Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines

Q&A: It’s Time Students Learned Beyond the Classroom

Mutsuko Murakami interviews DR CAROL MA HOK KA, a noted advocate of service-learning

TOKYO, Nov 11 2009 (IPS) - An increasing number of universities and colleges across Asia today are running a programme called “service-learning,” a teaching and learning strategy that has become synonymous with precisely what its name stands for.

Service-learning advocate Dr Carol Ma Hok Ka  Credit: Mutsuko Murakami/IPS

Service-learning advocate Dr Carol Ma Hok Ka Credit: Mutsuko Murakami/IPS

Based on this concept students go on voluntary community service so they can contribute to meeting the needs of communities while enriching their learning experience. This allows them to practice what is otherwise a mere theory or concept in a book.

Service-learning is an experiential learning method that links academic knowledge to voluntary services and vice-versa. It first gained ground in the United States in the early 1900s.

Not to be left behind, Asian education policymakers have jumped onto the programme, believing that nothing less than a hands-on experience for students will extend traditional learning beyond the confines of their classrooms and fast-track their growth as individuals and thus emerge as responsible citizens and leaders.

Dr Carol Ma Hok Ka is Assistant Director at the Office of Service-Learning at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, one of a fast-growing number of active service-learning institutions in Asia.

Lingnan University was the first to set up an Office of Service-Learning in Hong Kong three years ago. The Office is devoted to fostering student- oriented learning and whole person development hand in hand with academic scholars and community leaders by affording them opportunities to serve the needy.

By engaging in S-L programmes Lingnan University has taken the lead to link up different universities in Hong Kong and set up a higher education SL network. It also endeavors to expand the network in Asia-Pacific Region, notably China, Taiwan and Japan with a view to building a harmonious region.

Recently in Japan to expand its SL network, Dr Ma spoke with IPS to share her thoughts about service-learning.

IPS: Why makes Service-Learning (S-L) a novel concept? CAROL MA HOK KA: S-L is a means to fill the needs of communities through a teaching and learning process. Students can learn out of the classroom and integrate what they have learnt into reality. It is practical and also it trains our students to be responsible, caring and loving in this changing society.

IPS: Since a great deal of learning under the S-L concept will necessarily take place outside the classrooms, where do teachers fit in the whole scheme of things? CMHK: Teachers can use S-L as a teaching method to provide a community involvement platform for students to gain a deeper understanding of the subject-related courses, civic life and participation through structured reflection.

Through working with different stakeholders, agency supervisors, service targets, teachers, students, we can help create a harmonious society and nurture a giving culture.

IPS: Lingnan University is rapidly expanding the S-L programme, which explains your visit to Japan. Why the sense of urgency? CMHK: Lingnan has a strong commitment to doing service. Thus doing S-L echoes our education motto, “Education for Service”. We are also interested in enhancing the internationalisation of the concept of S-L and network building with other universities (offering this programme).

IPS: Do you find many other Asian institutions practicing S-L? CMHK: Yes, I do. Education nowadays is training students not only for their professional jobs; it is also about training our future leaders’ hearts and minds.

As our former [University] president Edward Chen K. Y. said, the world today is characterised by digitisation, globalisation and capitalism in this new/creative economy. As such we need to readdress the importance of adaptability, creativity and life-long education, and re-emphasise the importance of ethics, civility and social responsibility among today’s youth.

IPS: What kind of impact does S-L make on students, institutions such as universities and communities? CMHK: It does enhance the students’ holistic development, encompassing their academic and personal lives, job aspirations, ability to love and care for others and demonstrate social responsibility.

For institutions, S-L helps to strengthen our mission and vision on education as it provides opportunities that foster a giving culture in a community setting.

IPS: Why do you think civic engagement is especially necessary in Asia? CMHK: Taking advantage of similar cultural backgrounds and geographical closeness, universities in Asia could work together to tackle together issues that commonly confront the region such as AIDS, for example.

IPS: What kinds of trends that are relevant to S-L are you seeing in the region that you may not be seeing elsewhere in the world? CMHK: I think S-L made rapid progress in Asia after the two conferences organised by Lingnan University in 2007 and 2009. I feel the collective passion and commitment of the universities in the region offering S-L programmes, and I hope that this will continue.

Also, universities and various associations and groups—such as the Association of Christian Universities and colleges in Asia—have also hosted different regional seminars and meetings to promote S-L.

I am confident that with the support of different regional associations, service-learning will flourish or become the innovative response to the future needs of higher education.

IPS: What do you predict Asia’s higher education will be like, say, 10 years from now and how is that significant to the S-L practices? CMHK: I think the S-L climate could be cultivated in 10 years. By then there will be more joint S-L programmes, student exchange activities and SL conferences. I look forward to working with other countries in building a harmonious society using the SL concept.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

gustavo e romero