As Singapore Geography adopts the Cambridge syllabus, it is inadvertently Eurocentric in many ways.
That means students will be studying Geography through Eurocentric lens. Their understanding would be shaped by Eurocentric upbringing, experiences and perspectives.
While it is somewhat inevitable that we are ethnocentric in our outlook of life, it helps us to be aware of how we perceive cultures that are beyond our personal experiences, so that we don’t impose on our own values and belief systems onto them, and we don’t project our own bias and prejudices onto them.
Students also need to keep in mind not to subscribe stereotypical views about certain countries. For example, a photo of Dhaka, Bangladesh, shows a crowded city on page 72 of the UK geography textbook Interactions, but it doesn’t represent the whole country.
These may be highlights to the world, understandably so, and due to the sheer diversity of people and cultures, some amount of representations and generalisations have to be made, in order to not be overwhelmed by too much information packed into one book.
What do I mean by “Eurocentric”?
“Eurocentric” as in the system and mindset we grew up in, which includes:
- We are defined and separated by our national and racial identity.
- We live in a Western-based monetary capitalistic system (as opposed to barter trade etc).
- We communicate through the medium of English language.
- We judge what is considered normal through our own culture and lifestyle, eg a life in which we grow up, study, work, get married and retire etc is considered “normal” and mainstream.
- Inquiry approach vs Examinations
Therefore, as we seek to tackle Eurocentrism, the enquiry approach comes in as a methodology to ask ourselves why we perceive things as they are, so that we can understand that how we perceive things is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves as we are.
The enquiry approach opens the door to understanding the world wide, so much so that it leaves questions open-ended, to the extent there is no right or wrong answer to every question.
But the challenge is how to do well in exams if we apply the enquiry approach to learning and understanding Geography.
After all, exams is about getting “right” answers and scoring high marks for being able to conform to the norms and standards of the exam papers. Anything that is deemed outside the norms may not get any mark, even if the answers are interesting and insightful.