Teaching Cultural Diversity and Sense of Identity in the Primary Two Social Studies Classroom in Singapore: Analysis and Critique, pp. 7 of 13

The projection of a particular understanding of diversity and identity in Singapore can be viewed as a political agenda as the prioritisation of certain values and knowledge and/or the omission of other kinds of knowledge as a process of ‘selective tradition’ (Williams, 1998), where specific culture is consciously selected. Therefore, the curriculum on diversity reflects the skills, knowledge and values that are prioritised so as to maintain the ideology of multiracialism and the racial framework through the re(production) of dominant ideas. As asserted by Mitchell (2001), race is a social construct, and hence unnatural which then requires it to be constantly maintained in order to be sustained as status quo.

Primary Two Social Studies Curriculum

Part of the Social Studies curriculum, within the theme of racial and religious harmony, involves students exploring diversity through the culture, traditions, and heritage of main racial groups in Singapore. The Social Studies syllabus at the primary level is categorized into three broad clusters and takes a thematic approach framed by concepts and themes of “Identity, Culture and Heritage and People and Environment” (Curriculum Planning & Development Design [CPDD], 2013, p. 6). At the Primary 1 and 2 levels, students consider important ideas about their identity as well as the multicultural society in which they live in through the cluster of study broadly titled “Discovering Self and Immediate Environment”. The rationale for such an approach is for developing citizens with “socially responsible behaviour” and nation building as they appreciate the different communities and understand how everyone lives harmoniously as a community with a shared identity (CPDD, 2013, p .19). The translation of these ideas into Social Studies lessons take on varying approaches and depends largely on the teacher; however, each primary level comes with a Teaching and Learning Guide and readers for the lower primary levels, which are picture books accompanied by short texts used to introduce the lesson. Class activities are also suggested.

The Social Studies curriculum has also infused ambitious goals for the making of 21st century active global citizens. Emphasis has been given to critical thinking and preparing “active citizens” who are able to “appreciate the complexities of human experiences” (CPDD, 2013, p. 1). The shift in emphasis from passive citizenship to active citizenry seems to reflect a shift in the conceptualisation of citizenship education (Sim & Print, 2005). It seems to reflect the expansion of the National Education narrative by preparing students for a multicultural global future. However, while this view of citizenship education is apparent within the syllabus, it is unclear how this is being accompanied by the necessary and appropriate changes in pedagogy and instructional materials that can help to realise the broader goals of the curriculum. According to Print and Smith (2000) appropriate educational practices and pedagogy are important in order to encourage participative skills and values in social studies for the preparation of students for active citizenship. 

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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