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
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.