Monday, April 27, 2009

Learning about Singapore's history under GEP

One of the significant differences between the GEP and mainstream curriculum is the former's focus on Social Studies. In the mainstream, Social Studies is relegated as one of those "soft" topics, like Health Education and Moral Education. From what I've heard, the exam paper consists of 20 multiple-choice questions and only covers a broad overview of the subject.

Under GEP, Social Studies is an examinable subject and the kids have to garner at least a 50% pass to maintain their GE status. The curriculum is very extensive and detailed, with particular focus on Singapore's history. The exams test in-depth understanding of the topics and are mostly open-ended questions.

I'm guessing that this is part of MOE's determination to cultivate social and political awareness among this group of kids, as well as foster patriotism and nation-building. A few of us mothers sometimes roll our eyes at what we deem as "national brain-washing" but at heart, we agree that it is very important for our kids to grow up with an understanding of how this country evolved.

The textbook for the Singapore portion of GEP Social Studies is Understanding Our Past - Singapore from Colony to Nation, MOE Singapore, Times Publishing, 1999.

In my opinion, it's quite well written. History books are usually so dull but this one is written in a casual narrative style that's easy to understand, yet is very informative and detailed (it's almost 260 pages). It also has loads of pictures and the visual layout facilitates reading. Another reason I like it is that it keeps largely to the facts, none of that preachy propoganda that some of the primary level social studies materials tend to feature.

Note: GEP Social Studies doesn't just entail Singapore history but I estimate that this makes up about 75% of the curriculum.

The Singapore portion is studied at the various levels as follows:

p4 - Origins of Singapore, World War II
p5 - Post-war, Merger and Separation, Independence
p6 - Industralisation, Modern Singapore

Most of the lessons are supplemented with worksheets and go beyond superficial awareness of events. In p5, the topic on Singapore Independence leads to an interesting discussion on what is involved in building a national identity.

When the kids are learning about racial riots with the Maria Hertogh Riots as a case study, they don't just study what happened. They have to examine the surrounding circumstances and the different points of view in order to come up with a more complete understanding of the implications of such an event. In addition, they have to discuss an article about the event, analysing the author's purpose of writing based on the way the information was presented, his own interpretation and inferences. This part of the study I feel is very important because it teaches the kids that writers have their own biases and opinions, and they shouldn't just take everything they read at face value.

This is followed by a worksheet where they have to write their own reflections on the event.

In case you can't read it, the instructions are:

Write a reflection on the Maria Herogh Riots. Your reflection should include
  • an outline of the causes and consequences of the Maria Herogh Riots
  • the lesson learnt from the riots
  • recommendations to schools nationwide to advise the youth the importance of promoting racial harmony in Singapore
This was what Lesley-Anne wrote:

The causes of the riot was that the Malays felt that there was no respect for them. The consequences that then followed was that a curfew had to be imposed for two weeks before the police could gain control of the situation and 18 people were killed and 173 were injured.

The lesson learnt was that we have to preserve racial and religious harmony as racial disharmony can disrupt our daily lives. The media also had to exercise more discipline in the coverage of sensitive issues.

My recommendations to schools is that they should tell the students about the cultures of different races so they can be sensitive to each other. They should also tell the students about each others religion so that they can be sensitive too. This can promote racial and religious harmony.

This is only my personal opinion but I feel that the mainstream kids would benefit from the same focus that the GEP places on Social Studies. Or maybe it will be introduced to them at the secondary school level. I hope so. Afterall, understanding our history is a critical component of knowing who we are and being able to plan for our future.


Puzzled by Puzzles! said...

I am surprised to know that they don't learn the same thing under Social Studies. I would assume that subjects which are termed "speicals" like PE, music, health, social would be the same for all students. I agree that the Spore history books are well written. In fact, I bought a few back the last trip. Just to let the kids read to know more abt Spore's past since we have been living overseas for some time. In the end, it was dh who was hooked on them.

monlim said...

S: When I was in school, we learnt China history, SE Asia history and covered only a small part of Singapore which is such a shame. My peers and I grew up knowing almost nothing about Singapore. It's great that the kids today learn to think analytically about their past, that's why I think these lessons should be extended to all kids, not just GEP.

Lilian said...

Thanks for this post. L-A's reflection is a very mature piece of writing. Wholeheartedly agree with you that such lessons should be taught to all children; unfortunately unless it is tested for PSLE, it will be naturally relegated and given only passing attention by teachers, parents and kids who have to focus on examinable subjects.

When I was growing up in Malaysia, Science was taught from P1 (besides Malay, English and Math and other soft subjects such as Health and Moral); Geography from P3, and History in P4. For the major primary school nationwide exams, we could score a maximum of 5As, for English, Math, Malay, Science and History/Geography. We continued to take these subjects in Secondary school and I think this has served to enhance our world views and definitely widened our general knowledge.

These soft humanities subjects may not be as obviously useful and economically productive as Science, Math and languages are, but I feel really lucky that the focus of education back then wasn't just to churn out engineers, doctors and lawyers.

daphne said...

Hi Monica,
I have been a silent follower to your blog for sometime. Can't function without checking it daily. :)

Not related to this post, but I would like your inputs on choosing primary school. I have a girl (going 4 end of the year) & a boy (going 2). I stayed in Queenstown area & the closest pri schools available here are: Queenstown Pri (<1km); New Town Pri & Fairfield Methodist Pri (within 2km).

