“New degree course to tackle complex environmental issues at the National University of Singapore,” by Neo Chai Chin. Today Online, 25 Feb 2011.
SINGAPORE – In August, the National University of Singapore (NUS) will welcome 50 students whose idea of fun is doing field studies on Christmas Island, or learning the myriad issues behind haze in the region.
The students will form the pioneer batch of the new Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme, a four-year, direct Honours course.
Environmental issues are too urgent and wide-ranging to be tackled in a fragmented way, say the leaders of the taskforce that designed the inter-disciplinary curriculum.
During discussions, “it impressed on me, really, that as a social scientist…I’m only trained to appreciate one fragment of the entire global issue”, said sociologist Paulin Straughan. The taskforce was co-led by NUS Faculty of Science special projects director Professor Leo Tan, a respected conservationist.
The involvement of eight NUS faculties and schools – including the Arts and Social Sciences, Science and Law faculties – in the programme signals just how broad-based it is, said Prof Tan.
In the first two years, modules in biology, chemistry and economics, among others, will be taught. Subsequently, students may opt to specialise in either Environmental Biology or Environmental Geography.
Field studies will be conducted at places where NUS already has research interests – such as Christmas Island and possibly northern Thailand.
On Christmas Island, students will see first-hand the delicate balance between conservation, development, tourism and migration.
Another intriguing issue is the haze. “We always complain that the Indonesians don’t care about haze and they burn, but if you go to places that have been burnt, you find the problems there are very complicated. Some companies there are owned by… multinational corporations,” said Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.
“If you expose students to these real world situations, they begin to see a different angle to this. At the end of the day, environmental challenges in different countries are all inter-connected.”
Prof Tan said NUS hopes to attract “top-notch A Level students” to the course. Students need to have a “good” pass in Maths and either Biology or Chemistry, though exceptions could be made, said Assoc Prof Straughan.
NEO CHAI CHIN