Equip teachers to handle social studies class deftly

Peirce Secondary students waiting to enter a homeroom for their next lesson.
Peirce Secondary students waiting to enter a homeroom for their next lesson. PHOTO: ST FILE

The recent revamp of the compulsory O-level subject, social studies, appears to be on the right track ("Revised social studies syllabus tackles hot-button issues"; Jan 6).

The commentary last Thursday ("A welcome lesson in critical thinking") reported that curriculum writers from the Ministry of Education (MOE) consulted people from other government agencies in developing a syllabus whose emphasis is on more topical and Singapore-centric issues, and which promotes critical thinking by framing issues in the form of open-ended questions.

Developing the social studies curriculum is no easy task, particularly as it is closely allied to the national agenda of citizenship education.

Due to the fluidity of the socio-economic and political landscapes, it is also a subject that would probably necessitate updates and revisions more often than other subjects.

Now that the syllabus has been revamped, it remains to be seen if teachers can deliver it in a balanced, judicious manner that is accepting of contrarian views, provided that these views are predicated on rational and well-reasoned arguments.

As National University of Singapore historian Tan Tai Yong said, teachers will require adequate support from the ministry to facilitate classroom discussions, for social studies is a subject that lends itself to critical debate.

Aside from the skills of managing inquiry and discourse, teachers need to also be well informed and not limit themselves to the confines of textbooks.

It is troubling that students from the Integrated Programme (IP) are not required to take the social studies subject as they do not sit the O-level exams.

Should these students not also be taking social studies as a subject, particularly since it focuses on national education and aims to promote citizenship education and participative citizenship?

The value of this subject is inestimable as it is a confluence of content knowledge, values education and critical thinking.

Students from the IP schools are likely to be in leadership positions or join the public service. Thus, making the subject available to them is imperative in ensuring that they, like their peers, have a firm grasp of the issues that confront Singapore and a deeper understanding of the multiracial fabric of our society.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Equip teachers to handle social studies class deftly'. Print Edition | Subscribe