Before the end of the fall semester, Parami University organized the first in-person gathering of its inaugural cohort of undergraduate students, the Class of 2026. Students based in Yangon, Myanmar, joined their fellow classmates and student support staff for an outdoor gathering and activity on Saturday, November 19, 2022. Also, another in-person meeting was organized for Parami students from the learning hub in Mandalay, Myanmar, on December 3, 2022. As an online institution, the University offers academic instruction and activities wholly online; students are geographically spread out, taking classes from different regions across Myanmar and select regions in Thailand and Kenya.
Increased internet connectivity and the rise of online learning have enabled learning opportunities that were unimaginable before. It has especially benefited students who face restrictions in mobility, such as Parami students in refugee camps and those without travel documents. Although online learning programs can be configured to be as rigorous as in-person programs, it offers limited experience in terms of social engagement and communal spirit that young people thrive in. Oftentimes, students also tend to require support for additional facilities to access online learning effectively since many parts of the world still lack sufficient infrastructure. Although not part of formal instruction, offline support activities play an important role in improving students’ learning environment, the effectiveness of learning, and mental well-being.
“I was excited about the first meet-up. When it was announced that we would meet, I giggled like a child and was excited to meet my classmates. When we met, it was exactly as I imagined; the activities were fun and engaging. I enjoyed it so much that I didn't realize time flew by fast. Now, I'm still waiting for the next meet-up. We need this kind of support as most students like me are stuck inside a room for a long time, and it was refreshing to see someone outside my room. Instead of talking to a person through a computer screen, students need to meet people in person. Plus, it can be fun with some activities.” ⸺ Thant Thaw Tun, Class of 2026
Nurturing a sense of community
Undergraduate students at Parami are enrolled full-time and take 5 courses each semester online. They engage in discussion-based classes with their professors and fellow students and participate in classroom and extracurricular activities. The classes are rigorous, requiring intensive reading and writing skills, and enable rich discussions and exchanges that allow students to learn from and enrich the learning experience with each other. Despite the significant amount of time spent together in the virtual classrooms, virtual campus (https://topia.io/paramiuniversity), and group assignments, the students still crave interpersonal connection and interaction that are difficult to be replicated online. To nurture social interaction and a sense of community among the students, the Parami student affairs team organized in-person activities for students in each geographical location. An outdoor meet-up event was organized in Yangon, Myanmar, where most students join classes online from their homes. Students finally had a chance to meet their classmates with whom they had been studying together for a semester. On October 28 and 29, 2022, the student affairs team organized a field trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to meet with all five Parami undergraduate students in the area. They hung out together and played ice-breaking games to get to know one another better. The student affairs team aims to offer on-ground support activities to students in different geographical locations at least once every semester.
On-ground learning hubs and facilities
Although most students take online classes from their own homes, some students at the University need additional support to access the online mode of learning for a variety of reasons. Some come from conflict areas where they do not have the luxury of learning from home, whereas others come from areas with limited internet access and electricity. To enable these students to access online classes and activities, the University’s partner organization Parami Liberal Arts and Sciences Fund, Inc. (PLASFI), helps provide room and board (learning hubs) as well as internet, device, and learning space (learning facilities) in a few cities. Currently, there are two learning facilities and two learning hubs across Myanmar and Thailand. In addition to allowing learning activities to take place, these learning hubs and facilities also serve as a shared space for students to spend time with classmates and forge friendships.
In the next semesters, the University intends to create in-person learning opportunities that complement the core programs, such as short exchange programs, semester abroad and summer programs abroad. These opportunities will enable students to gain more exposure and learn across cultures as they finish their degrees at Parami. One such opportunity the University is envisaging is partnering with the Learning Across Borders program, where students from Southeast and East Asia get to meet and travel together in Asia for a few weeks, learning and exchanging language, culture and knowledge. Moreover, conferences, events and programs already offered via OSUN also bring together students across the globe, including those studying solely online and those who have met only online through the network courses, which would greatly enrich the learning experience of Parami students.
The importance of student support service on the ground
“We believe that the activities can provide mental and emotional support to avoid loneliness, to bring them close together, and to promote peer-to-peer support not only in classes but also outside the classroom.” ⸺ Htet Aung Hlaing Myint (Pedro), Senior Student Affairs Officer of Parami University.
“The first in-person gathering was great because I became more familiar with my friends and the staff from my university. We did a lot of activities and played games. Since I am an introvert, I was worried about meeting them. I even forgot that we were staff and students because they treated us like real brothers and sisters, so I had a really good time. I thank Parami University and the entire Parami team for supporting us more than we needed. For me, on-ground student support is critical. Since we only study through zoom, we have fewer opportunities to see friends outside than on zoom. Not having to communicate with so many people seems to be a relief, but in reality, I felt that I have less opportunity to fit into the social environment. Therefore, by providing on-ground support, students will have the chance to meet each other and be exposed to the outside world, so even if we are studying online, we will get the sense of studying on campus.”⸺Hkawn Nu Mai, Class of 2026
More online and offline student engagement activities will be continued and organized for Parami undergraduate students in the region they are residing.
About Parami University
Parami University is a private non-profit liberal arts university. Parami University aims to provide a quality education for youths from underdeveloped communities in Southeast Asia. Parami University is committed to expanding access to quality higher education for youth in developing countries so that they will become effective change agents and contributing members of the global community.
Starting in the Fall of 2022, Parami University now offers two online Bachelor of Arts degree programs: Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and Bachelor of Arts in Statistics and Data Science (SDS). Parami’s undergraduate programs are licensed under the Higher Education Licensure Commission (HELC) of Washington, DC, in the US. The classes are fully synchronous and delivered using advanced education technologies with world-class faculty. Nearly 200 applicants applied for the Fall 2022 intake, and Parami accepted 57 students from Myanmar, Thailand, and Kenya for the Class of 2026. Parami University practices a principle of equity to award scholarships. This means that students will be awarded a scholarship (partial or full) based on how much students’ families can contribute towards their education. 100% of students from the previous intake received partial and full scholarships from Parami University.