Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore

Abstract

Historical education in Singapore has seen much progress following the shift away from Rafflesian history to studies on pre-1819 Singapore with new publications and exhibitions. However, many educators still face difficulties in delivering this knowledge to their students. This article looks at how historical education in Singapore can be enhanced by using an amalgamation of archaeological methods, historical evidence, and an inquiry-based approach as a pedagogical practice to teaching 14th-century Singapore.

Introduction

Archaeological research has provided much insight into the study of Singapore’s pre-colonial past. In 2007, 14th-century Singapore was given some coverage in secondary school textbooks (Division 2007: 2-19). In 2014, the CPDD launched a new history textbook with an increase from one to two chapters about ancient Singapore (Division 2014: 2-91). It had been seven years since the inclusion of new materials. Students were, however, not given many opportunities to explore Singapore’s 14th-century past as educators were equally unsure how they should teach this particular subject.

An informal check conducted among schools revealed that teachers tend to rush through or skip the pre-colonial section of the textbook as it is deemed unimportant or irrelevant for assessment. Another difficulty that educators face lay in the lack of necessary knowledge required for the study of archaeology and in turn, transferring this knowledge to our students. The instructors running teacher-training courses at the National Institute of Education (NIE) may also encounter difficulties coaching student teachers on pedagogical approaches to teaching pre-colonial Singapore due their own lack of familiarity with actual archaeology, given that archaeological work is not a common area of academic or educational expertise in history education.

I have been trying to develop and incorporate archaeology into the teaching of 14th-century Singapore, Chapter 1 of Singapore: The Making of a Nation-State, 1300-1975, since I was an undergraduate student. Together with Associate Professor Goh Geok Yian, I started out with developing a workbook for secondary school teachers to guide educators in teaching archaeology in the classroom. The workbook contains relevant information on archaeology and its importance as well as some lesson ideas that teachers can employ in classrooms. I was then given the opportunity to teach history during my internship stint at a Secondary School where I improved on my workbook and developed a “Teachers’ Guide to Archaeology” based on my experiences in an actual classroom setting.

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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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