Welcome for SENS Students from Muslim Community
To Our Generous Donors, Supporters, and Followers,
We would like to update you on developments with the School of English for Engaged Social Service (SENS) and related projects.
This report covers the period from early March until early May 2019.
The most important news we have to share is that we completed SENS 2019, our fourth annual School of English for Engaged Social Service program, successfully on April 3rd, 2019. The growth we saw in students again this year, and their enthusiastic response to the initiatives we take in the program, have renewed our confidence that the SENS program is both meaningful and worth all of the effort required. We are now beginning work on the SENS 2020 program. Your support, whether it be in the form of verbal encouragement, donations, letting others know about the program, nominations of students, suggestions, willingness to volunteer as a tutor, or in other ways will be deeply appreciated as always.
Important Activities in the Last Month of the SENS 2019 Course
Completion of the SENS 2019 program involved 1) a Power Analysis Workshop with Ouyporn Khuankaew in Chiang Mai; 2) Various classroom projects; 3) A field visit to two Muslim communities near Bangkok; and 4) our Graduation Ceremony.
The Power Analysis Workshop with Ouyporn Khuankaew is always a highpoint of the course because students have the chance to work with a facilitator who built a successful training center in her natal village, and because her approach is a skillful combination of posing deep questions, eliciting thinking from students, and questioning gender and other power hierarchies. One challenge we faced was that this year the air in Chiang Mai was especially polluted in March due to the burning of fields in the entire north of Thailand. Nonetheless, students made do with masks and good humor, and we have scheduled next year’s visit for February so as to avoid this difficulty. Such occurrences also reflect the state of things in the world and in Southeast Asia, and thus motivate discussion and reflection on the part of participants.
This year for the first time we took students to two Muslim communities in the area of Nong Jok near Bangkok. We were very kindly assisted in this by Professor Padtheera Narkurairattana of Mahidol University in Bangkok. Professor Padtheera has worked for many years on the status of minority religious groups, including Christians and Muslims, in Thailand. Our visit this year was a first step in incorporating visits to non-Buddhist communities in Thailand as part of our interfaith theme, and it allowed our two Muslim students (from Indonesia and Pakistan) to encounter brothers and sisters in the faith from culturally very different communities.
All students were received very warmly at an important historical canal in the area, and at the Kamalun Islam Mosque by local (and national) Muslim leaders.
In the classroom during the last part of the program, students give a number of presentations as a part of their English practice, and as preparation for their final talk at the Graduation Ceremony. The presentations include one that describes an image chosen by the student in carefully corrected English, and a second in which students must do research on any leader they find inspiring, compose and edit a presentation on that leader with help from tutors, then present it to the whole class. These presentations were profoundly engaging, and showed huge progress on the part of all students. A number of students chose leaders from their own country who were clearly outstanding examples of social service and/or visionary thinking. Yet it was strange how many of us had not heard of them or of what they had accomplished. This was for many of us a genuine learning experience, crossing cultural, historical, and ethnic boundaries.
Students then went on to read a very difficult pamphlet on the importance of long-range goals, and wrote their own talks for Graduation Ceremony outlining both what they had gained from the program and what they planned to do for themselves, their families, and the wider world in the short- and long-term. Again, we saw remarkable improvements in fluency from many of the students, and their expressions of what they saw as important personal and social goals were often very moving. The Graduation Ceremony was very kindly sponsored by Dr. Pichai Tangsin at his Nakhon Chaisi Resort near Bangkok. Dr. Pichai along with his Mother Malee Tangsin also supported one of the monks who joined our program as a student with a tuition scholarship. This year Dr. Pichai also very generously invited us to come a day early and stay overnight at the resort so as to prepare us well for the Graduation Ceremony itself. April 4th-6th saw heartfelt good-byes as students and tutors returned to their home countries.
Evaluation and Assessment
Assistant Director Soeui Fah joined Logistics Coordinator Topsi Rongrongmuang and Director Ted Mayer for a two-day evaluation soon after the close of the program. We studied the program’s successes and failures to see how we could improve the program for the next year. One such success involved students’ scores on the TOEIC exam (Test of English for International Communication), which we offer in a realistic practice form four times during the program. One student from Myanmar scored 150 on the first exam (very Low Beginner), 275 on the second (Beginner), 340 on the third (Low Intermediate), and 425 on the final exam (Strong Intermediate). It would be hard to wish for a better example of progress. Many students showed progress in these exams—from moderate to dramatic—even though we do not teach specific techniques on how to take the TOEIC.
We take the TOEIC scores and compare them to our observational assessment of students’ progress in English, then record our assessments of each student’s contribution to the learning community, as well as their growth in leadership and in other areas. These assessments we send along with encouragements and suggestions to each of the students in the form of a Personal Student Report. The Personal Student Report along with reports and thank-yous to donors have been a big part of our post-program work in April and early May.
Our evaluation also highlighted the fact that SENS 2019 had been full of unexpected challenges beyond anyone’s control. For example, one student had extraordinary difficulties obtaining a visa, making her weeks late for the program. Several members of the work team had to work overtime repeatedly to resolve the situation. A key member of the work team who was to share responsibilities with Assistant Director Soeui Fah had to return two days before the program due to a family emergency and was unable to return; and one of our regular workshop leaders was unable to come for a similar reason. We realized that with a strong enough curriculum on the one hand—one that has a clear logic, flexibility, and a humane rhythm (classroom work, workshops, field trips, films, and rest), that can connect with students and their self-understanding—and with a strong enough work team on the other hand—one that was willing to offer insights and new ideas as well as to work long hours—we could still run a strong program in spite of severe challenges. These observations have encouraged us tremendously to go on to plan and prepare for next year’s program.
Looking to the Future – SENS 2020 and Beyond
The SENS 2020 program will take place from January 12th to April 8th, 2020. We welcome applications from students throughout the world who have at least a Beginning Level of English, and who can show some record of commitment to working for the welfare of others. In anticipation of next year’s course, we will work to clarify and simplify our curriculum, while also incorporating insights and new ideas from our gifted work team. We will also welcome donations and sponsorships from individuals or organizations who would like to support the students we select, or who would like to nominate and support their own staff or colleagues to participate.
Beyond the SENS 2020 program, we are also now in discussion with partners of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) to consider opening Beginning Level SENS courses in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and even further afield.
Finally, we want to express our heartfelt wishes for the convalescence of our Fundraising Officer, Arjun Kumar, who was hospitalized with a serious illness, but is now on the mend.
Thank you so much for your support and interest in our work. We welcome your suggestions and feedback as well.
With gratitude and on behalf of our entire team,
Director of SENS and Academic Director for the INEB Institute
Participants with Hosts at Kamalun Islam Mosque
Dream Market - In-Class Activity Offering Gifts
Small Group Discussion in Class
In-Class Photo of a Student from Indonesia
A Student from Myanmar Gives Her Graduation Talk
SENS Graduation Was Held at Nakhon Chaisi Resort
A Last Night Together on the Chao Phraya River