Taming “Issue Investigation”: Singapore Secondary Social Studies Teachers’ Accounts of Challenges Encountered and Strategies for Coping, pp. 4 of 10

Participants were recruited using a mixture of purposive and snow-ball sampling methods. The author selectively reached out to his professional contacts in the Singapore SS teaching community to invite potential participants who embodied diversities in terms of teaching experiences, academic backgrounds, and school types. The seven schools involved in the study were mostly medium-range schools: two or three might be considered lower-end “neighbourhood schools”, but none were exceptionally high-ability or “elite” schools. Participants were also asked to forward the research invitation to their eligible contacts, which led to several more volunteers. The resultant pool could be regarded as more or less typical of the profiles of SS teachers in Singapore schools, representing varying lengths of teaching experience, subject combinations, and a range of positions and seniority levels, including rank-and-file teachers, Senior Teachers, Subject Heads and Heads of department. Nevertheless, given the limited sample size and the sampling methods used, some caution is in order when generalizing this study’s findings.

An interview/FGD session typically lasted between 1 and 1.5 hours. Some of the interviews/FGDs were conducted or facilitated by a trained research assistant. All sessions were conducted in English, audio-recorded and transcribed, and coded thematically using the NVivo 12 software for analysis. Transcripts were anonymised to conceal participants’ identities; all participant names mentioned in this paper are pseudonyms.

Challenges to II Implementation and Enactment

The study found that research participants’ experiences in relation to II implementation and enactment were by and large similar, with their narratives converging on a more or less common set of challenges. One major challenge that hindered II implementation from the outset had to do with the perceived tenuous link between II and the high-stakes national exam, and a resultant exam-driven pragmatism.

Tenuous link to exam, and exam-driven pragmatism

Despite affirming from the outset the intrinsic value of doing II, Kali, a senior teacher with some thirty years of experience, spoke with brutal candour when she was asked during an interview if she and her school colleagues saw II as important in their scheme of work:

We don’t see [II] as important, because it’s not exam-based. Never do also never mind! And if you must do it, “Don’t use so much time ah! Because we need to study for exam!... Because no matter how much you change, the exam is pen and paper, we will teach to pen and paper, we will teach to the exam because in the end that is what they want to see: the results. So, they can change it whichever way they want, if the exam doesn’t change, we will teach to the exam.

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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