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Pearl Lee
Saturday, May 31, 2014

Singapore

Singapore history did not start with Raffles

The Straits Times | Pearl Lee | Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mr Danny Cha, 36, subject head for history at Bukit Batok Secondary (left), and Mr Muhammad Faidzil Farkhan, 28, history teacher at Jurong Secondary, reading the new history textbook for Secondary 1 students. On the laptop screen is the home page of HistorySG.

Students might have learnt that Singapore was a sleepy fishing village transformed into a vibrant trading port by Sir Stamford Raffles in the 19th century.

But the country's trading days started some 500 years earlier, in the 1300s, as a major "emporium" in the maritime trade between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

The National Library Board (NLB) hopes to get people acquainted with its rich history before the British arrived, with the launch yesterday of the HistorySG online portal.

"Singapore history deserves to have far more exploration and far more angles and perspectives. As librarians, it is always important to give people as much resources as possible," said Mr Gene Tan, director of the NLB.

Without enough resources, people "tend to sometimes come to quite quick conclusions about Singapore history", he said at a symposium held by the Education Ministry and attended by 200 history teachers.

The portal will offer photos and newspaper clippings, as well as nuggets detailing the country's history from 1299 to the present day.

The launch of the portal follows a revamp of the lower secondary history syllabus to allow students to go farther back in time. Previously, the Singapore history they studied focused on events from the 1800s onwards. A new Secondary One history textbook introduced in January starts the Singapore story in 1300 and ends in 1975.

For instance, students will learn about archaeological artefacts dug up in Singapore before the 15th century.

The choice of the 14th century as a starting point gives students the "opportunity to explore Singapore's origin as a port of call, and her connections to the region and the world", said an Education Ministry spokesman.

From next year, Sec 2 students will also get a new history textbook that offers richer sources, such as first-person accounts of life during and after World War II.

Besides using plain text, the new syllabuses can also be taught with resource kits that include old newspaper articles, fragments of artefacts dug out by archaeologists, and recreated banana notes used in World War II.

History teacher Muhammad Faidzil Farkhan, 28, said lessons are more engaging.

"Some of my students were quite amazed and surprised to find out that Singapore was more than just a sleepy fishing village," said the Jurong Secondary School teacher. "Because we now study Singapore history from 1300, there are more sources to look at, and it makes the subject richer."

leepearl@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 29, 2014.
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