Social Studies: Reviewing Its Relevance




Social studies are a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools. Social studies in Singapore focus on social issues and helps to foster racial harmony and social awareness. There has been a recent revamp of the social studies curriculum. However, is the revamp sufficient or does more need to be done?


Rewriting history

There was little national relevance in the old social studies curriculum. It was mostly about the past conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and how Venice emerged and its pitfalls. These were all meant to have served as important lessons for Singapore to look for and mitigate it from happening here. But it had little relevance to young students as at a young age they could not see the impact of these lessons. The social studies textbooks have now been revised and updated, with more mention of recent incidents relating to Singapore such as the Little India Riots, our first riot in 50 years.


Singapore centric

The present-day syllabus is more Singapore centric and it makes students better informed about sensitive national issues including its history, evolution and implications. This new approach helps to foster a stronger sense of national identity among young people.


So should there be a revamp?

Social studies should be more debatable, it should present more opinions and engage students more. Let them air their views. Debate those views so that the students learn to think critically, express their disagreements clearly, take an intellectual stand, and see things from other angles.


“Boring propaganda”

“A Government-led review in 2006 and 2007 showed that secondary school students found social studies lessons boring and dubbed the subject government propaganda. This is less likely to happen with the new syllabus. Some topical issues have been presented in a way that shows both the pros and cons”- The Straits Times


Question is the answer

Content is now rephrased and presented more in the form of a question. For example, “How do we decide what is good for society?” and “How can we work for the good of society?” The format stimulates thinking as opposed to spoon-feeding facts to students.


The recent revamp is already a right step in promoting healthy national awareness. However, teachers should take this to the next level and encourage more classroom debates on such issues. Hearing diverse and informed viewpoints is important for the child’s intellectual development.