English Literature in Malaysian Schools

People are continuously discussing on which approach is the best for teaching English literature in Malaysian school. Some suggested that interesting creative approaches should be used such as dramatization and role play, games, songs, dances, multimedia and so on. On the other hand, some insisted that literature should be taught in the traditional close reading and explanation way. They believe that it is the only way to enjoy the beautiful language of literature.

In my opinion, before fussing over the approaches a teacher should first think of the teaching and learning objectives. When we teach our students, I believe that we must have these two main objectives; 1) students will be able to answer exam questions well, 2) students will be able to make use of our teaching as a guidance in their future life. There is no point of applying so many approaches when at the end of the day our students fail to do well in exams. Like it or not, exam results will always determine one's future. Teaching is not about the teachers feeling good about themselves for being able to use great approach in their teaching, but it is about how effective the 'whatever' approach being used in educating the students and preparing them for real life.



A literary work usually depicts life
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It is written to express the poet's or the writer's view towards something that happens to them, or something that happens around them. Teachers' job is to help the students understand and relate the message of the literary piece to their own lives. I would like to discuss one of of the poem taught to Malaysian upper secondary school students, which is "si tenggang's homecoming" by Muhammad Haji Salleh. The poem is quite long and complicated that the students will usually sigh at the first glance on it.

Eventhough "si tenggang's homecoming" is written by a Malay and about a Malay man, it actually has a universal theme. It is about a man who in his travels to many different countries, undergoes not only the physical journey but a journey of the soul as well. He finally finds his true self; a Malay man at heart who sees his village and its culture as always the best for him, but he is freed from the old ways. He is confident and perceptive. He is no longer afraid of the unknown or neither does he feel threatened by the differences between people. Yet, he will never compromise his belief for anything. Even though he argues and defends himself, he is still humble and respects others. He has become independent by learning to question and think for himself, and not let others do that for him.

By relating si Tenggang's experience to life at present, we are making it easier for the students to understand and memorise the content of the poem. I have multiracial students, so what I always do is making them realize the differences among themselves and how they could always become best of friends regardless of how different they might be. The motto is "Look beyond race and religion, you will see the individuals; these individuals are our friends, neighbours, colleagues, teachers, students...". In a multicultural country like Malaysia, it is important that people treat the differences among them positively.

Teachers...if you yourself don't understand all these, how do you expect to teach your students effectively? Everything should start from us, teachers. As I have mentioned in my earlier posts, we have to be a master in what we teach. If our students have low proficiency in the language (English is a second language for most Malaysian students, and for some it may be third or fourth), then simplify everything. Stop going around pointing fingers at our students; putting the blame for our failure on them. Attitudes can be changed, ladies and gentlemen... Enthusiasm is infectious. When the students see that you are passionate in what you are doing, they will usually become interested in you and your teaching.

As a conclusion, in the teaching and learning of literature in English we have to focus on both language and messages, as well as to prepare the students for exams. The approaches come in second. Different teachers will use different approaches, for everybody is dealing with different students. Just remember to be flexible
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