Literature in english studies: A theory of how teachers and students in Singapore secondary schools deal with literature as a curriculum subject

Year: 2012

Author: Dass, Rozita, O'Neill, Marnie, Chapman, Anne

Type of paper: Refereed paper


This paper explores the state of Literature as a subject in Singapore secondary schools in the context of the progressive, vibrant and diverse Singapore education system. The Literature syllabus and examinations with their almost unchanged aims and objectives that date back to colonial times, do not fit comfortably in “one of the world's best performing school systems” (McKinsey Report, 2010) in a highly competitive economy. Recent research on Literature education in Singapore has also highlighted the ambivalence of the Literature curriculum (Choo, 2004); suggested possibilities for its reconceptualisation, considering the contemporary Singaporean environment and the impact of globalisation (Holden, 2000; Choo, 2011); and proposed offering an alternative curricula (Poon, 2007). This study addressed the role of Literature as a school subject in relation to Singapore's current political, economic, social and educational climate. The findings and analysis of students' and teachers' perspectives on literary studies are presented in order to generate theory on how Singaporean students and teachers deal with Literature in English studies.

In-depth interpretivist case studies were conducted at five sites, purposively selected to incorporate the range of school types in Singapore; namely, the autonomous and mainstream government-aided and government schools. Data collection included focus group interviews and written protocols with students, semi-structured interviews with Heads of Department, questionnaires from teachers as well as document analysis. Cross case analysis of data collected from interviews, questionnaires, and document study employed inductive analysis. The findings from this research provided relevant empirical data to support recent research on literary studies in Singapore (Choo, 2004; Poon, 2011).  Emergent themes included: the insignificant impact of local literature on the study of Literature, the low status of subject and the lack of desirability of Literature as a course of study. The themes led to the formulation of four key propositions supporting development of theory on ways in which students and teachers deal with Literature in English studies in Singapore secondary schools.

The findings drawn from original empirical data from students and teachers have implications for theory, policy and practice. The study also contributes to the greater understanding of global curriculum policy trends, providing a basis for comparisons with curriculum policies of other countries with similar context-specific backgrounds. The work further delineates a need for further research into continued development of the Literature curriculum in the Singapore education system.