Significant changes in how history is taught

The description of how history is taught in our classrooms ("Review what students are taught in history class" by Mr Kwan Jin Yao; Wednesday) appears to have neglected the recent changes made not only to pedagogy but also to the content covered.

As a history teacher, I have witnessed and experienced the changes to the teaching of the subject since the end of the 1990s.  

One criticism highlighted was the over-emphasis on post-1965 Singapore, with little focus on ancient and modern Singapore.

However, there are chapters in the lower-secondary syllabus devoted to pre-colonial Singapore, emphasising the island's importance in the regional trade networks before 1819, as well as the transformation of Singapore under British colonial rule.

Even though the post-independence period is weighed more towards nation-building, an awareness of this period is crucial as part of the process of inculcating a sense of national identity among Singaporeans.

At the higher levels, students are further exposed, through engaging with historical sources, historiography and critical thinking.

These offer opportunities for students to explore diverse narratives and interpretations on historical events.

The A-level syllabus, in fact, enables students to examine the various dichotomies inherent in the development of political structures, not only in Singapore, but in the region as well.

For instance, as part of the learning outcome for the topic on political structures, students are required to make considered assessments on how democratic South-east Asian countries are, Singapore being of no exception.

In no way have educators been limited by "out of bounds" markers to downplay or exclude certain topics. 

Not only have significant changes taken place in the coverage of the content, the Ministry of Education has periodically engaged students and current educators through focus group discussions to gather feedback on how the subject is delivered in school.

Regular workshops also provide the platform for practitioners to acquaint themselves with the latest pedagogical trends.

Contrary to Mr Kwan's claims, many history lessons today are increasingly underpinned by an inquiry-based approach, as educators continue to make the learning of history not only enriching, through the delivery of content, but also pivotal in the development of critical thinking skills, which will prove valuable in the 21st century.

Teh Chee Siong 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Significant changes in how history is taught'. Print Edition | Subscribe