthology edited by Edwin Thumboo, containing a wealth of Singaporean and international poetry. Both books are valuable resources in the discussion of Singaporean literature.

A couple of performances livened up the morning: a poetry slam from Tara Dara (Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School), the winners of the 2010 National Schools Literature Festival; and an extract from Jean Tay’s award-winning drama BOOM, performed by the Catholic High School English Drama Society.

The afternoon was occupied by a multitude of concurrent workshops (15 in all!) that ranged from analyzing poetry using ICT to using Readers’ Theatre to breathe life into literary texts. I attended a workshop on the use of film (both original and adaptations) to facilitate critical thinking; the use of visual cues for students used to such cues is an important entry point into a written text, and we were shown how the examination of such cues, as well as thematically linked warm-up activities, can open students up to literature in ways that cold readings cannot accomplish.

Minor points of contention: it felt as if the organizers were trying to squeeze in two days worth of events into one day, which didn’t allow much leeway if speeches ran long, or attendees didn’t return from morning tea quickly enough. I was also disappointed by the fact that I would only be able to attend one of the concurrent workshops, when there were many that held my interest. But these gripes aside, in all, the symposium was fascinating and well-organized, and I both learned a lot about teaching techniques and renewed my passion for the teaching of literature through the various programming events.


Entry filed under: Events, Recreational Reading, Singapore Lit.

E-Resource Feature Focus: Humanities Roald Dahl’s Writing Sanctuary

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. keithlowsh  |  August 5, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Referring to Ms. Ng’s address in Parliament, I feel that it is indeed an interesting and new approach of using a poem to substantiate a point made in Parliament. Although many MPs might not be used to such an approach, I feel that Ms. Ng had the courage to try an original approach, and should be admired. What we can learn from her is that we should and can apply this approach to our Current Affairs discussion or in speeches.

    In addition, I believe that what Ms. Ng had said of Literature to be very true. As a student taking Literature, I do feel that it is very intellectual and stimulating. Novels that we read, like Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, allow us to understand the American culture. Plays like Emily of Emerald Hill or books like Dr. Simon Tay’s Stand Alone allow us to interpret Singaporean values.

    Through Literature, we can better understand the nuances of words, the symbolism and the imagery employed, as well as tone, attitude and the build-up of emotions better.

    However, something for contention will be whether an iPad or the Amazon Kindle can really fufill the appreciation of Literature. One of the beauty of Literature is being able to write on the pages of the book or feel the smooth texture of the paper. I believe that an electronic device can never replace the good, old-hardy book.

    • 2. Jason Erik Lundberg  |  August 6, 2010 at 10:45 am

      Well said, Keith. I’m also in agreement re: iPad and Kindle, although one can’t overlook the impact of such devices. Amazon recently reported that sales of e-books outstripped those of hardcovers, and while I don’t think this is exactly a fair comparison, it does point to an increasing trend, and we shouldn’t discount the tech if it encourages people to keep reading.

  • 3. See Yong Chun  |  August 19, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I fully agree with what they said about how Literature is important in our society. With the recent invention of the internet, many things have become easy and we start t takes thing off their natural cause, normally children our age are curious about the world and play things they find in nature, however that is not the case.
    Instead, we find children who are addicted to the internet, letting their imagination bring preoccupied with the internet and not socialising to have fun. With Literature, it is possible to bring back a world that depends on technology to a world that only uses it when necessary. Reading books allow the mind to picture things happening, whereas the computer-animated games robs you of that, even without you thinking, and thus I think reading is vital in our society and evidence proves it.


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