Going beyond 1819: How well do Singaporeans know the history of Singapore?, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Feb 2018

Ahead of next year’s celebrations to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Raffles’s landing in Singapore, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) quizzed 25 Singaporeans of various ages and backgrounds on their knowledge of Singapore history.

CNA found that despite the different background and ages of the respondents, they all agreed that knowing Singapore’s history was important. Older Singaporeans tended to comment that young Singaporeans did not know the history of Singapore because they never lived through the key events such as the Japanese Occupation, racial riots and the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. However, it was the younger Singaporeans between 20 and 40 years old that did better on the quiz. The younger ones were more able to give textbook answers, compared to the older Singaporeans, who tended to be more vague in their responses.

Singapore Bicentennial Office’s executive director Gene Tan and Yale-NUS president and historian Tan Tai Yong, who plays an advisory role to the Bicentennial Office, agreed with a 21-year-old student’s view that younger Singaporeans needed to learn history, including the period before Singapore was called Singapore, in order to be more connected to the country. CNA noted President Tan as saying that very few Singaporeans knew that Singapore had a history that preceded 1819 by at least 500 years, and that Singapore’s history had many “interesting twists and turns” as well as “dimensions and layers” that went beyond the broad narrative in schools. President Tan added that, “History has been taught as ‘lessons’ in social studies. Our understanding of history is still rather didactic – they are always conveyed as lessons and messages.” The Bicentennial Office is planning an exhibition next year which will be held at Fort Canning Park. It will feature stories of migrants who came to Singapore, and the cultures and tradition they brought with them. They are also working with community groups, schools, institutions and associations set up before Singapore’s independence in 1965 to unearth such stories.

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