Volume 2, Issue 2 2013

Guest Editorial 

Welcome to the new issue of HSSE Online!

The Humanities curriculum in Singapore has, with the launch of the new History and Geography syllabi, embarked on a new direction focused on inquiry in the classroom. In this issue focused on history and history education, we turn the spotlight on history as a discipline and the teaching of history in classrooms.

History is not just the study of the human past; it is the rigorous analysis and interpretation of the past. Not only does history involve investigation and inquiry, it also requires an active historical imagination to enable the historian to use all forms of evidence to better understand the past. The challenge for all historians (as well as history teachers and students) is to make historical sense out of the evidence at their disposal to explain change and continuity over time. Of course not everyone interprets evidence in the same way as aptly demonstrated by Farish Noor’s discussion of the “Colony versus Protectorate” debate. While national histories taught in schools may be the foundation upon which nation-states are built, the fact remains that history, as a discipline, remains the most politically contested discursive terrain among the humanities.

With its emphasis on perspective and context, the teaching of history in schools offers many challenges and an exciting adventure.  Moving students beyond the study of “dates and facts” into the process of inquiring into the past has become an important goal for history educators. Such work should help students consider the past from different vantage points and better understand the immense complexities of the present. History teachers are today vastly helped by the rich array of materials available for use in history classrooms, such as historical documents, photographs and even film. In this issue, Jeremy Stoddard offers a model of how film can be used in the history classroom to engage students in historical inquiry, help them learn about perspective, interpretation, and historical concepts, as well as to develop empathy. In so doing, films about history are no longer just visual cues or windows into the past, but serve as tools by which students can conduct further inquiry through raising questions and challenging pre-existing beliefs or understandings about particular historical events.

Such moves towards getting students involved in historical inquiry, however, must also take into consideration students’ preconceptions about the disciplinary nature of the subject. In his commentary on the inquiry-based approach to learning history, Suhaimi Afandi makes the case for a pedagogy that considers students’ prior ideas about history and the need for teachers to consistently engage those ideas. He argues that developing students’ disciplinary understandings about history would require teachers to pay attention to the kinds of ideas their students bring into the classroom.

The three papers that follow suggest, in their own ways, the notion of teacher agency and the influence this will have on the development of students’ understandings in history. First, Syazwani Amrun’s study about the ways her secondary school students thought about significant representations of Singapore’s past demonstrated the importance of uncovering students’ preconceptions as a means for teachers to help clarify students’ pre-existing ideas and make their learning more engaging and personal. Next, in his analytical study of past GCE ‘O’ Level History examination papers, Colin Emerson reflects on the changing scope of history assessment that accompanies the new history syllabus, and envisages the likelihood of students doing well through a teaching strategy that favors the engagement of students’ conceptual understandings. Finally, Omar Basri shares his experience in implementing the Flipped Classroom model, a technology-based instruction that serves to engage and further enhance students’ classroom learning in history.      

We hope you will find this issue of the HSSE Online useful for your research and professional learning and that some of the ideas here are helpful in developing deeper understandings about the nature of our craft.       

Ivy Maria Lim
Suhaimi Afandi
Guest Editors, HSSE Online
November 2013

Patriots, Collaborators and the Undecidables in Between: The Contestation between Official and Unofficial History in Malaysia

"In September 2011 the Malaysian press was abuzz with news that a leading member of an opposition party had suggested that the members of the now-extinct Malayan Communist Party (MCP) ought to be recognised as heroes in the anti-colonial struggle against the British. In response to the politician’s comments, a flurry of newspaper reports and editorials emerged, alleging, among other things, that the politician was a closet Communist and that “Communist elements” were still active in the country. Compounding matters was the role played by members of the country’s Majlis Profesor Negara (National Professors Board) who then claimed that British Malaya was never colonised by the British, which then opened the way for what came to be known as the “Colony vs Protectorate” debate. This article looks at how the contestation over meaning, facts and interpretation in Malaysia is particularly heated in the domain of official historiography, and highlights the political dimension of such debates as they occur in Malaysia’s ever-contested public domain."

Using Film in Historical Inquiry: As Medium, as Evidence, for Empathy

"Though often portrayed as a clichéd example of poor history pedagogy, there is now ample research and numerous models of best practice to support the use of film in an inquiry-based history curriculum. In this article I present best practice models and practical examples of using film as a medium to engage students in inquiry."

The New Inquiry-based Approach: What It Means for the Teaching and Learning of History in Singapore Schools

"Secondary Humanities teachers in Singapore are well-acquainted with recent developments and changes that accompanied the launch of the new history syllabus in October 2012. A most notable development was the adoption of inquiry-based learning as the recommended pedagogy for instruction. What was the logic for this change? Why was there a need to pursue inquiry-based learning for school history? What was the spirit behind the change? What did the curriculum developers hope to achieve by pushing for an inquiry approach to history learning? Some of these answers can be obtained from the Singapore Ministry of Education syllabus documents, the Teaching and Learning Guides (TLGs), and other related documents. In this commentary, I offer some of my personal thoughts on the matter and I focus on some issues that require addressing if we are serious about proposing an instructional approach that aims to develop students’ disciplinary thinking in history."

“No One Icon”: Secondary Students’ Judgments of Significant Representations of Singapore

"This study was designed to explore how students in a secondary school make sense about the significance of different representations of Singapore, and to examine their ideas on what they conceived as icons of Singapore. The research was conducted in a premier all-girls’ school in Singapore. The data used in this study was derived from semi-structured interviews that included both a task requiring students to choose from among a set of thirty captioned images, and a set of questions designed to elicit their understanding of significant representations of Singapore."

Historical Concepts and National Examinations: Have O-Level Structured-Essay Questions Encouraged the Teaching of Historical Concepts?

"The term ‘second-order historical concept’ pops up a lot these days in Singapore’s history education community. Concepts such as causation, significance, and evidence are increasingly being discussed in secondary schools across the island. These historical concepts “help students understand how historians work and how historical knowledge is constructed”, and they underpin history as a discipline (MOE, 2012). In this article I analyse Structured Essay Questions (SEQs) from past O-Level History Elective examinations to determine which historical concepts have traditionally been assessed in the summative national assessments. Based on this preliminary analysis, the article focuses on whether the examinations have encouraged the teaching of second-order historical concepts, and discusses possible ways forward for the assessment of these concepts."

Turning the Tables on History Education in Singapore: The Flipped Classroom Experience in NUS High School of Math and Science

"This paper looks at how a flipped classroom model was implemented for 75 Integrated Humanities students in the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science in 2012 and highlights the advantages and limitations of this pedagogy. The flipped classroom model requires students to watch a recorded lecture before coming to class. After gaining content knowledge prior to class time, students are then required to apply it at a higher level of learning. Keywords: Flipped Classroom , History, Integrated Humanities, Specific strands: Pedagogy, Innovative ideas & approaches "

Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore. By Loh Kah Seng. Singapore: NUS and NIAS Presses, 2013. 330 pp. $38.00 (paper).

"Loh Kah Seng’s new book, Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore (NUS & NIAS Presses, 2013) provides a highly interesting social history of urban kampongs in Singapore and the modernist public housing scheme that transformed Singapore. Loh, currently an Assistant Professor at the Institute for East Asian Studies at Sogang University in South Korea, is also the author of Making and Unmaking the Asylum: Leprosy and Modernity in Singapore and Malaysia (2009). "

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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