Parliament: Humanities subjects to feature Asean region more prominently over next 3 years

SINGAPORE – With Asia projected to become the world’s fourth largest economy by 2030, Asean will become a bigger part of humanities subjects in secondary schools and junior colleges over the next three years.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Wednesday (March 4) that content on Asean will be featured more explicitly and prominently in social studies, history, geography and economics subjects from next year to 2023.

“(Our humanities curriculum)… must provide students with a deeper appreciation of the geographies, histories, cultures, languages, and economies of countries in the region,” said Mr Ong during his ministry’s budget debate.

History lessons will cover how key developments like the Cold War have shaped Asia and the Asean region, he said.

The changes will help students understand Asean’s growth better, and see the similarities between Asean countries and Singapore in responding to larger developmental forces and events. They will also learn about how Singapore and the region depend on each other.

To give students a fuller overseas learning experience, schools will introduce a new 10-hour lesson package to prepare them for Asean trips, starting with Thailand and Vietnam.

They will learn about the culture and language of these countries as part of pre-trip preparation.

Currently, more than 30,000 students go on trips to countries in the Asean region every year.

The Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities will also similarly boost overseas exposure opportunities.

Currently, about half of local students in institutes of higher learning (IHLs) go for trips abroad, and more than half of these stints are to Asia.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has set a “70-70” target for students entering the institutions in the next few years, said Mr Ong.

The aim is to raise the figure so that 70 per cent of local IHL students have overseas exposure, and 70 per cent of this group visit Asean countries, China or India.

“We will organise more trips to Asian countries, and encourage students to participate in them.

“Students from the West are flocking here to experience Asia because it is a culturally rich and exciting region,” he said.

“Our students should do so too. This is our own backyard, where we always have a natural competitive advantage.”

Learning languages is another way of understanding the region better, he said.

“Where possible, and if the students have the aptitude and interest, we will also encourage the learning of third languages. For most students, this will be at a conversational level that is not examinable.”

Today, about 60 per cent of primary schools and 40 per cent of secondary schools offer conversational Malay and Chinese, and MOE will encourage more schools to offer such lessons, said Mr Ong.

Qihua Primary School pupil Fasyah Qiara learnt basic Chinese over the past three years in school, inspired by her mother who uses the language to communicate with guests in her hotel manager job.

“When I use Chinese phrases, like at the supermarket, people are usually surprised and happy that someone else is trying to learn their language,” said the 10-year-old.

“I learn how to appreciate Chinese movies like Ip Man and Big Brother, which I watch with my family,” she said.

Qihua Primary School pupil Fasyah Qiara Shahril, 10, has taken up basic Chinese. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Meanwhile, Secondary 4 student Elicia Ling, who went on a six-day trip to Vietnam in November last year with Cedar Girls’ Secondary School, learnt about the country through visiting cultural sites such as museums and temples.

“The trip opened my eyes to see that a country is not really about its tourist attractions but the people, their way of living and their culture,” said the 15-year-old, who also interacted with Vietnamese students at a local school.

“We went to the Singapore Embassy in Ho Chi Minh and I learnt about what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does overseas; how it facilitates trade and business visits, and maintains diplomatic relations between Singapore and Vietnam,” she added.

“Visiting Vietnam made me more interested to find out about the cultural practices of some of my friends who are from other countries.

“Asean is close to us geographically. If there is another opportunity to go to another country, I would definitely go.”

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