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Taking university courses during 2 years of NS

A paradox of study and the NS

 “Two years of NS have made me dumb.” Many returning NS men on campus

Taking university courses during 2 years of NS

Taking university courses during 2 years of NS

often make such a statement when they encounter academic challenges in university. Though often made as a joke, that comment reflects the popular perception of the National Service as the opposite of study and knowledge. The recent move by local universities to introduce courses for NS men waiting for matriculation may help steer the public opinions away from such a perception. It offers valuable mental preparation university life. And it sends across the message that one can develop intellectual muscles and bodily muscles at the same time.

Have a taste of the Uni-life

By allowing the NS men to take university courses, the universities keep the learning momentum going for students who may otherwise be detached from an academic environment for a long time. Two years of not doing calculus or memorizing literature can indeed make one’s brain less used to studying challenging subjects. The availability of advanced courses for pre-university students exposes them to the rigor of university learning so that they can be mentally prepared for it. There are many contradicting myths about university. Some people say “university is a breeze after JC”, while some people complain that “the real challenges start with university”. Taking such courses is one of the best ways to discover the reality of university life. Such mental preparation cannot be underestimated, especially for people who are away from school life for as long as two years.

Bring back the distant memory

Moreover, such courses may refresh the memory of NS men of what they learnt in JC or Polytechnics. A mathematics module may involve calculus, and a student has to go back to his school notes if he forgets how to do differentiation. A history lesson may involve the Cold War, and a student taking the module will refresh her memory of facts concerning that period. There are usually gaps, big or small, between the pre-U institution and the university. It is often observed that students have challenges catching up with year-1 modules in university because some modules presume the understanding of some knowledge taught in high school. While female students wait for a few months before starting university, male students have to wait for two years. Helping male students revise what they learnt in high school actually serves to level the playing field between the two genders so that they may start on more or less equal footing if they are working equally hard for study.

Still, some issues of concerns

However, there are some practical issues that we need to be mindful of. First, the article mentions that the male students start university two years behind their female counterparts. The policy of offering advanced courses is unlikely to solve that problem, because even if a student squeeze his schedule and takes all the advanced courses within the few months, he or she can at most graduate one semester earlier—which does not save much time for students. And squeezing too many of such courses within a relatively short period of time also compromises the quality of learning. Hence the universities must ensure that all the modules are taken at a reasonable pace.

Secondly, each module offered by the NUS costs around 800 dollars, not a small amount for an average family. Such tuition fee is likely to exclude many students from pursing the advanced modules, as they can always take the same modules at lower price once university starts. Government subsidy is unlikely to come in, as the benefit of the advanced modules may not be so great as to justify the use of taxpayers’ money: after all, the alternative to such courses is to take the same courses after matriculation. That will potentially limit the scope of impact for such a university initiative. To make it more attractive to students, probably the universities could tailor the modules such that they can more effectively serve as the bridge between pre-U and university lessons by emphasizing more on revising high school curriculum. Once students see the exclusive benefits of such programs, they are more likely to join.

The National Service is a great place to develop one’s character and capability. It is just unfortunate that it has acquired the reputation of being anti-intellectual. The university’s initiative to fit study into the NS contributes to the holistic development of the NS men. It better prepares them for the challenging life ahead!


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