Too little emphasis on the humanities

Too little emphasis on the humanities

SINGAPORE - There has recently been much debate on the teaching of the humanities in our education system, and I agree that there has been insufficient focus on this area.

At the primary school level, the foundational skills of the humanities are not well developed as they are not part of the core curriculum.

Social studies, the only humanities subject, is non-examinable, which sends the subtle message that the humanities are deemed less important than the core subjects. Teachers spend less time on the subject, sometimes even using social studies periods to teach the core subjects.

At the secondary school level, the problem arises when students pick subject combinations.

Combined humanities, a compulsory subject at the upper secondary level, comprises social studies and one of three subjects: geography, history and literature. This has the effect of denying students with a strong interest in the humanities the chance to delve deeper into each subject.

Most secondary schools do not allow students to offer three humanities subjects at the O levels, probably due to the perception that it is harder to score in them.

But students taking science subjects face no such constraint; they can take the "triple sciences" - biology, physics and chemistry - if they are deemed sufficiently proficient in them.

Every year, during the Joint Admissions Exercise for entry into tertiary educational institutions, the vast majority of students entering junior college opt for the science stream, whose entry requirements are generally higher than those of the arts stream. Again, this has contributed to the mindset that the humanities are not as important as the sciences.

This is a worrying trend that must be rectified.

Humanities subjects are just as important because they train students in the "soft" skills, which may be lost if our education system continues to place too little emphasis on the humanities.

Ng Qi Siang, 17, junior college student


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