Go beyond Raffles to S'pore's distant past

Go beyond Raffles to S'pore's distant past

SINGAPORE - Like most Singaporeans, I know the years 1819 and 1965 so well I don't have to elaborate on their significance here.

Pressed to go back further in history, I can throw up a name like Sang Nila Utama. But that is pretty much all I know about Singapore and the region before Stamford Raffles sailed to our island.

Mention the word "ancient" and my thoughts drift to the early Greek civilisations, Chinese dynasties and even the old Indochinese empires. But when asked what Singapore was like way back in the past, I rely on the hackneyed phrase "sleepy fishing village".

My ignorance about the place I grew up in became apparent ironically when I was overseas recently and visited Bath. The British city is home to a historical public bathing site used by the Romans about 2,000 years ago. Much of the hot springs - swimming pool-sized bodies of murky green water - and sweat rooms - designed for hot air to ventilate through and turn up the heat - has been preserved. Visitors can walk on the same grounds that the Romans set foot upon all those years ago.

But as I marvelled at the various unearthed artefacts and imagined life back then, I realised I had no inkling about life in Singapore and the immediate region two millennia ago.

Did I skip school the day the subject was covered?

A quick check of the O-level and A-level syllabuses showed that a 700-year history of Singapore is indeed covered in schools, but only in Secondary 1 and 2. Emphasis is given to Singapore's development as a British settlement, its turbulent path to independence and the nation-building years.

Should students choose history as an O-level subject in upper secondary, they would be tested on colonialism's impact on South-east Asia, the Japanese occupation and the rise of nationalism. World history in the 20th century is also taught.

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