Teaching for Historical Understanding through Role-Play, pp. 2 of 14

In Secondary 1, students who are new to History learnt about Temasek and the founding of Singapore as a British trading port, the reasons why the early migrants came to Singapore and how their living conditions were like in the early 20th century. Then, the coverage moved into World War II and the Japanese Occupation, which easily fascinated Secondary 2 students with descriptions of battle and accounts of violence and hardship. Post-war events (Chapter 6) followed this exciting and vivid period of Singapore history. This chapter, however, is an incredibly long chapter filled with abstract political concepts that students were seeing for the first time. Terms such as “communism”, “democracy” and “political consciousness” came one after another alongside names of historical personalities and political organizations. While accounts of events like the Anti-National Service riots proved exciting for students, it was hard for them to make connections and to make sense of developments as Chapter 6 included many key events: four riots and three elections. Put together, this chapter can be overwhelming for students. Not surprisingly, students may likely end up looking for “easy” answers to the big questions or end up losing interest along the way. Table 1 below offers a description of some challenges teachers may have to contend with when teaching students the events and issues contained within this chapter.

Table 1 Challenges in teaching Chapter 6 of the Singapore Lower History textbook

Issue

Observation

Our Questions

Content Concepts

Students have a superficial understanding of concepts like Communism, Political Consciousness and Trade Unions. When asked, they cannot remember what these terms mean or may simply repeat the definition provided in the textbook.

How might we simplify these concepts such that students can understand and grasp their significance?

Making connections

Students learn about the different events in isolation and could not see or explain how they affect each other. They get confused about the different elections and riots and cannot see the ‘big picture’ of the developments leading towards independence.

How might we show change and continuity in this period without overwhelming students with content and concepts?

Multiple Perspectives

Students are affected by ‘presentism’. According to them, everyone wants independence and everyone loves the PAP. Communists and riots are bad. The other political parties are doomed to fail.

How might we get students to appreciate the diversity of aspirations people had for Singapore in the context of the post-war period?

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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