Revised social studies syllabus tackles hot-button issues

The Ministry of Education team that worked on revising the upper secondary social studies syllabus includes (from left) assistant director Azlinda Samsudin, curriculum planning officer Sandra Yam, deputy director for humanities Marilyn Lim, senior cu
The Ministry of Education team that worked on revising the upper secondary social studies syllabus includes (from left) assistant director Azlinda Samsudin, curriculum planning officer Sandra Yam, deputy director for humanities Marilyn Lim, senior curriculum resource development officer Rashidah Kassim and curriculum planning officer Kenneth Sung.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Nimby syndrome, poverty line among topics featured; aim is to promote active citizenship and critical thinking

SINGAPORE - A Facebook post written by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about his views on interaction with foreigners here is now featured in a new social studies textbook.

And so are topical issues debated in the media - but rarely or never discussed in social studies previously - such as whether there should be a poverty line and the Nimby (not in my backyard) syndrome.

The upper secondary social studies syllabus and examination format have been revised to place greater emphasis on promoting active citizenship and critical thinking, said Ms Marilyn Lim, deputy director for humanities in the Ministry of Education's (MOE) curriculum planning and development division.

 
 
 

With the new syllabus, students are encouraged to "develop responses to societal issues rather than just learning about them", a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times.

The new syllabus will affect students taking the O- and N-level social studies examinations from next year, starting with this year's Secondary 3 cohort.

Last year, about 41,000 students took the O- and N-level exams for social studies, which was introduced as an examinable subject for upper secondary in 2001.

While previous revisions of the subject's syllabus were usually incremental, with updates to the policies mentioned, for example, educators said the latest revamp marks a significant change, with more topical issues and guiding questions to promote critical thinking.

The latest textbook is organised around societal issues, with guiding questions to encourage students to give their own responses.

For the issue about "exploring citizenship and governance", for instance, guiding questions include "What does it mean for me to be a citizen?" and "How do we decide on what is good for society?"

Another key difference is that the revised syllabus also looks at "new diversities" - such as people of different nationalities and socio-economic statuses - instead of focusing on racial and religious diversity.

Contentious issues that took place in recent years also have more prominence in the new textbook.

For instance, a 2014 Facebook post by Mr Lee about how Singaporeans should be more welcoming towards foreigners is featured in a section on the challenges of living in a diverse society with foreigners. He wrote it after some Singaporeans had expressed intolerance towards plans by Filipinos here to hold Philippine Independence Day celebrations in Orchard Road.

Some parents were glad to hear of the new syllabus and exam format, which places more emphasis on the ability to make reasoned arguments and recommendations.

Real estate agent Charlotte Chng, 52, who has a son in Secondary 3 this year, said: "My son is not someone who buries himself in books and memorises facts, so I think the revised exam format will benefit him."

"I also have the habit of discussing the news with him, so I think that indirectly teaches him the skills required."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'Revised social studies syllabus tackles hot-button issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe