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Curriculum integration in Singapore: Teachers'


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Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

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Teaching and Teacher Education


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/tate

Curriculum integration in Singapore: Teachers perspectives and practice


Chi Chung Lam a,1, Theresa Alviar-Martin b, *, Susan A. Adler c, Jasmine B.-Y. Sim b
a

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong
Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, NIE7-03-52, 1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 637616, Singapore
c
School of Education, University of Missouri e Kansas City, USA
b

h i g h l i g h t s
< Teachers conceptions of integration reected various interdisciplinary models.
< Perceived benets to integration included greater engagement of learners.
< Perceived barriers included teachers lack of subject knowledge.
< Other barriers were misalignment of assessment and societal valuing of competition.
< Barriers to integration are discussed in light of global trends in education.

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 27 November 2011
Received in revised form
12 November 2012
Accepted 19 November 2012

In this qualitative study, we examined eleven Singapore teachers conceptions of teaching and learning as
related to their experiences implementing integrated curriculum. Interviews revealed that the teachers
conceptions of integration spanned the spectrum of ideas found in relevant literature. Further, although
participants saw benets to integration, including greater engagement of learners, they also spoke of
signicant obstacles to its implementation, such as teachers own perceived lack of subject knowledge
and a misalignment with the assessment system. The ndings, while echoing previous studies conducted
in various countries, highlight implementation difculties in settings where high stake examinations and
disciplinary-based curriculum prevail.
2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords:
Integrated curriculum
Curriculum reform
Teacher conceptions
Singapore

1. Introduction
How a school curriculum should be organized has long been
a hotly debated issue in curriculum design and development
(Ornstein & Hunkins, 2004; Schiro, 2008). Whether middle-level
and secondary school curricula should be interdisciplinary or
subject-based is especially controversial because it involves distinct
differences in beliefs about the type of knowledge that should be
taught to young citizens who are soon to participate fully in
a nations polity and workforce (Association for Middle Level
Education, 2010; Dewey, 1938/1997). Scholars adhering to varying
educational philosophies have argued over the issue of interdisciplinarity since the early 1900s (Applebee, Adler, & Flihan,
2007; Jackson, 1992). These arguments have unfolded within
* Corresponding author. Tel.: 65 6790 3857; fax: 65 6896 8950.
E-mail addresses: chichunglam@cuhk.edu.hk (C.C. Lam), theresa.alviar@
gmail.com (T. Alviar-Martin), AdlerS@umkc.edu (S.A. Adler).
1
Tel.: 852 2609 6947.
0742-051X/$ e see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2012.11.004

wider economic and socio-political contexts. In the United States of


the 1960s, disenchantment with the Vietnam War and growing
poverty cast skepticism on subject-based curriculas potential to
address social problems that were dividing the nation. Educators
and the American publics attention turned e albeit briey e to
progressive, integrated curricula that were organized around reallife problems and issues rather than discipline-based content
(Dowden, 2007; Vars & Beane, 2000). As the push for accountability
and standardized testing later increased, however, the voices supporting integrated curricula receded (Marsh & Willis, 2007).
Schools in Asia have witnessed similar shifts. Most East Asian
countries, such as China, have customarily adopted disciplinebased curriculum in secondary schools, but since the turn of the
millennium, integrated curriculum has been touted as a means of
expanding young peoples international awareness and preparing
them for participation in the global economy. Singapore is one of
those countries in which various forms of integrated curricula have
recently been proposed and, in some cases, implemented (Sharpe &
Gopinathan, 2002).

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C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

Like many educational reform efforts, the development of


integrated curriculum is a complex process. Teachers decisions
about their practice impact the effective implementation of
curriculum reforms (Fullan, 2007). Teachers decisions, in turn, are
inuenced by their conceptions of the reform and the contexts in
which they will be implemented (Gopinathan & Deng, 2006).
International research similarly suggests that successful delivery of
integrated programs relies on teachers whose practices are guided
by their conception of curriculum. However, teachers hold different
conceptions of integration and which forms of integration are
desirable (Lam, Chan, & Zhang, 2006). Such diversity in teachers
conceptions could be partly attributed to the different classications and assertions of the nature of curriculum integration (Beane,
1997; Drake & Burns, 2004; Jacobs, 1991). Teacher development
studies have, moreover, indicated that hands-on experience in
implementing new curriculum initiatives is more likely to induce
attitudinal and conception changes (Fullan, 2007).
In this qualitative study, we draw on principles that posit
teachers as key participants in curriculum reform and implementation (Darling-Hammond, 2009; National Commission on
Teaching and Americas Future, 1996; Thornton, 1991, 2005) as we
examine eleven Singapore teachers conceptions of teaching,
interdisciplinarity, and their experiences in implementing integrated curriculum. By conceptions, we refer to teachers beliefs and
knowledge that are rooted in their experiences of practice
(Calderhead, 1996; Pajares, 1992). This research is intended to shed
light on the ways teachers reconciled their conceptions with local
school conditions and the wider context of Singapores educational
policies. By exploring teachers conceptions, we seek to inform
research on the enactment of integrated curriculum, illuminate
barriers to curriculum integration in a context where high stakes
examinations and discipline-based curriculum prevail, and provide
a base from which to suggest future directions in teacher education.
2. Review of the literature
To survey the literature, we attend to the philosophical origins of
discipline-based and integrated curricula. We then review international research to discuss teacher conceptions and preparation in
light of curriculum integration principles.
2.1. Philosophical origins of discipline-based and integrated
curricula
Despite its ubiquity in educational literature, discussion around
integrated curriculum is hindered by a lack of consensus regarding
terms and denitions (Dowden, 2007). Broadly dened, curriculum integration refers to curricular programs that are aimed
toward making subject matter more relevant to students experiences with less concern for delineating disciplinary boundaries
around kinds of learning (Gehrke, 1998, p. 248). Curriculum integration has gained critics and advocates, because major educational
philosophies e perennialism, essentialism, progressivism and
reconstructionism e have in turn drawn on philosophical orientations (idealism, realism, pragmatism, and existentialism) that
differentially dene the nature of reality and knowledge, the aims
of schooling, and teachers roles [see for example, Ornstein and
Hunkins (2004) for a discussion of philosophies]. Perennialism
and essentialism have been most inuential in shaping disciplinebound curricula (Posner, 2004). Rooted in realism, which deems
human behavior as rational when it conforms to the laws of nature,
perennialism emphasizes knowledge that is permanent, characterized by distinct subjects such as classical literature, mathematics, and science. Among perennialists, teachers are experts who
guide students toward a deeper understanding of universal truths.

