On Thursday, My Paper ran a front page story on parents who are upset at some social studies questions in a test script for Primary 5 students. They think it’s too early to expose children at the young age of 11 to issues such as, the reasons for the 1961 split within the PAP in Singapore, or the cause for UMNO’s worry about the “Chinese majority in Singapore. Here is what our Junior Chefs think of it:
by Pavan Mano
History’s many versions
“History is written by the victor,” goes the common refrain. And how it is taught in schools by history’s different parties matters too. That’s probably what lies at the heart of this outcry – parents are worried that the narration of events presented to their young impressionable children is (unfairly) skewed in ways that might not tally with their version of history. In public relations parlance, this is known as “spin’’ – creating an interpretation of events to sway public opinion according to what the spin doctors want. In layman’s terms, it’s just propaganda.
I was chatting with two Malaysian friends recently who could not understand why merger and separation was such a huge deal in Singaporean education. According to them, Malaysian history textbooks deal with the two countries’ separation in a few lines, simply saying that Singapore “left’’. Clearly the same event can be expressed differently, with different outcomes.
When I was 11, in Primary 5, I assumed that whatever I was taught was gospel truth – whatever Sir said must be correct. Of course, it seems silly now, but at that age I was simply absorbing information presented to me; critically analysing and thinking about the issue was something unfamiliar. Asking questions was a daunting task as questioning Sir was unimaginable.
I’m not sure exactly what’s being taught to those in primary schools now but based on the talk making its rounds on the web, some people think there is a “spin’’ or state-sponsored propaganda.
The Education ministry is caught between a rock and a hard place on this one – there is no one “correct” version of history to teach. Interpretations abound. Whatever the critics say, the version that they insist should be taught instead, is simply that – a version. So what then?
Well, there were two other people whose words I treated as gospel at age 11 – my parents. What’s taught in school is only one interpretation. Students will take it at face value. Unquestioningly, even. But educating children is not the sole responsibility of MOE . Parents have a stake in it too.
So why not engage the children? Explain the other side(s) of the story. Bring them to the library. Share webpages with them. Expose them to other interpretations so that they know this is a complex issue. The critical analysis will come as they mature.
It is better that young Singaporeans are taught something about local history rather than nothing at all. Parents are free to disagree and educate their young ones as they see fit, and as they should. At the very least, introducing pre-teens to local politics and history provides a starting point for a meaningful dialogue to be had. And that’s much better than having them remain on the fence, indifferent, disinterested, and apathetic. From childhood right through their adult life.
by Donovan Cheah
Start them young – when they are less stressed.
Is it ever too early to let students know more about their country? According to some parents, the answer seems to be “Yes!”.
Is maturity to be defined arbitrarily as a numerical age? Curious students will eventually ask about the country’s past, the formation of government. If no answers are given in school, they can search the Web for information, relying on socio-political blogs, for example, or plough through historical archives on Singapore.
Even as a university student, I feel that I may not have fully grasped many of the intricate issues that our country faces. Many of these issues are multi-dimensional, which also implies that there is no one easy solution to them. No doubt, politics, public policy and the likes of them are difficult to understand, but they affect our lives directly, and hence it is imperative that people should start knowing at least a little about the country from young.
The way to start, naturally, is talk about significant past happenings. Introducing them to how our country was born out of forced circumstances, for example, will give them some grounding in understanding Singapore’s fragility.
What about the argument about when students should be taught such matters? I tend to hew towards: the earlier the better. Let them ask questions when they are still young when they do not have so much to grapple with; don’t cram everything in secondary school or beyond. Because, by then, if they do not perceive social studies as important, they would no longer have the heart to understand or even read about Singapore.
Give our young people a gentler learning curve in understanding more and more complicated issues by giving them glimpses of our nation in the past. When knowledge builds up, analytical skills can be applied. How to critique history will then be up to them.
by Uthara Nair
What’s the big deal about teaching politics?
I honestly don’t understand all this hoopla about primary 5 students being too young to be exposed to politics. What nonsense. These students are not being asked to vote, they are simply being exposed to the intricacies of government and history. If parents are so scared about their children being unduly influenced in a certain way, what, may I ask, do they do during election time when ministers and candidates walk about, give speeches, hold rallies? Lock their children in a metal box?
First, those questions that some parents found objectionable are only in the Gifted syllabus, which are supposedly for the more mature and studious. Or is the worry the “brainwashing’’ of clever children?
Second, isn’t it more advantageous to gradually introduce the students to political history of Singapore, rather than dumping it on them suddenly when they are deemed to be ‘mature’ enough?
There’s so much political news and views both local and foreign that it might be better to start them off with a foundational understanding- if the social studies questions can even be called that- of politics. This learning doesn’t end. Even in university, there is the compulsory Singapore studies modules that must be completed for graduation.
Third, why can’t parents get more involved in educating their children on politics? Supplement the teacher or even correct the teacher if you think the child is getting a false or lousy grounding. But before jumping the gun, take a look at the scope and extent of “political’’ lessons in a primary student’s syllabus. Have your say in what should be taught – but don’t get it banned.