English Literature SPM is an elective subject for Forms 4 and 5, taken by only a very small number of students (about 1,000 nationwide, I understand). For many students an already crammed time-timetable or a lack of teachers for the subject in schools means that they have to study the subject out of school with a tuition teacher.
Head of the English Language and Literature Unit and assistant director at the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) Dr Mohamed Abu Bakar reckons that another factor in the small number of students taking up the elective is that:
Most students today are more visually inclined and don't like to read; those who are still reading and writing are doing it on the Internet.(I wonder. It actually seems to me that young people here are reading more than in the past, especially as there is access to a lot more bookshops.)
Anyway, these are the texts chosen, and as the article points out:
The new syllabus for the elective subject for Form Four and Form Five, like the old one, is aimed at developing an ability to read, understand and appreciate literary works. However, while the old syllabus emphasises the universality of issues and concerns, the new one revels in the diversity of the texts selected.I find this rhetoric interesting - can you teach literature at all without "universality of concerns" coming into the discussion?
But it seems to me that the new syllabus has some very interesting texts that the students (and their teachers) should enjoy.
It goes on to say that:
Films, multimedia learning software and audio books, although not new, will now be an integral part of the new programme.I'm a little sceptical about using "multimedia learning software" to teach literature, but that's because I haven't seen any locally produced educational software that's impressed me and a whole lot that doesn't. (And it's terribly expensive to produce!) A good teacher is the ultimate interactive resource.
But I am enthusiastic about the use of audio-books and film versions in the classroom. Purists might baulk at the idea (and I'd always want students to tackle the book first) but I think the film of the book can enhance enjoyment and understanding and lead to further discussion ways of interpreting the text. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Holes by Louis Sachar have both been filmed.
There's a delicious irony about teaching Farenheit 451 in these book-banning days that I don't think was lost on those who set the syllabus!
*SPM is Sijul Pelajaran Malaysia, the exam students sit for at the end of Form Five, a sort of 'O' Level equivalent.