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Parami Students Enhancing their Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills through ASEAN Course

ASEAN and Regional Security Dynamics is one of the eight-week courses offered at Parami this fall semester, starting on August 16, 2021. The class aims to provide students with the foundation for understanding how ASEAN operates, its principles, its security role in not just yielding acceptable instruments of conflict resolution among its members but maintaining its relevance as a legitimate block in the regional security architecture. The course is taught by Phuong Vu, a Ph.D. candidate in Politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand. 

Apart from the ASEAN course, she has been running a small project called Around Town to encourage her students to stay alert (not anxious) to current affairs; second, to enable them to practice thinking and communicating politics with confidence, clarity, and credibility.

"Altogether, I hope they would learn to listen with more than just their ears, detect patterns, brainstorm, observe, interpret data, and make better decisions based on the multiple factors and options available to them. These skills benefit the students in the long run, not just for their success in the ivory tower but for real-world political practice. So far, they have been doing the news briefing very well, with some amazing analysis and comments. What I've seen is really encouraging." ⸺Phuong Vu

The Around Town project focuses on ASEAN and other political factors such as health, infrastructure, and climate change. In each class session, students can choose one recent pressing topic—a crisis or current situation in Myanmar, and they present the information in the form of a morning news briefing. 

Pedagogical elements of liberal art and sciences education encourage students to learn and apply their knowledge by participating in activities and discussions designed by the teacher. Also, they help students have a better learning experience and foster analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. 

Thurein Lynn is a university student with experience working with local civil society and youth organizations. He stated that the Around Town project's activities have helped him strengthen his skills in analyzing and interpreting a particular event, news and to become more aware of the things happening in the region. 

"We are not just learning from the book or theory but also from the current issue. We got to analyze the news. We learned how to interpret different political events from the regional perspective and from the ASEAN perspective. We read the news every day, and we just read [information], But the Around Town project taught me not just to read it but to analyze it. For example, the Foreign Administrator of Malaysia's announcement on Wednesday (September 8), [we didn't] just do ordinary research. we had to analyze why he [Foreign Administrator of Malaysia] talks in a certain way, what are the advantages and disadvantages of (it) and whether his voice is positive or pessimistic." ⸺Thurein Lynn

Esther has a background in law and worked at a couple of corporate law firms in Yangon before starting working for humanitarian projects in February this year. She highlighted that the Around Town project is fun and informative and helps her with public speaking and presentation skills. 

"Because the Around Town project is somewhat succinct news coverage for recent events, it is very informative. I have learned about many new topics and updates. And because some topics are rarely covered in depth by the usual news sites I read from, it is very insightful. I would definitely start a breakfast news briefing club in my social circle for the exchange of news, information, and insights." ⸺Esther Lun

Zaw Lwin Tun, a university student, majoring in international tourism management, shared that he could see himself applying more of the skills from the project and main concepts of the ASEAN course when researching a particular topic and giving a presentation. 

"It helps us to think critically beyond the surface of a headline; to really analyze it in and out. Other students are free to chime in with their comments and can also ask follow-up questions. I think it is handy, all in all. It imparts many general research skills that are beneficial in a lot of areas. It makes us delve deep into data and trends over time and extrapolate more information." ⸺Zaw Lwin Tun

In addition, Phuong Vu encouraged her students to bring their stories and observations to build some cases in groups to illuminate some theoretical matters in the ASEAN classes. 

Students have studied how intergovernmental organization operates; the primary goal behind its conception is to bring the Southeast Asian regions closer together and mediate all conflicts and discuss among its members through dialogue. Moreover, they learned about the founding principles behind ASEAN, which have brought peace and cooperation have also been the primary reason why ASEAN has been criticized for its inaction. The students said that the main concepts they have learned could be helpful for their further studies in related fields and encourage them to seize opportunities in career and volunteering from the ASEAN organizations such as ASEAN youth organizations or forums. 

In the remaining modular period, students will explore more about deciphering traditional and non-traditional security and ASEAN's relevance amid great power rivalry from perspectives of individual states and of interrelated and collective interests.

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