Local lens on global issues

Global refugee crises, ageing populations and healthcare, forced marriages and human trafficking. Over forty Year 4 NUS Global Studies students recently tackled some of these pressing societal challenges around the world in their collaborative projects for GL4102 Task Force, an innovative module designed to simulate the experience of a policy working group to generate new solutions to old problems.

Dr Kevin McGahan, the deputy convener for the Global Studies Programme and lecturer in NUS Political Science, taught the module along with former NUS Arts and Social Sciences Vice Dean Associate Professor Paulin Straughan. He explained that while students learned about abstract theories related to globalisation in other modules, “GL4102 distinctly requires Global Studies majors not only to critically examine global issues but also think differently about how to best mitigate risks in addressing such problems.”

“Students majoring in Global Studies are often focused on the big picture — ranging from global climate change to transnational crime, cross-border conflicts and mass displacement. This task force module guides them to recast global issues in a local or regional context,” Dr McGahan added.

GL4102 distinctly requires Global Studies majors not only to critically examine global issues but also think differently about how to best mitigate risks in addressing such problems.

A student project examined previous policy shortcomings in providing basic education to Rohingya refugees, one of the most vulnerable communities in Southeast Asia. The team of eight students engaged various key stakeholders — such as non-governmental organisations (NGO), United Nations agencies, policy experts, journalists, and even refugee communities in Malaysia — to listen and gather information to better understand the obstacles before formulating policy recommendations.

To complement efforts by NGOs and community activists in organising teachers and activities to fill the void in access to education for young refugees, the students suggested improvements such as standardising curriculum and syllabi, and offering class activities to help them express themselves through art and literature. The team also developed strategies for these community activists to raise funds through social media and crowdsourcing platforms. 

Team member Cabrini Tan, who is graduating this July, shared how the group saw education as a means to restoring dignity in the refugees. “Children are the future – and this is no different for refugees. We hope that our recommendations can help in some small way to facilitate the transition from refugeeism, to provide some semblance of normalcy and healing, and perhaps most importantly, to increase their chances or repatriation or resettlement,” said Cabrini.


A refugee school in Kuala Lumpur that the team visited for their project

Building on substantial areas of research across campus, another project team sought to improve healthcare access for migrant workers in Singapore. Students interacted with migrant workers and businesses to understand healthcare concerns from different perspectives before suggesting areas of common ground. This included suggestions for regular yet informal fora among migrant workers and business managers to build social capital and trust, as well as mobile clinics to augment healthcare access for migrant communities.

To ensure that their ideas remained grounded and practical, the students presented their reports to policy stakeholders, including members of the US Embassy here, as well as NGO leaders and community activists from Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.  

GL4102 Task Force is offered during the second semester each year as a required honours module for Global Studies majors.

By NUS Global Studies Programme