Imagine a society where all books are banned and firemen don’t put out fires, instead they are hired to set ablaze houses that contain outlawed books. A world where you have robotic dog-like creatures that go around hunting book hoarders and intellectuals are now drifters who have each memorized books should the day arrive that society comes to an end and is forced to rebuild itself anew.
This is the synopsis of the book Fahrenheit 451. The significance of the book’s infernal title Farenheit 451 is because that is the temperature which papers/books burn. The book is a dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, which is one of the texts which secondary schools students can choose to read for O’levels Literature in English (Syllabus 2065).
The current Covid-19 pandemic has been said to be one of the most surreal and scary global disruptions of our time. As we embrace a reality where social distancing is a norm, wearing masks is a daily affair and having PUB’s robotic dog-like creatures prancing around imploring joggers to observe social distancing becomes a common sight. Perhaps having students read dystopian fiction in school is one way to allow them to draw strength from characters of the novel and make sense of this rather unpredictable and volatile world?
Over the years, some Language-Literature students who taking International Baccalaureate are also reading dystopian literature like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Brave New World.’ Exposing students to such genres in unprecedented times like these, may just help them discover another dimension to governmental policies and events happening around them.This is because very often Dystopian fiction explores at least one reason why things are that way, often as an analogy for similar issues in the real world.
Why do writers write Dystopian Literature?
Dystopian literature is used to “provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable”.
A worldwide decline of Liberal Arts subjects
All over the world, subjects like Literature and English are seeing a sharp decline in enrolment. According to figures from the Ministry of Education (MOE), only about 5,500 students sat for the literature O-level examinations in 2015, down from about 6,000 students in 2012. Liberal Arts education worldwide has seen a sharp decline as governments drive to steer young people away from the arts and humanities to study science, technology, engineering and maths – the so-called Stem subjects, which have become the holy grail of 21st-century education in Singapore and England. Simply put, students just do not see the value of taking English literature and are preferring more practical humanities like International Baccalaureate Business Management, iGCSE Business Studies, Economics and likes.
What are the benefits of learning Literature?
Although there are fewer English and English Literature majors, governments do realise (to a certain extent) the value of literature for every student. Literature is still compulsory for lower secondary students in mainstream schools. Similarly. all IP schools like Raffles Girls, ACS, Methodist Girls, Cedars Nanyang Girls, Dunman High et cetera makes Language Arts (a combination of Literature and English) mandatory for the lower secondary students. The Ministry of Education shares that one substantial benefit of having students in Singapore pick up literature is because the study of Literature raises awareness of the range of perspectives that human beings – separated by time, space and culture – are capable of developing. This increased awareness promotes empathy and global awareness. Students become cognisant of and reassess their own values, beliefs and biases.
Is it near impossible to score a distinction for literature?
Mrs Wee, a full time teacher and a former MOE teacher English and Literature at Raffles Institution, recognises the fluidity of all humanities subjects but stresses that there is indeed a formula for getting distinctions. She adds that “It is still very possible to score distinctions for literature, provided that students are guided on the correct strategies and approaches.”
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