The Need for University Level Requirements

Steve Jobs once said, ‘A lot of people haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem’.


NUS recognises the merits of a broad-based education. The spirit of a broad-based education is a central feature of the NUS Teaching Philosophy, which articulates that ‘NUS aims to produce individuals with curious and questioning minds, willing and able to examine and engage in rigorous inquiry, of a broad range of issues within and beyond assumed disciplinary borders’. Not only do we seek to ensure that our graduates acquire the requisite content knowledge, vocational skills and competencies for their majors or professional training, it is equally important that our graduates are empowered with broad knowledge, a wide field of vision and transferable skills.

Why is it important to provide our graduates with a broad exposure to multiple disciplines?

A diverse bank of knowledge and experiences helps us to see and appreciate matters not just in isolation, but to see the possibilities and relationships between ideas, events and subject areas. By studying different areas, one is constantly training one’s mind to think critically, hone analytical abilities and to derive conclusions from information. The mind becomes more agile, and this in turn enables one to learn, understand and organise new knowledge more easily and quickly. After all, the real world is not made up of experimentally defined questions to which one can flip a textbook to obtain answers. In this ever-changing economy and workforce, one needs to be deft and adaptable, to figure out the complexities of each unique situation and problem.

Diversity in educational experiences is thus important. One way to introduce breadth into the university curriculum is through a core curriculum that spans across the university, regardless of one’s major. This is the practice at many American universities. The core curriculum requirements will typically include classes in writing, critical inquiry, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, humanities, social and natural sciences. In British universities, students read the bulk of their modules in their disciplinary majors, and for breadth, students are required read a few modules outside their majors. In recent years however, many British universities have attempted to move towards a more broad-based framework.

The University-Level Requirements (ULR) at NUS is a hybrid of the British and the American systems. NUS has since moved from a traditional British curricular system to a (American) modular system. Today, our system is generally flexible enough to allow students to pursue depth and breadth, according to their interests and aptitude. Apart from core and elective disciplinary requirements, there are General Education (GE) requirements, breadth module requirements, and Singapore Studies module requirements.

In my view, the current system is not ideal. Specifying module requirements does not go far enough to ensure that all NUS students are reaping the desired benefits and outcomes of a broad-based education. An NUS undergraduate could, in the past, select modules that would allow him/her to go through university without completing any modules in writing, presentations or statistics – all of which are basic essential skills. To plug this gap, one measure we have taken is to incorporate a compulsory module in writing and communications for all NUS students; this will be implemented over the next 3 years.

Our colleagues in the General Education Committee have also formed a task force to rethink the GE requirements at NUS. The task force has recommended a structured GE approach by introducing a defining programme, preferably at the onset of one’s university journey, comprising a few GE modules that will broaden learning. Each module in the GE requirements will have multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary content, and employ pedagogies that will lead to significant learning experiences. How the modules are taught, learnt and assessed, will be emphasised as much as what and why they are taught. Getting good teachers for GE modules is critical. To deliver an ‘educationally disruptive’ experience, GE teachers must be strong in their disciplinary interests; at the same time, they must have a deep appreciation of a broad spectrum of disciplines, with multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.

The possibilities for provocative study, experimentation and risk taking need space, protection and cultivation. The task force is thus advocating for NUS to provide a ‘low stakes but high yield experience’, to move our students out of their comfort learning zone through an ‘educationally disruptive’ experience that will shape their learning modes and perspectives. Fresh from high school/junior college, and for Singaporean males, from National Service, we think that some new students may need some time adjusting to this new learning mode. As such, the idea of having a grade-free semester for GE does merit consideration. 

Students also need to experience academic brilliance, and to be introduced to and inspired by the culture and qualities of academic inquiry and discourse. Hence, it is critical for departments to involve the most inspiring and charismatic lecturers in teaching introductory modules. This will allow our brightest faculty to reach out to many young minds, to imbue them with the correct learning mindsets and perspectives, and set their learning journeys on the right path.

