Delia Foo, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC
For many years, the teaching of history in Singapore classrooms focused primarily on teaching history as a ‘body of knowledge’. As a result, students have always found the subject of history to be static and un-engaging, driven by the learning of content and the memorization of facts and dates. To exacerbate the problem, many history teachers often ‘teach to the test’, feeding students with only sufficient information to produce well-rehearsed responses to standard questions. In the words of Lis Cercadillo, “this form of traditional history education could lead students to possess copious amounts of historical information, while having no idea where this information came from.” (Cercadillo, 2004, p.118) As a result, the enacted curriculum in Singapore does not represent history as the discipline it really is – one that requires individuals to inquire into the past and understand how the past is constructed.
That said, I believe that history teaching in Singapore is at the cusp of change, as there has been a move recently to incorporate second-order historical thinking concepts in the upcoming history syllabuses (in 2014). Prior to my arrival at UBC, I was part of the curriculum planning team with the Singapore Ministry of Education, which designed the aforementioned secondary history curriculum. Hence, I would like my research to add value to the processes that have already begun in history education in Singapore.
I hope to focus on how students in Singapore understand the concept of historical significance through the current history syllabus where the concept is not explicitly taught. Specifically, I aim to focus firstly on students’ pre-conceptions of significance in history, as this would help practitioners become cognizant of students’ existing schema in order to inform pedagogical approaches in the teaching of historical understanding (Cercadillo, 2004; Conway, 2006; Levesque, 2005; Seixas, 1994; Seixas 1999). Secondly, I hope to extend the research application of Cercadillo’s progression model for historical significance (Cercadillo, 2004, pp. 132 - 137) in Singapore classrooms, to assess the model’s suitability in guiding assessment practices for the Singapore history curriculum.
I hope that my research will help to inform curriculum implementation policies, pedagogy and assessment practices as history education in Singapore schools moves away from being merely content-driven and prescriptive to helping students develop historical understanding.
Cercadillo, L. (2004). Significance in history: students’ ideas in England and Spain. In Dickinson, A., Gordon, P., Lee, P (Eds), International Review of History Education: Raising standards in History Education. Volume 3 (pp. 116-145). London, UK: Woburn Press.
Conway, R. (2006). What they think they know: The impact of pupil’s preconceptions on their understanding of historical significance. Teaching History, 125, 10-15.
Levesque, S. (2005). Teaching second-order concepts in Canadian history: The importance of “historical significance”. Canadian Social Studies, 39(2).
Seixas, P. (1994). Students’ understanding of historical significance. Theory and Research in Social Education, Vol XXII: 3, 281-304.
Seixas, P. (1997). Mapping the terrain of historical significance. Social Education, 61(1), 22-27.