Evolution of the Primary School Social Studies Curriculum in Singapore: From ‘Moulding’ Citizens to Developing Critical Thinkers


Most educators in democratic societies are of the view that citizenship education is crucial for the continued existence of a society. There is, however, a lack of agreement about what the goals and purposes of citizenship education should be. Most researchers agree that Social Studies is utilised for three primary purposes, viz., socialisation into the norms of society; acquisition of disciplinary concepts and processes; and the promotion of critical or reflective thinking (Ross, 2006). In Singapore, Social Studies is an important vehicle for citizenship education in Singapore. This paper examines the development of Social Studies as a subject for citizenship education in primary schools and shows that the purpose of Social Studies has for many years, focused on socialising the young into the norms of Singapore society. The primary goal has been the development of moral, law abiding and patriotic citizens. This goal has remained constant although towards the 21st century, there is recognition of a need to include the development of critical thinking in the Social Studies. This, however, is still a fledgling goal and more deliberate effort is required to achieve this.

To inculcate in our young the desired values and instincts for nation-building, we need to start at an early age. Social Studies has an important role to play in this respect. It helps to foster national pride in our pupils and to develop in them a deep sense of belonging to the community and nation. This has become even more important in the face of rapid globalization.

Aline Wong (2000)


Most educators in democratic societies agree that developing the young to become effective citizens is of utmost importance and schools are well placed to do that (Parker, 2005; Stanley, 2010). In Singapore, Social Studies plays a primary role in citizenship education in school. However, citizenship education is a contentious enterprise as there is no consensus on what “citizenship” means nor about the goals and purposes of citizenship education (Ross, 2006; McCowan, 2009; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). As pointed out by Sim (2008), the plural nature of communities in modern states, compounded by globalization and its attendant issues, has resulted in a lack of shared conceptions of citizenship even among members of the same society. McCowan (2009, p.5) posits that the “aims of citizenship education – the development of a ‘good’ or ‘effective’ or ‘empowered’ citizen – depend on fundamental understandings of the nature of the polity, the balance of liberty and equality and so forth.” The multiplicity and diverse natures of nation states in the world suggest that it is not possible to agree on one definitive form of citizenship education.


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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