These are some insights into the directions that NUS is heading towards, and I welcome your thoughts, feedback and suggestions.

‘Context is crucial for full understanding, and a general knowledge of the world gives you that context.’  

Robert Harris, 1991


  1. ULRs already add on to our already packed timetable, which would actually be better used to broaden our interests. Think about it, would they really serve us a real purpose just to study?

  2. Prof Dr. Tan,

    I would spend more time responding to your post, but I shall be brief due to personal commitments.

    I am philosophically in agreement with you. Having transferred to the Faculty of Law after a year abroad doing general courses, I am most painfully aware of the lack of perspective that often plagues young people fresh from high school. The situation is only exacerbated due to the strict requirements of the Faculty of Law that prohibit any non-law courses for a full four semesters. You can see where I am coming from.

    However, the National University of Singapore should never lose sight of its fundamental mission: to be THE NATIONAL university. This requires that it admit many students (i.e. not be terribly selective) and play its role in training workers for the local economy first before any additional aspirations to be a leading world university. The two goals are not necessarily incompatible – but it cannot be both. Why? Finances. To achieve the sort of education you speak of would require more funding than students can reasonably pay in school fees, or what the State can provide reasonably without popular backlash from those who would not benefit from increased investment in the university unless university education is to be made almost as of right available along the French model.

    We are therefore caught in an uncomfortable position. Mass education – which should be the policy of NUS as a National, Publicly-funded institution – is incompatible with individualized quality education. The University must choose one or the other. If it fails to, the financial slack is likely to fall to the students, who are already suffering from increased tuition burdens.

    Let us not forget for one moment that education is the great equalizer in society through the provision of equal (as can feasibly be) opportunity. Please do not threaten this in the fruitless pursuit of ‘quality’ incompatible with our national needs.

    This opinion is entirely personal and made without consultation with anyone else; no inference should be drawn as to the position that would be taken by my comrades.


    1. Funding is important, and so is quality. There are other avenues besides fees and government support. Private universities in the US receive their main funding from donations, and the Singapore government’s matching for donations is a great incentive.

  3. Dear Provost

    I applaud the direction to include writing and communication skills as an essential requirement for all majors. However, we would need to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” program.

    For example, consider students from technical fields. Not all graduates would enter the research sector. For these students, a module on non-technical communication in the workforce would be excellent. However, academic aspirants should be provided a course on effective academic communication.

    Additionally, the university should look into providing different levels of communication courses. Some students have gained excellent communication skills, either through their work experience or previous education. It would be discounting to make such students go through a basic level in communication skills. More advanced students should seek improvement in greater challenges. A basic run-of-the-mill communication course would instead be a waste of module credits .

    I also agree that statistics is a major gap in our education . However, we need to find the right balance between application and exams. For example, many majors have a basic 1000 level statistics requirement. However, in an attempt to accommodate the large number of students from the non-statistic majors, these courses tend to reduce to mathematical drills. Although mathematical drills are easier to assess, students are not assessed in the application.

    I had the opportunity to read a graduate statistic’s course on the Student Exchange Program. Although the content covered was almost similar to a 1000-level statistics course, the delivery was different. This graduate course was designed for graduate students seeking to design experiments and field studies. The amount of mathematical drills were minimal. In place of drills and tests, students are also graded on participation in small-group discussion. The discussion topics focus on proposing a statistically sound experimental design. Proposals from students are always compared to real-world experiments and case studies. Such real-world application enhances the grasp of the topics at hand. Additionally, the course was designed to include students from various academic fields – such as Biology, Oceanography and even Geography. The interaction of students from the provide an avenue of exchange between best practices. The lesson for us is to shift our paradigm from gross simplification of statistic drills to design in practical use of statistics.

    In short, be it in communication or statistics, students should be provided greater challenges and exposure. Rather than relying on tests and drills, the University should focus on application and discussion. Since the aim is to develop critical skills, grading should not be based on exams. Rather, grading should move towards assessing skill application.