Similar to perennialists, essentialists are concerned with the past;


however, essentialists study enduring knowledge as it is applied to
the contemporary scene (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2004). The launching
of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 renewed interest in
perennial education in the United States, bringing attention to
schools perceived inadequacies in cultivating students knowledge,
especially in science and mathematics. Beyond the structuring of
schools around delineated subjects, perennialist and essentialist
tendencies are evident in the narrow measurement of student
achievement through testing and concerns to prepare students for
specialized disciplines (Eisner, 2002).
In contrast to the two traditional educational philosophies,
progressivism and reconstructionism regard an integrated curriculum as central to meaningful learning (Beane, 1997; Vars, 1991).
John Dewey (1907/1991), for example, argued that the earth was
not stratied into subjects: all studies grow out of relations in
the one great common world (p. 91). Both perspectives draw on
pragmatic philosophy, which posits knowledge as a process in
which reality is constantly changing. Teachers serve as guides to
children in problem-solving and scientic projects, and books and
subject matter are drawn upon as instruments of the learning
process rather than sources of ultimate knowledge (Ornstein &
Hunkins, 2004). Inspired by Deweys works, progressives view
the school as a microcosm of democracy. They aim for youth to
learn skills of inquiry, collaboration and self-discipline in order to
democratically solve issues in society. Although closely aligned to
progressivism, reconstructionism is characterized by a more critical
stance toward social issues. The issues that concerned many
reconstructionists, including racial inequality and poverty, remain
pertinent today (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2004; Schiro, 2008).
Curriculum integration encompasses approaches with differing
levels of adherence to progressive and reconstructionist tenets and
degrees of unity across disciplines (Czerniak, Weber, Sandmann, &
Ahern, 1999; Grossman, Wineburg, & Beers, 2000). Several advocates of interdisciplinarity (see Applebee et al., 2007; Drake, 2000;
Vars, 1991) have illustrated how curriculum integration models
differentially link discipline-based content (Klein, 2006). Multidisciplinary approaches juxtapose subject areas according to a theme
identied in two or more subjects (Jacobs, 1989); however, disciplines speak as separate voices (Klein, 2006, p. 5), and the organizing theme is subordinated to established subject areas.
Examples of multidisciplinary approaches are sequenced, threaded
(Fogarty, 1991) or correlation (Vars, 1991) approaches, where
subjects are taught separately but arranged chronologically in
order to focus on parallel topics. Among interdisciplinary programs,
subjects are blended and may be taught through team teaching.
Shared, webbed, integrated (Fogarty, 1991), and fusion (Vars, 1991)
models, where disciplines become tools to study a theme, problem,
question, or idea in-depth, typify the interdisciplinary approach.
Transdisciplinary (Drake & Burns, 2004) approaches call for the
greatest degree of integrative restructuring, where subject
boundaries are blurred and connections magnied in a new organizational framework (Klein, 2006). Transdisciplinary approaches
are embodied in integrative (Beane, 1997) and structured, and
unstructured core curricula (Vars, 1991) that entail collaborative
and student-centered teaching, where the students interest
becomes the heart of learning. Table 1 illustrates examples of crossdisciplinary approaches and integrated curricula.
Curriculum integration, although characterized by a variety of
approaches, nds unity in its pragmatic impetus. Wraga (2009)
identied three major rationales for integrating curriculum. The
rst contends that making connections across disciplines will foster
the cumulative impact of all learning experiences (p. 92). The
second focuses on the interrelatedness of experience and the idea
that schools should help learners better understand those

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

25

Table 1
Examples of cross-disciplinary models and related integrated approaches.
Cross-disciplinary models

Integrated approaches

Multidisciplinary
(Drake & Burns, 2004; Jacobs, 1989)
Correlationa
Sequencedb

Threadedb
Interdisciplinary
(Drake & Burns, 2004)
Fusiona
Integratedb

Sharedb
Webbedb

Transdisciplinary
(Drake & Burns, 2004)
Integrativec

Structured and
unstructured corea

a
b
c

Description
A curricular model that juxtaposes subject areas according to a theme
identied in two or more subjects. Organizing theme is subordinated to
established subject areas.
Teachers of different subjects all deal with aspects of one topic at the
same time.
Units of study are rearranged and sequenced to coincide with one
another. Similar ideas are taught in concert while remaining as separate
subjects.
The approach threads thinking skills, social skills, multiple intelligences,
technology, and study skills through the various disciplines.
Content is blended. Although disciplines speak in separate voices, they
become tools to focus closely on an organizing theme, problem,
question, or idea.
Teachers take integration further by combining the content of two or
more subjects into a new course with a new name.
Views the curriculum through a kaleidoscope: interdisciplinary topics
are rearranged around overarching concepts and emergent patterns and
designs.
Shared planning and teaching take place in two disciplines in which
overlapping concepts or ideas emerge as organizing elements.
A fertile theme is webbed to curriculum contents and disciplines;
subjects use the theme to sift out appropriate concepts, topics, and
ideas.
Cross-disciplinary approaches that call for the greatest degree of
restructuring, where subject boundaries are blurred and connections
magnied in a new organizational framework.
A curriculum design theory aiming to enhance the possibilities for
personal and social integration through the organization of curriculum
around signicant problems and issues without regard for subject area
lines.
Student- and society-centered curricular approaches. Teachers identify
the needs, problems, and concerns and skills and subject matter from
any pertinent subject are brought in to help students deal with those
matters. In structured core, teachers design units of study that are
relevant to students; whereas in unstructured core, teachers and
students together develop the units of study.

Vars (1991).
Fogarty (1991).
Beane (1997).

experiences. The third rationale argues for schools to equip learners


with the ability to address social problems and issues. Echoing
progressive and reconstructionist tenets, advocates of integrated
curriculum argue that if schools are to prepare citizens who can
make decisions in a complex globalized world, there must be
opportunities for learners to integrate and apply knowledge across
traditional disciplines (Parker, 2008).
2.2. International efforts in curriculum integration
Intermittent interest in progressive educational approaches
since the 1920s served as a vehicle for the spread of integrated
curricula worldwide. In the 1970s, integrated curriculum in the
United States was a focus of the middle school movement. Starting
in the 1990s, a wave of curriculum reform swept through Asia, with
many countries adopting integrated curriculum as a means of
promoting the learning of 21st century skills such as problemsolving and its higher relevance to students daily life (Lam,
2002). Taiwan, for example, introduced Social Studies to replace
Geography and History in junior secondary schools in the late
1990s. China took similar measures to introduce Integrated Science
at junior secondary level. In 2009, a new integrated subject, Liberal
Studies, was made compulsory for all senior secondary students in
Hong Kong (Education and Manpower Bureau, 2005).
Echoing debates that have surrounded the varying educational
philosophies, such attempts to introduce integrated curricula have
not been without resistance. For example, in recent years,

secondary school programs in New South Wales, Australia, reverted


to disciplinary-based curricula after almost a decade of integration.
On the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, studies have revealed
serious implementation problems of integrated programs (Lam &
Chan, 2011; Zhang, 2007). Even in the United States, despite
considerable advocacy and a relatively long history, little change
has actually been sustained. Across these settings, proponents of
integrated curricula faced questions regarding students abilities to
master subject-based content when disciplinary lines were blurred
(Ellis & Fouts, 2001). Ball (1987) further observed that schools
administrative structure have long been subject-based, and the
introduction of integrated programs may be perceived as a threat to
the status and resources of existing subjects.
The tenacity of subject-based curricula has been reinforced by
global trends toward neoliberalism, a political ideology where the
state installs apparatuses and knowledges through which people
are recongured as productive economic entrepreneurs (Davies &
Bansel, 2007, p. 248). Applied to education, neoliberalism forwards
essentialist and perennialist agendas, embodied in standards-based
reforms, high-stake examinations, accountability and ranking, and
discourses focused on excellence (McKenna & Richardson, 2009).
Nussbaum (2010) has argued that neoliberal, essentialist, and
perennialist mentalities have calcied divisions between disciplines and marginalized subjects such as the humanities, which are
deemed unessential in preparing youth to compete in the global
economy. The emphasis on examinations has likewise impeded
curricula aimed at fostering critical thinking skills that are difcult

