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    Jan 06, 2016

    Social studies textbook now covers more current issues

    A FACEBOOK post written by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about his views on interaction with foreigners here is now featured in a new social studies textbook.

    And so are topical issues debated in the media, but rarely or never discussed in social studies previously - such as whether there should be a poverty line, and the Nimby (Not In My Backyard) syndrome.

    The upper secondary social studies syllabus and examination format have been revised to place a greater emphasis on promoting active citizenship and critical thinking, said Marilyn Lim, deputy director for humanities in the Ministry of Education's (MOE's) curriculum planning and development division.

    With the new syllabus, students are encouraged to "develop responses to societal issues rather than just learning about them", an MOE spokesman told The Straits Times.

    The new syllabus will affect students taking the O- and N-level social studies exams from next year, starting with this year's Secondary 3 cohort. Last year, about 41,000 students took the O- and N-level exams for social studies, which was introduced as an examinable subject for upper secondary in 2001.

    While previous revisions of the subject's syllabus were usually incremental, with updates to the policies mentioned for example, educators said the latest revamp marks a significant change, with more topical issues and guiding questions to promote critical thinking.

    The latest textbook is organised around societal issues with guiding questions to encourage students to give their own responses.

    For the issue about "exploring citizenship and governance", for instance, guiding questions include "What does it mean for me to be a citizen?" and "How do we decide on what is good for society?".

    Another key difference is that the revised syllabus also looks at "new diversities" - such as people of different nationalities and socio-economic statuses - instead of focusing on racial and religious diversity.

    Contentious issues which took place in recent years also have more prominence in the new textbook.

    For instance, a 2014 Facebook post by Mr Lee about how Singaporeans should be more welcoming towards foreigners is featured in a section about the challenges of living in a diverse society with foreigners. He wrote it after some Singaporeans had expressed intolerance towards plans by Filipinos here to hold the Philippine Independence Day celebrations in Orchard Road.

    National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that raising current issues in the classroom encourages students to consider and evaluate diverse views whether in the mainstream or social media, instead of "being passive, unthinking consumers of media content".

    But he added that students needed to have the historical context to understand new issues. "They need to have the opportunity to evaluate the past and learn the lessons that history can offer," he said.

    Some parents were glad to hear of the new syllabus and exam format, which places more emphasis on the ability to make reasoned arguments and recommendations.

    Real-estate agent Charlotte Chng, 52, who has a son in Sec 3 this year, said: "My son is not someone who buries himself in books and memorises facts, so I think the revised exam format will benefit him. I also have the habit of discussing the news with him, so I think that indirectly teaches him the skills required."