Saturday, May 13, 2017

Socially Responsible University

Our team was awarded our university’s President’s Award for Services in 2016, for the work that we did on service-learning.  The following is the speech I made on behalf of our team, and the service-learning community at the university, on Friday, 12 May, 2017. 

Here is service-learning at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in a nutshell.  Our university’s motto is: “To learn and to apply, for the benefit of mankind”.  How do we accomplish that?  When we help our students become responsible global citizens, they in turn change the world for the better, for the benefit of mankind.  In order to achieve that, we need a staff that embody these values.  Students come and go.  It is the staff that stay and carry the values of a university.   


Here is a scene from a sample service-learning subject.  The team went to a village in the mountains in Rwanda to provide electrical power to households without it.  They install solar panels on the roof of a house.  Our students work together with the Rwandan young people.  Not how the people on the ground hoist the solar panels to the two persons standing on the ladders.  The two on the ladders in turn pass the solar panels to the two on the roof, who then set up the panels down on the roof.  The whole process takes perhaps an hour.  But a lot of planning and training and preparation have to be done before it can happen.  The solar panels generate electricity to charge car batteries. The car batteries power LED lights, mobile phone chargers, and radios.  The students learn to use their academic knowledge to organize the work, to solve real world problems. The panels generate 240 watts, just enough to power 2 light bulbs in Hong Kong.  But that is enough to power 30 houses with 120 people in Rwanda.  Through the service, the students learn about socio-economic issues, such as why Rwanda is so poor, why there is no electricity and no water, what are the consequences, why there is green grass but no trees, why Rwanda is now so safe, 20 years after the terrible genocide.  And what can be done about these issues.  This is experiential, just-in-time learning.  

This is just one project from one of the SL subjects.  We now have 60+ such subjects from 20+ departments, across all 8 faculties and schools.  Here are two pie charts.  One shows where students serve.  Three quarters (in red) serve in Hong Kong.  18% serve (in blue) serve in Mainland China.  7% (~250 students, in green) serve overseas.  


The other pie shows the distribution over the 5 foreign countries: Cambodia (blue), Vietnam (purple), Myanmar (green), Rwanda (red) and Kyrgyzstan (coffee). 


There is also the growth of the number of subjects and students.  From just a few subjects, we have grown to 67 subjects each year.  More importantly, from a couple hundred students we have grown, in 6 years, to 4,000 students taking credit-bearing subjects in service-learning.  This scale, depth, breadth and growth rate is unprecedented.  


This amount of work could not have been done by a team of 5 people.  Hence, I accept the President’s Award on behalf of  
Our 5-person team, but also 
all Office of Service-Learning staff, 
the 171 SL subject teachers, 
Educational Development Center colleagues who help with staff development, 
Academic Secretariat staff who help students register for SL, 
Alumni Office staff who help to raise donations for SL, 
Finance Office staff who help to finance SL, 
Human Resource Office staff who help to recruit and develop staff for SL, 
Industrial Center staff who help to train the students, 
International Affairs Office staff who help to develop international SL, 
Communication and Public Affairs staff who help organize the staff project, 
Global Youth Leadership Institute staff who jointly organize the Cambodia Summer School of SL and Leadership, 
China Mainland Affairs Office staff who help with the Mainland projects
University Heath Service staff who help with vaccinations and health precautions
Center STARS for helping with the SL scholarships for the students 
… 
a Service-Learning community of >200 staff.  They carry the torch of service-learning at PolyU. 



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