Applied learning in schools

More emphasis in humanities on the how and why

Queenstown Secondary School students learning how to use a water test kit and data logger in a geography class. There is a greater focus on learning to collect evidence, analyse data, craft explanations and reflect on the process.
Queenstown Secondary School students learning how to use a water test kit and data logger in a geography class. There is a greater focus on learning to collect evidence, analyse data, craft explanations and reflect on the process.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

When did Sir Stamford Raffles discover Singapore? What is an oxbow lake? What are the factors of urban growth?

In the past, much of the learning in humanities consisted of memorising huge chunks of facts to be regurgitated in exams.

These days, besides asking what, who and when, there is a bigger emphasis on getting students to probe and understand how and why. Lessons also incorporate more current topics, such as measures taken to improve Singapore's competitiveness.

The revised syllabus for subjects in humanities - history, geography and social studies, and economics - took effect from 2012.

There is a greater focus on learning to collect evidence, analyse data, craft explanations and reflect on the process in some of these subjects.

In junior college, geography will from this year be taught in themes like sustainable development to help students draw links between topics. Before this, it was divided into physical and human geography, each taught on its own.

Instead of just being given data to analyse, students now spend more time outside class to do fieldwork, such as measuring the infiltration rates at different locations like grassy areas or slopes, or using equipment to collect data.

For social studies in secondary schools, the latest textbook is organised around more current societal issues such as the debate about the need for an official poverty line or the Little India riots in 2013.

Students are also prompted to give their own responses to issues such as citizenship.

Ms Tan Chien Ming, who teaches economics in Dunman High School, said lessons now incorporate more current topics and test questions use more real-world data.

"Lecture notes feature current economic developments like inclusive growth," she said.

"And in last year's A levels, one of the essay questions required students to assess measures adopted by the Government to improve Singapore's global competitiveness.

"So students need to know about the local economy and broader global trends. "

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'More emphasis in humanities on the how and why'. Print Edition | Subscribe