Service-Learning in Myanmar
Service-learning is a new and untested concept in Myanmar universities, but it could help undergraduate students analyze problems critically, appraise arguments and beliefs, and, most importantly, weigh alternatives, according to Dr. Aye Aye Tun, pro-rector at Dagon University (DU). “The current curriculum is so overloaded with factual information that it leads to rote learning,” she said in a recent interview. “Classroom practices do not allow for analytical, creative thinking or free discussion and expression of thought.”
Myanmar has a unitary system of higher education, with all universities relying on a fixed curriculum and syllabus. That makes it difficult to introduce service-learning or other new courses. But in the current era of reform, DU educators see the need for “higher education to become engaged, through actions and teaching, with its communities. “ So Dr. Tun is exploring ways to build a service-learning component into the approved curriculum. One example is the Research Methodology in Philosophy course (Phil 4104). For this course, students choose a project topic, conduct field work and gather data, and write a paper; with service-learning, they could have the option to meet these requirements by learning while doing service. There may be similar ways to incorporate service-learning into other disciplines.
Dr. Tun knows service-learning will appeal to students. When Dagon University said it would offer extracurricular activities in service-learning, more than 500 students applied. “Meanwhile,” Dr. Tun said, “it is essential to set up an intensive training program for educators to know how to introduce a service-learning course, how to practice and implement it, and how to evaluate the outcome of the course.”
The United Board has been helping Dr. Tun and her colleagues develop the human resources needed for service-learning. It supported a three-day service-learning workshop at DU in October 2014 and a follow-up session in February. The United Board included Dr. Tun in the “Learning from Yolanda” international service-learning project in the Philippines last summer so that she could gain firsthand experience. It facilitated an introduction to Silliman University’s service-learning program, which may be a source of ideas and models for DU.
Dr. Tun also believes service-learning can have an impact beyond the campus. “Myanmar universities have educated their students without well equipping them with civic skills, community engagement, and good morals,” she said. “Dagon University takes up the challenge for higher education to re-examine its public purpose and its commitment to the democratic ideal.”
(First published in Horizons, June 2015)