Analysis of the Singapore Social Studies Syllabus

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Analysis of the Singapore Social Studies Syllabus


Launched in 2001, the secondary social studies curriculum is seen as the primary vehicle to implement citizenship education in Singapore, and a crucial pillar of the government’s tripartite plan of National Education (NE) in schools. Broadly, the plan uses simplified slogans to categorize and underline the aims and intended outcomes expected of each level of education – “Love Singapore” is the focus of NE in primary schools, “Know Singapore” for secondary schools, and “Lead Singapore” in junior colleges, or pre-universities (Adler & Sim, 2008).

Citizenship education was perceived by the Singapore Government as a critical tool to instill shared national values, patriotism, a sense of belonging and pride, and build an active citizenry. However, in response to the changing dynamics of the world – namely, globalization and interconnectivity (and some might include heightened fears of transnational terrorism post 9/11) – an issues-based social studies curriculum with a global focus was developed (Ho, 2009) to incorporate international case studies so as to approach the subject of national building using a global focus.

What makes a “good” citizen?
Every nation desires good citizens. But each has its own definition of what makes a “good” citizen. Universally, there seems to be some general consensus on certain desirable attributes of a good citizen that transcend political systems – attributes that are grounded on morality, character and values (respect, love, kindness, considerate, responsible, law-abiding, etc). Additionally, however, Westheimer & Kahne (2004) identified three constructs of citizenship: personal responsibility, participatory and justice orientation.

According to the authors, the attributes we highlighted earlier would fit nicely into the concept of a personally responsible citizen. A participatory citizen, in the words of the researchers, is one who is actively involved in “civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state and national levels” (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004, p. 243). They went on to define a justice-oriented citizen as one who would concern himself or herself with “critically analyzing and addressing social issues and injustices”. (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004, p. 243)

The authors claimed that the existing school curricula and programs (for example, service learning and community service) in the United States overemphasized development of the “personally responsible citizen” and argued for inclusion of more programs that seek to develop the other two “citizen visions”. It’s interesting to note that a parallel of the service learning programs can be found in schools in Singapore in the form of CIP or Community Involvement Projects.

The authors also concluded that having “justice-oriented” programs (because a justice-oriented citizen is the one that the authors viewed as most likely to effect societal change on a macro level) is not a guarantee of active civic participation (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004, p. 246).

However, it is important to bear in mind the sociopolitical environment (i.e. the target audience), the underlying concerns and aims of the authors – that is, citizenship education should contribute to further or enhance democracy. What that notion actually means, applied in the Singaporean context, depends on whether you regard the nation-state as a democracy, which automatically renders that notion irrelevant if your answer to the above statement is ‘no’.

National interest rules
Adler & Sim (2008), in their article titled Secondary social studies in Singapore: Intentions and contradictions, point to ‘national interest’ as the foundations of NE, and by association social studies. And though not explicitly stated, this ‘national interest’, in essence, refer to Singapore’s economic prosperity, security and survival. In fact, the theme of ‘survival’ runs throughout all the themes in the syllabus,...
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