Sec 1 students at the Higher Tamil Language Camp got to try their hand at different aspects of culture, such as through cooking.
Weekends are pretty precious to students, but hook them with something interesting and they may not mind giving up one weekend for a fun language learning experience. For the 141 Sec 1 Higher Tamil Language students who chose to spend the weekend of 10-11 July 2010 at a Higher Tamil Language Camp at the Uma Pulavar Tamil Language Centre, they were in no rush to go home when each day's activities were over. As Sujandren from Anderson Secondary School declared, "I think the camp should be extended to three days instead of two, and it should be a residential camp so that we can have even more activities."
Now in its 10th year, the camp is designed to raise interest in the language - and students' standard of language use - by immersing them in a Tamil-speaking environment. This year's camp was co-organised by the Centre and Higher Tamil Language teachers from participating schools, with the theme of "Learning Tamil through the Arts".
"The camp programme is very engaging and I was really looking forward to coming here again on Sunday (day two)," says K. Metran from Yishun Secondary School - even though he had stayed up on Saturday night to watch a football match.
Students could learn about the intricacies of traditional Indian wedding apparel up close.
Traditional games and cultural activities
On the first day of the camp, the festive, the colourful and the vibrant took centrestage as participants discovered the significance of traditional practices, games and cuisine, and how these differed in Singapore and India. The Sec 1 students eagerly lapped up newfound information about wedding costumes and ornaments, clothing that is defined by age, gender and social status, and even ingredients and cooking styles. "I realised that murukku can be prepared and served with ingredients other than vegetables," says M. Meethrra of Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School. "We can also add chilli, crab and curry. I am going to try this out at home."
Reflecting on some of the recreational pastimes, Hayshagen of Commonwealth Secondary School shared that games like "three stones" and "vertical tic-tac-toe" are common in India, and teach students to think laterally. "It's a pity we don't have them here," he remarked. "But when we go on exchange programmes to India, I will know at least two of their games!" Students also learnt to make floral garlands and lay the kolam (decorative drawings using coloured chalk).
Composing their own Tamil tunes was one way to get the students' creativity going.
Culture and creative expression
Tapping on the expertise of the community, the organisers of the camp invited industry practitioners - including a music director and singer, a radio editor, and a film and news producer - to lead sessions on the dramatic arts, music, creative writing and media arts. Students were divided into groups and taught specific skills related to their allocated areas, then asked to apply them. The second day of the camp was set aside for them to show off their skills, as they would take to the stage to demonstrate what they had learned.
"I learned how to interview someone, put a news story together and report it on live TV," shares Sakthivel Akash from ACS (Independent). "For example, I must phrase my questions in a positive way so that my interviewee will feel relaxed and be more inclined to talk to me. When I read the news, I must make sure that my tone is not monotonous."
Mr Narayana from Ivann Productions was one of the media practitioners who introduced students to creative techniques using the Tamil language.
Other groups wrote drama scripts, acted in and made their own movies using computer software, and composed Tamil songs with minus-one recordings. They also forged friendships with students from other schools as they had to work together on the projects. More importantly, the students thoroughly enjoyed themselves despite the rigorous programme.
That Tamil was the de facto language throughout the two-day camp was not lost among the students, who tend to use English in their daily interactions at school. This looks set to change. "Now that I am aware of the rich heritage of the Tamil language, I feel really proud to be able to speak it. I will definitely use it more often among my friends," enthuses Darveen from Assumption Secondary School.