– Duncan McLaren, a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, recently visited Ranong to open our new e- learning centre and lead students in an orientation to their ACU diploma course. He writes about the diploma programme below.
The Australian Catholic University (ACU) takes seriously its mission statement to “be guided by a fundamental concern for justice and equity, and for the dignity of all human beings”. One manifestation of that is its programme to provide tertiary education to Burmese refugees and migrants living in Thailand. It began in 2004 with an online Diploma in Business but now offers a Diploma in Liberal Studies in conjunction with three US Jesuit universities and a public university in Canada (York in Toronto). For the first time, the programme includes nine migrant students from the Marist mission in Ranong in southern Thailand. It is taught mixed-mode (online, face-to-face and through distance educational materials) since ACU believes that the human contact of lecturer with students is not only more human but is also more transformational in both parties.
All the students – the 30 based in Mae Sot further north and the Ranong contingent – will study eight units (courses). The first unit was taught in face-to-face mode by Maya Cranitch, now a Fellow of ACU but previously based on its Strathfield (Sydney) campus as a lecturer in English as a second language. English Communication Skills deals with the academic English the Burmese refugees and migrants will need for all subsequent units. The other units are Business Communication Skills, World Geography, Leadership Skills, An Introduction to International Human Rights Law and Practice, An Introduction to Psychology, People, Places and Global Issues and Managing Organisations. It gives the students a good, rounded liberal arts education, enabling them to access jobs with NGOs or community-based organisations or to gain entry to universities abroad and in Thailand, since their qualification is from an internationally-recognised university.
The latest programme began on 17th October in Mae Sot and then moved to Ranong. As Course Coordinator, I visited Ranong in February 2010 to test the students. They then sat a written and oral English test and passed the entry exam and fulfilled the other criteria. During my October visit, I ran an orientation course for the students which included academic skills, critical thinking, time management and trust-and peace- building exercises as well as information about their studies.
The students will be supported by the local coordinator, Fr Kevin Medilo SM, and a husband and wife volunteer team of tutors from New Zealand , Nuala and Andrew Moraes, as well as by the programme coordinator based on the MacKillop Campus of ACU in North Sydney.
In Maya’s unit, students had to post on Blackboard, the elearning management site used by ACU, their assessment of their education to date. One typical student wrote: “Much of my childhood life was spent fleeing from the Burmese Army. In 1982, they attacked the camp where I was staying so my family fled to Thailand to the newly established Mae La refugee camp. In 1986, my father was killed in battle.
I enrolled in primary education as soon as we arrived in Mae La. The school was a very basic building, with bamboo seats and a roof made of leaves. There were few resources – just a blackboard for the teacher to write on. The students didn’t have any text books. We just copied what the teacher wrote on the board and learnt by heart. During the test, we only got high marks if our answers were exactly the same to those we had copied from the blackboard. We never had a chance to think, just to copy”.
ACU’s past graduates in this programme have ended up working for NGOs in the refugee camps, documenting human rights abuses in Burma or studying for degrees at Assumption University in Bangkok and at ACU in Melbourne as well as in the US and Canada. When democracy returns to Burma, it is hoped that a small but significant group of young people will be able to provide a more dignified and peaceful future for their people.
For more information: Duncan MacLaren on firstname.lastname@example.org.