Meirlin Gunawan is Deputy Head of Office of Service-Learning & Community Engagement at the Centre for Experiential Learning, College of Lifelong and Experiential Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences.
Meirlin’s passions lie in educational equity and childhood literacy, having worked on academic mentoring and early literacy programmes since she was a student. “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of [people] — the balance wheel of the social machinery.” This 1848 quote by Horace Mann, a pioneering American Educator, also informed a great part of Meirlin’s choice to begin a career as an educator. Meirlin still believes in this, even if experience has taught her that education is not the silver bullet to the problems of the world.
When Meirlin started exploring Service-Learning and Community Engagement, she served in the way she knew best, through education and through working with vulnerable children/youths. Meirlin currently builds partnerships with Community Partners and mentors SUSS student groups working with the Vulnerable Children and Youth sector.
At SUSS, Community Engagement is conceived as an integral part of the University’s learning ecology and is an educational experience under which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully-organised service experiences that meet actual community needs. As these are coordinated in collaboration with university and community, community engagement projects promote inclusion by creating connections between the university and the community and facilitating cross-sector collaboration and shared resources.
Inclusive education is actualised by SUSS students’ reciprocal engagement within various community sectors to promote inclusive learning. Some examples include academic mentoring to bridge the education gap for vulnerable children and youth, facilitating access to outdoor activities and community living skills for persons with intellectual disability, connecting seniors with green spaces, and activating memories of kampung life for individuals with dementia through reminiscence therapy. In turn, students learn about inclusion and the community they serve, from the community partners, who are co-educators to guide SUSS students in their journey of growth to meaningful contributors of society.
In response to gaps identified by community partners working with underserved populations, the SUSS Office of Service-Learning and Community Engagement is currently designing Access Academy, a community inclusion initiative that will enable communities who have previously been underserved by higher education to navigate and capitalise on the evolving education landscape. Working with our community partners, Access Academy will connect SUSS continuing education, university admissions, faculty and student ambassadors with underserved community members to guide and prepare individuals to understand and access opportunities to upskill and upgrade through the multiple, stackable learning pathways that are now available to them.