Inquiry-science in a straightjacket?: The interplay of people, policies, and place in a secondary school in Singapore

Year: 2012

Author: Lee, Yew-Jin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: Inquiry-based approaches have been a staple of reform movements in science education around the world for over half a century although few arguably have achieved any measure of widespread or sustainable success. Reasons for the latter are multiple and complex but mainly revolve around how implementation processes confront many challenges and often map imperfectly from developers' intentions to actual practice. In this presentation, we use case-study data from a recent school-based inquiry-science curriculum in Singapore to show how this program had, in small and large ways, inadvertently compromised its stated aims of making science relevant and enjoyable for all students.

Method:The case-study method is adopted here; specifically, we draw on two-years' data from our field-notes, video-recordings of classroom teaching, interviews with teachers and students, and documentary analyses of curriculum material and government policies, speeches etc. during this period of intense educational reform (at national & school level). These data were subjected to typical qualitative analyses and representation.

Results: We found that there were subtle tensions within this program, and with this program and other existing educational policies and sociocultural norms in the country. Specifically, our analysis showed how there were interacting analytic levels that we group under people, polices, and place that can influence-both positively and negatively-the implementation processes and thus eventual program success.

Conclusion: Beyond adding to the meagre empirical literature on policy implementation and reform in Singapore, our study has significant implications for science educators in general who merely focus on theoretical aspects of science curricula (e.g., ensuring a right or adequate amount of inquiry) but neglect the practical aspects of program implementation and understanding educational change as inevitable complex ecologies.