Taming “Issue Investigation”: Singapore Secondary Social Studies Teachers’ Accounts of Challenges Encountered and Strategies for Coping

Introduction

The upper-secondary Social Studies (SS) syllabus (Express/Normal-Academic) released in Singapore in 2016 introduced a component called “Issue Investigation” (II). Speaking to the target learners, the SS textbook defines and explains II as follows:

An Issue Investigation encourages you to identify a societal issue to develop a response to. A societal issue is one that is of concern to society and people have points of view about. An Issue Investigation allows you to analyse factors and perspectives that shape the development of societal issues. Through the course of the investigation, your group will also understand the impact the selected societal issue has on society and develop possible responses and recommendations to address the issue. (Ministry of Education, 2016a, p. 367)

In terms of carrying out II, the textbook prescribes a four-stage cycle: (1) sparking curiosity; (2) gathering data; (3) exercising reasoning; (4) reflective thinking. It thus seems that II is positioned as an inquiry-driven learning activity that helps students gain analytical insights into pertinent societal issues, which in turn serve the broader objective of Social Studies to develop learners into “informed, concerned and participative citizens” (Ministry of Education, 2016a, p. iii).

The importance curriculum developers have attached to this new Issue Investigation component is apparent. In the offical textbook, an extensive chapter—“Chapter 12: Skills for Issue Investigation”—is dedicated to II. Indeed, spanning some 94 pages (pp. 364-457), this chapter is much longer than any of the eleven preceding chapters dealing with substantive topics. Due to the recent nature of II’s appearance in the SS syllabus, however, so far there has been little research-based understanding of this new aspect of SS education.

Existing research on Social Studies education in Singapore, instead, has largely taken a critical curriculum perspective to examine the ways in which SS has been mobilized to serve the National Education (NE) agenda of the state and, relatedly, the state’s hegemonic conception of citizenship education which allocates differentiated citizenship roles and capacities to different categories of students (see Ho, 2012; Sim, 2011; Sim & Print, 2005). Less has been written about Social Studies from the perspectives of pedagogy and teaching/learning experiences.

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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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