Evolution of the Primary School Social Studies Curriculum in Singapore: From ‘Moulding’ Citizens to Developing Critical Thinkers, pp. 5 of 13

The 1981 syllabus content shows a cultural transmissionist approach to citizenship education. Singapore was a relatively young nation and there was a very real and pressing need to develop a sense of national identity among its people. Furthermore, the government saw the need for an obedient and disciplined populace who would support its growing industrial economy. It seemed then that the emphasis was thus not on developing critical thinkers but on creating a population of followers.

In 1994, the primary Social Studies syllabus was revised because Singapore’s rapid technological advancement and urbanisation as well as people’s increasing interest and concern for the environment necessitated changes in the curriculum “to focus on the environment, the people, their heritage and needs and progress” (MOE, 1994, p.5). The aim of the revised syllabus remained as enabling pupils to understand their social world and develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes for effective participation in society. The scope and organisation of the content was very similar to the 1981 syllabus but there was greater elucidation of and accentuation on desired values/attitudes outcomes. As compared to the 1981 syllabus which only enumerated two attitudes objectives in the syllabus, the 1994 syllabus highlighted six desired attitudes in its objectives. These included recognising the importance of co-operation and being aware of and understanding the need for interdependence among people and countries - objectives which were set out in the 1981 syllabus. Other attitudes objectives highlighted the importance of forging a common Singaporean identity, understanding and respecting the customs and traditions of the communities, being aware that everyone had a responsibility towards ensuring a clean and safe environment and understanding and adjusting to change (MOE, 1994).

In reality there was little change to the content of the 1994 syllabus as it continued to focus on the history and geography of Singapore and to highlight the limitations and constraints of Singapore’s size and lack of resources. Table 1 illustrates a topic taken from the Primary 5 syllabus focusing on “Our Needs”. The selected issues of Singapore’s water, fuel, food and housing underscore the vulnerability of the nation and the emphasis on values of preparedness, adaptability, conservation of scarce resources and even living in harmony reflects the state’s ideological conception of citizenship education in Singapore in that period. From this, it can be gleaned that the envisioned ideal citizen was a law-abiding, responsible citizen whose participation was limited to being respectful, maintaining harmony, conserving the environment and accepting and adjusting to change.

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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