Literature festival books record turnout

Fewer Singapore students may be taking literature as a subject, but there was no shortage of bookworms at the National Schools Literature Festival yesterday as it reported a record turnout.

This annual teacher-run event was held this year at Dunman High School and 82 schools took part, compared to just 30 when it first started in 2005.

More than 1,500 students and teachers attended yesterday.

However, cultivating a love for literature here is a process that will still take time, said the festival's founder Dr Suzanne Choo, who believes it is the only subject to have a nationwide festival run entirely by teacher volunteers.

She set up the exhibition with 10 volunteers after noticing her students were reluctant to take up literature at upper secondary level.

"The signs are encouraging and we have been getting very good responses from students every year, but still misconceptions about the subject linger," said Dr Choo.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that only about 3,000 students took the subject last year, compared to nearly 17,000 in 1992. The figures have sparked a discussion on the value of literature and how to reignite interest in it.

The chairperson for this year's event, Ms Sakunthalai Surian, who has taught literature for 19 years, said students have the misconception that the subject is too "profound".

"The subject may be perceived as difficult to score, perhaps because it allows space for multiple interpretations and ambiguity," said Dr Choo, an assistant professor at the National Institute of Education (NIE) who has been teaching the subject since 1999.

But Dr Dennis Yeo, a keynote speaker at the event and a teaching fellow at NIE's English language and literature department, feels that better teaching methods might be the answer.

"Using materials that are more accessible to students, such as referencing pop culture, is a good way of getting the young ones on board," he said. The professor's 15-minute presentation examined song lyrics from American singer- songwriter Taylor Swift and why Star Wars villain Darth Vader is dressed in black instead of white.

The half-day event featured poetry slams, in which poems were performed before being judged on their creativity, and debates on texts which participants were allowed to see only a week in advance.

There were also "book parades" from participants showcasing literature projects that aim to pique secondary school students' interest in the texts on display.

These ranged from local works such as Catherine Lim's Little Ironies, to American classic To Kill A Mockingbird and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

Queenstown Secondary student Ernie Martha, 16, took part in a set text debate. She cited Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, about an Afghan boy's search for truth and redemption, as one of her favourites.

She said: "During my research (for the debate), it opened my eyes to the many themes and the complexity that can be found in just one text."

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