    1. Dear Joseph. You made good points which I agree with.
      Our writing courses will cater for varying competence levels, although it cannot be as personalized as those offered in smaller universities. As a start, we have a Test of Communicative Competency to guage the level of competency before we slot students into the appropriate classes.

  4. “Fresh from high school/junior college, and for Singaporean males, from National Service, we think that some new students may need some time adjusting to this new learning mode. As such, the idea of having a grade-free semester for GE does merit consideration. ”

    Yup! Provided it’s held in the first semester, that is. Please don’t underestimate this rationale especially for the local lads. (Also, the idea of introducing breadth, of transcending “assumed disciplinary borders”, is a worthy endeavor and not an entirely fruitless preposition. All the best in implementing it, Provost and team.)

  5. Dear Provost.

    The following are my recommendations:
    1. Increase the CORS points for the general account for Engineering Students. The General account is use to bid for modules outside the faculty of engineering and most engin students are having a hard time get modules they want from outside engineering because they do no have enough points in this account. I wanted to take “Science Fiction and Philosophy” and “Sociology of food” in one of my semesters, but was force to choose only one because the amount of points needed was too high for both and I only had enough points to bid for one of the modules.

    2. Reduce workload of students.
    I believe that reading is the best way to increase the knowledge of students, but if student in order to fulfill module requirements, submit assignment and study for exams have only enough time to read textbooks and lecture notes how would they find the time to read other books. Right now, I have a stack of library books in my room to do light reading (these books are from various topics that caught my eye in the library), but I am having a hard time getting down to actually reading them because of the amount of school work and CCAs which fill up most of my time.

    Just my two cents worth of thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Arnan. (1) is probably not so feasible as we hope to establish this framework for all NUS students, not just Engineering students. (2) has been a perennial concern not just in NUS but in other universities too. Helping our students to better manage their time is certainly another possible approach.

  6. I’d say that an education is a bundle of experiences (organically encountered or engineered) with an accompanying bundle of inferences. (Here “experience” is sufficiently general to cover contemplating social constructs, building a model aircraft, recreating the proof of a theorem and doing unspeakable things to white mice.)

    What the university and school system offers in terms of the bundle of imparted data, models and frameworks seems to be, anecdotally speaking, failing to meet the needs of employers. (The key term here is “imparted”.) The ones who become the best employees are those who seek out the relevant experiences.

    There is some need to identify what is truly “core” in each “discipline” and shave down curricula to that “core”, freeing up capacity for both students and instructors for more extensive education. There will be those who insist that their pet sub-discipline is in the core and everything should be taught in full. There is merit in that assertion, but a little less given the growing mismatch between what the university offers and what the workplace desires.

    1. The “core” is always a topic of hot debate at universities. At least, we have benchmarks used by top universities as a guide. This is only one part of the issue. The more important part, in my view, is how we go beyond content, and enhance our students’ ability in critical thinking and analysis, communications, etc. Anecdotally, small colleges do better than large universities.

  7. I just want to point out that there is not enough flexibility in the university curriculum that sometimes the truly inquisitve students end up getting academically punished.
    Here’s a true story: a student wanted to map an advance module on religion at USP to his/her GEM requirement on grounds that there is in fact a introductory religion module in the GEM/GEK basket. And since he/she opted to pursue his/her interests with more freedom, this student does not plan to graduate from USP and therefore the mapping practice for USP students does not apply to him/her. But no, the university office denied the request because that is just not what the “rules” say. So this student ended up having to stuff this USP module into his/her already packed unrestricted electives with the workload of GEM still hanging over his/her head.
    Now is that fair or truly promoting students’ pursuit of diverse learning?

  8. Dear Prof. Tan,

    I just want to comment on a few points that you raised:

    1. “one measure we have taken is to incorporate a compulsory module in writing and communications for all NUS students”

    I applaud this move to have a compulsory module in writing and communications. I think that critical writing skills are essential for any university students to both comprehend and express the complex ideas that we think about in University. Having undergone the Writing and Critical Thinking module in USP, I feel that this component should not be an optional one.