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C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

to assess through summative evaluations (Bailey, 2003; Hinde,


2005).
International efforts at implementing integrated curricula,
despite their mixed results, have yielded scholarship focused on the
enactment of such programs. The lack of agreement about the
nature of integrated approaches, however, poses challenges to the
study of curriculum integration. The various integration models
provide categories that are conceptually rich, but not necessarily
reective of work in schools (Applebee et al., 2007). Confounding
this operational issue are variables associated with interdisciplinarity, such as adherence to student-centered instruction
and collaboration between teachers and other school personnel.
Thus, it is difcult to draw conclusions about the relative strength of
integrated programs over subject-based curricula (Ellis & Fouts,
2001; Lam, 2002).

When determining whether or not to implement some degree


of curriculum integration, schools and teachers must consider
a number of trade-offs and address several issues, including sufcient planning time, the availability of resources, and the social and
political context in which curriculum reform unfolds (Applebee
et al., 2007; Hinde, 2005). The context of curriculum change varies among nations. Many East Asian countries have had a highstake examination culture and a long history of discipline-based
school curriculum, but are now aiming at nurturing higher order
thinking skills and making education more relevant to students
daily life. Singapore, being one of these countries, provides an
interesting setting to understand the enactment of curriculum
integration. In the following section, we sketch the milieu of
curriculum integration in Singapore.
3. Curriculum integration in Singapore

2.3. Teacher education, conceptions, and practice


Hargreaves and Fullan (1998), Darling-Hammond (2009) and
Thornton (1991, 2005) maintain that teachers are critical participants in curriculum reform. It is through teachers beliefs about
education, their knowledge, understanding of policies, and day-today experiences of practice that teachers interpret curricular goals
and students learning experiences. Ultimately, the nature of
teaching and learning is highly dependent upon teachers beliefs
and their perceived capacities to enact learning goals within their
educational and professional contexts (Pajares, 1992). Research
indicates that teachers enactment of integrated programs stems
from a characteristically progressive concern: that of making
learning more relevant to students (Applebee et al., 2007;
Hargreaves & Moore, 2000; Lam & Chan, 2011).
Evidence suggests that teachers beliefs about notions of
teaching within subject-based curricula pose barriers to the introduction and longevity of integrated programs. This subject-based
orientation stems from both the type of education teachers experience as youngsters and as pre-service teachers. Previously, we
discussed how essentialist and perennialist philosophies have
dominated the nature of schooling. The arguments for disciplinebased education have similarly inuenced teacher education
globally (Lam & Chan, 2011; Zhang, 2007). Although progressive
and reconstructionist principles, such as attending to childrens
different interests, are taught in teacher education courses, preservice teachers mostly experience a curriculum that caters to
enhancing discipline-based content knowledge (DarlingHammond, 1999; Labaree, 2008). In the United States, for
example, highly qualied teachers are likely to be dened
through mastery of subject matter and in particular, test scores on
mathematical and verbal ability, with less emphasis placed on
pedagogical skills or knowledge of curriculum planning (for
example, U.S. Department of Education, Ofce of Postsecondary
Education, Ofce of Policy Planning and Innovation, 2002, p. viii-9).
In places where teachers are trained as discipline specialists,
teachers resistance to integrated curriculum has been strong.
Goodson (1983) demonstrated that secondary school teachers in
England identied themselves primarily as teachers of particular
subjects. More recent studies in the United States, China, Taiwan,
and Hong Kong reveal similar kinds of teacher identity that stems
in part from teachers discipline-based preparation (Lam & Chan,
2011; Little, 1990; Zhang, 2007). When integrated curriculum is
introduced in secondary schools, teachers are required to teach
subject content which they believe to be beyond their personal
body of knowledge. Furthermore, integration usually calls for forms
of pedagogy that may be unfamiliar to teachers. Hence, they may
feel deskilled (Lam & Chan, 2011). To deliver the new integrated
programs, they would need to reskill themselves (Lam et al., 2006).

The emergence of integrated curriculum in Singapore can be


viewed as a response to global, neoliberal economic trends
(McKenna & Richardson, 2009) and the recognized need to shift
schooling toward a more student-centered focus (Gopinathan &
Deng, 2006). In the 1990s, government leaders and public gures
questioned local schools capacities to equip students with the
appropriate mix of skills, abilities and knowledge required by the
new economy (Gopinathan, 2007). Two initiatives were launched
to address these concerns: Thinking Schools, Learning Nation
(TSLN) in 1997, and Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM) in 2004. The
TSLN initiative focused on developing students into active learners
with critical thinking skills and.a creative and critical thinking
culture within schools (Tan & Gopinathan, 2000, p. 7). Key TSLN
strategies included the reduction of subject content and the revision of assessment modes to emphasize process instead of
outcomes (Tan & Gopinathan, 2000). The TLLM initiative emphasized a student-centered education that fostered active learning,
character development and life-long learning. The TLLM programs
involved school-based curriculum development (SBCD) to
encourage schools to innovate with the existing curriculum to
address students learning needs. Curriculum directives suggested
innovations such as organizing content around a certain theme,
engaging in curriculum integration that might require the cooperation of teachers from various departments (Gopinathan & Deng,
2006, p. 99). Integration was, thus, seen as a pathway to addressing the new curriculum directives.
Aside from grassroots SBCD efforts, curriculum integration in
Singapore has evolved topedown. For example, students at the
secondary level take Social Studies, an examinable integrated
course aimed at developing students into responsible citizens with
a sense of national identity and a global perspective (Singapore
Examinations and Assessment Board, 2008, p. 3). Another
program, entitled National Education, comprises citizenship
education involving curricular and non-curricular activities aimed
at strengthening young Singaporeans attachment to their country
amid concerns that the globalized economy would strain their
national loyalty (Gopinathan, 2007). In the early 2000s, the
Ministry of Education (MOE) explored the Integrated Humanities
program that would combine History and Geography at the lower
secondary level. Eventually, because of implementation issues, the
idea was abandoned. Discussion about the initiative however,
brought about curriculum innovations in various schools.
School-based and topedown initiatives aimed at curriculum
integration in Singapore have resulted in a variety of integrated
models, from multidisciplinary to transdisciplinary (Leong, Sim, &
Chua, 2011). These initiatives provided an opportunity to explore
how teachers enact their integrated curriculum ideas and factors
shaping their practices. Drawing on scholarship in curriculum

