Learning History in Singapore – Part 1

Over the past several blogs I’ve been developing a comprehensive teaching programme, covering national history and the Western Tradition (because most of my readers come from Western countries); and shortly I intend to start on the third element, world history.

Before I do so, I want to take a peek at non-Western countries. I had a search on the internet and came across the history curriculum for Singapore for lower high school students. 

singapore history map

Its history curriculum certainly seems to underscore its non-Western face. In fact, what comes across is a rejection of the western history in Singapore’s make-up. I know that there’s a political context to this, as can be seen in an interesting essay (see note 1 – good grief, it comes to something when one has to put academic citations in a blog! Actually it gives this entry a rather pleasing – but, sadly, entirely spurious – scholastic weight, hiding the fact that I use this blog to express my own rambling thoughts). However, I’m going to ignore that and look at the curriculum purely on its terms as a vehicle for teaching/learning history.

In a nutshell, the curriculum deals first with the histories of Ancient India, China and South East Asia, and then jumps directly to Singapore’s history – a brief glance at the historical background of the Malay peninsula before 1819, and then on to colonial and modern Singapore.

Now, in my opinion, this thin fare will not produce students with any real understanding of history. There is no attempt to place modern Singapore in its broad historical context. 

It is quite likely that history is treated as a second class subject to which very little time is devoted, so there’s only time in the school career for a brief glance at history. I couldn’t find any mention of history at primary or upper secondary levels, admittedly in quite a cursory search. If this is a correct assessment, oh Singaporeans, I think that this is a mistake, and the future of your much-admired state will suffer as a result. For a state to have deep roots for its future, its citizens need to understand its past; and in today’s world, that means an understanding of the Big Picture, of the broad context in which a state has grown up. This is true for the UK – and we’re not very good at it here; and it’s also true for Singapore, and every other state that intends to operate effectively in the future.

Your curriculum falls well short on that count, I personally think; because it offers no coverage of how the world became what it is today.

I’ll go into details in my next blog entry.

Note 1: http://www.academia.edu/1562722/History_education_for_nation_building_and_state_formation_The_case_of_Singapore

 

By Peter Britton