    From another perspective, as the Chief Editor of The RIDGE, NUS’ largest student publication organisation, I often hear fellow students tell me that they “cannot write” or “don’t know what to write”. I see two reasons why this might be the case.

    A. Their high school education has not prepared them well enough for the rigours of writing.

    B. There is a deep fear of writing and expressing one’s views in a cogent and coherent manner.

    I cannot be sure which is the primary reason but either way, it does seem that there is an urgent skill gap which must be addressed urgently. University students who “cannot write” is like a teacher who “cannot teach”. Even if the main reason is not that the students “cannot write” but because of a fear, the writing course should not just focus on writing per se, it has to be interactive and promote discussion so more students can gain the confidence to express their personal views.

    Alternatively, I would also humbly suggest that there be more collaboration and recognition of student journalists like myself on campus. One reason why I joined The RIDGE and eventually took over the position of Chief Editor is because I feel that a world-class university like NUS has to have a vibrant scene that promotes student journalism. Top universities in the U.S. have this kind of environment such as the Yale Daily News and Cornell Sun, just to name a few. The benefits are two-fold. Firstly, more students get the chance and opportunity to write, albeit not in the same style as academic writing. Secondly, ideas from all different perspectives get airtime contributing to the “broader perspectives” that you allude to with these measures. Either way, a vibrant scene for student journalism will contribute to the vision of “individuals with curious and questioning minds, willing and able to examine and engage in rigorous inquiry, of a broad range of issues within and beyond assumed disciplinary borders”.

    2. “the idea of having a grade-free semester for GE does merit consideration.”

    Speaking from another perspective now, as a student who graduated not from the system of GCSE A-Levels but the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, I hear a lot of criticisms about the IB’s approach that focuses on holistic learning, breadth rather than depth.

    Even though I am a product of the IB, I do think this is a valid criticism of the IB programme. Pedagogy is a tight-rope act. Too much breadth and students lose focus on their core competencies. I am not well-versed in educational methods but I suspect that we all have our own limited capacities to learn. Not everyone can appreciate nor handle the kind of broad-based learning that you propose. In other words, while the drive towards “General Education” is commendable, it cannot be a one-size fits all policy. The problem with the IB is that some people learn a bit about everything but never go in-depth enough to appreciate the complexity and nuances that each individual discipline has to offer. Personally, I have met many ASEAN scholars who specialise in particular subjects such as math or engineering. They are brilliant in these subjects but struggle when it comes to other subjects such as our often Western-biased humanities subject. Now the question is, should we incentivise and coax them into taking General Elective Modules that they have no interest in and might take away precious time that they can devote to their own specialities? I guess the dilemma that faces every educator is how much to diverge and how much to specialise. Again, my take is that it cannot be a one-size fits all policy and therefore I am not keen on a grades-free semester for General Education although I support the move towards more multi-disciplinary modules in general.

    3. “critical for departments to involve the most inspiring and charismatic lecturers in teaching introductory modules.”

    I am honestly a bit sceptical with this statement. Primarily because it is difficult to measure how “inspiring” or “charismatic” a lecturer is. I think a statement like this places undue pressure on lecturers to be “inspiring” or “charismatic” and setting them up to fail terribly in the long-run. However, I agree with the general point that you make that introductory modules must spark the interest of students but I disagree that this means having “inspiring” or “charismatic” lecturers. Charisma, in my opinion, is often misguided and not a good indicator of academic brilliance anyway. Instead, the focus should be on exposing (hence, the term ‘exposure modules’) students to the wide variety of possibilities and to direct them to the abundance of literature, real-world application, and empirical puzzles that exist within the discipline. The charisma of the lecturer is merely a bonus. I have met lecturers who sometimes try “a bit too hard” to be interactive and end up falling flat on their face. As students, we’re not necessarily here to be entertained. There is a world of difference between being entertained and being educated. I would rather we focus on the latter.

