Evolution of the Primary School Social Studies Curriculum in Singapore: From ‘Moulding’ Citizens to Developing Critical Thinkers, pp. 3 of 13

The role of schools in citizenship education was recognised by the People’s Action Party (PAP) government since 1959. In its party manifesto, The Tasks Ahead, PAP’s 5-Year Plan, 1959–1964, the important role of teachers in “moulding” the nation was highlighted:

Singapore does not have a stable integrated society, nor has it inherited any traditions. So we hear many discordant voices. And the divergences of beliefs and customs are probably greater in our plural society than among any other population of equal size. Much of this confusion is strongly reflected in our schools today.… Our teachers must therefore realise the important role they play in the building of a united democratic Malayan nation .… They have a whole generation of children to mould into a national pattern (PAP, 1959, pp. 4-5).

The phrase “mould into a national pattern” captures the essence of the PAP vision of nation building. It implies a model of a citizen that is preconceived by the ruling elite and as argued by Apple (1990), propagated by schools functioning as ideological state agencies for the social reproduction of desirable national characteristics.

The goal then was to ensure Singapore’s survival, which the government set about to achieve by putting in place policies to ensure economic progress and a socially stable society. Formal education was a key factor for achieving that social stability. The education system then was not centrally controlled and a potpourri of curricula was being offered by the various vernacular schools. A serious concern over this lack of curricular uniformity was expressed by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew:

If in the four different languages of instruction, we teach our children four different standards of right and wrong, four different ideal patterns of behaviour, then we will produce four different groups of people and there will be no integrated coherent society… (Lee, 1959, p. 3).

Control over the education system by streamlining the curriculum and textbooks in the different vernacular and English language schools became an imperative and the government of the day immediately set about achieving this. In 1960, a Textbooks and Syllabus Committee was formed to design syllabuses with common content in the four language media, viz., Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English (Ministry of Education, 1966). The aim was to develop a common curriculum that was suited to the local environment to inculcate a sense of national identity in the young.

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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