Evolution of the Primary School Social Studies Curriculum in Singapore: From ‘Moulding’ Citizens to Developing Critical Thinkers, pp. 8 of 13

Distinct themes were developed for the three academic levels of schools: Love Singapore (Primary level), Know Singapore (Secondary level) and Lead Singapore (Pre-university level). These themes formed the basis around which programs were developed for the different academic levels.

Within the formal curriculum at upper secondary level, Social Studies was implemented as one half of a new subject known as Combined Humanities. By making the subject compulsory and included in the high-stakes General Certificate of Education ‘O’ level examinations, the MOE signaled the importance placed on it. It is clear that the implementation of Social Studies is a serious attempt to address the lack of knowledge of and interest in the history of Singapore and the critical issues of its vulnerability.

The approach at the primary level differed from that at the secondary level. The goal was to engage them emotionally, rather than intellectually through inculcating in them “correct values and attitudes,” and developing a sense of pride in Singapore as well as a common bond among pupils of diverse races and abilities (MOE, 1997). NE was infused into the school curriculum and this resulted in a new Primary Social Studies syllabus published in 1999 and implemented in 2000.

Primary Social Studies Syllabus: Preparing for the 21st Century

The new Primary Social Studies syllabus published in 1999 and implemented in 2000 may be seen as a new milestone in Singapore’s citizenship education journey. For the first time, the importance of the subject was clearly spelled out in the syllabus document:

“The subject has an important place in the primary school curriculum. It lends itself to inculcating in the pupils from a very early age a sense of belonging to the community and country; and cultivating the right instincts for reinforcing social cohesion” (MOE, 1999, p.4).

In recognition of its importance, Social Studies was implemented in the formal curriculum from Primary One to Primary Six (whereas in the past this was only taught from Primary Four to Six). As mentioned earlier, NE was infused into the new syllabus, purportedly because of the “realisation that our pupils need to understand the constraints and opportunities facing Singapore and develop a sense of belonging to the community and nation” (MOE, 1999, p.3). This emphasis was not new as earlier syllabuses had always focused on developing a sense of belonging and highlighted the constraints faced by the nation. In any case, the aims, scope and content of the new syllabus did not differ much from those of the 1994 syllabus.

An interesting development in the new syllabus was the inclusion of new skills objectives, i.e., information technology and thinking skills – problem solving and decision making skills and ability to make sound judgements. This was a step forward in citizenship education and should be seen in the context of the period. NE was launched in the same year (1997) as the ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’ (TSLN) initiative – a move designed to prepare the young for a knowledge-based economy by developing in them more critical and creative thinking skills. It is no wonder then that thinking skills was highlighted within the 1999 Social Studies syllabus. However, Baildon and Sim (2010) argue that these two initiatives presented a dialectical tension. On the one hand, TSLN seeks to prepare the young for a knowledge-based economy in a globalised world through developing their critical and creative thinking but on the other hand, NE tends towards parochialism in emphasising convergent thinking and development of a local nationalism.

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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