Ideally, I would like both children to be in the same school (cut the hassle of registation) but I'm also keen in putting them in different schools; CHIJ Kellock Pri for girl & SJI Jr for boy. Hoping we could get affiliation through church because these are outside 2km from home.

Would you please share with me your thoughts on these & also the above-named schools?

No obligation please. Thank you so much.


monlim said...

Lilian: Yup, definitely focus is always skewed to examinable subjects. SS is emphasised in GEP precisely because it's also examinable! Looks like that's the only way to get it priority.

Do you know if the Malaysian system still teaches a broad curriculum or has it succumbed to the exam culture? I think many Asian countries have gone the exam route, some to the extreme. Look at Korea, China and Japan.

Daphne: Wah, I'm so flattered lah! I will discuss the schools with you separately via email :)

Lilian said...

I'm not 100% sure but I believe they moved down the slippery 3R (Readin', wRitin', aRithmetic) slope years ago. I just googled and history and geography are no longer examinable subjects in the primary school exams, not sure if they are even taught in school anymore.

I believe they've gone the exam route but the extent of grade inflation is ridiculous. Everyone we know seems to be getting straight As, and this has been going on for past 10 years. I once kaypoh-ed at Popular in Malaysia and saw questions for the Math nation-wide exams for Form 3 (around Sec 2) and the standard is probably lower than PSLE Math. And don't get me started on the standard of English taught there.

monlim said...

Lilian: That's why so many bright Malaysians come to Singapore. Like you and Eddie lah :D How will they assess who can get into the most popular programmes if everyone gets straight As? Ours is worse in a sense, standard getting ridiculously hard but STILL everyone getting straight As!

Veronica_L said...

Hi Monica,

I have a friend's daughter who is in the GEP. Apparently Social Studies is such an important subject, still have to do portfolio. Which drives the kid crazy. Gasp! Lesley-Anne is so smart! I was shocked when I read what she had written. And handwriting is better than Andre's too.

I have been checking this every day and having very pleasant surprises when I stumbled upon the comments. Actually, the comments are just as good as the posts!

monlim said...

Veronica: Yes, there's SS porfolio which reminds me, L-A's is due soon, must go bug her about it! Eh? Really ah, her answer is good? She only got 6/10 so I thought it was average. But she'll be very happy to hear your praises!

And yes, the comments are great, we have some very insightful and bright parents on this blog, which I'm very grateful for!

Slim said...

HI Monica
There's another book "Singapore From Settlement to Nation Pre-1819 to 1971" which covers SS topics taught in GEP. Both these books are secondary school SS texts, so these lessons are taught to non-GEPers, albeit at a later stage. I stumbled upon these 2 books in a shop at Coronation Plaza and wonder why they aren't recommended reading for GE kids. I notice that some GEP SS notes are extracted from these 2 books tho.

monlim said...

Slim: Nice to see you here! You are our role model for "non-kancheong" parenting :D

Great to know that SS is taught at secondary schools. I've not come across the other SS textbook. Maybe it's because the GEP kids only cover a little of the post Independence portion so they just extract some of the notes and don't make them use the book. Just a guess...


I'm a GEP student. The portfolio is tough, can't think of a topic........

danlow said...

I'm in GEP CHS P6 at the moment.
Even though we used the book, it was not too much of a textbook, it was only a "helper", or so to speak.
History actually makes up 90% of the syllabus.(or so i think)
SS is more emphasized (The baseline is higher) and reflections are EMPHASIZED ( maybe because "GEPers" are rumored to be weirdoes). I'd like to see your other posts on this topic.

Agnes Kow said...


I am a mother of 4 and my 2nd child is a GEP TNS P6 kid. Coincidentally, danlow who commented on the textbook was my son's classmate in TNS.

I understand what is to be on a 'roller coaster ride' - my first girl is totally different from my son, be it academically, musically and etc. I have to say God makes them different so I can be a better educator (I am a part-time tutor in Ngee Ann Poly). My 3rd and 4th are a pair of 15mth old twins...still don't know whether they are 'identical' or not! Mmmm my son tells me I should have my own blog since I like to comment on various issues!

monlim said...

Agnes: I totally agree with you that God makes our children different for a purpose. If they were all gifted, we probably wouldn't understand the struggles of mainstream kids. If they were all mainstream, we might think gifted kids were just show-offs or weirdos!

As a blogger, I encourage you to start a blog. It has other benefits apart from just stating your views, as I've discovered. From reading my blog, my kids have developed a much stronger bond with me, this has been a wonderful blessing I couldn't have foreseen :)

May said...

Hi Monica

I read with great interest your blog which i came across this morning.(it's a bit late but it's better than never :-))

My daughter is in P4 GEP class this year. Our knowledge of the GEP is limited although we attended few briefings conducted by the school. It is good that I've found your blog and am able to get a better glimpse of GEP.

May I check where can we get hold of the book "Understanding Your Past"? Is it for sale? Can I borrow from the library? My gal is doing the SS project now - Oral History of Singapore.

A Lost Mummy Here :-(

monlim said...

May: In L-A's year, it was the prescribed text so it was sold at Popular. I'm not sure about now, maybe you can check it out there? Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

I'm a P6 GEP student, sorry if i'm a bit late.

I was doing my SS portfolio project about the Penan people (even though our exams were just over today, we still have to complete our SS portfolio by Monday) when I stumbled upon this blog.

P6 GEP Social Studies now is mainly about ASEAN and colonialism, and as stated, Industrialisation as well.

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