25 September 2018: MOE Creative Arts Programme – Yale-NUS faculty and students nurture pre-university students

By Daryl Yang

Jolene Lum helping a student in a print making class. Image provided by Jolene Lum.     

Outside of her classes, Jolene Lum (Class of 2019) spends time at the Writers’ Centre as a Peer Writing Tutor. However, her involvement in creative writing education began even before she joined the Writers’ Centre.

Jolene has been part of the Creative Arts Programme (CAP) run by Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) since 2011. CAP is an annual creative writing programme organised for secondary and junior college students to develop and hone their writing skills.

The programme is jointly organised by the Gifted Education Branch of MOE and the National University of Singapore. It comprises a Creative Arts Seminar and a Mentorship Attachment and provides participants with the opportunity to attend a plethora of carefully-curated talks and workshops, as well as develop their writing during hands-on sessions. Subsequently, some participants participate in a nine month-long mentorship programme under the guidance of local writers.

After she participated in the programme, Jolene became a student leader in the next year. She then completed a stint as Head-Councillor in 2013, where she was involved in facilitating and supporting participants in the programme. Since then, she has returned every year to continue mentoring younger councillors.

Earlier this year, she was invited to conduct a performance workshop over the course of the entire seminar.

“I conducted a workshop on traditional printmaking and poetry. Students would do a sort of ‘reverse ekphrasis’, where they respond to a poem I gave them with an image, making the artwork, then writing more poetry to respond to their own visual art,” Jolene shared.

For Jolene, the most memorable moment as an instructor of the workshop was “seeing the students at the end of the seminar, proud of the works they produced in my class, proud of each other, and proud of themselves for having displayed a lot of courage in trying to develop as people”.

Jolene is not the only member of the Yale-NUS community involved with CAP. Director of the Division of Humanities and Professor of Literature in English, Rajeev Patke currently serves as chairperson to the Organising Committee for the programme.

“I am happy to have been invited to serve in this capacity,” Professor Patke shared.

“This programme has had a long tradition in working towards encouraging young talents in junior colleges and secondary schools to explore and pursue their interests in creative writing. I am glad to have been associated with the programme for some years and to take on this position.”

Professor Patke noted that his role is a facilitative one where he acts as an enabler for the programme to function by managing the connections with the stakeholders involved, including the students and authors.

“Ultimately, the people who should be given the credit for the success of the programme are the mentor-authors who participate every year with commitment and dedication. They don’t do it for any other reason than the deep passion that they have for their art, be it fiction, theatre or poetry,” he shared.

Previously, Professor Patke was also involved in editing anthologies of prize-winning entries by CAP participants.

Reflecting on the success of CAP in fostering young talents, Professor Patke noted that for a small island nation like Singapore, it is “amazing how many people are drawn to creative writing”.

“There have been a whole host of people since the 1960s who, despite their busy professional careers, still feel the need and room for writing. Many of them are poets, but there have also been numerous short story writers, novelists and playwrights as well,” he added.

For Jolene, being a part of the programme has helped her grow as a budding writer.

“I think this programme has really given me a lot, from meeting other prominent writers in Singapore in the capacity of a student/budding-writer to making some of my best and closest friends since from when I started as a participant,” she shared.

Echoing Professor Patke, she added, “It is also very humbling to see instructors and writers coming back year after year, committing to a very unique programme that nurtures and mentors young writers who go on to explore the power of narrative and storytelling.”

The classes she has taken at Yale-NUS College have also helped her better support the students she works with in the programme.

“The Writing Pedagogy and Practice class I took with Dr Heidi Stalla shaped my attitudes to writing today. That class showed me how to guide someone to asking the questions that would unlock thinking critically and creatively about the world around them and about themselves,” she said.

At the same time, her experience with CAP has also been instrumental in helping her in better mentoring students as a Peer Writing Tutor at the Writer’s Centre.

“CAP showed me the importance of guiding students in the process of writing, and building a community around that. It fuelled a lot of my desire to become a better educator so that I could one day use writing to connect with young people,” she shared.