Beyond Borders: Are you teaching for the right cause?

Are you teaching for the right cause?

Abridge Academy was delighted to be invited to present at this panel event hosted by CamPlus, discussing the opportunities available to students at top universities to volunteer teaching abroad. 

About the event

Beyond Borders: Are you teaching for the right cause? aimed to discuss the impact students can have volunteering abroad. In particular, it focused on the intersection of so-called ‘elite universities’ and ‘voluntourism’, a particular concern at Cambridge where many agencies running for-profit ‘Oxbridge experience’ camps target undergraduates hoping to make a difference by volunteering abroad.

The event was hosted by CamPlus at the University of Cambridge, a youth platform founded by a group of Cambridge undergraduates from China in 2016. They strive to facilitate idea exchanges among students across various disciplines and years. 

‘Beyond Borders’ is CamPlus’s new initiatie, consisting of a series of talks exploring the cross-country flow of educational resources and students between Higher Education institutions in the UK and both elite and rural Chinese contexts.

Keynote: Professor Susan Robertson

Professor Susan Robertson, sociologist and professor at the Faculty of Education, opened the event with an insightful talk entitled ‘minds and movements in the making of global personhood’. 

She discussed the theory of global personhood, a phenomenon which covers not only those who are globally mobile, but also the spread of ideas and communication. She also discussed the tension between voluntourism and the commercialisation of education, touching on the idea of students from ‘elite’ universities teaching abroad at often highly profitable summer camps, who may not be having the impact they desire on the local youth.

Abridge EduCamp: positive social impact in a ‘voluntourism’ context

Our presentation focused on the impact international short-term volunteers can have on the children attending English language camps, drawing on our expertise running summer camps across China. 

In recent years, this has been a controversial issue, with questions raised around the impact short-term volunteering placements can have and the children they support. 

We started by introducing our mission: to bridge East and West through education. As a social enterprise, we are passionate about facilitating genuine cultural exchange between the UK and China, promoting lifelong language learning and inspiring the next generation of UK teachers. 

In our talk, we addressed the work Abridge EduCamp is doing to ensure our programs have a positive social impact on the local community.

We work primarily with not -for-profit camps, focusing our efforts on those children who need the support most, rather than a wealthy elite. 

We also focused on some of the challenges associated with short-term volunteering placements, particularly relating to volunteer training and bi-directional cultural exchange – something Abridge Academy is particularly passionate about. All our volunteers undergo full TEFL training before landing in China, reflecting our commitment to quality teaching and developing the UK’s teaching skills. Additionally, the camps are as much about developing volunteers’ cultural awareness as the children’s – with cultural activities, language classes, trips to local sights and homestay opportunities. 

While our talk provided an opportunity to showcase some of the positive impact Abridge EduCamp is having through our work in China, we also shared our thoughts on the voluntourism industry as a whole, considering both the potential positive impact and what to look out for when volunteering abroad.

Mr Peter Cui: Elite university tutoring

The last speaker of the night, Mr Peter Cui discussed the work his organisation, Blue Education, does in providing university admissions tutoring services across China, particularly in lower-tier cities and less developed provinces. 

Mr Cui’s insightful talk focused on the impact tutors can have in raising aspirations and awareness of opportunities to study abroad – providing those students with a genuine passion and the family background to support their ambitions with the knowledge they need to make a competitive application. 

During his presentation, he mentioned some of the efforts Blue Education had begun to reach out to those usually unable to afford such elite tutoring services. In particular, they have recently launched a scholarship program – with their first scholar this year successfully obtaining a place at a top UK university.

This provided an interesting view of the positive impact which can be had even when working with those of a higher economic background.

Panel discussion

The evening ended with a panel discussion, answering questions from the enthusiastic audience. A wide range of topics were covered – everything from the western-centric university ranking systems to advice for those hoping to volunteer abroad.

We would like to express our thanks to CamPlus for inviting us to present at this fantastic event, it was an honour to be joining such an esteemed group of speakers.

We would also like to thank the audience for your excellent questions and interest in volunteering abroad!

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