Programme: Teaching History in Singapore

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A Roundtable Presented by the Singapore Heritage Society

Imagination Room, Level 5, National Library, 30 November 2009

Time Speaker Topic
0830-0845 Loh Kah Seng
Nanyang Technological University
Welcome and opening remarks
0845-1010 PANEL I: LEARNING HISTORYModerator: Loh Kah Seng, Nanyang Technological University
0845-0900 Suhaimi Afandi & Mark Baildon
National Institute of Education
Towards a responsive pedagogy: engaging students’ ideas to enhance history teaching and learning
0900-0915 Candice Alexis Seet
CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh)
What were you thinking? Entering the minds of students
0915-0930 Kevin Blackburn
National Institute of Education
‘I don’t know who Lim Bo Seng is … I only know Lee Kuan Yew’: forgetting what my teacher and textbook told me
0930-0945 Henry Liu & Joshua Jeyaraj
Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)
Conceptions, communication and confidence: challenges to studying history
0945-1000 Eisen Teo
Straits Times
History in the university: beyond the facts and exams
1000-1015 Discussion
1015-1025 Break
1025-1200 PANEL II: TEACHING HISTORYModerator: Alvin Tan, Raffles Girls’ School
1025-1040 Lim Cheng Tju
Riverside Secondary School
The reality of teaching (history) in Singapore
1040-1055 Lee Si Wei
Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)
Sources in social studies beyond assessment needs
1055-1110 Gullnaz Baig
National Institute of Education
Adopting the historical reasoning framework in the classroom
1110-1125 Junaidah Jaffar
Tao Nan Primary School
Singapore history and the Singapore Story: the roles they play in citizenship education and the forging of the ‘Singapore DNA’
1125-1140 Loh Kah Seng
Nanyang Technological University
The weakening of empathy: a university experience
1140-1200 Discussion & closing remarks


Towards a Responsive Pedagogy: Engaging Students’ Ideas to Enhance History Teaching and Learning. Suhaimi Afandi & Mark Baildon

Among the fundamental questions about history teaching in Singapore is the role of the prior ideas students have about the past. Yet, it is unclear whether teachers consider these preconceptions of history. In using the concept of ‘responsive pedagogy’, we posit that 1) students have a range of initial ideas about the nature of history; 2) teachers should engage these understandings to help students make sense of new knowledge and develop their appreciation of the past; and 3) tensions and constraints within the education system be resolved in order to develop both a teaching approach and learning experience that engages the students’ ideas about history.

What were you thinking? Entering the Minds of Students. Candice Alexis Seet

Teachers struggle to engage unmotivated students who would rather style their hair than lift a finger to flip open their textbook. In light of such struggle, what quality of work do we expect our students to produce to demonstrate that some learning has taken place? Moving away from historical content, what about citizenship education? How effectively are students able to internalise values that the curriculum hopes to instill in them? Should the teacher be the voice of authority or should students reason the issue out for themselves?

‘I don’t know who Lim Bo Seng is … I only know Lee Kuan Yew’: Forgetting What My Teacher and Textbook Told Me. Kevin Blackburn

This presentation examines the impact of compulsory history education. For history enthusiasts in Singapore, Lim Bo Seng is a national icon, a war hero, who looms larger than life in the primary school studies syllabus and secondary history syllabus. But a surprising number of young university students just out of the Singapore state education system have no recollection of him. Why does the such figure like Lim Bo Seng and other iconic historical characters and moments in Singapore’s national history generally make such a faint impression on students fresh out of the education system? Is historical knowledge just confined to individuals who have an interest in history, with the general population unable to recall little more than the barest knowledge of the national past? This presentation includes a few minutes of a vox populi, ‘voice of the people’, video of interviews with the undergraduates on campus to basic questions about the past.

Conceptions, Communication and Confidence: Challenges to Studying History. Henry Liu & Joshua Jeyaraj

This presentation explores challenges faced by students in our study of history. Notably, the conception that correctness is valued above validity and the resultant lack of confidence in expression and communication are identified as inhibitors. At times, these undermine key fundamentals of the discipline. Usual assets for study, such as extensive historiography, even become stumbling blocks that detract us from what is truly important. Instead of being holistic thinkers in development, we slip into the rigid organisation of other’s ideas, and hence lose the full potential of the experience.

