Volume 4, Issue 2 2015


2015 is a year that heralds a number of important events for Singapore. First and foremost, the country celebrates its Golden Jubilee. About five months before the National Day (9th Aug) of the country saw the passing away of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of independent Singapore and one of the most respected statesman in the global arena. For a history student who has read about Queen Victoria’s jubilees, these were grand events in which celebrations lasted over an extended period of time. Incidentally, Singapore held one of the biggest colonial celebrations in the 1887 Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Reaching 50 years for a country is a young age. For an ‘unlikely’ state such as Singapore which did not expect it to come in 1965, surviving ‘puberty’ is a big thing. Negotiating with adulthood (getting to developed country status) is the next big thing. A number of thinkers such as K. Mahbubani in Can Singapore survive? have come forward to reflect and think about the issues of Singapore’s survival. At the National Institute of Education, and specifically at the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group (HSSE AG), we are joining the country in celebrating and remembering 1965 in a big way. First, the AG held a photograph exhibition and competition. The winner for the event presented an evocative photograph of a HDB void deck photograph and poem caption that struck a chord not only with the judges but with many visitors to the exhibition. Mr Lee Kuan Yew is remembered exclusively in one of the panels solely dedicated to him. Second, as a body of academics and intellectuals, the AG also hopes to contribute by thinking and reflecting about the milestone though the individual fields worked on by different members of the group. This is presented in the form of the special edition in this journal. The AG boasts a 23-person teaching staff team that works on a variety of areas and specialisations on an extraordinary breadth and depth of history, geography, social studies and business studies reflecting both academic and curriculum interests. The research presented in this edition features part of the repertoire of the research undertaken by different members of the AG. You are invited to refer to the research specialisation list at the end of the journal to have a glimpse of the full array of the interest research areas.

Chor Boon Goh starts the journal with a thoughtful analysis of Singapore’s history and growth as framed within the debate of why some nations succeed and others fail. Framed within the key issues of the Acemoglu and Robinson-Sach debate, the paper argues that Singapore’s impressive growth from colonialism to independence is due to a combination of factors. Together with the British being the “most benevolent of the European imperialists”, Singapore’s post-war political leaders are significant contributors to Singapore’s growth in their continuation and commitment to inclusive and collaborative policies. His paper is a fitting first read in a journal dedicated to celebrating Singapore at 50.

Teddy Sim’s essay on Venice appeals to a non-Cartesian and less prescriptive approach in exploring the decline of Venice and the comparative history of Venice and Singapore. During periods of region-in-decline, there was a limit to how far Venice could have regenerated itself. When comparison is made with the longue duree history of Singapore, the outcome points to the fact that the best any state could do during periods of ebb was to “play a secondary role and ride out tough period”. This message does not contradict the lesson that one should aspire to take full advantage of opportunities and try his best.

S. Afandi and M. Baildon’s essay brings to attention the dissatisfactory way in which history is engaged for the students. The authors propose a factual-multiple-criterial continuum to help students negotiate the task of knowing history. Helping students sort out which category of understanding a student’s perception of history falls into becomes crucial for the teacher. As Singapore moves beyond its 50th birthday, it may not “be sufficient to say that students know enough history [or just a particular story] but understand history as a mode of inquiry and appreciate [its] importance as a means of making sense of human experience.

Teddy Sim’s review essay on pre-modern Singapore joins the voices of other scholars to advocate for the importance and value of acquainting with this period of the island’s history. The essay suggests that the contexts to understanding earlier period of history can be introduced to ease the actual task of understanding the period. Specifically, P. Borschberg’s abridged version of Jacques de Coutre and Matelieff’s documents, a translated sequel to the Malay Annals as well as a background infusion on the trade and characteristics of particular commodities (case in the paper – ceramics) will permit the reading of 17th-century (or even 18th) text on the subject matter. As Singapore transits into the next phase of its survival, the understanding of the pre-modern period of Singapore not only fulfills the needs of a school curriculum but imparts a deeper meaning and appreciation of heritage of the wider Malay region surrounding the island.

Ee Moi Kho’s paper on “Economic pragmatism and the ‘schooling’ of girls in Singapore” deconstructs the dominant narratives on national education with critical attention to the inconsistencies directed at education for Singapore girls. While acknowledging the tremendous advancement made by women in Singapore in various social and economic roles, the paper traces, highlights and discusses the education policies that are framed by a conservative gender ideology: an ideology that “remained consistently conservative for a long time and education policies reflected and transmitted this ideology.”

Tricia Seow, Diganta Das and Julian Chang examine the role of social reproduction in schools within geography education. A critical discussion relates how the representations of public housing in geography textbooks support closely the construction and reconstruction of national identity through symbolic and direct meanings attached to public housing and with that space. As a form of extending national ideology, geography textbooks incline towards depicting the public housing landscape as a means to an end in reproducing “particular types of Singapore identities”. For the authors of this paper, this development demands further analysis.

Rahil Ismail’s paper on “The Place of History in Multicultural Education” is an intertwining analysis of History, history education and multicultural education within an international relations context of a globalising world in the “age of insecurity”. The paper outlines both the potential and the challenges of harnessing the forces of the two disciplines for a more inclusive and affirming society. It also contends that the effort is subjected to the overarching consequence of history education as a political, power embedment tool at national, regional and global levels. While the issues examined in the paper are not unfamiliar, the differing forms of the current challenges to the promotion of social justice and global citizenship values merit more attention.

K. Thangam’s essay engages the highly ‘delicate’ issue of the Population White Paper (PWP). The author attempts to explain for the reaction in Singaporeans through the narrative paradigm. The narrative in reaction posits economic and infrastructural concerns against increasing population to a certain level. The author thinks that those who are skeptical may have actualized their fears as a reaction to PWP. One of the most important events in 2015 is the general elections. The paper reconciles the favourable mandate given to the ruling party with the possibility that the concerns might have been allayed.