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

integration and educational reform, we crafted an investigation that


positioned teachers at the heart of curriculum change efforts.
Teachers understanding of curriculum, and how teachers implement e or fail to implement e intended changes can have
a substantial impact on the outcomes of those changes. It is with this
understanding that we explored the conceptions and practices of
eleven Singaporean teachers engaged in various forms of curriculum
integration. This study specically examines teachers efforts to
reconcile an initiative toward integrated curriculum and progressive
goals articulated by the Ministry of Education with a high-stakes test
culture in which exam performance is the main measure of success
for both students and teachers. Although focused on Singapore, this
study aims to illuminate the dilemmas faced by teachers in many
Asian and Western societies who seek to reconcile progressive
education goals with essentialist, perennialist, or neoliberal agendas.
4. Methods
To better understand teachers conceptions and curriculum
practices in relation to the demands of their professional context
requires an in-depth examination of teachers thinking and experience. For this reason, we adopted a qualitative case study design.
Specically, we employed an instrumental case study approach.
Stake (2005) distinguishes between typical and instrumental case
studies. The former is built around cases that hold inherent characteristics that are of interest to the researcher, whereas in
instrumental case studies, researchers choose specic cases to
inform an external interest (Stake, 2005, p. 445). In this study,
a case of eleven teachers became the basis of illuminating the
external issue, perspectives and enactment of integrated curriculum. The case of teachers was bounded (Stake, 1997, 2005) by their
experiences of working within integrated programs that were
shaped by local education policies and the broader Singaporean
socio-political milieu. We framed the investigation around two
research questions: (a) What is the nature of teachers conceptions
and practice of integrated curriculum within their schools? and (b)
What are teachers perspectives of the enactment of integrated
curricula within the Singaporean educational context?
4.1. Data collection
The research team comprised four investigators afliated with
the sole teacher education institution in Singapore. The researchers

27

recruited teachers for the study by inviting students from their


teacher education classes to participate in interviews. The number
of participants increased as interviewees referred the researchers
to colleagues and acquaintances that were involved in integrated
curricula. Scholars maintain that the interview is an effective data
collection method to illuminate teachers conceptions (Calderhead,
1996) and reveal the complexity of the teaching world (Merriam,
2002; Patton, 2002). The researchers conducted interviews consisting of semi-structured questions that covered three general
areas: (a) understanding of integrated curricula; (b) efforts related
to integrated curricula; and (c) perceived benets and barriers to
implementation. In all phases of the investigation, the researchers
adhered to ethical guidelines stipulated by the universitys Institutional Review Board. Participants were informed of the purpose
of the study and measures were taken to ensure condentiality and
anonymity. Each investigator interviewed at least two participants.
With the participants consent, the interviews were audio-taped
and transcribed in full.
In all, eleven secondary school teachers, six women and ve
men, participated in individual interviews lasting between 60 and
100 min. The teachers comprised a purposive sample that represented six schools that had embarked on various forms of integration, a range of years of teaching, at least two years of working
on curriculum integration in their schools, and differing roles
within the integration programs. Table 2 summarizes the participants background.
Five participants came from schools that had initiated integrated programs as core features of the curriculum at the
Secondary One and Two levels. Three of the ve participants
(Jonathan, Diana, and Ai Ling) were from St. Annes Secondary
School, a school that pioneered the development of the Integrated
Humanities (IH) program that merged History and Geography. The
teachers joined the IH program at different junctures of development. Two teachers from this group came from typical,
government-funded schools that had instigated integrated
programs lasting for at least one semester. Hui Ping was from
Achieve Academy, which was anticipating a possible directive to
adopt the IH program. Hariff was the head of the Social Studies
department at Hijau Secondary. He was a proponent of integrating
subjects within the schools National Education (NE) program.
The six other teacher-participants worked on integration
initiatives that were peripheral to the formal curriculum. Although
these programs spanned two weeks or less, they involved teachers

Table 2
Participants background information.
Namea

School

Years of teaching

Disciplinary
background

Integrated school
program

Subjects integrated

Role and years of


involvement

Core integrated programs


Jonathan
St Annes Secondary

Over 10

Integrated Humanities

History & Geography

Planner: 6

Diana
Ai Ling
Hui Ping
Hariff

3
4
Over 10
Over 10

Humanities &
History
Geography
History
Geography
History

Achieve Academy
Hijau Secondary

Integrated Humanities
National Education

History & Geography


Values, History, Geography,
Social Studies

Education for Life

Social Studies, Geography,


English
History, English, Science
Information Technology
& Science
History & Geography

Non-core integrated programs


Katie
Trinity Secondary
Lisa
Kavitha
Xu Ping

6
7
4
3

English &
Literature

Li Wah

Jingga Secondary

Geography

Enrichment

Alex

Ungu Academy

Over 10

History

Values Education

Participants and school names are pseudonyms.

Science

Social Studies & Values


Education

Planner, teacher: 3
Planner, teacher: 4
Teacher: 2
Planner, teacher: 6

Planner,
Planner,
Planner,
Planner,

teacher:
teacher:
teacher:
teacher:

2
2
3
2

Planner, teacher: 2
Curriculum developer: 1
Teacher, researcher: 2

28

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

from more than one subject department. Four of these teachers


(Lisa, Katie, Kavitha, and Xu Ping) came from Trinity Secondary
School, which had implemented the Education for Life (EFL)
program. The EFL comprised learning units that linked subject
areas aimed at invigorating the schools professed values. The EFL
modules took on different forms. Katie and Lisa co-taught
Secondary Three Geography, History, and English. Kavitha cotaught with two other teachers. The teams week-long EFL units
combined Secondary One History, Literature, and Science. Xu Pings
EFL units linked Science and Information Technology at the
Secondary Two level. The two remaining teachers came from
typical, government-funded schools, and had been involved
extensively in researching, planning, or teaching integrated units. Li
Wah was a former teacher and curriculum developer at Jingga
Secondary School who had planned and implemented an enrichment module on History and Geography. Finally, Alex was a senior
Social Studies teacher who was assigned by his school, Ungu
Academy, to investigate the feasibility of implementing values
education in Social Studies. The participants collectively provided
different perspectives on the integration process and the demands
on the teachers, the school, and the educational system. Furthermore, the homogeneity and variation within the sample bolstered
the studys external validity by providing a solid basis for generalizing the ndings to other secondary teachers involved in
curriculum integration in Singapore (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
4.2. Data analysis
Analysis employed the constant comparative method (Miles &
Huberman, 1994), an inductive approach aimed at reducing the
data into a manageable number of themes that addressed the
concerns of the study (Creswell, 2008). The analytical process
occurred in stages similar to those outlined by Boeije (2002). In the
initial stage, the researchers subjected individual transcripts to
open coding that entailed processes of fragmenting and connecting.
Fragmenting emphasized the separate codes that emerged during
the interview and the lifting of the coded pieces out of the interview context. To connect the data, we compared one coded
segment with another. If a similarity was detected, the criterion of
convergence became the basis of developing a category. For

