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New Sec 2 history textbook to encourage thinking skills

Students will learn to analyse, interpret sources and think like a historian, says MOE officer.

SINGAPORE: A new history textbook, which will include more first-hand accounts of the nation’s past during the Japanese Occupation, for instance, will be introduced to Secondary 2 students next year to encourage them to learn history through enquiry and investigation, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said Wednesday (May 28).

This comes after the current batch of Sec 1 students started using a new textbook – which covers Singapore’s history as far back as the 14th century – this year, with the introduction of a new lower-secondary history syllabus.

When asked about the new textbook, Ms Marilyn Lim, assistant director of the humanities branch (curriculum planning and development division) at MOE, said while the story is not new, the way it is being told is.

Ms Elaine Lim, the humanities branch’s deputy director, added: “The history of Singapore is written in a way that students go through a series of investigations to understand the history ... and they do it through a range of sources.”

Students will also be taught “thinking skills” through the new textbook, such as how to analyse, interpret historical sources and think like a historian, she added.

Both women were speaking to the media on the sidelines of the inaugural Symposium On The Teaching And Learning Of History on Wednesday.

Some of those skills were also highlighted by Professor Tan Tai Yong, vice-provost (student life) at the National University of Singapore, during his keynote address at the symposium. He said the youth here have the historical knowledge, but are unable to relate socially and personally to Singapore’s history.

To develop “historical consciousness”, he suggested pluralising history and showing it in its full complexity, so students could be trained to be more discerning.

Prof Tan also welcomed historians’ attempts at writing “revisionist” or “alternate” history – these historians have said they want to break the “hegemonic narrative” of Singapore’s history – if such efforts result in new interpretations and analysis. “But if it is done with political intent, then I’d say, let’s be more cautious about those approaches.”

As part of efforts to provide easier access to Singapore’s historical resources, the National Library Board (NLB) also introduced its new history portal – HistorySG – at the symposium yesterday. With information dating as far back as 1299, it aims to be a one-stop website for students and the public, offering readings, photographs, video and audio clips, as well as newspaper articles chronicling Singapore’s history.

It is partly aimed at the growing number of “aspiring citizen historians” who may not have enough resources to turn to, said NLB director Gene Tan. “(People) tend to come to quite quick conclusions about Singapore’s history, so we thought it’s good to broaden their perspectives with even more resources at their disposal.”

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