    My two-cents worth,
    Augustin Chiam
    Year 3, Political Science Major

    1. Dear Augustine. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. I will be pleased to have more in-depth discussions with you and your writers for the Ridge. On your last point, “inspiring” is certainly more important than “charismatic”, and it may be a tall order to have both. Fortunately, many departments do have their share of such talented teachers.

  9. Moving into broad training is good, but I cannot agree with the approach of a cookie-cutter module/semester build. For one thing, as Joseph has indicated, not everyone has the same capabilities in communication to start with. Putting some of the less English-adept students through this would only ensure the syllabus will fly completely over their head, while providing zero benefit to those who already possess the capability needed for the module. This is perhaps even more of an issue on both extremes for the foreign students with us, of whom some are native speakers of English… and some who can use it barely well enough to clear entrance requirements, even though they are brilliant in their respective fields of specialisation.

    Also, if we were to add on more compulsory general knowledge courses, it takes away time from electives students want to pursue. For instance, in my case I wish to pursue Japanese up to level 6 in NUS, and perhaps add on Media Japanese as well. This would raise my module credits to 168/160, because I have already cleared all my GE/SS requirements. Should, say 3 more compulsory modules be added, that would mean a future student in my position would have to overload to 180/160 module credits, because the syllabus in the major isn’t getting any shorter.

    Alternatively, if these were to replace the GE system we already have now so that the net result is to structure it more, but no additional compulsory module load is added, it would remove flexibility in what GEs one may take. I elected to take a Philosophy module Reason and Persuasion for the dual purposes of learning more about the philosophy of logic (which I believe is important for people studying the empirical or derivative sciences), and on how to convince others of your ideas (though sadly it seems the conclusion from philosophy is that… logic does not, in fact, persuade people as well as emotive approaches do [cf. comic on Plato’s ‘How to win enemies and get executed by people.’].) This, I think, is more valuable for someone undergoing Science training than a communication course (which incidentally is already structured into our Pharmacy course as SP1203 – which was heavy on workload, but didn’t really help me all that much in improving any specific aspect of communication because it tried to cover too many aspects and had to sacrifice depth for it).

    Making these courses available can allow students who feel they require additional practice to take them. Having them available at different proficiency grades (and sorting students using an entrance proficiency test) may alleviate the problem of cookie-cutter irrelevance. The current system of having some as extramodular activities doesn’t really work very well as an incentive as students would generally rather spend time on graded subjects rather than worry about optional activities.

    It is probably best not to grade these kinds of modules given the wide-ranging abilities of the students who take them. Perhaps lessons in communication can be turned into full modules so students might want to take them to fulfill their University Module Point criteria… and allow them to count as GE/Breadth should the student so wish. Then leaving them as fully ungraded modules (feedback is given to students in class, but there is no final exam and no final module grade – auto ‘s’) might give students an incentive to take them.

    The amount of content that can be delivered per Semester is limited by time, so if one wants to cover more content, the length of university education has to increase. That may not be a good idea. Many students may already feel the syllabuses for their modules is already crammed enough as it is, as well.

    1. Dear Jack. The Pharmacy curriculum is unusually packed, and quite unlike the other majors, say in the Faculty of Science. The other majors would have less of your type of problem. In the US, students spend about 2 years (usually less) on the major and another 2 years on a broadbased curriculum. When we transited from a UK-type of curriculum to a US-type in the mid 90s, we took a conscious effort to retain as much of the “depth” as we could. Typically, we have about 2.5 years for a major and 1.5 years for broadening. Some disciplines such as Pharmacy and multi-disciplinary majors such as Environment Studies require longer. But we have always tried to keep 4 years as a cap.

  10. I like the idea of a broad based education. I think that education should go beyond just academics and students should be given time to pursue other co curricular activities.

    However, given the extremely high amount of workload per semester, an average student will have to let go of co curricular activities if he/she wants to excel academically. We all know that in today’s job market, a degree without a good honors will be placed at the bottom of the pile of CVs. Hence, I know of many people who have decided to concentrate on their studies and forgo all other activities. I think that this is very unfortunate.