example, one coded fragment identied in Jonathans interview


was protected planning time. We found that other codes in the
interview, such as shared venues and collaborative instruction
were linked to protected planning time because each evidenced
school action in support of integration. We connected the similar
coded fragments by collectively labeling them under the category,
school support. By fragmenting and connecting the data, we
captured the essential message contained in each interview. The
process likewise enabled us to check for internal validity: each
researcher read and coded the interviews separately as a way of
determining the consistency of ideas within each transcript.
The second stage involved comparing interviews within the
same group. Employing axial coding, we searched for characteristics across interviews to dene common concepts and discover
combinations of codes within each concept. As shown in Table 2,
the groups comprised two types of participants: a) teachers from
schools where integration was a core curricular feature and b)
teachers from schools where integration was peripheral. In
comparing participants within the rst group, we found the category, school support from Jonathans interview to be a common
feature. However, support manifested differently among teachers
who had come from other schools (Hariff and Hui Ping). For
example, in Hariffs case, school support was not exemplied by
shared venues and collaborative instruction, but through
protected planning time and uniquely, the National Education
curriculum.
In the nal analytical stage, we compared the two groups with
regard to the participants perceptions of curriculum integration.
The cross-analysis served as a form of triangulation that allowed us
to validate categories and enrich the picture that emerged from the
rst group (Boeije, 2002). Further, the criteria on which some
interviews differed from others became the basis of developing
a matrix to construct descriptions of the teachers experiences of
implementing integrated curricula. Table 3 includes examples of
these criteria (organizing principles, perceived benets).
The analysis yielded two broad themes that informed the
studys research questions. The rst captures participants theoretical understanding of integration, their views of the nature of
integrated curriculum, and attempts to integrate curricula through
their school-based practices. The second theme reects the

Table 3
Characteristics of integrated programs.
School and teachers

Integrated program and


subjects

Core integrated programs


St. Annes Secondary Integrated Humanities:
History & Geography
Jonathan
Diana
Ai Ling
Achieve Academy
Hui Ping
Social Studies, National
Hijau Secondary
Hariff
Education
Non-core integrated
Trinity Secondary
Katie
Lisa
Kavitha
Xu Ping
Jingga Secondary
Li Wah
Ungu Academy
Alex

Type of integration
and duration

Organizing principles/themes

Perceived benetsa

Program used for


exam preparation

Shared: whole year

Social & political issues: Singapores


aging population, inux of foreign
workers, pollution, sustainable
development
Historical patterns: role of rivers in
shaping civilizations
Social & political issues based on
Singapores history and National
Education themes

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Yes

1, 2, 3

No

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Yes

Shared: 1 semester
Webbed: 1 semester

programs
Education for Life: English,
History, Science, Information Technology

Threaded, webbed:
1e2 weeks

Historical patterns: how societies


respond to change
Environmental issues: sustainable
development, interconnectedness

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

No

History & Geography

Shared: 1e2 weeks

1, 2, 3, 4

No

Social Studies & Values

Threaded: N.A.

Historical patterns: societies


relationship with environment
Values-inspired themes

N.A.

No

a
1 authentic, real world learning; 2 enhancing student interest; 3 expanding perspectives; 4 critical thinking & problem-solving; 5 holistic learning;
6 differentiated learning; 7 camaraderie among teachers; 8 exam preparation.

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

teachers perceptions of integrated programs within Singapores


curriculum reform initiatives. Notably, the teachers emphasized
that integration faced obstacles due to entrenched values, beliefs,
and practices. These themes are discussed below.
5. Findings
5.1. Conceptions, motivations, and practice of integration
Our studys rst question concerned how teachers conceptualized the nature of integration and enacted integrated curriculum in
their schools. Like Applebee et al. (2007), we observed that
teachers conceptions and practice of integration do not t neatly
into the models of curriculum integration identied in the literature. Most teachers learned about curriculum integration through
in-service seminars or short courses; thus opportunities to explore
models of curriculum integration were limited. Teachers conceptions of integration were, furthermore, linked closely with the
characteristics of the integrated programs offered in their schools.
Among teachers whose schools adopted integrated curricula to
implement core programs for a sustained period, teachers were
more likely to conceptualize integration through interdisciplinary
approaches that prioritized issues under study rather than the
maintenance of disciplines that characterized multidisciplinary
approaches (see Table 3).
Four teachers approached integration through a multidisciplinary model. That is, they focused on themes that represented
real world problems; but assessments were built around the
specic skill expectations of the disciplines involved. Lisa and her
teammate, Katie, designed their EFL units around a week-long eld
trip for their students to a palm oil plantation in Malaysia. Lisa
noted that integrated curriculum is a curriculum in which there is
no clear distinction about disparate subjects but rather the skills of
particular subjects are used specically for the students to solve
a problem .. The teachers emphasized that problems relating to
the environment and sustainable development were the focus of
the unit; on the other hand, assessments were linked to the separate subjects through the use of rubrics that outlined the different
skills. Similarly, their colleague, Kavitha, explained that the schools
Secondary One EFL units, organized under the theme of How
societies respond to change, was an opportunity to practice skills
learned in English, History and Science classes. For Alex, who was
tasked to develop an integrated program at Ungu Academy,
a feasible approach to organizing the curriculum was to anchor
learning through values-based themes that would then be
combined through discipline-specic assessment rubrics.
The remainder of the participants conceptualized their curricular approaches through interdisciplinary models. A pair of
teachers characterized their integration as webbed (Fogarty,
1991), where organizing themes spanned the curriculum but
were implemented within subject areas. Hariff, who had led the
integration of NE in his school, explained: There is a theme, cutting
across . horizontally and vertically where basically all the different
subjects are communicating these themes, so the students are able
to have a better understanding. Hariff mentioned that historical
themes highlighting how Singapore had responded to social
upheavals such as water shortages and racial tensions were
explored extensively in Social Studies and Values Education classes.
Similarly, Xu Ping explained that to prepare students for their EFL
eldwork, which involved designing a bridge to serve a village in
a rainforest in Malaysia, he taught the students about the concept of
interconnectedness through a unit on ecosystems during Science
and networks during Information Technology class.
Diana, Ai Ling, and Jonathan from St. Annes Secondary School,
and Li Wah who were designated as their schools curriculum

