Taming “Issue Investigation”: Singapore Secondary Social Studies Teachers’ Accounts of Challenges Encountered and Strategies for Coping, pp. 9 of 10


To conclude, based on a small qualitative study that primarily elicited teachers’ experiences and accounts, this paper has sought to explore how “Issue Investigation” (II)—a recently introduced inquiry-based learning component in the upper-secondary Social Studies syllabus in Singapore—has been implemented and enacted “on the ground”, and how some of the main implementation and enactment challenges have been managed so far.

Findings show that one major obstacle to the meaningful implementation of II in Singapore secondary schools was the perceived irrelevance of II to the high-stakes national exam, which gave rise to an attitude of pragmatism that disincentivized stakeholders from taking II seriously. Indeed, anecdotal evidence further suggests that, due precisely to this pragmatism, there are schools in Singapore where II is implemented very minimally, or even not at all. Meanwhile, the enactment of II too was fraught with practical challenges, chief among which were the perceived overwhelming scope and depth of II, time constraints, and deficits of certain skills or preparedness among students and teachers. Notwithstanding this, most of the SS teachers the researchers spoke to in the course of this study did seem to appreciate the intrinsic value and potential of II as an inquiry-driven learning activity.

Grappling with the numerous challenges and obstacles, Singapore secondary SS teachers developed a number of strategies to “tame” II, making it manageable for both the students and themselves. Virtually all schools/teachers reported using some strategies to simplify II, typically through reducing the scope of work required and standardizing the inquiry activities and processes. In addition, at several schools, teachers also adopted a “piggybacking” approach, which worked essentially by making undertaking II also serve some other purposes, such as helping students practice exam-relevant skills, or fulfilling learning objectives in relation to Value in Action (VIA) and Character and Citizenship Education (CCE). In other words, these latter strategies operated by dual- or multi-purposing II, so that II became a stone that kills more than one bird. It was evident from the research participants’ accounts that adopting these strategies had indeed made II a more manageable task for the teachers as well as a more productive learning activity for students. Thus, for schools and teachers currently still deterred by the “daunting” appearance of Issue Investigation, the II-taming strategies mentioned in this paper may have certain reference value.

Lastly, given the exploratory nature of the study and the limited scope of data, this paper represents but a small first step towards addressing the various research gaps pertaining to Issue Investigation in Singapore Social Studies. Future research may aim towards providing a more comprehensive understanding of the implementation of II, and inquiry-learning in SS more broadly, across Singapore schools. More research into effective enactment strategies in relation to II will also be valuable.

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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