Curricular-Instructional Gatekeeping in Singapore: How Teachers Enact Social Studies and Give Purpose to Citizenship Education

Project Number
OER 10/14 JS

Project Duration
July 2014 - October 2018


A curriculum, however well designed, must be implemented to have any impact on students (Fullan, 1999). All teachers, located in the classroom, are curricular-instructional gatekeepers (Thornton, 1991, 2005). That is, “they make the day-to-day decisions about the subject matter and experiences to which students have access and the nature of that subject matter and those experiences” (Thornton, 1991, p. 237). The Singapore context is characterized by the dominant role of the institutional curriculum in terms of the centralized system of education, role of the Ministry of Education, and the prescribed curriculum and examination. But “[w]hatever institutional and societal constraints direct their work”, Barton (2012, p. 162) claims, “teachers have at least some latitude – and sometimes a great deal of it – in choosing materials, developing instructional activities, and selecting topics for study.” Curriculum-instructional gatekeeping in social studies is especially pertinent. In Singapore, social studies is a vehicle of citizenship education, but citizenship is inherently complex and contested. Invariably, citizens even in the same state will understand citizenship differently (Kymlicka, 1995; Ross, 2001). Furthermore, social studies is an eclectic field that draws on a wide range of disciplines and other fields including the humanities and social sciences (Stanley, 2001). Those who teach social studies come from a variety of academic background namely in the humanities and social sciences. The official discourse on citizenship education, while explicitly articulated in social studies, has still to be enacted by teachers. Despite the plethora of writing on social studies and citizenship, we know little about the enactment of both. How are teachers preparing young people for civic life? Why some teachers teach more effectively and do more than others in terms of citizenship even in the same context. This study focuses on how Singapore teachers enact the social studies curriculum and give purpose to citizenship education, using the concept of the teacher as a curricular-instructional gatekeeper. It aims to provide detailed “description, analysis and explanation” (Parker, 2008, p. ix) of the enactment of social studies by experienced social studies teachers in Singapore, with attention to the pedagogical approaches and how students are prepared for civic life. Additionally, it will theorize the construct of curricular-instructional gatekeeping in Singapore. Unlike studies carried out in the United States that ignored the role of the institution, this study subscribes to a view of curriculum as institution and practice (Doyle, 1992; Reid, 1999, 2006; Westbury, 2003; Deng, 2010). With this perspective, the negotiation of the institutional curriculum is foregrounded in teachers’ enactment of social studies. The qualitative multiple case studies method will be used to provide insights and depth of understanding and practice of social studies curriculum and give purpose to citizenship education, using the concept of the teacher as a curricular-instructional gatekeeper. 20 experienced social studies teachers will be purposefully selected to participate in this study.

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