Mekong Learning Initiative -- Linking and learning in the Mekong River Basin
The Mekong Learning Initiative (MLI), coordinated by AMRC and funded by Oxfam America (2003 - 2007), is a collaboration between eight universities in the Mekong Region for teaching and learning in the social sciences of natural resource management. It was established with the belief that innovative education and critical thinking is crucial to understanding change and development challenges facing the region. MLI emphasises the linking of different perspectives and mutual learning among those living, studying, teaching and working in different Mekong countries. Click on links below to read more.
- MLI partners
- Partner initiatives
- Regional initiatives
- Youth Ambassadors
The original Regional Mekong Curriculum Development Initiative which began in December 2003 under the Oxfam America-supported Mekong Learning Initiative (MLI) has become the core activity of a reformulated three-year MLI program beginning in 2005.
The following provides background on the reformulated MLI.
There has been relatively little interaction and sharing among teachers and students from tertiary education institutions in the Mekong Region. As a result, there are still limited opportunities for students to understand natural resource management issues in neighbouring countries or in their regional/basin-wide context. Case studies tend to be taken either from very local and familiar examples, or from outside the Mekong altogether. Critical and analytical tools and concepts are limited in their application due to the paucity of case studies from within the Mekong Region.
While there are several regional centres with a Mekong focus at individual universities, links between them are limited and there are very few common learning opportunities, despite the plethora of non-academic regional organisations such as MRC, IUCN, Oxfam, TERRA and so on. MLI aims to develop case studies and translate them into relevant regional languages that will allow teachers and students to draw on more relevant examples and apply them in a field setting, and to link tertiary education to the substantial body of knowledge developed within regional agencies.
At the same time, MLI tries to reflect and draw on existing learning approaches and help facilitate their adaptation and application to new contexts. MLI’s interest in exploring different learning approaches is based on the realisation that many existing types of teaching and learning have limited impact. One-way classroom teaching is often less effective than a more interactive, hands-on approach with interesting visual materials. Activities such as study tours often have limited impact if they are limited to "show and tell" exercises rather than applied and engaged learning. Why are learning outcomes so uneven?
MLI involves institutions that are different in levels of experience with social and natural science approaches to natural resource management, with field research, with teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level, with types of outreach roles, and in many other dimensions. Learning processes, cultures, and contexts also vary from one country to another. This diversity is at once a strength and a challenge. The linking potentials depend on the ability for mutual sharing of experience and understanding of one another's learning contexts.
Lastly, policy support has been a longstanding goal of MLI, but with quite limited effect. Most effective has been the incidental involvement of local government officials with community-based learning projects, study tours and so on. There is a need to put the policy support objective into a more realistic time frame, seeing it as a longer term outcome through student learning, emergent civil society networks and influences based on a new generation of tertiary-trained graduates, and building on incidental opportunities through study visits and other activities such as local government officers' enrolment in postgraduate courses and involvement in research. At the same time, better linkage between learning institutions and regional agencies such as MRC, ADB, NMCs, TERRA, OA, WWF, IUCN, SEARIN has the potential to create an interface between policy and locally-based learning on social aspects of natural resource management.
The overall aim of MLI is to use a linking and learning approach to facilitate reflection, sharing and new activities in support of a Mekong 'body of knowledge and practice' on the social science of natural resource management (NRM). Whilst the focus is on the social science of NRM, this is not to the exclusion of the natural science of NRM, and indeed supporting better linkages between them is important. This is developed both within key educational institutions and through their involvement with community-based activity.
The longer-term underlying aim is to support the emergence of livelihood-oriented approaches to natural resources and environmental management in line with social and ecological realities and civil society concerns. The program is shaped by approaches to teaching and learning about development that take sustainability, equity and rights as core values.
MLI objectives can be summarised as follows:
- Develop a Mekong body of knowledge and practice on natural resource management from within the region
- Share knowledge on and build understanding of other countries in the Mekong among students and lecturers
- Establish a sense of ‘Mekong citizenship’ among lecturers and students
- Reflect on learning contexts and approaches, particularly with reference to tertiary level students and teachers but also university/community/local government interface and others
- Share approaches to teaching and learning on the social science of natural resource management in the Mekong River Basin, including linkages between including educational institutions and regional agencies
- Support creative and effective approaches to teaching in support of curriculum development in the Mekong Region that give students critical thinking skills for understanding development, natural resource management and environment issues.
- Yunnan University, China
- National University of Laos, Lao PDR
- Chiang Mai University, Thailand
- Khon Kaen University, Thailand
- Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand
- Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Can Tho University, Vietnam
- Tay Nguyen University, Vietnam
Facilitated and coordinated by the Australian Mekong Resource Centre
MLI received funding from Oxfam America (2003-2007) and the Open Society Institute.