St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies (SAG-IHS) was established in 1998 by the Society of Jesus at the invitation of Archbishop of Taunggyi, Most Reverend Mathias U Shwe, D.D. The Institute is an apostolic work of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). It is named for the patron saint of youth, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who renounced his position within a powerful and wealthy family in Renaissance Italy in order to enter a life of service to others as a Jesuit at the age of 17.
Beginning with 25 students, St. Aloysius Gonzaga was launched in 1998 as an English language institute, serving both adult and young learners. Currently, the SAG-IHS language programs serve an average of more than 300 students each semester.
Over time, the institute began to offer additional courses to support the higher education studies of its language students, who were often enrolled in the University Distance Education (UDE) program. In 2010, the school launched a full-time, three-year curriculum to provide an advanced education in liberal and education studies with the support of Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) in the Philippines, which provided both curriculum guidance and visiting faculty. Targeted toward students who have finished their matriculation studies at State Schools, the curriculum was initially called “the Integrated Program” because it integrated English language training with tertiary-level education. It is now called the Diploma in Education.
The curriculum includes advanced English studies, humanities, math, science, and social sciences. Rooted in the realization that the best way to learn something is to teach it, the curriculum includes a full year of training in the theory and practice of education. Graduates receive a Diploma in Education that is co-awarded from SAG-IHS and ADDU. In 2014, the first 46 graduates received the Diploma.
The distinguishing feature of all coursework at SAG-IHS is a foundation in the critical thinking skills fostered by a liberal arts education and the application of those skills through practicum and outreach experience. Diploma students apply their skills by teaching adult and young learners in the English language program at SAG-IHS and from structured community service work with monastic schools in poor and rural communities—often the same communities that are home to the Diploma students.
The impact of the Outreach Program, which reaches over 600 children annually, has raised awareness for the SAG-IHS curriculum, drawing the attention of local communities, government agencies, and foreign institutions. In 2014, the College of Social Work at the University of Utah (USA) began a collaboration with SAG-IHS to provide faculty and curriculum support that would expand the education Outreach Program to include social work activities with local organizations through the SAG-IHS Community Partnership program. In 2016, the University of Utah opened its year-long, online Certificate in Social Work/Case Management to Diploma students, providing an optional fourth year of studies. In 2017, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MSWRR) invited SAG-IHS to participate in consultations on the establishment of professional standards for training social workers.
A Jesuit Liberal Arts Foundation
The education at SAG-IHS has its foundations in a Jesuit Liberal Arts tradition that is over 400 years old and is undergirded by the “Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm.” Rather than training students in a particular subject, the goal of the Ignatian Liberal Arts tradition is the liberation of the learner. It aims to free the learner from every form of personal and social constriction by developing, as thoroughly as possible, every side of a learner’s knowledge, capability and talent. Thus, growing in self-esteem and self-confidence, the student is able to move forward in critical thinking and creative insight and is empowered to contribute to the growth of the community by being active in the civic process.
In this sense, the Liberal Arts tradition has come to be defined in contemporary terms as ‘well-rounded education,’ ‘whole-person education’, or, ‘holistic education’ – in consequence of which, students who enter SAG-IHS will undergo a form of education that aims at developing their total person. In addition to developing their intellectual and academic capabilities, students can also expect to deepen their social, ethical and spiritual lives according to their own religious faiths and traditions. They will become more informed about and adept at living life in a diverse society and will increase their awareness of national and global concerns, such as environmental ethics.
In the context of a changing Myanmar today, the rebuilding of the country after five decades of military rule places education at the forefront of national recovery. Jesuit education in the tradition of the Liberal Arts – that is, of liberating and building up the full person-in-and-for the full community – informs and constitutes the overall vision, mission and goals of SAG-IHS. In this way, we, the community of SAG-IHS—faculty, staff and students—will play our role in rebuilding education in the country and, so, make our contribution to the task of rebuilding the nation.
The vision of the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies (SAG-IHS) is the vision of the countless numbers of faces of the young people of Burma – most often isolated, impoverished, marginalized and exploited by the powers that be; faces that tell the story of unattained dreams and failed hopes; faces frustrated by the lack of opportunities and inaccessible resources; faces forced to look down upon the grime and grit of daily subsistence rather than raised star-ward in anticipation of tomorrow’s hopes and promises. It is, rather, faces that reflect the vision of a time when the nation, in truth, was forcibly held down.
But, that truth is changing today. A new vision emerges.
That new vision is that of the faces of the young people of Myanmar who dream again, want to achieve great things again and rise to new heights, once again. It is the vision of the faces of young people recovering their selfhood and their self-confidence, and, thriving upon a collective energy, wish to excel and be proud of themselves again, like young people everywhere. It is this new energy and new-found exuberance which propels SAG-IHS to put itself forward at the service of the youth of this nation—for their good, for their growth, and for their everlasting power to be!
The mission of SAG-IHS is to provide its students quality higher education within a fulltime undergraduate framework that is comparable to global standards. Drawing from the Jesuit Liberal Arts tradition, SAG-IHS equits its students with knowledge, intellectual breadth, understanding, critical-thinking capabilities, articulative capacity, intellectual breadth and creative insight, together with a strong moral and social conscience. Formed through the values of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, SAG-IHS educates its students to make good life-decisions, live responsibly in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and environmentally sustained society. Students are encouraged to deepen their respective religious traditions and place their deepest convictions at the service of others, especially the poor, the marginalized and the disenfranchised, and thus exercise servant-leadership in their communities, surroundings, society and country for the development of a better and brighter future for the peoples of Myanmar.
