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Basic Education Curriculum Revisited:
A Look at the Current Content and Reform
Mr Winston Hodge
Director, Training and Development Division,
Ministry of Education
The vision of the Ministry of Education (MOE) is “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation”. To prepare a generation of thinking and committed citizens who are capable of contributing towards Singapore’s continued growth and prosperity, the Ministry is constantly revisiting its curriculum to ensure that the skills and knowledge taught in schools meet the challenges of the 21st century.
2. THE SINGAPORE EDUCATION SYSTEM
The Singapore education system aims to provide students with a holistic and broad-based education. Given the multi-cultural and multi-racial characteristics of Singapore, the bilingual policy is a key feature of the Singapore education system. Under the bilingual policy, every student learns English which is the common working language. Students also learn their mother tongue language (Chinese, Malay or Tamil), to help them retain their ethnic identity, culture, heritage and values.
The Desired Outcomes of Education (DOE) articulates the importance of holistically nurturing students to become well-rounded persons - morally, intellectually, physically, socially and aesthetically through a set of eight core skills and values.
The eight core skills and values are:
It is envisioned that students at the end of primary education, secondary education and pre-university would have acquired these eight core skills and values. (Annex A).
Singapore’s national curriculum aims to nurture each child to his full potential, to discover his talents and to develop in him a passion for life-long learning. Students go through a broad range of experiences to develop the skills and values that they will need for life. The broad-based curriculum imparts literacy, numeracy, bilingualism, the sciences, humanities, aesthetics, physical education, civics and moral education and National Education.
Over the years, the curriculum has been reviewed to address the need for a common set of values, knowledge and competencies and at the same time, allow differentiation to meet the needs of students with different talents and abilities. To enable students to achieve the learning outcomes of each specific subject and the DOE, three broad areas are considered, namely, the curriculum, teaching strategies and assessment (Figure 1)
Classroom management, pedagogy, teaching & learning resources
Aims & objectives, content, skills & competencies, values & attitudes
Formative and summative
Students ’ Learning Experiences
Figure 1: Students’ Learning Experiences
The content states the aims and objectives, the content, the skills and competencies required for the syllabi and the values and attitudes that the syllabi hope to impart to the students. Appropriate teaching strategies are designed for successful classroom delivery of the syllabi, using effective teaching and learning materials. To evaluate if students have learned what has been taught, students are tested through formative and summative assessments.
Every child in Singapore has the opportunity to undergo at least ten years of basic education. This comprises 6 years of compulsory primary education and 4 years of secondary education. Students have to sit for major national examinations at the end of their primary and secondary education. Beyond secondary education, students move on to post-secondary institutions based on their eligibility and choice (Annex B).
^ Annex C)
At the primary level, students go through a six-year course aimed at giving them a good grasp of the English Language, Mother Tongue Language and Mathematics. In addition, students learn Science, Social Studies, Civics & Moral Education, Music, Art & Crafts, Health Education and Physical Education. At the end of Primary 6, students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which assesses their suitability for secondary education and places them in the appropriate secondary school course that will match their learning pace, ability and inclinations.
^ Annex D)
As MOE focuses on a broad-based education, all students are offered a combination of core and elective subjects at the secondary level. The core subjects include English Language, Mother Tongue or Higher Mother Tongue, Mathematics, Combined Humanities, a Science subject. The choice of electives includes a humanities subject, a science subject and literature in Chinese. The basket of core subjects ensures that students experience a broad-based and balanced education while the electives cater to a range of student interests and abilities.
To inculcate a global outlook in students, MOE offers foreign languages in French, German, and Japanese to students who have the ability and the aptitude. This allows students to tap on opportunities beyond Singapore’s shores. This year, MOE has expanded the range of foreign languages to include Arabic and Bahasa Indonesia. For selected students who do not take Chinese or Malay as a second language, MOE also provide opportunities for them to offer these languages though the Chinese or Malay (Special Programme). Going forward, MOE will provide opportunities for more students to learn conversational Chinese and Malay.
The secondary school curriculum is differentiated according to the abilities and interest of the students. Students undergo one of four courses designed to match their learning abilities and interests. The details of the four courses are in Annex E.
In order to better prepare students to meet changing national and global needs of the 21st century , MOE has embarked on a process to review its curriculum, pedagogies and assessments.
Singapore’s national curriculum will continue to provide students with a strong foundation in the core areas of literacy, numeracy and scientific literacy as these core areas provide the foundation for future learning. The study of the humanities will be reinforced as the humanities have the value in developing students’ ability to understand and appreciate different perspectives, as well as nurture cultural sensitivities and civic awareness.
The national curriculum structures will be loosened through curriculum decentralisation to allow schools to customise their curriculum to meet their students’ needs. Certain subjects can be redesigned as a set of learning outcomes to allow schools room to innovate without having to complete a syllabus. This allows schools greater autonomy and flexibility over curriculum time allocation. More time will be free up from curriculum for students to develop skills and attitudes. MOE will allow flexibility of integration of subjects to develop new understanding.
A diverse range of pedagogies will continue to be promoted to meet diverse student needs, enhance their learning experiences and engage them in learning. There are certain pedagogies such as inquiry-based and experiential learning that will be more actively promoted to enable students to find deeper meaning in their learning.
MOE will provide support for schools to use a wider variety of pedagogies through pedagogy packages to support syllabus delivery. Teachers will also be encouraged to share pedagogical expertise through participation in learning communities. At various MOE and external platforms, schools’ efforts and successes in the use of engaging and effective pedagogy will be showcased.
The national assessment will be retained to maintain standards and for benchmarking purposes. Assessment modes, formats and items will be reviewed regularly. Greater focus will be placed on the role of assessment in learning through formative assessment. Teachers’ assessment literacy and expertise in the use of assessment strategies will be built up through the provision of guides and exemplars in curriculum documents and teaching packages. Assessment items will be situated in authentic contexts and the greater use of alternative assessment modes to better prepare students to handle complexities and ambiguous problems that they are likely to face in the future.
Just as the curriculum evolves to include new learnings that students need for the future, professional development of teachers becomes critical, as teachers have to strive to equip themselves with the necessary competencies to guide and facilitate students’ learning. To meet the needs of distinct groups of students according to their ability and learning styles, teachers will be equipped with skills of differentiated instruction. Teachers will also continue to develop their capacity to leverage technology to enhance students’ learning experiences. Teachers will also develop their abilities to become reflective practitioners, able to enhance their teaching through research and using research findings to improve classroom practices.
It is important that MOE ensures balance, rigor, relevance and responsiveness of the curriculum to meet the needs of the 21st century. Teachers should focus on teaching for enduring understanding and skills. Assessment will have to be contextualized and made more authentic to equip students with skills and attitudes to face new problems and issues that will come their way.
Desired Outcomes of Education (DOE)
Overview of the Singapore Education System
The Primary School Curriculum
1. English, Mother Tongue and Mathematics will be taught at the appropriate level according to the ability of the student.
2. Science is taught from P3 onwards.
3. For P1-4, Health Education is not a separate subject but relevant topics are included in the learning of English.
4. Project Work is conducted during curriculum time but is not an exam subject.
The Secondary School Curriculum
1. Project Work is conducted during curriculum time but is not an examination subject.
Secondary School Courses
1Starting from the Secondary 1 students in 2008, the Special and Express Courses will be merged into the “Express Course”.
2Students can opt to study Mother Tongue (Malay/Chinese/Tamil) at either the standard, higher or Syllabus B levels depending on their ability and eligibility.
3Starting with the 2009 Secondary 4N(A) cohort, this cap will be lifted.