Carol Ma returned from studying abroad with a service-learning course that has flourished at Lingnan
Programme pursued in Lingnan University: Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) 2001, PhD in Social Sciences 2006
Present career: Senior Fellow (Service-Learning) & Senior Lecturer (Common Curriculum), SIM University, Singapore
Education is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about training our students to become adults.Carol Ma
When Carol Ma enrolled at Lingnan University, she was interested in social policy studies because she wanted to know how to create a better society. Since graduating with a PhD, she has been doing just that through her students, who give back to the community by engaging in service-learning under her guidance.
Vibrant campus offers many learning opportunities
After graduating with a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in 2001, Carol received a six-month fellowship at UCLA, Los Angeles, US, to study service-learning. The programme was little known then, but Carol brought it back to Hong Kong, receiving full support for its introduction from Prof Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, the then President of Lingnan University, who found it particularly fitting for Lingnan. The small, residential and student-centred institution was developing into a full-scale liberal arts educational community under Prof Chen’s leadership. Service-learning that encouraged students to serve the community and beyond admirably complemented the other characteristics of liberal arts education, including an interdisciplinary curriculum, international exposure, and a caring mindset.
A service-learning pilot programme was set up in 2004, and Carol spent a year on a research internship at The University of Manchester in Britain. Upon her graduation with a PhD in social sciences in Lingnan, focusing on social gerontology, Carol helped set up a non-profit organisation focusing on elders’ learning in Hong Kong, before throwing herself into her role by starting the service-learning programme at Lingnan. "I completed the proposal (to set up the Office of Service-Learning), trained faculty members, and talked to community partners to allow students to work with them. I was fundraising, undertaking research and writing a book and articles. Finally, I set up the Office in 2006, engaging and offering support to 250 students. The office now has 18 staff members working on more than 100 projects for 1,000 students every year," she says, adding she is very happy that she joined Lingnan as a student, because it gave her so many opportunities.
Apart from an interdisciplinary curriculum, Lingnan students learn in numerous ways. The vibrant and caring residential campus, where they must live for at least two of their four undergraduate years to learn independence and participate in meaningful extracurricular activities, is a hallmark of liberal arts education. There are movie nights and networking with international exchange students, festival day parties, clubs and societies, and other informal ways of learning. "They learn, for example, how to resolve conflict," Carol said. "Education is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about training our students to become adults, as Harvard scholar Harry Lewis once said."
Service-learning is a form of community service that puts into practice what students learn in class. It can touch them deeply, kindling a lifelong passion for giving back to society. "There is a lot to do before students start working," said Carol. "We talk to their teachers and community partners, and set learning objectives the activity can fulfil, and which meet community needs. We teach teachers and community partners how to do this." Learning outcomes include soft skills such as interpersonal and leadership skills, and social competence. "They work in teams and communicate with different people. Afterwards, we have a ‘reflection’, and through that they realise their strengths and weaknesses and become aware of the whole learning process," Carol said.
Projects let students display their skills
A range of exciting projects are available every year. Students participate for 30 to a maximum of 120 hours per annum. Some projects take years. The "Village Adoption Project", undertaken with accounting firm Deloitte, helps a mountain village several hours from the closest airport in Yunnan, China. It started with an assessment of finance, health, education, farming, and other areas in need. Based on these, various programmes were set up. "We built schools and a dormitory, provided potable water for each household, gave hygiene education, and worked with teachers on an English education programme. We also co-operated with stakeholders, such as Yunnan University, local NGOs and the government. Every night we critically reflected on the experience and what we could learn and do better," Carol said.
Another project involved students co-operating with police. After a briefing on hot policing issues, students chose to fight deception cases, and created an anti-crime video which they arranged to show in shopping centres, kindergartens, middle schools, and elderly centres, contributing to a better understanding of the dangers of deception.
Service-learning, which improves society while benefiting young people by widening their horizons and refining their social skills, is strongly supported at Lingnan. In the past 10 years, more than 5,000 students have participated. Carol said faculty members strongly support service-learning and share its vision, demonstrating the caring and considerate attitude promoted by liberal arts education. With this solid experience in service-learning, Carol hopes that she can help build capacity in the service-learning field, especially in Asia. She has now been appointed Senior Fellow (Service-Learning) and Senior Lecturer (Common Curriculum) at SIM University, Singapore to further develop service-learning in Singapore and the whole region.