When I was in primary school in the late 1970s, I recalled reading the “Dick and Jane” books but not any local stories in school. Singapore schools have come a long ways since then and credit has to be given to the Education Ministry for incorporating local experiences and stories into their curriculum.

One of the earliest Ministry of Education (MOE) projects I worked on was to develop a number of stories for the lower primary Social Studies curriculum. The Ministry then was introducing a new approach to Social Studies teaching by using Big Book storytelling rather than the more conventional textbooks. It was a boost to local writers who were invited to put in bids for the project.

Although I had some experience creating educational materials during my time at the Singapore History Museum (now National Museum), it was a great learning experience for me. Up to that point, I had written a series of picture books but was still struggling with the format. I tended to write too much text, and probably did not think hard enough about how the text would work with the illustrations.

Working with the Social Studies officers on this project, and later with other Ministry officers on similar book projects helped me hone and develop my picture book writing skills. I learnt about making every word count. I learnt about incorporating elements that encouraged readers to look and examine the illustrations. I learnt about being sensitive to the readers. There is a huge different writing for oneself, a niche audience, and the whole of Singapore.

It also informative when the Ministry tested out the stories on teachers and students and used that feedback into fine-tuning the stories.

Although the Ministry often gets blamed for many things wrong in our education system, I think they should also be given a pat on the back for the things that they do right. And using storytelling for teaching and promoting local writers and writing is a step in the right direction. ~ Stephanie

In the Workroom: Stories for Social Studies
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