SPM English Literature gets a makeover

  • Education
  • Sunday, 01 Mar 2020

THE Education Ministry has implemented the new SPM English Literature syllabus, which has been benchmarked to international standards, beginning January 2020.

It is hoped that through the introduction of the new English Literature syllabus, students will develop better proficiency and mastery of the English language, humanistic values, critical thinking ability, global perspective, and analytical skills in solving universal problems.

According to the ministry’s English Language Unit at the Curriculum Development Division, the introduction will also provide the opportunity for students to have more interaction hours in English, especially in terms of putting up performances and carrying out project-based activities.

Based on the new syllabus, students will sit for the SPM elective paper after 18 months of study with a new assessment format. There is also an increase in the variety of themes offered in set texts, in particular poetry, as well as a stronger emphasis on how literary devices create meaning and how students can better understand the literary texts and their contexts.

The revision of syllabus is based on the Cambridge IGCSE Literature (English) paper. This change in syllabus comes in the face of fluctuating interest in English literature from both parents and students.

According to English teacher Sim Poh Hoon of SMK St Francis Convent, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, parents are not keen to let their children learn English Literature because students have to choose between the subject and Principles of Accounting as their elective.

“The parents prefer their children to take Principles of Accounting as it is a more marketable subject. Moreover, English Literature is only offered to the first two classes in my school – students in other classes are not allowed to take the subject,” she said.

To make up for a lack of interest among parents, Sim takes it upon herself to encourage parents at parent-teacher meetings to allow their children to take the subject.

“I am also willing to teach English Literature outside of the timetable, as it will allow others to take the subject,” she added.

SMK Seri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, English teacher Sharini Nadarajah revealed that students have a hard time catching up to the demands of the subject.

“The students lack a comprehensive knowledge of the texts they read, which affects the quality of the arguments they make in their essays.”

Penang Free School English teacher Suriya Kumari highlighted the lack of reference books for English Literature and the need for students to improve their command of the English language, both of which contribute to the anxiety that students feel over their chances of doing well in the subject.

“I spend some time building up their confidence levels, telling them we don’t need reference books.

“To generate interest, we also need to market the subject more effectively by way of passionate teachers – what parents fail to understand is that literature is necessary in establishing proper human relationships, making one more humane.

“It includes so many soft skills that help students to perform better in the real world – how to deal with stress, self-esteem and people, which is something adolescents need,” she stressed.

According to the English Language Unit, the Education Ministry has conducted training sessions for 360 teachers since 2018, with more sessions to come.

The training is conducted to prepare teachers for the new English Literature syllabus, including familiarisation with the texts, pedagogy on teaching of literature, and marking literature papers.

The Education Ministry is also planning to carry out a nationwide survey on students’ interests in types of literary texts, to determine suitable texts in the future.

Wong Sook Wei is a student at the National University of Singapore and a participant of The Star’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme.
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