Success Story – Professor Ma
Introducing Professor Hanlin Ma, PhD of philosophy. Professor Ma works at the Suzhou University of Science and Technology, located west of Shanghai in the Chinese province of Jiangsu.
He teaches moral philosophy and ethics at both post- and undergraduate levels. Professor Ma incorporates ACTAsia’s Caring For Life (CFL) framework into his academic curriculum in order to nurture future leaders who are analytic and empathetic. We had the opportunity to meet with Professor Ma for an insightful conversation about his engagement with ACTAsia and the CFL programme. We are delighted to feature him and his inspiring work using the CFL curriculum in the context of higher education to shape the decision-makers of the future.
Professor Ma: Towards harmony in the classroom
Professor Ma is committed to fostering critical thinking and compassionate global mindedness in his students by means of multifaceted, progressive course content. He has been working at the Suzhou University of Science and Technology for over six years, beginning immediately after he completed his doctoral degree. Given his devotion, creativity and enthusiasm, it is difficult to believe that teaching was not always Professor Ma’s academic priority or passion. ‘I treated myself more like a scholar than a teacher at the beginning of my career,’ he tells us.
‘But the teaching… there are magical things about teaching.’
‘Teaching gives opportunities to reconstruct knowledge systems. I treat this process as new opportunities to recognise myself.’
At the postgraduate level, Professor Ma teaches moral philosophy of science & technology and instructs teacher training. He also teaches political philosophy and applied ethics to undergraduate students. There are lots of challenges and limitations to teachers and scholars working in universities in China, he notes. ‘The governing style of the universities here are very old-fashioned. Young scholars need more liberty to teach.’
Issues such as the global climate crisis and the breakneck rapidity of technological developments implicate us in a reality characterised by uncertainty and instability. Professor Ma explain that balance is the key to navigating, to moving forward within these contexts. He adds that we need well-rounded, comprehensive ways of thinking about the world. ‘We need to adapt to our times, adapt the processes of our history. We need to try to adapt human society.’ Balance, he tells us, is a crucial concept central to developing ethical leaders.
And balance is the word that Professor Ma uses to describe why he finds ACTAsia’s CFL so valuable. He explains this as a key motivator for integrating it into university-level teaching as a mandatory module of the teacher trainer programme. It is a world-first for humane education to gain accreditation and the programme is now in its 4th year. ‘In my mind, the most important part of the CFL is the philosophical attitude you have when you are doing work or research,’ he shares. ‘The CFL is a very good opportunity to train the critical thinking of my students.’
What is Caring for Life?
ACTAsia’s outstanding and influential Caring for Life Education for Children programme is all about care; care towards others, care towards animals, care towards the environment. The ethos and structure of CFL are rooted in five key tenets:
- The Web of Life
- Sentient Beings
- Care and Respect
- Interacting with Others
- Emotional Intelligence
If we understand well-being as something that emerges from entangled relations between animals, other humans and the environment, we can act and think with compassion. ACTAsia applies the philosophy of CFL into different programmes to give children, consumers and professionals the tools to do so.
Professor Ma and CFL: Shaping the decision-makers of the future
It was through curiosity to join Conferences at the SUST that Professor Ma got to know ACTAsia, and through follow-up interactions and collaborations that he decided to incorporate the CFL programme into the course structure of his undergraduate teacher training course. ‘In order to graduate, my students have to learn and get the credits for Caring for Life,’ Professor Ma shares, ‘and that is a very big step.’ The themes that CFL touches upon are deeply tied to applied ethics, Professor Ma highlights.
Professor Ma observes a profound impact of the CFL programme at Suzhou University of Science and Technology. ‘Students change a lot after CFL training,’ he says. Upon completing the programme, he sees students pursuing further humane education. ‘Many students go on to choose themes connected to CFL for their dissertation.’ One of his students was even inspired to pursue veterinarian training after the course. Not only do his students show more interest in and concern for topics such as climate change and animal welfare upon completing the CFL programme, says Professor Ma, but ‘I can see the application of the CFL themes in their work practices.’
‘The CFL is a very good opportunity to train my students in critical thinking.’
Next steps: Continuing to take CFL forward
Professor Ma remains a strong proponent of CFL and continues to do more work involving ACTAsia’s framework.
Professor Ma wishes for the amazing lessons from the CFL to reach as many people as possible. ‘I would like to do more academic courses through the platforms of the university and hold workshops in Caring for Life education,’ he says, ‘. I would like to explore more about theory and practical-teaching matters.’
‘We have to be optimistic. It is not about being optimistic about our planet, but being optimistic about humanity,’ concludes Professor Ma, ‘and all of us can be part of that.’
We are so proud that ACTAsia’s course is accredited. That the next generation of teachers will have the CFL as a standard gives us great optimism. Thank you, Professor Ma!