Review what students are taught in history class

It is true that pedagogies matter when history is taught in the classroom ("More to history than just recalling"; last Friday).

Yet, perhaps what is more important - beyond how history is taught - is what is taught.

Premised upon the objectives of inculcating historical consciousness, encouraging evaluations of past judgments and actions, as well as applying these lessons, the Ministry of Education (MOE) should also review the content taught to the young.

Common criticisms include an over-emphasis on the purported success of post-independence Singapore, with little said about ancient or even modern Singapore; the absence of diverse narratives, especially with the more controversial episodes; and the insistence on foisting nation-building in these endeavours.

The inability to probe different interpretations of history feeds scepticism too.

With the proliferation of information and alternative perspectives on the Internet, these doubts will only intensify if the MOE does not keep pace.

It may also be plausible that the current disconnect could be traced to the content used, and not the pedagogies.

For this undertaking to reinforce historical touchpoints to succeed, it may be wise to engage former students and current educators in discourse, to gather feedback on their experiences in the classroom.

Could they connect with the skills and knowledge shared? Did they feel adequately informed after history lessons, or were there weaknesses to be plugged? Were there opportunities to challenge the information, and did teachers feel equipped to facilitate more open discourse about historical chapters?

Through these conversations, best practices can be shared, to champion historical inquiry as a way of helping the young to connect the past with the present and to foster critical thinking.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Review what students are taught in history class'. Print Edition | Subscribe