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New history syllabus covers S’pore’s very early years

SINGAPORE — Since the start of the school term this year, lower-secondary students have been learning more about the country’s past — as far back as the 14th century, when it was a bustling trading port.

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SINGAPORE — Since the start of the school term this year, lower-secondary students have been learning more about the country’s past — as far back as the 14th century, when it was a bustling trading port.

Under a new lower-secondary history syllabus, Secondary One students in the Express and Normal (Academic) streams this year were the first batches to use a new history textbook titled Singapore: The Making of a Nation-state, 1300-1975.

Responding to media queries, a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesperson said using the 14th century as a starting point “presents students with the opportunity to explore Singapore’s origin as a port of call, and her connections to the region and the world”.

While information on Singapore’s history in the 14th century had been included in earlier syllabuses, the materials previously were less detailed than the content in the new textbook.

Previously, more chapters were devoted to Singapore’s colonial era in the 1800s and its nation building years after World War II. Under the new syllabus, however, students will learn , for instance, about archaeological artefacts such as Chinese porcelain found in the Old Parliament House before the 15th century.

The rise of Singapore as a trading post in the 1300s, due to factors such as the fall of the Srivijaya Kingdom — a powerful maritime kingdom that controlled trade in Sumatra — as well as natural conditions including monsoon seasons which facilitated maritime transport, has also been detailed in the new textbook.

The MOE spokesperson noted that syllabus coverage of Singapore’s early history has become progressively richer, with the discovery of more historical sources.

Miss Shinderjeet Kaur, a history teacher from Juying Secondary, said the new syllabus includes a group-work component where students can visit the National Museum or Fort Canning, for instance, to learn more about the country’s early history. Teachers can play the role of facilitator, as lessons will take on an inquiry-based approach, while students will also be also expected to contribute actively in class, she added.

“Students will be stretched to think differently about Singapore’s early history — one that does not only feature our colonial past,” said Miss Kaur.

Historian Chua Ai Lin from the National University of Singapore said that acquainting students with more knowledge of Singapore’s early years will help them to understand that the nation today is not merely a product of British rule or the present Government.

“There are larger structural reasons, such as the geographical location on the trading routes between East and West, that also developed Singapore to what it is today,” said Dr Chua, who is also President of the Singapore Heritage Society. Knowing that Singapore has more than 800 years of history will also instil in the young a greater sense of pride, she said.

Dr Kho Ee Moi, from the National Institute of Education’s Humanities and Social Studies Education Department, said that by only learning about the country’s history from the 1800s onwards, young Singaporeans may be mistaken that the Republic came into existence only because of colonial rule.

Adding that the country’s history and heritage were much richer, she pointed out that Singapore was already plugged into the thriving Malay archipelago before it was colonised.

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