SAG-IHS calls on its students to commit themselves to the above vision and of SAG-IHS by pursuing these following six educational goals:
- The English Language: Students will establish for themselves a core and critical foundation in the acquisition of the English Language which is the linguistic currency of the future and the life blood of academic work.
- Students will firstly acquire a communicative facility of the English Language based upon the four macro skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing at the intermediate level.
- Students will enhance their capacity to do academic work in and through the English Language with an advanced capacity to read and write.
- The Liberal Arts: Students will establish for themselves a core and critical foundation in the study of the Liberal Arts, which constitute the fundamental program of all classical education, thus, forming their minds to think, analyze, reflect, understand, critique, articulate and express; by such a manner, they will engage in an authentic form of learning and embrace a life-long process of intellectual growth.
- Students will, study a broad variety of academic disciplines that conform to the Liberal Arts framework.
- They will acquire a manner of thinking that is both systematic and cross-disciplinary.
- They will develop a high degree of self-expression and articulation, both written and verbal.
- They will seek to critically contextualize and creatively relate what they learn in the classroom both to the realities of Myanmar and of the world.
- Pedagogic Art of Teaching: Students will attain a core and critical foundation in the pedagogic art of teaching for the following reasons: the best way to learn a subject is by teaching it; the experience of teaching in the front of a classroom will make natural leaders of them in any place or setting; it will increase their self-confidence and boost their self-esteem; and, more directly, it help create a new generation of teachers and educators for a country as it rebuilds itself.
- Students will acquire all the theoretical fundamentals in the curriculum as relating to the Professional Education courses, and, thus, fit out their body of knowledge with regard to the art of teaching.
- Students will put theory into practice by fulfilling all curricular requirements with regard to the practicum component of teaching-on-site – to be actualized both within the Young Learners’ Program (which serves as an in-house practicum site) and the Outreach sites; thus, they will gain the requisite experience upon which they can build up their self-confidence, gain insight into the methods and techniques of explaining their subject matter substantively, systematically and eloquently, and, most of all, learn of their subject matter all the better since they will be teaching it.
- Students will relate their experience of teaching to the experience of leading. The ability to stand in front of a class, explain a subject matter, facilitate learning, promote reflection, receive and give feedback, synthesize, customize, and plan, are all qualities that are inherent to the exercise of leadership. Teaching is a perfect pathway to leadership, especially in Myanmar where position of a teacher is highly revered and respected.
- Community Outreach and Service: Students will enter into their teaching practice-on-site as a form of outreach and service to the community. The communities, such as monastic shelters for children, church orphanages, peri-urban children who belong to the poorer sections of the city, and children at refugee centers and displacement sites have all formed part of the traditional locations for the Outreach Program of SAG-IHS. By translating their learning/teaching process into community-engaged service, students will acquire the spirit of being “Persons-for-Others” that is at the heart of their self-characterization, desirous always of helping and serving others.
- Students will undertake Service Learning or, more specifically, Community-Engaged Learning that forms a core part of their teaching practice in the curriculum.
- Students will undertake this form of Community-Engaged Learning as a form of service rendered to the total growth of their students at their teaching-sites.
- Students will integrate the act of teaching-on-site either in the Outreach Program or the fourth year Internship experience, in combination with their Social Work studies component which equips them to go beyond the classroom through the classroom. In this encounter, the intern or student will enter into a larger world of social and practical issues that concern the world of children at large, their families, and their communities in which they can adopt a social work outlook and form of engagement.
- The social work component in tandem with the professional education component prepares the student to exercise their social and professional responsibilities in an informed, enlightened, and effective way. This is their pathway to exercising a leadership of service in their communities.
- Ignatian Value-Formation: Students will bring together and place all of their varied experiences – from the classroom and lecture halls, to teaching at outreach sites, to working together in teams, to all their co-curricular and extra-curricular activities — under a collective lens of reflection that will help them to pause and think, seek understanding and clarification, and deepen their commitments, so that they can make good decisions in all their activities and carry out those actions that they deliberately choose through a process of conscious discernment.
- Students will acquire familiarity with the Ignatian process of discernment that helps always to make the better decision, not just the good decision, and, thus undergird their value-formation in their day to day life.
- Students will acquire knowledge and practice of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm which builds upon the matrix of experience-reflection-action within which is located the art of making always the better and greater decision. The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm is practiced in all intra-curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular functions of the life and activity of the SAG-IHS.
- Students will practice such a process of value formation not just in their personal lives, but also in relation it to the social issues and concerns of Myanmar society at large.
6. Servant Leadership: Students will acquire a sense of life-purpose out of the particular Jesuit education that SAG-IHS offers them. This sense of life-purpose which is best described as “Servant Leadership,” suits most aptly the needs, aspirations, and goals of the new Myanmar society that is now emerging after decades of isolation and fragmentation.
- Students will inculcate a deep sense of service to others as a privileged form of self-expression and way of life.
- Students will use their education, knowledge, skills, understanding, analytical tools, talents, as well as their teaching capabilities and social work perspectives in order to empower and help others, especially those who are poor, dislocated and disadvantaged in any way.
- Students will grow to be leaders whose value system is based on service, not power, position or privilege, and always exercise such leadership by being the first to serve.