History in the University: Beyond The Facts and Exams. Eisen Teo

Local university students of history experience a paradigm shift from foundational to higher level modules, because while the former generally focuses on history and ‘why it happened’, the latter concentrates more on historiography and ‘how historians have tried to explain why it happened’. Might the craft be done more justice if historiography and historical methods are introduced at lower levels? Also, how useful truly is the closed-book examination for the subject? What’s the optimal class size for effective classroom interaction? These issues and more at tertiary level have implications for how history is taught and enjoyed at other institutional levels.

The Reality of Teaching (History) in Singapore. Lim Cheng Tju

Concerns about curriculum, pedagogy and assessment are common for any teacher in Singapore. But for the history teacher, the extra burden of a nation wide shortage for Humanities teachers has resulted in increased workload, class size, marking, and other demands. These issues need to be addressed.

Sources in Social Studies Beyond Assessment Needs. Lee Si Wei

Since the implementation of the upper secondary Social Studies curriculum  in 2001, students have been well-trained to excel in examinations. The official assessment needs are to test students’ ability to draw inferences, compare sources, and evaluate their utility and reliability. The larger aim, however, is to cultivate the skills of critical inquiry, investigation and reflection, so that students can appreciate how the sources throw light on important social, economic and political issues. In a neighbourhood secondary school, students can be readily horned in examination skills without necessarily grasping the underlying significance of the sources. As the study of sources is an important platform for developing students into adept thinkers, teachers need to move beyond simply satisfying assessment needs and help students understand the relevance of the sources.

Adopting the Historical Reasoning Framework in the Classroom. Gullnaz Baig

The zeitgeist of history teaching in Singapore seems to be shifting away from the orthodox content-based approach towards greater recognition of the value of inculcating key reasoning skills in our students. Indeed, the current History curriculum, as embodied in ministerial documents, provides for such an approach. Nevertheless, there seems to be uncertainty as to how such an approach can be practiced in classroom teaching. The model proposed here is based on research conducted by Drie and Boxtel who argue for the value of the ‘Historical Reasoning framework’ in developing students’ reasoning about the past. The key attraction of this model lies in the ease with which it can be applied in lesson planning without introducing radical and drastic pedagogical changes.

Singapore History and the Singapore Story: The Roles They Play in Citizenship Education and the forging of the ‘Singapore DNA’. Junaidah Binti Jaffar

On 17 May 1997, National Education (NE) was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong. NE has since been explicitly taught in the Social Studies syllabus and gradually, all subjects have become NE-infused. Simultaneously, citizenship education is arguably as important a thrust as the other learning outcomes of the Singapore education system. It is through NE that the official strain of Singapore history, popularly known as ‘the Singapore Story’, is ingrained in Singapore’s youths. This presentation attempts to delineate: (1) the role of history in citizenship education, Social Studies and National Education, with a focus on the primary education sector, (2) how educators can explore alternative narrations of the Singapore story without censure so as to provide pupils a holistic and nuanced picture of the past, and (3) the achievements and difficulties in this enterprise to synthesise all this and forge what the Director-General of Education, Ms Ho Peng, termed as the ‘Singapore DNA’ – a people imbued with resilience, tenacity and adaptability. The presentation will tap on the frameworks of NE, Social Studies, key speeches and policies, supplemented by anecdotes of practitioners of the trade.

The Weakening of Empathy: A University Experience. Loh Kah Seng

Having taught different cohorts of history undergraduates, it is becoming clear how often students are lacking in historical empathy even if they do well in other areas like reading, writing and analysis. While this may be partly due to teachers not focusing enough on empathy, the greater problem, I think, lies in the social norms and demographic trends in contemporary Singapore. Empathy for the past as a ‘foreign country’ has in some ways been dramatically eroded by the changes which have transformed the society in the last fifty years.


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Filed under history teaching, singapore, young Singaporeans

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