29

developers, and Hui Peng, framed their understanding and practice


of integration similarly to Fogartys (1991) shared model. Diana saw
integration as Something that, as much as possible, connects two
subjects . or teaching things that can lend itself to both disciplines. Diana and Ai Ling explained that combining History and
Geography into the IH allowed them to focus on issues that were
relevant to students lives while preserving skills and concepts that
were afliated traditionally with the individual subjects. Ai Ling
mentioned that Singapores limited land area and its historical ties
to neighboring countries led to many issues that students could
ponder. Hui Peng recalled how she implemented a unit on Rivers
to facilitate learning about the longevity of ancient civilizations,
a topic that was taught in History and Geography. Diana explained
that she and her colleagues at St. Annes designed IH units that
dealt mainly with social problems in Singapore, such as its aging
population, the inux of foreign workers, and pollution. A common
principle among these units was to emphasize how societies, in
order to endure, needed to adjust to social, environmental and
political changes.
The variations in programs notwithstanding, all except one of
the participants agreed that integration offered many benets,
particularly in cultivating students learning and interest (see
Table 3). These benets served as incentives for teachers as they
worked on their integrated units. The benets cited by the teachers
reected arguably progressive principles of student learning. This
was best captured by Hariff, who noted that the NE curriculum
could be taken as propaganda.but we wanted the students to
approach social issues more critically. Progressive principles were
evident in the pedagogical innovations introduced by the teachers.
Hariff said that his students tended to be social learners. This
inspired his teaching team to design strategies that involved
collaborative work. Jonathan and Ai Ling recalled that the IH subject
challenged them to avoid the usual didactic lectures and PowerPoint presentations. They developed role-play and cooperative
group activities that enabled them to address students different
learning styles.
Teachers likewise reported positive effects on camaraderie
among the teachers. Hariff and Jonathan reiterated that through
working together for the integrated program, team spirit among
the teachers was enhanced. At St. Annes Secondary School,
teachers relied on colleagues trained in different subjects to identify common concepts and skills in History and Geography. Jonathan noted that teachers worked long hours between semesters to
craft their curriculum units together. He added that the common
teaching time enriched the exchange of ideas among teachers while
providing students with cross-disciplinary perspectives.
Across the two groups, teachers said that they had learned about
integration through short-term seminars sponsored by the MOE.
Hariff, Hui Peng, Jonathan, and Li Wah mentioned that attending
a masters course on curriculum design introduced them to
concept-based approaches. Intriguingly, more than half of the
teachers, while attempting to enact practices to support integration, expressed a sentiment that their efforts fell short of what
integration should be. Hui Peng, Jonathan, Kavitha, Li Wah, and Xu
Ping were among those who described a normative stance that
differed from their integration practices. Jonathan described the IH
program as adhering to Fogartys (1991) shared model; however,
his understanding of integration reached beyond the merging of
two subjects:
Rather than just limited to two disciplines, its to see connections between different elds of knowledge, and this
could mean two or more, but, basically to look out for how
different elds of knowledge are connected and to appreciate
more importantly, the connections. because, through

30

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

integration.one of the advantages is that it is.applicable to


the real world . where knowledge is not compartmentalized
into subjects.
Hui Peng observed that she sought to link History and Geography, but claimed that the curriculum had not fullled an important criterion of integration, specically, the subsuming of subjects
within compelling relevant issues. She used a metaphor of a local
drink to explain the disjuncture in her thinking and practice:
In Singapore, bandung means rose syrup with milk, so just like
two subjects, they are supposed to mix until it becomes something brand new . But the way the syllabus is, the way the
curriculum is being designed doesnt really allow us a lot of
scope to explore this integration.
Another intriguing pattern relating to teachers conceptions and
enactment was the varying level of support for integration based on
the programs role with regards to preparation for examinations. As
indicated in Table 3, teachers in schools where integrated programs
involved examinable subjects (St. Annes and Hijau Secondary
Schools) saw more benets to student learning and generally held
stronger support for such programs compared to their counterparts
where schools primary test preparation took place in traditional,
discipline-based subjects. The role of examinations and other
constraints to integrated curriculum will be discussed further in the
following section.
5.2. Obstacles to integration
The second area of interest concerned teachers views of
curriculum integration within the wider context of Singapores
educational initiatives. The teachers reported that a high
percentage of school-based integration they developed adhered to
interdisciplinary approaches in which content from disciplines
were organized around a theme. Transdisiplinary approaches that
organize curriculum around student questions and concerns
(Drake & Burns, 2004, p. 13) were uncommon. The participants
responses indicated that resistance to transdisciplinary approaches
stemmed from four general factors that have been noted by other
researchers (see Grossman et al., 2000; Lam & Chan, 2011). These
include: (a) teachers perceived lack of subject knowledge; (b)
teacher subject identication; (c) the inadequacy of resources and
time needed for curriculum development; and (d) misalignment
between topics and assessment.
A feeling of inadequacy in subject knowledge was found to be
a concern of all except one of the teachers involved. Without ample
grasp of the subject knowledge, teachers found it difcult to
identify the key ideas to be covered in their teaching. Li Wah
explained: When designing what to teach in the new integrated
subject, it . is denitely a struggle because they wont know.the
important aspects of the discipline to esh out. The only teacher
who did not nd lacking of subject knowledge a problem was Katie.
She noted: For a person just starting out (subject matter knowledge) might seem quite daunting, but in Singapore we have enough
resources available to ll this knowledge gap.
The concern of subject identity was less apparent than subject
knowledge, but nonetheless posed a stumbling block to integration
efforts. Teachers who were trained to teach a certain subject usually
identied themselves as a member of that subject. Hui Peng voiced
her concerns about this issue frankly: Because I am a Geography
teacher .I nd that integration actually threatens the integrity of
the status of the subject. This was especially true in upper
secondary Social Studies, where integration of History and Geography would mean the Geography skills are very much .
marginalized.

All the teachers shared the view that nding time for teachers to
meet and work out the school-based programs was difcult. Even
among teachers who were involved in smaller-scale integration
efforts, many expressed the need for effort and time to develop
materials, plans and schedules. Jonathan, who masterminded the
teacher-initiated IH program in St. Annes, described the kind of
work involved in the development process: We had to come up
with everything, the framework, the scheme of work, and the
materials that we were going to use and then managing it, in terms
of getting teachers ready. Teachers adopted a variety of strategies
to manage this concern, such as creating time and space to allow
teachers from different departments to meet and work collaboratively. In Jonathans school, the school management had been
highly supportive by providing concurrent time-tabling especially
in the early years. Jonathan reiterated that the implementation of
the schools team-teaching approach was highly dependent upon
how the school administration planned their schedules so that
classes could be combined in large venues. Concurrent time-tabling
likewise addressed teachers concerns for not having adequate
knowledge of unfamiliar disciplines so that.if there was a topic
the teacher wasnt sure of, they could go to the theaterette or bigger
place and they could have a lecture session with the other teacher
leading the material.
Other schools had tried to limit the scale of the change to avoid
overstretching the system. For example, Hui Peng mentioned that
her schools IH curriculum was designed by one teacher in order to
avoid the challenges of recruiting teachers from various departments and nding time to develop the materials. Kavitha noted that
by following a threaded model of integration rather than transdisciplinary approaches that required intense planning and
collaboration, her schools EFL program appeared less daunting to
teachers.
According to participants who were designated as curriculum
leaders, the foremost challenge to these school-based initiatives
was that many teachers did not see it as their top priority. Rather,
teachers regarded national and standardized examinations as the
main drivers of curriculum, and the prioritization of examinations
held far-reaching curricular implications, such as the allocation of
time and the organization of programs around examinable
subjects. Indeed, some teachers cited the importance of aligning
integrated curricula with disciplinary syllabi so as to enhance
students chances of securing good results in public examinations.
Li Wah explained:
Eventually students will have to take up a certain Humanities
subject for the O levels [examinations]. So whatever is
implemented at the lower secondary should ideally prepare
them in some way for the examinable subjects at the upper
secondary levels ..
Kavitha shared a similar view: When we go back to the classroom.we have subject-specic outcomes to meet, exams and all
that, which are reality .. She voiced concern that integration
necessitated a mentality that was not shared by many educational
stakeholders. Stakeholders actually want measureable outcomes.
Her sentiments were shared by several participants who cited the
prevailing mentality of kiasu, which is translated literally as a fear
of losing. In Singapores examination-driven system, kiasu is
embodied by intense competition among students d and by
extension, their parents d to do well in order to secure places in
selective schools or higher academic tracks.
Among our participants, those who regarded integrated
curricula as compatible with test preparation were more likely to
support its whole-scale implementation. The teachers from St.
Annes and Hariff, were among those who argued that the benets
of integrated programs outweighed the many operational

