Learning on the job

For students who want to acquire practical skills related to their major and improve their abilities to prepare for their first job after graduation, help is on the way.

Experiential learning programs allow students to apply skills they have learned in the classroom in real-world environments.

Students at the University of Hong Kong have led the way, despite the impact of Covid-19 on all teaching and learning.

This year, 20 HKU students took part in a novel solution to address a water supply problem in a slum in Myanmar, the destination of their experiential learning program Horizons Mingde, organized by the university’s department of civil engineering.

During the three-week trip, students were invited to design a small scale water supply system for a new kindergarten-cum-primary school that has about 80 students.

The water supply project was proposed by an NGO based near Yangon, Community Care Myanmar. The school is situated in the east-central area of Dagon Seikkan – a slum area that is not part of any freshwater supply network. About 10,000 residents live mostly in wooden huts.

“It’s hard to imagine that what is considered a necessity in advanced economies is a luxury here,” said Fiona Tin, a social sciences student.

“The lack of a clean water source is a big problem in the area,” said Mikael Ken Slamet, an engineering student.

In Dagon Seikkan, residents rely on rainwater as a cheap source of water supply.

During the rainy season, rainwater is collected using buckets and plastic bags as they cannot afford bottled water, which is expensive and not sustainable.

After the Myanmar trip, 15 students took part in a followup activity during their 10-week summer break in Hong Kong.

Despite the outbreak of Covid-19, they held weekly online meetings, collated and assessed information they had collected during the trip, developed and appraised hypothetical virtual schemes and consolidated their findings and recommendations into a feasibility study report on a low-impact water supply system for the school.

The scheme is based on a 140-meter-deep well dug in the school grounds to extract groundwater from a deep aquifer as a new water source.

The students studied the site’s geology, determined the yield of the well, developed storage and plumbing schemes and recommended water quality tests and filtration installations to ensure that the groundwater is suitable for consumption.

The recommendations have been accepted by Community Care Myanmar.

HKU Horizons Mingde will also make a donation to support the project, which is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

“The problem residents face at Dagon Seikkan is in fact a common phenomenon across the country,” Slamet said.

The team hopes that the project can serve as a pilot scheme that will eventually benefit more people in the area.

Engineer and professor Mak Chai-kwong said: “The fact that these poor living conditions in impoverished areas have prevailed will help students understand that very often, complex real-life issues cannot be resolved easily and completely.”

Ryan Wong, a lecturer from the department of civil engineering, said: “They observed and identified a key livelihood problem faced by the school and have taken a first small step to design a sustainable water supply system here, which I believe will bring real changes and benefit the local community.” It is a great experiential learning experience for the students, he added.

Mak also said: “I hope we will be able to engage in similar projects in the future, as they are good experiential learning opportunities for our students. And the successful implementation of these projects will bring real benefits to the local community.”

(This article was published at The Standard on October 20, 2020: Education: Learning on the job )

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