    I understand that the workload is so heavy because it is necessary to differentiate the students’ grades. If the workload was lessened, everyone would be scoring A’s.

    My solution to the problem is to reduce the competition in the school. One of the ways is to allow students to S/U all ULR subjects. Students can then enjoy learning the subjects and not worry about competition. Competition kills the joy of learning and it is more likely to kill the joy of learning a subject that a student is not inclined to, like a ULR subject.

    Another solution is to cap the foreign scholars on a per faculty basis. Most foreign scholars end up in the engineering, computing and science faculties and lesser of them end up in the arts faculties. This makes the competition in the technical schools very high and students from such schools have little time to broaden their education as they struggle to keep up with the competition. Having foreign students are good because they help to create diversity and enrich the school life. However, when they become too big in number and in certain instances, outnumber the local students, then there is no longer a need for them to interact with the locals as they already have a large community of their own. The objective of creating an enriching university experience is no longer achieved when the two different groups of students do not interact.

    1. You have raised important issues. We have thought about granting more S/U options, but we have been holding back because we sense that many students are gaming the system. If students simply aim to pass these modules on S/U, it will defeat the original purpose (which is as you have said, intended to allow students to enjoy learning without worrying about grades).
      Creating an optimal diversity in the student population for each Faculty is a work in progress, and we can see ourselves coming to an equilibrium in a few years.

  11. Dear Provost,

    It is true that writing, presentations and statistics are important aspects of education.

    However, it is also true that the world we live in today is a scientific world. And any good education should at least devote some time to shed light on how cold hard facts that form the basis of our knowledge has been built up.

    I am referring to the very foundations of knowledge, the ability to construct rigourous proof that is universal and can be accepted irregardless of language or culture. Most students enter college without any idea how strictly proofs should be constructed, a standard that requires absoulte adherence to definitions and axioms. There can be no leap of logic, no missing hole in the flow of the proof, every line of conclusion must directly have followed from something else proven before.

    That most students lack knowledge on rigourous proofs can be seen in the difficultly Mathematics and Computer Science students face with modules about proofs. And upon graduation, only a few majors will have any actual experience with them, namely Physics, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, and (in a slightly different vein) Philosophy. However it is perhaps the most important aspect of education that we are taught the very nature in which the world we live in works. And that however difficult or abstract learning proofs may be, it does not change the fact that it forms the basis of all knowledge. How can any proper education neglect that?

    Besides, it will also allow students to better appreciate the scale and the pains that had been undertaken throughout history to build our entire body of knowledge

    1. I agree logical thinking, which could be formalised under mathematical logic, is important. But people would dispute that providing mathematical proofs is an essential component of a broadbased curriculum. Likewise, I think computer programming is important too, but few universities require their students to learn a programming language.

  12. S/U option should be applied on ALL modules, not just GE modules alone. I’m not convinced by the current policy AT ALL. I’ve heard so many frens saying that GE modules are CAP pullers, and that their own major modules are pulling down their CAPs. The S/U policy does not help any of them–and it certainly did not help me at all when I was an undergrad. It’s time for a policy change. If NUS wants to create a truly intellectual atmosphere, having a liberal S/U policy would be–in my opinion–the best way forward

    1. Learning is hard work. If everyone will get a high CAP, where is the motivation to work hard? Would we then have an intellectual environment?

  13. 2. “the idea of having a grade-free semester for GE does merit consideration.”
    […] Not everyone can appreciate nor handle the kind of broad-based learning that you propose. In other words, while the drive towards “General Education” is commendable, it cannot be a one-size fits all policy. […]