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

difculties. Hariff was the most supportive as he noted students


increased understanding and higher interest and condence in the
Humanities. This was especially true among students in the lower
ability classes and those from challenging backgrounds.who are
not getting that kind of support in terms of education at home.
Hariff noted that, at rst, his students did not see any increase in
examination scores, but test scores improved among students in
succeeding cohorts. More importantly, he added, on the whole I
would say that the students enjoy and love the subject.
In sum, having relatively limited experience in integration, the
majority of teachers, despite holding positive views of integrated
curriculum, doubted the feasibility of its implementation in
Singapore. Some teachers questioned the usefulness of replacing
subject-based curriculum, given the many constraints they faced in
terms of planning, time and subject-based training. They did not
regard an integrated curriculum as higher quality than a subjectbased curriculum, and believed that students systematic understanding of subject knowledge was endangered by the introduction
of integrated curriculum. Li Wahs comment captured the teachers
stance with regards to a full-scale implementation of integration:
Given the work involved and our circumstances.I wouldnt want
to have an integrated curriculum, but if its a directive and if it has to
be done, I would do it.
The teachers interviewed for this study also reported that, for
the most part, schools did not venture fully into integration,
because the MOE had not formally committed to an integrated
curriculum. Instead, many of the school-based initiatives were
more likely to be conned to add-on project work or peripheral
programs. The most substantial effort was St. Annes Secondary
Schools IH program to replace History and Geography at the lower
secondary level. On the whole, teachers from schools where integration comprised a core feature of the academic program showed
more commitment to curriculum integration, and their commitment was strengthened as they were given opportunities to
collaboratively design and implement lessons around issues that
they felt were relevant to their students experiences. However,
across our sample of teachers, and even among teachers involved in
core curricular efforts, participants perceptions of the feasibility of
curriculum integration hinged on their programs ability to prepare
students for national examinations. Hui Peng, whose school enacted a core integrated program through the IH, yet supplemented
the IH with courses for test preparation, captured the inuence of
the examination-focused culture on curriculum integration in
Singapore: Assessment is the problem. they were having opinions about how we should set the questions to test the students
(but) because of the difculty of the assessment part.again it falls
back into History and Geography. To conclude our study, we
connect ndings to current literature on teacher conceptions and
implementation of curriculum integration and illustrate how the
case of Singapore informs teacher education and wider debates
regarding the role of education in an era of increasing standardsdriven reform.
6. Discussion and conclusions
The ndings on teachers conceptions of integration, their attitudes toward curriculum development, and the problems they
encountered paint a complex picture of moving from disciplinebased to integrated curriculum. As this investigation illustrates,
teachers practice is inuenced by a web of beliefs and perspectives
about curriculum and about education generally; however, beliefs
about the nature of curriculum are only one aspect of the thinking
that informs decisions about what to teach. Equally important are
beliefs about what is expected of them as teachers in their particular roles and perceptions about their own abilities (Pajares, 1992).

31

This nding afrms previous studies on the inuence of beliefs on


teachers practices. However, the present study further illustrates
another dimension of relationship between beliefs and practices.
Teachers practical experiences in developing and implementing
integrated programs affect their conceptions of curriculum integration and the perceived usefulness of such programs. This implies
that hands on experience could have a place in helping teachers
build a stronger and positive attitude toward integration.
Teachers who ventured into integrated curriculum had adopted
a more progressive practice in their curriculum design. In all the
integrated curricula, issues relating to society and students experiences were selected as organizing themes. This stance of adopting
progressive and constructivist curriculum deviates from the
essentialist and perennialist mentalities that have delineated
disciplinary areas through compartmentalized subjects. All the
participants acknowledged the benets of integrated curricula,
particularly on student learning and the building of teachers
collaborative culture. Echoing scholars contentions (Beane, 1997;
Dewey, 1938/1997), several participants spoke of the importance of
integrated curricula in developing students skills and mindsets to
link classroom experiences to their daily lives, and in fostering their
abilities to address real-world issues.
It is crucial to note, however, that even among our small group of
participants, conceptions about and commitment to curriculum
integration varied greatly, due in part to their lack of formal
professional training in this area and their perceptions of the
constraints they faced in implementation. Similar to previous
research ndings in the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong (Lam
et al., 2006), several of our participants regarded teaching integrated programs difcult because of a lack of knowledge across the
subjects. Their personal subject identity also restricted their
professional commitment. In addition, the teachers reported that
additional resources are necessary, not only during the initial
implementation stage, but also as an ongoing undertaking if
implementation is to be sustained (Lam & Chan, 2011; Zhang,
2007). Equally signicant is the impact of these constraints on
teachers conceptions of the reform itself. In places where curriculum development is highly centralized like Singapore, teachers
have learned to see themselves as implementers more than
developers of curriculum.
The conceptions toward this curriculum reform effort are not at
all surprising. Teachers usually would not change their beliefs or
educational outlook simply by listening to or reading about the
strengths of a curriculum reform initiative (Fullan, 2007; Hoban,
2002). The integrated curriculum initiatives required teachers to
cover subject knowledge they were not familiar with, to link the
new integrated curriculum with students experience and real-life
events, to adopt more student-centered pedagogy and more
comprehensive coverage of student learning outcomes in assessment (Drake & Burns, 2004; Ellis, 2001; Grossman et al., 2000).
These necessitate not only the broadening of teachers subject and
professional knowledge but also deep-seated changes in their
beliefs about the nature of curriculum, the demands of society, and
their role as teachers. Changing teachers beliefs has been found to
be very difcult (Calderhead, 1996), but especially with regards to
altering entrenched notions of schooling as a disciplinary enterprise. As Grossman et al. (2000) have noted, such shifts in thinking
would entail teachers extended time to engage each other as
learners and the space to thrash out differences.beyond collaborations of convenience (p. 12). This may explain why a majority of
teachers in our study maintained their discipline-based beliefs and
were reluctant to fully adopt curriculum integration, even with the
time and space for them to work as a team in exploring integrations potential, selecting and organizing learning content and
enacting appropriate pedagogy.

