M’sian teens pen their way to the top


Award winning: (Clockwise from top left) Jasmin, Julius and Yun Yu.

WITH a firm belief that he could do better than the bronze medal he picked up from the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition (QCEC) last year, Julius Lee Jun Tao entered this year’s edition of the prestigious competition with his eyes on the gold medal.

He did not let himself down. Early this month, he was named one of the Gold Award winners of the competition, which drew a record-breaking 26,300 entries from students around the world.

In an email interview with StarEdu, Julius said he felt “incredibly elated” with the win.

“I spent countless hours reading literary works and writing essays as I tried to perfect my writing skills.

“Winning the Gold Award is testament that sheer hard work and determination will ultimately lead to success,” said the 16-year-old who, in his entry, put himself in the shoes of a frontline worker during the Covid-19 pandemic and wrote a journal focusing on why frontliners serve the community and why their service matters.

“I would like to thank all of my English language teachers who have taught me for their dedication and guidance,” added the Wesley Methodist School Kuala Lumpur (International) student.

Another student who was inspired to join the QCEC a second time after bagging the Bronze Award last year, Jasmin Priyanka Unsworth also came away from this year’s edition with a higher accomplishment.

Having scored the Silver Award, the 13-year-old is looking forward to taking home the Gold Award next year.

“This win helps motivate me to continue experimenting with different writing techniques, and channelling my feelings and ideas via words,” she said.

In her entry, the Australian International School Malaysia student wrote a poem entitled Dread, in which she captured the frustrations and powerlessness she had felt in relation to the politicisation of climate change, and human ineptitude and apathy on the subject.

“I have always been an advocate for environmental sustainability, and have always tried to play a part in doing what’s right for planet earth.

“The more I researched and learnt about climate change, the more I felt disillusioned and helpless in terms of the dismal efforts and token steps being taken by those with the power to effect the most amount of change. As such, I expressed my feelings on the subject via a poem,” she shared.

Sharing Julius’ and Jasmin’s pride in their QCEC outings is University of Nottingham Malaysia student Loo Yun Yu, who clinched the Gold Award.

“I was shaking the second I saw the result because I was not expecting to win.

“I hadn’t placed very high expectations because I knew that I was competing against eloquent participants from developed English-speaking countries,” the 19-year-old media and English student said.

On her entry, which took her months to conceptualise, Yun Yu shared that she used a vase analogy throughout her essay to illustrate her teenage years, with her persona picking up the shards of a vase to be examined closely. “A part I remember writing about is how I had lost touch with my cultural identity, which is tied to the theme of solidarity among the Commonwealth citizens after the pandemic,” she said.

For Yun Yu, having the “don’t give up” spirit is vital to improve one’s writing skills.

“This was one of the many competition entries I had sent out, many of which were rejected or had to be reworked.

“You need to write consistently,” she stressed.

To excel at writing, Julius, who has scored a string of distinctions in English and Writing in the International Competitions and Assessments for Schools (ICAS), said it is imperative to read every day and all kinds of materials such as novels, non-fiction, biographies, magazines and newspapers.

“Expose yourself to all kinds of genres so that you have a deeper and wider understanding of writing. By reading, you can learn the styles of different genres, enhance your creativity, and improve your vocabulary.”

He added that to improve his vocabulary, he used to keep a notebook in which he listed new words he came across and would memorise them weekly. “The mastery of the English language is incredibly important for students, especially in this modern era. Wherever you go, most people would have at least a basic grasp of the language.

“English is also widely used in the business world, especially in large international companies, hence being fluent in English will increase our chances of advancing our careers,” he said.

Open to all Commonwealth citizens aged 18 and under, the QCEC is the world’s oldest international writing competition for schools.

Each year, it welcomes participants to write on a theme that stems from the Commonwealth’s values and principles, while at the same time works towards developing key literacy skills and fostering an empathetic and open-minded world view.

Weng Sam, 19, a student in Pahang, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. Applications for the BRATs 2023 programme are now open. For more information, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1 Julius said that to excel at writing, It is imperative to read every day and all kinds of materials. Is this your practice? Share your reading habits with an activity partner.

2 The newspaper is a useful resource from which you can gain much. Flip through today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper. Cut out articles or items that interest you, and then paste them in your Star-NiE scrapbook. Next, have a “show-and-tell” with your activity partner.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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