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Sorting citizens: Differentiated citizenship education in Singapore

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Using Singapore as a case study, this paper examines how the discourses of democratic elitism and meritocracy help allocate different citizen roles to students and define the nature of the social studies citizenship education programmes for different educational tracks. While the Singapore education system is not unique in its stratification of students into distinct educational tracks with diverse educational outcomes, it is one of the very few countries with explicitly differentiated formal national citizenship curricula for students from different educational tracks. Students are formally allocated different citizenship roles and responsibilities according to the hierarchy defined by the state. Three distinct roles can be identified: (1) elite cosmopolitan leaders; (2) globally-oriented but locally-rooted mid-level executives and workers; and (3) local ‘heartlander’ followers. To cater to these different citizen roles, the three programmes encompass significantly different curricular goals, content, modes of assessment, civic skills, and values. The findings indicate that only the elite students have access to citizenship education that promotes democratic enlightenment and political engagement. The social studies curriculum for students in the vocational track, in contrast, focuses almost exclusively on imparting a pre-determined body of knowledge and set of values deemed necessary for academically low-achieving students.
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Keywords: access to education; achievement gap; citizenship education; democratic education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1Nanyang Walk, Singapore637616,

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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