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Learning through studying the social sciences

Education should increase the ability and willingness of society’s citizens to participate constructively and ethically in their public and private lives. Open and reasoned debate with the wider community, and effective participation of the members of society, enhances democratic processes, and individual and social wellbeing.

Cooperative and competitive processes shape societies, and understanding these processes is central to explaining social behaviour and to evaluating the performance of a social system. The social sciences equip people with tools and strategies to improve social processes and their outcomes at the collective and individual levels.

Through social science subjects, candidates develop personally and socially useful ways to analyse the world around them by:

  • studying human societies and their achievements
  • using the analytical and problem-solving techniques of the social science disciplines
  • gaining a critical understanding of the values underpinning both the study of social behaviour and the actions of those within society.

Inquiry is central to all disciplines within the social sciences. Each discipline has its own analytical and problem-solving techniques to help candidates understand complex social and environmental matters. The goal is to improve the ability of a society and its members to anticipate, initiate and respond to profound social changes. Social systems from the local to the global scale all merit study. They are interdependent and they evolve together. Candidates can widen their horizons by exposure to different societies and by examining why some solutions can succeed and others fail.

Candidates may imagine possible and preferred futures. They may appreciate what societies can achieve, what they struggle to achieve, and how barriers to beneficial changes can be overcome. They can understand what social outcomes can be anticipated and sometimes predicted, what phenomena can be understood after they happen, and what changes take us by surprise and are difficult to explain with existing understanding.

Candidates can become:

  • more knowledgeable, effective, constructive and committed participants in personal, professional and civic life
  • more aware of the importance of values and beliefs, and how differences can be identified, understood, negotiated and, perhaps, resolved
  • more reflective, responsible and sensitive citizens, parents, workers, managers, entrepreneurs, consumers and investors
  • more aware of the connections among the social sciences and with other subject areas
  • more sensitive to the interdependencies between the social, cultural, political, economic, environmental and ethical aspects of experience
  • better able to grasp the sort of tensions that can arise when a social system operates in a way that may seem at odds with its sustainability and the natural environment.

Social science subjects can lead some candidates directly towards future careers as economists, geographers, historians and social scientists. While most candidates will proceed to other careers, their study of these subjects will give them important life skills. Each subject has its own terminology, interpretive framework, mode of reasoning and conventions of presentation.

Critical analysis contains implicit social value judgments about which issues are worth studying, and social values and the values of individual candidates should be explored and evaluated in a constructive and critical way. Whether candidates are working collaboratively or developing individual skills in communicating ideas clearly, fairly and persuasively, opportunities will arise for both information and values to be in focus. Making effective decisions requires an understanding of any far-reaching ramifications of actions occurring in a particular social and historical context.

Underlying these studies and the values involved in them should be a commitment to open-minded debate, human rights and responsibilities, improvements in the quality of life, social justice and ecological sustainability.

Last reviewed 24 June 2021
Last updated 24 June 2021