GEOGRAPHY and history students are going to learn how to do detective work, under a revised upper secondary school curriculum that places a bigger emphasis on inquiry-based learning.
By Janice Tai And Priscilla Goy
The changes, part of a review done every six years to keep the subjects relevant, will help groom critical thinkers, the Ministry of Education said yesterday.
Skills such as asking pertinent questions, collecting evidence, analysing data, crafting explanations and reflecting on the whole process lie at the heart of the new approach.
This will be tested in the O- and N-level exams starting from next year. While it will form 13 to 25 per cent of the marks for geography, inquiry-based thinking skills will be woven into the entire history paper.
National Institute of Education (NIE) associate professor Mark Baildon, an advocate of inquiry-based learning, said it involves students applying abstract concepts to real-world situations, then analysing the data they collected to come up with their own conclusions.
"Inquiry promotes more active learning and critical thinking. This better nurtures them to be 21st-century-ready, to tackle issues that are more complex and diverse in the future," said the deputy head of NIE's Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group.
An example of this new approach, which is already used with this year's Secondary 3 cohort, is getting students to collect data about waves at a beach, then finding out that it does not match what the textbook teaches.
Students can then investigate the differences, which may be due to the beach being man-made. But it does not end there. They will be encouraged to reflect on their work, and the problems they faced.
"It gets students to own their learning and understand the complexities of the real world, which will in turn help them better understand the theories," said Mr Eugene Lee, chairman of the Geography Teachers' Association of Singapore.
For history, students will have to keep in mind overarching questions such as "how were societies transformed by colonialism?" as they go through lessons and do their own research, before offering answers.
Every secondary school student is required to take at least one of three humanities, which includes literature. Last year, about 31,400 students sat for the national exams in geography and 20,300 in history.
The revised syllabuses will change how the subjects are taught in school. Teachers have already gone for courses to learn how to deliver the new syllabus.
Instead of explaining why tourist numbers fluctuate over a period, for instance, teachers will get students to come up with their own reasons, and do the research backing their answers. "The analytical and evaluation skills learnt are important so that students can better discern the credibility and reliability of information sources," said Prof Baildon.
Students will also get to spend more time outside of class.
Fairfield Methodist School geography teacher Jayanthi Sigamani now allocates more time now for fieldwork. Students learn how to use equipment such as a sling psychrometer, which measures relative humidity, to collect their own data.
Under the previous syllabus, she said her students were simply given data to analyse.
Ms Elissa Goh, a geography teacher at New Town Secondary, believes her students are more engaged now with the new syllabus.
"They are more motivated to want to find the answers to their own questions," she said.
Sec 3 student Quek Xin Pei, who will sit the new geography exam next year, already enjoys the latest syllabus. "I find it very fun," said the Yuying Secondary student.
"We've tried using some of the equipment to track wind speed and temperature. It was a bit troublesome, but we learnt the challenges involved with fieldwork. Besides, this is more realistic."
Inquiry promotes more active learning and critical thinking. This better nurtures them to be 21st-century-ready, to tackle issues that are more complex and diverse in the future.
- Associate Professor Mark Baildon, deputy head of the humanities and social studies education academic group at the National Institute of Education
It gets students to own their learning and understand the complexities of the real world, which will in turn help them better understand the theories.
- Mr Eugene Lee, chairman of the Geography Teachers' Association of Singapore
FUN AND CHALLENGING
I find it very fun. We've tried using some of the equipment to track wind speed and temperature. It was a bit troublesome, but we learnt the the challenges involved with fieldwork. Besides, this is more realistic.