    I think you’ve given good thought about these issues, but I want to highlight the above which you mentioned. Nothing can be worse than assuming that everyone should receive similar education! This means that not only should we not restrict education to what is commonly touted as the best, broad-based learning (which in my opinion is actually silly because it doesn’t take long for someone to learn the same amount of a field in which he does not specialize, or more, as compared to the amount one might be taught under a so-called broad-based education system) we should also not force modules down students’ throats. Sure, we could encourage them to learn what we think is best for them, however sometimes the students may be right, not their teachers nor the school administration, in regard to what they need to learn. Each person has his own way to learn, and often those who know exactly what they want really learn best that way. It would not be wise to say that we ought to have an education that includes a bit of truly everything, otherwise we would end up with hundreds of scientific fields, hundreds of areas in the humanities, a thousand different arts, … Clearly even in a supposedly broad-based education system we have already picked some very small subset of everything. What if it is still bigger than it should be? I am not saying that we should become ignorant of other areas of specialization, but we should not try to stick our hands in everything either! It is good for an educational institution to give students the many opportunities to try their hand at many different things, but it is not good if it starts pushing students through everything one by one. A team, each with very specialized skills in his own field, is able to cooperatively achieve much more useful work than a group of people all having the same broad-based education, where the one knows just about as much, and as little, as the other. Shall we put everyone under unnecessary and detrimental rules governing their education? Even if we are sure of ourselves that some new rules will be beneficial, there is no reason to impose them on those who know themselves better. So for these two reasons I do not support any change that intends to force students to take more modules that they know they do not need than they previously knew they had to. This is not an aversion to change but a distaste for unnecessary and, as I have clearly shown above, unconstructive change. When one wants to learn something, they will easily learn it, regardless of how much related formal instruction they had before. In fact, in my experience I can say for certain that it is not the presence of formal education that determines how well you learn something, but simply your own motivation. Without that, no amount of force-feeding will get anywhere. Moreover, motivated students are always hampered by the education system. And to claim that force-feeding might motivate students is to advocate “pulling out new shoots to help them grow”. Better it is to give them the right teachers who have the right attitude of encouragement and interest in their young charges. Such teachers never force students to learn what they want them to learn, but always support their self-initiated exploration and self-driven ventures. Is this not what we really need?

  14. Broad-based education and General Education (GE) requirements may not necessarily apply in working life.
    In fact, having an inquisitive mind may even work against you if you have an employer who doesn’t appreciate your broad-based education training in NUS.

    In my present workplace, we have Staff Suggestion Scheme and each of us has to come up with suggestions so that this can materialise into a project for improvement.

    I submitted a few suggestions – Sliver Buildings, Setting up a Genome Sequencing Lab for Cancer Studies.

    My supervisor immediately took me to task for putting up such ‘think out of the box’ suggestions because these suggestions will be routed to other departments and other people may feel that it may ruffle their feathers if my suggestions are too off-tangent.

    He suggested that my suggestions should be more ‘simple’ and conventional types such as putting up recycling bins or posters informing staff to switch off lights etc.

    Recently, I criticized HDB’s policies in the press (see below) about enforcement issues and homes for the needy.

    My friend in BCA said that MND circulated my letters to BCA even though it is HDB related.

    Each government unit has their media monitoring services in their Corporate Communications to pre-screen news that are related to them.

    In many cases, HR would also do reference checks on each applicant on search engines to ensure that each applicant isn’t really that ‘high-profile’ in expressing their opinions online.

    Most employers don’t like their staff or would-be potential staff to write to the press for opinions because the general perception is that they are complainers and whiners who are rocking the boat in a different direction.

    Some bosses may claim to be open-minded but a rationale job applicant or rank-and-file worker will know that it is better to err on the side of conservative. Most of the time, people who get promotion or get better bonuses do their work consistently and follow orders strictly without any complaints, online or offline.

  15. Jimmy Zhong:

    S/U option should be applied on ALL modules, not just GE modules alone. I’m not convinced by the current policy AT ALL. I’ve heard so many frens saying that GE modules are CAP pullers, and that their own major modules are pulling down their CAPs. The S/U policy does not help any of them–and it certainly did not help me at all when I was an undergrad. It’s time for a policy change. If NUS wants to create a truly intellectual atmosphere, having a liberal S/U policy would be–in my opinion–the best way forward

    The whole idea behind the S/U policy is to encourage students to pursue their elective interests without fear that their interests would drag their grade down. It was never designed to enable students to improve their overall grades by negating subjects they don’t do well in.

