Environmental Education in Singapore: An Analysis of Environmental Knowledge in the Lower Secondary Geography Curriculum, pp. 7 of 9

Discussion

Possible Reasons for Findings

The disproportionate emphasis of EK1 and to some extent EK2 over EK3 and EK4 has yet been empirically studied. However, the findings can be thought to be related to the “institutionalisation of dominant beliefs about knowledge, teaching and learning” (McIntyre, 1985, p. 79, cited in Stevenson, 2007, p. 151). The syllabus reflects the social context of a nation – it is created by a group of government officials with certain beliefs and attitudes towards the concept of the environment and the purpose of education.

The Singapore education system remains one that is performance and results oriented. This is evident from the assessment objectives laid out in the TLG document whereby two out of the three assessment objectives place heavy emphasis on students’ “factual knowledge” attainment (see CPDD, 2014b, p. 190), which essentially means that EK1 would carry the heaviest weighting in assessment. In fact, such narrow content coverage is not unique to Singapore and is thought to align with the idea of education for the purpose of examination (Raselimo et al., 2013). There appears to be a perceived conceptual difference between objective and subjective knowledge, analogous to Esland’s (1971) argument that the former is considerably more straightforward and measurable than the latter, which is “problematic and essentially personal in nature, being socially constructed from the learner’s active participation in the production and verification of meaning” (as cited in Stevenson, 2007, p. 149). EK3 and EK4 would fall under the latter for they require for instance, the evaluative skills and one’s personal imagination and envisioning of alternative environmental strategies that do not have a definite criterion for assessment.

Implications on Teaching and Learning

A curriculum skewed towards EK1 might affect how EE is integrated into teaching and learning within the geography education. For one, it could potentially shape how geography teachers, the bridge between the curriculum and students, form their beliefs and practices of what and how EE should be delivered. More importantly, this underscores the issue of the recurring cycle for why EK is not holistically developed in the curriculum and the action-paralysis found among students.

Indeed, it has been observed that geography teachers tended to perceive environmental processes as the core content knowledge (Morgan, 2012). Ho and Seow’s (2017) study concluded that the syllabus document has a strong influence on teachers’ professional identity and pedagogical decisions. Similar findings were reported in Cotton’s (2006) study of three teachers whom, because of their beliefs in displaying neutrality, avoided framing their lessons aligned with EE, which they felt is socially critical. While the improvised 2014 LSG syllabus introduces the issue-based framework as a guideline for teachers to engage students to think critically about the issues, it remains an uphill task for teachers without the relevant resources and support from the system, to deviate much from the curriculum. They will also be less likely to make the conscious effort to tap on EE as a platform to develop students who can be critical yet active contributors to the local environmental scene. It is hence unsurprising that teachers may choose to stick to the ‘easier’ route by following closely to guidelines stipulated in the LSG syllabus and TLG document and fail to realise the full potential and benefits of a holistic EK curriculum.

In turn, students may fall short of participating in the improvement of environmental problems existing in their societies. In fact, the dominance of scientific knowledge and facts might do more harm than good as students are overwhelmed with the knowledge and awareness of the seriousness and extent of environmental issues from both the media and the school, but find themselves unprepared and ill-equipped to address them. The limited knowledge of alternatives and visions can lead to students being despondent “of a future that they do not quite understand” (Chang & Pascua, 2016, p. 18) and effectively foster a sense of powerlessness and negative environmental outlook among students.

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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