As many of you know, NUS has recently announced the merging of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Science (FoS) to form a new college (College of Humanities and Sciences, or CHS) alongside a brand new curriculum.
I have recently completed my first semester under that curriculum, and I thought it would be helpful to share my own thoughts on the program for all you incoming freshmen who are considering CHS. But as always, please be mindful that this is my own opinion, and while you can take it into account when considering CHS, it is also very possible that your experience results in a different opinion.
And without further ado, here is the good, the bad, and the in-betweens of the CHS curriculum!
Regardless of the many complaints from students, CHS does have some good points.
Firstly, it does achieve some form of interdisciplinary education, which is positive in itself. Given the increased competition in the job market and the global trends in education, interdisciplinary education in particular has been shown to be highly valued by employers. This is because interdisciplinary education often teaches students foundational skills that are required, regardless of the job.
For example, under the CHS curriculum, they have a module (FAS1101) that teaches students how to plan essays and write academically. This can help students to develop critical writing and communication skills. It also helps students to develop some form of critical thinking, as proper academic articles require considering both perspectives and rebutting arguments. These skills are valued in the workforce, and are additional advantages when applying for jobs.
CHS also provides modules that are doable for both science and humanities students. I believe the professors are fully aware that students who select sciences tend to dislike humanities subjects, and can feel anxious about being graded on humanities modules (and vice versa of humanities students for science mods). However, from my experience the professors are fully aware of this, and are doing their best to ensure that the curriculum is not too difficult for everyone.
For example, in the Human Condition module (HSH1000), the professors and teaching assistants are always doing their best to reassure students who feel anxious, and are humble enough to request feedback for the module overall so that they can adjust. They are also more than happy to stay back after class to clarify any questions you might have about the concepts, and will do their best to explain it to you in a way that you can understand.
CHS has also managed to tailor certain modules to certain faculties. For example, under the ‘Digital Literacy’ requirement, students taking a science major are required to read a specific module based on their major. So, for example, students majoring in chemistry are required to take CM3267 – a computational module specifically for chemistry. Meanwhile, students majoring in life sciences are going to take LSM2302. Both modules fulfill the ‘digital literacy’ requirement, but are tailored to the specific major. FASS students are given a different list of modules that fulfill the requirement, but the modules are tailored to be less mathematical in nature and more suited for humanities students who are cautious about taking any ‘science’ or ‘math’ mods.
Finally, CHS is also willing to accept feedback – they are aware that this curriculum is rather new, and so they often send out feedback forms for students to fill in. Although, it must be said that the forms are for the modules themselves instead of CHS as a whole. But regardless, at least the professors in the modules are kind enough to take the time and read the feedback, and address the feedback after each round. From my experience, they truly do want to improve, and a lot of them do their best to make the module better for us students.
Having said that, there are many things that can be improved on the whole.
As with any system, there are always negatives that come along with the positives. The first main negative is the fact that the program is relatively disorganized. It is a very new program, and they are testing it out on my cohort, and so I can understand and give a little leeway for it. However, it makes planning rather difficult. Most university students plan for the three or four years of study, and have strategized which module they want to take in which semester. Unfortunately, with CHS, planning has become rather difficult. We are supposed to take thirteen common curriculum modules, but some of those modules have not been planned yet.
This hinders some of my planning, particularly for a SEP (Student Exchange Programme). Most students tend to go on exchange in year three, but I am unsure whether the two interdisciplinary modules will be pre-allocated. I am also unsure whether I should take Scientific Inquiry II in semester one or two, as the module I am interested in isn’t up on NUS Mods.
Another negative aspect is the modules in itself. I personally feel that some of the modules are not the most strategic in terms of the content. Although the modules are created with the intent of instilling critical and important skills to students, some of the modules do not translate that well. Some of the modules feel as though they are too ‘shallow’ or ‘superficial’, while others result in negative student sentiment towards the module in general.
Furthermore, students from science often feel as if they should be doing science instead of humanities (and vice versa). This combines with the negative sentiments towards the modules, and can often result in a lack of cooperation in group projects and discussions. There are typical scenarios of group members turning off their microphones and cameras during discussions, or refusing to do any work in a group project because they plan to S/U the module due to intense dislike.
The In-Between: What CHS Can Do To Improve
I personally think CHS could consider increasing the number of S/Us students have. There are students who tend to find them ‘irrelevant’ and ‘a waste of time’, and are often not too passionate about it. This harms students two-fold: firstly, students don’t want to study that module, and so the grades decrease; secondly, students don’t put effort into group projects because they don’t care about the module, so they affect those who are actually trying.
Although the university has tried to counter this by allowing students to S/U a D instead of a C and allowing students to S/U all modules in semester two, I personally argue that it is still not enough, especially given the difficulties that come with common curriculum modules.
Furthermore, in terms of the module planning, I personally think that CHS could reconsider some of the modules in the core curriculum. For example, they could have chosen politics or international relations as a common core module. Regardless of what subject one does, it is always important to be aware of current affairs, and to be able to analyze the world around us. It also develops important critical thinking and communication skills.
Overall, CHS does show potential as a curriculum: it is undeniable that interdisciplinary education is advantageous, both in forwarding the talent of Singapore and equipping students with skills to face the future. However, it is still in the (very) early stages, and improvements can be made to the system.
But of course, this is just my personal opinion. Feel free to share your own experiences!