Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore, pp. 4 of 10

The incorporation of archaeology in the study of history will also allow students to learn history in a more interactive and engaging manner (Maloy and Laroche 2010: 46-61). Due to the nature of archaeology as being centred on artefacts, it lends itself to a more hands-on type of learning environment which is employed by many schools in other nations (Larsen 2014; Harper 2012). When pursued as a pedagogical strategy in Singapore schools, such an approach may reverse the misconception that history is a boring and dead subject, and make history come alive. Students will have ample opportunities to imagine a past that is foreign to them, to ask questions about existing and forgotten pasts and to put forward possible interpretations based on a reasoned judgment of the evidence. Archaeology also teaches important thinking and observation skills, and trains students to make deductions and analyses that require the demonstration of knowledge and understanding of different historical periods. These skills are transferable when students start to handle written sources: specifically, they will be more knowledgeable and better-equipped when responding to inference-type questions in their Source-based Case Study (SBCS). More importantly, the incorporation of archaeology would allow for the study of distant periods like 14th-century Singapore, and offer potential methods to guide students when drawing connections to the present-day context. A teaching strategy using archaeological methodology can promote active learning and allows learners to develop understandings as they engage in the meaning-making process of interpreting and constructing history.

Background

Historical education had served as the main driving force behind nation building when these Southeast Asian colonies attained their independent statuses (Harper 2011: 193-212). Reforms in the education system and changes to the history textbooks were largely intertwined with the evolving goals of governments and the nations’ political reforms as argued by Edward Vickers and Alisa Jones (2005). Political elites utilized school textbooks, coupled with public education put forward by museums and memorials, to tell stories that the state expects its people to be familiar with. These stories serve to cultivate a sense of belonging citizens feel for their country.

How did historical education in Singapore develop since the nation’s independence in 1965? What were some of the changes experienced? Gopinathan (2012: 65-70) argues that Singapore’s demanding social-economic state of affairs and changes in the regional and global situations shaped educational reforms during the early years of independence. National education was identified as the most important area to ensure the economic survival of the nation, and the government emphasized the teaching of industrial and technical subjects like Mathematics and the Sciences (Goh and Gopinathan 2005: 203-225). History became easily displaced in this kind of system (Lau 1992: 46-68). History occupied such an unimportant place in Singapore’s school programme to the extent that it was almost non-existent. Historical education only assumed a central role in the development of Singapore in the late 1970s when the country’s economy started to mature and state agenda turned to focus on fostering loyalty and promoting nationalism among the new generation of youths (Goh and Gopinathan 2006).

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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