Sunday, October 29, 2017

Engineering Service-Learning in the Philippines

First I spoke at the School of Engineering at University of Santo Tomas.  Then I spoke at the International Conference on Engineering Education, also held at the University of Santo Tomas.  Both times I spoke about Engineering Service-Learning, but the talks are actually quite different.  In the first talk, I was speaking to the teachers in the Faculty of Engineering.  I focused on the subject itself: how are the objectives, what the students are supposed to learn to do, what we teach them, what projects do they do, how we grade them, how to teach them to reflect on their experience, etc.  

In the second talk, I was speaking to administrators of Schools of Engineering from 50+ universities across the Philippines.  I spoke about the rationale and design of the service-learning program for the university, how we develop the subjects from across the university, train the teachers, make service-learning general education for all, link teaching with research, etc.  

The universities in Philippines is doing a lot of community service.  Perhaps it is because of the strong Catholic heritage which stress service to the community as integral to their faith.  What they want to do is to strengthen the learning aspect and integrate service-learning more into the academic program.  This is what we have done and also what I wish to encourage them to do.  My talks seem well-received.  There were a lot of questions and I tried to answer them as well as I could. I may yet come back to do more.  

I was impressed by some of their projects, and people.  There is this lady professor J at the University of Philippines - Diliman.  She was interested in humanitarian engineering but there apparently is no such program at her university.  Nor is there such as thing at other local universities.  So she went to the USA to learn about it, and single-mindedly start to build such a program.  She gathered a number of like-minded people and sent out a proposal for funding - to develop a communication system for remote areas under threat of disasters such as the famous typhoons.  

One of the messages in my talks is that engineering exists to solve problems. Yet engineering has not been big players in service-learning, with a few notable exceptions.  Why is that and what can be done to address that?  There is also many cultural, political and otherwise significant differences between the American society and ours.  For example, advocacy, even to the extent that it disrupts lives, is considered positively in the USA and western society in general. Yet advocacy is not always encouraged and can be downright dangerous in many Asian countries. I believe strongly that in Asia, and in specific countries and universities, we may have to develop own own way to do service-learning.  

I learned a lot and see a lot of potential from my first visit to the Philippines.  

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