32

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

At a broader level, the case of eleven teachers in Singapore


illuminates various issues with regard to international efforts in
curriculum integration and reform. Teachers expressed progressive
conceptions about what curriculum ought to be, but were also
aware of the constraints placed on their roles as teachers,
constraints characterized largely by perennialist, essentialist, and
neoliberal philosophies focused on traditional curriculum
(McKenna & Richardson, 2009). The constraints of curriculum
reform in a context which stresses results on discipline-based
examinations were very real to these teachers. Sharpe and
Gopinathan (2002) have contended that meritocracy and its
attendant focus on standardized examinations are central to Singapores national life, and the examination culture is perceived to
be closely linked to the economic success of the nation. This study
shows that such policies and societal values d in the case of
Singapore, the kiasu mentality d hindered the enactment of
curricula that reect progressive transdisciplinary approaches.
The policies, values, and tensions noted by the teachers are not
unique to Singapore. As Torres (2009) maintains, worldwide shifts
toward neoliberalism and standards-based reform, characterized
by high-stakes testing, have emphasized competition that is often
tied to the preparation of students to compete in the global
economy. In her indictment of these trends, Nussbaum (2010)
contends that education in the 21st century can, and must,
prepare students to learn the skills of empathy and criticality in
order to understand the common plight faced by the human
community. Similarly, scholars such as Dewey (1938/1997) and
Beane (1997) have written of how integrated curricula e especially
transdisciplinary models e allow for the investigation of compelling, authentic issues. Ironically, in Singapore, and in many other
places such as Hong Kong and Australia (Lam, 2002), intentions to
develop a more critical and student-centered education through
integrated curricula are often superseded by economically driven
and utilitarian reforms.
The present study, while revealing barriers to curriculum integration, nonetheless illuminates measures to promote integration
and other reform efforts in education. Evidently, when teachers are
involved in planning and enacting integrated programs, and when
they perceive support in the form of school or education policy,
they tend to view such reforms more positively. As Hargreaves and
Moore (2000) have found, ample and timely supports for teachers
are essential for them to implement and take ownership of new
integrated initiatives. The participants from St. Annes Secondary
School, particularly, shared concrete measures for successful
reform. For one, participants indicated that short-term professional
development would be insufcient to sustain integrated programs.
Rather, they expressed a need for ongoing in-service staff development and teacher education classes that would complement
their efforts. This is of particular importance as most teachers had
not had formal professional training in designing and delivering
integrated programs.
Indeed, previous research suggests that teacher education has
customarily adhered to structures and approaches that reinforce
teacher subject identity and discipline-based instruction (Goodson,
1983; Labaree, 2008). In both Singapore and Hong Kong, for
example, not many courses are dedicated to the development or
delivery of integrated curricula (Lam & Chan, 2011; Leong et al.,
2011). We would however, argue that by adopting a more
progressive stance to their teaching, teacher educators can
contribute to teachers capability and sense of empowerment when
planning and enacting integrated curricula. Aside from promoting
learning that is rooted in specic disciplines, teacher education
classes can be organized in ways that reect compelling issues.
Scholars have noted that an issue-centered curriculum not only
allows for transdisciplinary integration that moves beyond surface

combinations of different subject areas, but also builds the foundation for studenteteachers to view the curriculum and their roles
as teachers within principles of democracy and social justice
(Beane, 1997; Brophy & Alleman, 1991). As Garii and Rule (2009)
contend, when studenteteachers are exposed to issues such as
inequality or racism in their local communities, they build awareness of and even commitment to the topics that they teach.
Bullock, Park, Snow, and Rodriguez (2002) further argue that
teacher educators can model transdisciplinary curricula by collaboratively planning courses that reect their students and own
understanding of education and interests in teaching. Such
collaboration implies a commitment to seeking a democratic
structure in teacher education classes and the valuing of teachers as
educators rather than purely as content-area specialists (p. 159).
By adopting teacher education curricula that are planned through
democratic collaboration, driven by authentic issues (Beane, 1997)
and organized around enduring understandings or essential questions (Jacobs, 1989), teacher education classes can serve as powerful
dialogical venues where teachers learn to explore timeless and
authentic concepts that are the basis of meaningful learning. At the
same time, such discussions can help studenteteachers identify
ways in which to preserve the character of their subject areas.
Teacher education that promotes integration would focus on
developing studenteteachers skills in integrating the key subject
knowledge concepts and the organizing centers, nding ways of
linking the integrated themes with current social and personal
issues, developing student-centered pedagogies, and learning how
to craft and implement alternative assessment work to measure
broad-based learning outcomes. Equally important, teacher
education that supports curriculum integration would encourage
teachers to understand the reform contexts in which they operate
and build awareness of how perennialist, essentialist, progressivist, reconstructionist and more recent neoliberal trends have
shaped their pedagogies and practices. Beyond building awareness
of their conceptions, teachers working toward integration can
examine their ability to navigate between policies, societal
expectations and their own personal and professional commitments. In this case study, the teachers from St. Annes Secondary
and Hijau Secondary Schools, showed familiarity with novel
teaching approaches and alternative assessments. Ensuing dialog
between teachers and school administration enabled them to
design curricula that addressed demands for test preparation
while maintaining their commitment to teaching about real-world
problems. By examining the nuances of reform policies in teacher
education classes, teachers can learn to map a similarly empowered curricular path.
Teacher preparation alone will not enable teachers to implement integrated curricula once they are practicing teachers. Aside
from exposing the need for teacher education, the study likewise
indicates a necessity for ongoing professional development and
support. Within school systems that intend shifting toward integration, policymakers must determine how existing assessment
policies accommodate novel subject matter, instructional strategies, and learning modes that characterize integrated curricula. The
case further illustrates that, given the growing predilection toward
discipline-based education and standardized testing, it may be
necessary for school leaders and policymakers to educate stakeholders, particularly parents, of the benets of integrated
programs.
This study illustrates the importance of the role of teachers and
also the barriers to implementation of integrated curriculum in
Singapore, where deep rooted examination culture and the inuence of accountability are increasingly evident. Although the ndings shed light on other places with similar characteristics, as in
other case studies, the ndings are constrained by the use of a small

C.C. Lam et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 31 (2013) 23e34

sampling of teachers in one particular national setting. For this


reason, we would like to see investigations of integrated curricula
extended to more large scale studies, particularly studies that are
focused on countries where progressive philosophical inuences
compete with standards-based education reforms. Furthermore,
investigating integrated curricula from cross-national and
comparative perspectives may enable educators and scholars to
shed light on the global effects of neoliberal agendas that increasingly implicate education policies.
In sum, teachers hold the key to the successful implementation
of curriculum change. Their understanding of the expected
changes, conceptions of their role as teachers, and perceptions of
the expectations of school and society impact their implementation
of change. This research suggests that effective implementation of
curriculum reform requires that clear purpose and direction are
conveyed to teachers. Further, both pre-service and in-service
teacher education and on-going support beyond the initial implementation stage are crucial. But perhaps the most important
element of all is to convince teachers that the reform is good for
learners, and that ultimately, it can be achieved within the institutional demands of school and society.
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