Why It Matters

Keeping Social Studies topical

The social studies syllabus has been revised with examples that are more topical for students.
The social studies syllabus has been revised with examples that are more topical for students.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

Social Studies, unlike other subjects in secondary school, focuses on the Singapore story, past and present. It is the main vehicle through which elements of national education, which aims to develop national cohesion, are taught.

So, the latest revamp in the Social Studies syllabus is more significant than a change in any other subject syllabus. It affects the way students learn about societal issues in Singapore, including hot-button ones.

The new syllabus and examination format affect all students taking the O levels and Normal (Academic) students who sit the N levels. Last year, about 41,000 students took these exams.

The syllabus and exam format were revised to place greater emphasis on promoting active citizenship and critical thinking, with more topical issues.

Examples of those featured in the new textbook include the Nimby (not in my backyard) syndrome and tensions arising from the influx of foreigners. These are debated in the media, but rarely or never discussed in Social Studies previously.

Social Studies was first introduced as an examinable subject for upper secondary students in 2001, to focus on Singapore's history and development. But a government-led review in the mid-2000s showed that secondary school students found the lessons dry and boring, dubbing the subject government propaganda.

Educators and experts have welcomed the latest change to the Social Studies syllabus.

Promoting critical thinking and engaging the digital generation in conversations about topical issues are especially important now, given the proliferation of different perspectives on social media and socio-political websites.

Featuring hot-button issues not only makes Social Studies more interesting, but also makes for a more honest look at the Singapore story - that we have our strengths and weaknesses, such as poverty and protests, even in recent years.

Hopefully, teachers will do well in guiding students to develop mature responses to such issues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping Social Studies topical'. Print Edition | Subscribe