    PARTICULARLY as in NUS, we get to apply our S/U after we already know the final result. IIRC, this is not the case in NTU.

    In a cohort, there will be As and there will be Cs. Students do not possess equal amounts of aptitude in every module they take. To make S/U available to every module, major included, would defeat the purpose of grade discrimination in the first place. If you would go down that channel, it would be better to go for removing grades entirely… (which in itself it is a different discussion, and a valid one) rather than biasing the grades in favour of those who know how to manipulate the system.

  16. Instead of making the GE modules grade-free, what about give students an option to count it for grade (if they want to, and it is good enough), or else it will be an S/U by default? This may not count against the 12 credit S/U limit.

    This makes the GE modules sufficiently low-stakes but not completely disposable (or else, students tend to invest in modules that count for grade, or that are ‘more worth it’).

    1. This is an option that we have thought about. It will possibly incentivize students to do well for such modules.

  17. Perhaps NUS Management can take a poll and let the majority decide if they want S/U or not.

    In Switzerland, the government recently wanted to know if their Swiss citizens preferred to have more public holidays and they opened a poll.

    They voted not to have more public holidays because they feel that they have enough already.

    The Swiss citizens who wanted more public holidays accepted the outcome graciously rather than whine and complain about it.

    Having polls are a way of life in Swiss.

    Perhaps the NUS management can do something similar and create an online poll?

  18. I applaud NUS’s move to create a core curriculum across all majors that focus on ‘softer’ subjects such as critical inquiry, humanities, social and natural sciences.

    In view of the number of scandals and crimes involving sex and/or corruption over the past year that involve many tertiary-educated professionals including scholars in Singapore, a module discussing ethics and morality is paramount.

    While I am not advocating any absolute in ethics and morality, I believe all of us would agree that there are certain acts which bring harm to oneself and others. The rule of law explicitly deals with undesirable behaviour such as stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and harming of other lives.

    Understandably, the teaching of morality and ethics should not only be within the educational sphere and definitely not only at the tertiary level. It starts from the family and environment that one is brought up in and is reinforced throughout one’s life. However, it is a definite good to have such subjects throughout all educational levels so as to guide an individual to avoid unwholesome deeds and do good instead. Regardless of how excellent one’s grades or material achievements are, his/her achievements mean nothing if he does not know between right and wrong.

    In this age and time when temptations and vice are easily found and indulged, it is more important than ever that our souls are nourished with the right values. We should not just focus on increasing affluence and materiality in our lives at the expense of our morality.

    1. One does not simply teach a field as controversial as morality as a standardised subject.

      Do you want to create a system where students will be penalised academically for disagreeing with the syllabus’ definition of morality?

      Would you like it if the definition of morality taught was different from your perception of morality?

  19. I’m not advocating that ethics and morality can be ‘taught’ in the traditional sense i.e. a teacher going by a syllabus stipulating what is good or bad for everyone.

    Rather, it should be a discussion with some salient points highlighted by the educator and to be distilled by the students. After all, the world is not black and white but rather shades of grey.

    As the Provost suggested, a grade-free GE semester can be considered and this can be one of the subjects that are not graded.

  20. I have a sense that some students are guided too much by the CAP or whatever points system; they may be selecting modules they know they can score well, instead of taking that difficult module to expand their minds i.e. a low stakes approach.

    What is good for NUS is that even the graduate with the lowest CAP can demonstrate good thinking in broad areas and expresses them well; so I do not think this should be low stakes; i.e. it should be graded. When students are able to overcome the difficulties of the GE modules, I believe they will gain confidence to tackle future difficult modules, hence more confidence in taking future risks.

    So what I would suggest is a GE semester that is graded, but with a lower number of core modules than usual, so as to allow students _much_ more time to on their own, to overcome their difficulties, and they will gain wisdom.

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