By guest contributors Mridula Kumar (18S03B) and M Farhana (18S03B)
Additional reporting by Soh Ying Qi (18A01C)
Photos courtesy of M Farhana
This article is the eighth part in Raffles Press’ series, Please Mind the Platform Gap: The Road Less Taken, about non-traditional A-level subjects offered in RI. For our previous feature on H2 MLL, please click here.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.
Tamil Language and Literature (TLL) is not exactly a high-profile subject. With a single-digit candidature (who could forget the brave soul in the class of 2013 who offered it alone?) that previously peaked at around 10 students, TLL has remained one of the least-subscribed H2 subjects in recent years. Still, the popularity of the subject is holding steady at 4 students from the class of 2018 (which is more than some other non-traditional subjects can say).
Current Year 4 Tamil students may be glad to hear that there are no admissions tests to qualify for H2 TLL, and that it has but one prerequisite: taking and passing Higher Tamil at the O-Levels. But that’s not all that TLL has to offer. The small class size can enhance learning as each student receives more one-on-one attention, and tutor Mdm Meera Saminathan makes an effort to not only teach, but also care about the welfare of every single one of her students.
As a literature subject, the curriculum encompasses one novel and an anthology of Singaporean Tamil literary works, including poetry, prose and plays. The texts, while perhaps slightly dated, provide insight into life in the olden days and the many ways in which Tamil society is portrayed, and convey important values and principles while bringing out the beauty and antiquity of the language. The other element of the subject is covered in lessons on Tamil grammar. Students read the written works together in class, followed by presentations on different aspects of the stories, such as character analysis and moral values. Class discussion is a staple of the TLL curriculum, while class tests are less common and require students to complete literature essays, compositions or comprehension exercises.
Assessments take the form of three different papers. Paper 1 (2 hours 15 minutes) consists of a composition, an open-ended-answer comprehension and a cloze passage. Paper 2 (1 hour 30 minutes) is an online e-exam that tests grammar and comprehension, with a focus on originality and self-generated answers along with comparison of two passages for the latter section. For those unfamiliar with this method of examination, there is no need to worry—one tutorial per week is set aside for students to practise their typing skills in one of the school’s computer labs. Last but not least, Paper 3 (3 hours) requires students to write literature essays based on both books in the curriculum.
Apart from an enriching academic experience, TLL students can also look forward to activities outside of class, such as the Pre-University Seminar on Tamil Language and Literature organised by Yishun Junior College’s Indian Cultural Society, as well as National Tamil Language Month activities. There are also several opportunities for students to join inter-school competitions like Sorchilambam and Yutham, but these are not exclusive to TLL students and are open to all Tamil students.
While H3 TLL has since been discontinued in RI, TLL students are eligible for the National Elective Tamil Language Programme (NTEP) and the accompanying scholarship, both of which are administered by Umar Pulavar Tamil Language Centre. These are options that the eager student may want to consider, should you be hankering for a challenge.
At last we come to the million-dollar question: is TLL hard? Not at all. Current students agree that interest is key to scoring well in exams; if you are truly passionate about the subject, the analytical and thinking skills will come easily, and you will be able to appreciate so much more about the texts that may seem mundane at face value. Much emphasis is placed on idea expression and style of learning, which may appeal to students for whom memorisation and regurgitation is not a strong suit.
For those hesitant about their Tamil language ability, rest assured that interest, patience and grit will take you much further. A decent standard of proficiency in the language is of course assumed, but it is not necessarily the end of the road if you are not currently a straight-A Higher Tamil student; the truly important thing is your willingness to work hard and make the most of your experience in TLL. If you really love the language and its nuances, and take an interest in the richness of Tamil heritage, TLL might be just the subject for you.
For more information about the 2019 H2 TLL syllabus, visit the SEAB website at https://www.seab.gov.sg/docs/default-source/national-examinations/syllabus/alevel/2019Syllabus/9574_2019.pdf
For more information about the NTEP, visit the Umar Pulavar Tamil Language Centre website at http://uptlc.moe.edu.sg/student-matters/netp-programme-n-scholarship