Literature, a Compass for an Uncertain Future?

Literature education in the asia-pacific

What is the role of literature in this globalised age? How can teaching literature empower our youths with the skills and dispositions to navigate an unpredictable and complex future? On 21 August 2019, Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee and Associate Professor Suzanne Choo from the National Institute of Education and authors of “Literature Education in The Asia Pacific” examined how literature education fosters cosmopolitan sensitivity to others in the world.

Dr Loh began by giving an overview of place-based education, which conceptualises learning and curriculum in ways that emphasise people’s relations to their place, environments and habitats. A place-based pedagogy creates opportunities for engagement with place, cultivates place-consciousness, encourages critical dialogue about local and global place/space and cultivates key dispositions of empathy, criticality and creativity.

She illustrated this through a learning journey student-teachers went through, walking to a few sites in Singapore and how they engaged and experienced these places while reading local poetry. Place matters in literature education as it anchors our thinking. It reminds us that it means different things to different people and that to know a place, there must be an experience of place to begin with. Reading literature in place provides a layered, complex and lived experience of place. It is also important to engage in critical discussions of culturally relevant issues which is essential for a place-based pedagogy.

Dr Choo focused on the importance of Cultural Quotient (CQ), which is an individual’s capability to function and manage effectively in culturally diverse settings. CQ has become a topic of interest because of the growing awareness of an increasingly interconnected world. Social and emotional skills, such as empathy and respect for others will become more crucial as workplaces become more diverse in the future.

Dr Choo argued that Literature Education facilitates the development of cultural intelligence using the four-factor model of CQ. The model consists of Metacognitive, Cognitive, Motivational and Behavioural dimensions. In the Metacognitive dimension, literature sensitises students to the constructed nature of culture and empowers them to critically read cultural representation. In the Cognitive domain, literature provides an entry point to developing cultural awareness and appreciation for cultural diversity. In the Behavioural domain, literature nurtures cosmopolitan dispositions, namely a concern for justice and care for others. Lastly, in the Motivational dimension, literature offers ethical invitations to engage with diverse others in the world.

According to Dr Choo, literature fosters the hospitable imagination by disrupting established, habitual and narrow ways of seeing the world and perceiving others. Literature pedagogy should then help students feel comfortable with their discomfort in examining issues through ethical and moral lenses.

The event ended with a short panel discussion with Dr Loh and Dr Choo, who addressed questions from the audience, which included ways to motivate students to take literature, overcoming limitations of place-based lessons, and encouraging adults to engage in literature.

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