Brian J Shaw’s paper presents a preliminary analysis of the popular space of Little India in the aftermath of the ‘riot’ of 2013 within a framework of the social and economic transformational changes in Singapore. Analysing the official responses of controlling and managing Little India through a series of calibrated measures, the findings of the Committee of Inquiry to the ‘riot’ are examined in this paper. Shaw’s contention is that “[W]e need to move beyond the managing and controlling of differences of 1965 to embrace the Brave New World of contemporary reality.” His response to the metaphor of Singapore as a carefully pruned bonsai plant is insightful of his central argument: “Singapore may need to give some release to its roots”.

K.N. Irvine, Tricia Seow, K.W. Leong and Diana Cheong’s essay makes a reflection of the water resource education at 50 from the perspective of MOE, NIE and PUB. Because water is so essential to survival, it “rightly should occupy a central place in the planning of a sustainable and resilient society”. The efforts of water conservation and recycling require accordingly the collaboration of multiple ministries as well as the populace. Even if Singapore had made a desalination breakthrough in its water supply, survival into the 21st century will require nothing less than a coherent synergistic effort from all stakeholders.

The editors would like to thank Ms See Phay Fun and Mr M. Jegatheesan for their support. The editors would also like to thank all the contributors for their contributory essays; with a special mention for a former colleague, Dr Brian J. Shaw, for his editorial insights. Throughout the process, A/P Mark Baildon, Head of HSSE, has been very supportive from the offer to assist to look at issues in drafts to sourcing the finance for the publication of hard copies of the special issue.

Rahil Ismail
Teddy Sim

Why Singapore Succeeded: Applying the Acemoglu and Robinson-Sachs Debate

"Why are some nations rich and some poor? Who are the winners and losers of colonialism and why? These questions have recently gained much attention, not only amongst historians but also economists who are now looking into global history to provide a fuller understanding of why and how had nations developed. One of the most recent works was Why Nations Fail by economist Daron Acemoglu and political economist James Robinson."

Review Essay Of “Jacques de Coutre’s And Matelieff’s Singapore and Johor”: Exploring Sources On Pre-Modern History of Singapore

"The education and awareness of the pre-Rafflesian Singapore history has seen much progress since the turn of the millennium. First, there is the publication of Early Singapore 1300-1819: evidence in maps, text and artefacts and Iberians in the Singapore-Melaka area and adjacent regions: 16th to 18th century in 2004. In 2009, the publication of Singapore: a 700-year history, Sino-Malay trade and diplomacy from the tenth through the fourteenth century and Singapore and Melaka Straits: violence, security and diplomacy in the 17th century provide the general public and the specialists alike a chance to explore the subject comprehensively or delve into the China-Malay Archipelago relations in the post Classical period as well as the relations between European empires and native powers in the Western Malay Archipelago in the early modern period. "

Anxieties Over Singapore Students’ Conceptions About History and The Past

"Understanding history can be an intellectually challenging task for many students in schools. It requires students to contemplate issues, events and people who had lived in the distant past and who are often far removed (from them) in time and familiarity. Such challenges, however, have seldom been satisfactorily addressed in many history classrooms in Singapore. "

The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?

"The notion of linking Venice to Singapore is not new. As Singapore reaches 50 years old, books have appeared to question city-state’s survival or its next phase. In the social studies textbook of Singapore, the chapter of Venice in which students have been studying for more than a decade is about to be phased out from 2016. Has the chapter achieve its aim of making students learn some lessons of survival from Venice? Are there alternative ways to help the students discuss the developments of Venice? This paper will venture to make an attempt of last voyage to see what can be gleaned from a city which has survived a thousand years during its glorious period."

Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore

"Women in Singapore today are considered by many to be modern, liberated and progressive. They have been accorded many opportunities for education and employment since the 1960s and appear to have made great strides in many areas of economic and social life in Singapore. An official survey outlined women’s socio-economic and educational achievements in Singapore between 1987 and 1997 thus (Department of Statistics, 1998, p.1) "

(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks

"Within education literature, scholars have argued that schools play an important role in social reproduction. However the literature on the role of specific subjects in this process is less examined. Within geography education, there is a growing interest and critical examination of the purposes of geography teaching. These accounts suggest that the content of school geography fulfils particular social purposes and national ideologies."

The Population White Paper: The hidden rationale for Singaporeans’ concern

"Singapore commemorates its golden jubilee this year with a slew of nation-wide events. This celebration serves as a point of reflection for Singapore’s achievement in the past 50 years. However, it is also timely and crucial to reflect on issues that had sparked tensions amongst the citizenry. The promulgation of the Population White Paper (PWP) and its impact on Singaporeans has been an issue widely written by many academics but the rationale for Singaporeans’ reaction over the PWP has yet to be explored in greater depth."

‘Little India’: Diverging Destinies in Heritage Spaces

"As a colonial legacy of the spatial and political management of immigrant groups, Little India has evolved during Singapore’s post-independence era to service the needs of a developing community. While closely identified as an ‘Indian’ space by Indian Singaporeans, it has developed significant appeal to other locals and foreign tourists, as well as migrant workers from South Asia."

How High’s the Water, Mama? A Reflection on Water Resource Education in Singapore

"Iconic American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash recalled in song a boyhood experience of watching his parents monitor flood conditions at their 1937 Dyess, Arkansas, home by counting the number of front steps the water had risen; 1 step = 1 foot (0.305 m): How high's the water, mama? Five feet high and risin' In introducing his 1959 Columbia release, Five Feet High and Risin’, Cash noted (AZLyrics, 2000-2015): My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord. We couldn't see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home, But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we'd ever had."

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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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