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Singapore inspires High School Geography curriculum: Making use of our changing landscape

Ellie Alchin, Director of Teaching and Learning, Dover Campus

Case studies on Singapore’s management of the Kallang River, urban growth, resources, birth rate and immigration have featured in Geography courses on East Campus this year.

The announcement of Singapore as the theme for this year’s Asian Arts and Culture Week was just the catalyst the High School Geography Department needed to raise the profile of Singapore case studies within the curriculum. Case studies are a key part of Geography learning and therefore the potential to use Singapore as a focus of study was obvious, and while Singapore did feature in a number of our units, we felt there was scope for a more ambitious and contemporary approach. 

In Grade 9 the students study rivers and we thus chose the management of the Kallang River as a case study. The Kallang is a fascinating example because it highlights the contrasting range of approaches to river management here in Singapore including: hard engineering and canalisation to cope with floods in the lower course; the construction of the iconic Marina Barrage at its mouth; and the inspired river restoration project in Bishan, in which the concrete sides were dismantled and the river has been allowed to freely meander once again (pictured above). 

In Grade 10 a new unit on the pattern and pace of urban growth in Singapore was introduced. Tracing the expansion of the city from its origins around Boat Quay to its current layout, using historical maps, students were tasked with mapping the growth of the city and interviewing local Singaporeans about their responses to the changes. The unit culminated in the creation of individual infographics in which students presented the results of their enquiry. 

The Singapore government’s support of a higher birthrate through their population policy has been the focus of study for our IBDP students. With one of the lowest total fertility rates in the world, Singapore, like many developed nations, has been grappling with the dilemma of balancing the need to increase the population in order to sustain economic growth, and cope with the challenges of an aging population, while dealing with resistance to rapid immigration from some Singaporean citizens. Our students in Grade 11 have been exploring and evaluating the strategies used to boost the birth rate, while in Grade 12, students are examining the measures to control immigration. 

Aidana Orynbassar in Grade 12 shared, “According to the KOF index of globalisation 2014, Singapore is ranked fifth as the most globalised country. It is no surprise why migration is one of the hot topics to discuss when studying its history and the economic background. Even my Extended Essay was focused on it! Looking at how the growing inflow of migrants into Singapore brings both positive and negative effects is what I found very interesting to learn in our Geography classes.”

During Asian Arts and Culture Week our Grade 11 students were lucky enough to have a visit from Ju Shen Lee (Class of 1988), a UWCSEA alumna who now works in environmental management in Singapore. She was able to answer questions on topics as wide ranging as ecological footprints and waste management, to the benefits of a UWC education for a career in environmental sustainability. Timed as it was, immediately after our students had completed their iMovies and videoscribe cartoons on the management of waste in Singapore, they were full of questions for Ju Shen, but were also delighted when she shared local contacts and inspired ideas for their Extended Essay topics. 

Though small in size, Singapore offers tremendous examples and lessons around development and management of resources and population for our Geography students.

“Something that I found particularly interesting is the many ways in which Singapore manages its water to prevent flooding. Who would have thought that the pavements which we walk on in fact absorb the excess surface water!”

Pula Prakash, Grade 9 

“One of the most interesting things I learned about Singapore was how influential such a small country can be. Its net exports are the largest component of its GDP, and its Foreign Direct Investment inflow is around US$65 billion a year. Further taking into consideration the extremely busy port that Singapore has, it is no wonder that it’s the 5th most globalised country in the world!”

Julia Cselotei, Grade 12