At Bendemeer Secondary School, the students don’t just learn History from the textbook. Instead, they ventured into their neighbourhood to learn more about its heritage and interact with the community.
For Mr Samuel Goh, a History teacher at Bendemeer Secondary School, History lessons are not just about past events. History is, in fact, everywhere. So he decided to bring History out of the classroom and into the neighbourhood.
“At Bendemeer Secondary School, many of our students live in the Kolam Ayer area. They know the area, but do not really appreciate the rich heritage of the area they live in,” says Samuel. “That is why I used this opportunity to bring them out of the classroom to learn about their heritage and also about values in the process.”
Students were asked to plan heritage trails for Kolam Ayer as part of their service learning programme.
Samuel refrained from telling them in a step-by-step fashion how to organize the trails.
“As a teacher, how much do I want to control them? I let them develop their own plan, let them fall and let them learn. So that’s what we did in service learning,” he explains.
“It’s about teaching for independence, so I didn’t want to spoon-feed the students.”
But at the same time, it’s also not about leaving them to do things on their own. Samuel balances his roles as a teacher and facilitator in encouraging independent learning.
“Learner independence means that you help students think of what they need to do and actions they need to take in their tasks. How to keep them thinking? How to develop students who are intrinsically able to be motivated and want to achieve something? How do we make them feel this?”
Samuel gave students the freedom to plan their own trails also because he wanted them to be involved with the community and interact with the residents.
– Samuel Goh, Bendemeer Secondary School
“That is why we brought our students out to their neighbourhood, to make them feel a connection with where they live,” he explains. “They’ve got to see themselves as part of the community. By seeing themselves in this light, they were able to appreciate the learning.”
As they connected with the residents to find out more about Kolam Ayer, the students also became aware of how important it is to behave and act responsibly.
“What is needed now is for them to know that there are consequences for their actions. We need them to take action and not to just be a sponge,” Samuel explains.
Values for Life
After the trails were planned, the students acted as guides and took people through the trails they had designed. The nearby community centres became involved as well, and Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim was invited to launch the trails. Through this process, they learned how important it is to be good ambassadors for the school.
“Teaching values is a lot about intentionality. As a teacher, I cannot tell them to learn respect. They have to exercise it to learn to respect others,” explains Samuel. “In these trails, the values were caught by them rather than being taught to them.”
Samuel was happy to see that the students collaborated very well with each other and took an interest in the history of Kolam Ayer. It was this that motivated the students to go beyond what they were supposed to do.
For these students, History lessons have become more than just another person’s story. It’s also about how these students develop as individuals as they learn about the past.