Three NUS Law Dons Honoured for Excellent Teaching

Assistant Professor Swati Jhaveri and Associate Professor Stephen Phua at the ceremony. Absent from the event was Professor Walter Woon.

Teaching excellence awards serve three important functions in an institution of higher education. First, they recognise teachers who excel in their profession. Second, the awards serve as an indication of the importance the institution accords to teaching. Third, the awards send clear signals to the teaching community about what the institution regards as high quality teaching, i.e. by identifying the results that the institution’s teaching practices aim to strive for.

Of these, the third function is probably the most important. To accomplish this aim: (a) teaching awards at NUS are based on a value system and selection criteria that are explicitly articulated to its entire teaching community; and (b) each award given will be accompanied by a citation which describes the qualities and teaching practices that made the award winner an excellent or outstanding teacher.

More information on the Annual Teaching Excellence Awards may be found here -


  Professor Walter Woon '81


"Law cannot be taught as an entirely theoretical subject. I believe that students need to be prepared to function in the real world. While theory is important, it is vital that students be given some instruction on how the theory squares with practice. To this end, I believe that the syllabus must be realistic and deal with current problems faced by the profession, not theoretical ones that are of concern mainly to academic commentators."

What Students Say...
"A wealth of experience, able to highlight both the theoretical and practical aspect of criminal law. Enjoyed the discussion questions and the opportunity to role play as both DPP and Defense counsel. I enjoyed, especially the background context which he shares on each case, which informs how the case was decided. He also highlights potential weaknesses in the law, such as the defence of duress and its limitations."

"Very passionate teacher who imparts his wisdom, not just mere theoretical knowledge of the subject."

  Associate Professor Stephen Phua '88

"With rapid obsolescence of knowledge and global changes, the significance of pure acquisition and retention of technical content has been reduced. Instead, I focus on fostering a learning environment that motivates and incentivises students to be "creators" and "independent acquirers" of information. As an ideal learning environment seeks to minimise the misalignment between teaching and testing, classes are conducted using a single hypothetical case throughout the entire semester to create realistic factual matrices in which tax issues commonly arise. A similar hypothetical model is used in the final examination to evaluate the students’ grasp and application of technical tax rules. This greatly aligns the bases on which students are trained and evaluated.

The other key goal is to utilise a robust evaluation framework that provides little opportunity and incentive to repeat basic information. The mission is to bridge the gap between classroom and the reality of legal practice. While the main mode of assessment is largely based on products of sustained supervised research or final examinations, there are graded supplemental assessments in which all students are expected to submit multiple short opinions assignments within 24 or 48 hours. The writing of these opinions demand students to have the skills to identify issues in almost real-life factual scenarios and the application of technical knowledge to issues not covered in the classroom. Students are also expected to participate in IVLE and peer-rating is part of the rubric for assessment of class participation and quality of contributions."

What Students Say...
"Very engaging professor who not just teaches the law but also legal skills, and provides exposure to the commercial reality that lawyers have to navigate in the modern world."

"Associate Professor Phua is extremely sharp and his incisive questions cut to the core of what is important for every problem. He is also inspiring in how he gets us to think of the role of law in a broader context beyond practice."


  Assistant Professor Swati Jhaveri

"One of the fundamental components of my teaching philosophy involves encouraging active oral participation in all classes, whether large lectures or tutorials. Active participation contributes to an increased confidence in the study of law. It is difficult to make the transition to university and Law can be one of the most challenging degree progammes, since students are being introduced to a subject matter they would not have had any exposure to in secondary school. Participating actively during class is critical to building their confidence. It allows students to test their thoughts in a more dynamic conversational manner within a safe environment (the classroom), forces them to defend their positions in reaction to comments by others, and improves their overall classroom and learning experience."

What Students Say...
"Great class dynamic; very capable of managing class discussions, enabling some free-wheeling of discussion while at the same time maintaining the lesson’s direction and intent. Prof Swati is an eloquent, charismatic and engaging tutor who makes lessons enjoyable, enlightening and fun. Assistant Professor Swati’s lessons are always well-planned, well-paced, and well-delivered."

"Assistant Professor Swati is brilliant at her job. I appreciate how she breaks down what she aims to achieve in her tutorials and lectures. Her teaching methods are very visual which I like, and she creates a positive/encouraging learning environment. I like how she calls on each person, allowing everyone to participate. Sometimes it can be intimidating to speak up in class, and she really helps out with that."