On April 24th, the local research team at Hoa Sen University organized a focus group discussion that aimed to identify bodies of knowledge and sets of skills needed for a course on IID by engaging individuals from NGOs and government agencies that are working directly with communities, or those who have received formal education in service learning and community service.
This focus group discussion was organized as part of the UNIID-SEA-supported research study entitled “Curriculum Design and Development of An IID – Oriented Course for Undergraduate Students from Different Disciplines”.
The participants highly regarded the proposed service-learning course at Hoa Sen University, and expressed their willingness to accept the students for volunteering, internship, and service learning participation. They referred to possible case studies in Ho Chi Minh City for the project. Moreover, the discussion among the attendees helped the research team to identify needed skills, theories, and structure for the 1st module of the curriculum.
Capability to respect diversity.
This skill is the most important to start with, given that Hoa Sen students are most likely to come from well-to-do families. The teaching task is to make the students aware of diversity but not necessarily embrace it. The ability to embrace and love the difference will not easily come to individuals within a short period of time. How to teach it? Several participants suggested that the instructor could facilitate role-playing at the class, before engaging a partner community. Each student or each group of students will be assuming of role of different societal actors. Another alternative is to introduce a case about the situation faced by a community, which the students will analyze.
Experience in conducting needs assessment and critical reflection.
In needs assessment, the teaching task is to train students how to observe, and identify issues and problems. But this is not enough without an ability to examine how ideas and pre-conceived ideas affect their work with the community, or what is called “critical reflection”. In other words, the students need to be able to identify the issue faced by the community and to step back and evaluate their own capability to help the community solve it. How to teach it? Amida Cumming from Internaitional Organization for Migration, and Son Pham from LIN Center for Community Development, believed that we use a case study to illustrate how to identify and solve a community problem, and how to fail while doing so. Son Pham mentioned Participatory Mapping (PRA) as an approach in conducting a survey of community members to identify their real problems.
Other important skills suggested by the participants include the ability to lead, the ability to communicate, and to listen to people of different backgrounds. Mastering those skills will allow students to interact with the community and enable them to become effective. The students also need to have some basic understanding of how to start and end a project, and once they are in a project, they must know how to keep track of everything, and how to motivate their friends and colleagues.
In addition to skills, the participants also identified some areas of knowledge where they believe students and communities will benefit, such as knowledge on the general picture of economic development and communities, highlighting diversity and the situation of different groups in the society. One participant suggested that innovation for inclusive development can be introduced herein as one of the approaches to alleviate poverty or to improve the well being of different communities.
Innovation as the follow-up module
The intensive discussion of the innovation process will be delayed until the 2nd module of the course, which is dedicated to service learning in IID. It is important to underscore that eventually it is the community, and not the students, who will ultimately solve their own problem.
Methods of delivery
Different participants agreed that the course has to be delivered in a way that combines theory and practice. One participant suggested a model from her college , which has four key components: Reading, Seminar, Practice, and Reflection. The instructor assigns required readings including different case studies. After absorbing the materials, the students will be asked to imagine themselves being in a similar situation in order to determine what they would do in a community. They will then visit a chosen community to learn more about and engage the community, and then return to the classroom, and reflect on their experience.
Dr. Nguyen Luu Bao Doan is the director for International Relations at Hoa Sen University. He is also the lead researcher of this project supported by UNIID-SEA.
by Dr. Nguyen Luu Bao Doan