Students and Alumni

Road to Mandalay Sees Students Give and Learn

The partner school thinks its students appreciated the teaching and that the curriculum met their needs.

Back row: Dr Elaine Au, Programme Leader (right) and Noelle Yip, On-site Supervisor
Front row: Andric Ho (right) and Echo Li

To satisfy the dual purpose of providing students with experiential learning opportunities in a foreign country, while meeting the community's needs, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) has been organising International Community Service Programmes (ICSP) for several years.

For the 2017 programme, the College launched its first credit-bearing ICSP by partnering with Phaung Daw Oo Integrated Educational Monastic School (PDO) in Mandalay, Myanmar. A dozen students from various disciplines, including social work, sociology, and language joined the four-week programme to teach courses on English, integrated humanities, and creative thinking to PDO primary schoolchildren.

Students involved in service learning achieve experiential learning by providing services to those in need. Students from different disciplines are asked to write their reflection papers, focusing on how the service-learning relates to their own disciplines of study. For instance, students of social policy focus on how service-learning deepened their understanding of poverty issues. To optimise their learning, tailormade training is provided beforehand, says Dr Elaine AU, Programme Leader and Assistant Dean (Institutional Advancement) of CLASS. “The additional benefit of ICSP is that participating students will broaden their horizons as they will work in collaboration with people in a foreign country.”

PDO, which was founded 15 years ago, now has around 6,000 students, mostly from impoverished backgrounds, as well as 4,000 staff. It is one of Myanmar's top three non-governmental organisations and runs well-coordinated collaborative programmes with volunteers from around the world.

The pre-trip training started in March. On-site supervisor, Noelle YIP, says the training was aimed at psychologically preparing the students and giving them a basic understanding of local culture and history. “We tried to cultivate in them a sense of responsibility towards the service recipients,” Yip adds. “The students were required to conduct research and write reports. More importantly, they had to identify the needs of the service recipients before they designed the curriculum, so that it would complement the courses given by the other overseas volunteers. It was important that the students would be able to adapt and make adjustments, if necessary, while doing service learning in Myanmar.”

Yip believes commitment from the students is vital because campus conditions might fall short of their expectations. “In the first week, they encountered some setbacks but were able to overcome them. A local supervisor and I conducted daily debriefings with the students and encouraged them to develop alternative solutions when necessary.”

To ensure that the students' service-learning experience at PDO would benefit their studies, Au says that students submitted reports summarising their experiences and how practical engagement enhanced their understanding of various subjects. “I believe the students have achieved their learning purpose. Their service quality was monitored by us and by PDO and was considered satisfactory. The students demonstrated good teamwork, great commitment and a positive attitude. PDO thinks its students appreciated the teaching and that the curriculum met their needs.”

In addition to three weeks of teaching, the students took part in cultural visits including tours of heritage sites, universities, and NGOs. “This is also part of the experiential learning. They were required to design the itineraries and themes of their study visits with learning goals, and explain why those sites were selected,” Au notes.

One of the participants, Echo LI, signed up for the programme because of her personal interest in Myanmar. Now a Year 4 undergraduate majoring in Translation and Interpretation, Li taught English at PDO. She thinks the experience has helped her achieve personal growth and enhanced her interpersonal skills. “I have learned to make self-reflection a habit and have opened up. This programme enabled me to gain experience of working in a team with people from a different cultural background. I came across challenges. For example, I encountered situations we had not anticipated in our training. I realised that I should adapt and make adjustments in the process, to meet the needs of the service recipients based on the actual circumstances.”

Year 4 student Andric HO, who is studying Environmental Policy, taught a course on integrated humanities. “Because we were assigned more senior students than expected, our prepared teaching materials were not suitable,” Ho says. “This situation called upon us to think on our feet and come up with new materials in a short space of time. I learned to identify the needs of the target students through my teaching. We later developed some socio games from the native people's perspective, and used locally sourced materials to engage the children. Through the programme, we learned about teamwork, such as the division of labour based on individuals' specialised knowledge.”

Au says the principal of PDO considers CLASS' students the role model for its teachers. “These students will be invited to become ambassadors to share their experience at next year's ICSP recruitment session,” she says.