Service-Learning in the Disciplines: Lessons from the Field


Education White Paper 3 on the transformation of higher education (Department of Education, 1997: 23) calls for “feasibility studies and pilot programmes which explore the potential of community service in higher education”. Taking its cue from the White Paper, what was then the Joint Education Trust (JET, now JET Education Services) launched the Community – Higher Education – Service Partnerships (CHESP) project in 1999. The aims of the project were: to support the development of pilot programmes that integrate community engagement as a core function of the academy; to monitor, evaluate and research these pilot programmes; and to use the data generated through this process to inform higher education policy and practice, in terms of community engagement, at a national, institutional and programmatic level.

Since the inception of the CHESP project community engagement and service-learning have become an integral part of the higher education system in South Africa. At a national level the Founding Document (2002) of the HEQC includes what was then called “knowledge based community service” along with teaching and research as one of the three areas for the accreditation of academic programmes and the audit of higher education institutions. In 2004 the HEQC included community engagement and service-learning in its Criteria for Programme Accreditation (HEQC, 2004) and its Criteria for Institutional Audits (HEQC, 2004). At an institutional level, numerous South African universities have: developed and adopted institutionwide policies for community engagement (including service-learning); developed strategies for implementing these policies; established organisational and staffing structures for implementation; allocated the necessary resources to facilitate implementation; and developed numerous accredited academic courses that include the principles and practice of service-learning.

etween 2002 and 2007 JET/ CHESP supported the development and implementation of 256 accredited academic courses across 39 different academic disciplines in 12 South African universities including almost 10 000 students from first year through to Master’s level. The monitoring, evaluation and research of many of these courses led to the publication of A Good Practice Guide and Self-evaluation Instruments for Managing the Quality of Service-Learning (HEQC/ JET, 2006). As its titles suggests, the Good Practice Guide is intended to provide guidelines to South African universities with regard to the development, implementation and management of service-learning. The above publication was complemented by a further publication entitled Service-Learning in the Curriculum: A Resource for Higher Education Institutions (HEQC/ JET, 2006). This publication is intended to assist academic staff with the conceptualisation and implementation of academic programmes that include service-learning. During the development of the above two publications, academics across South Africa requested that the publications be complemented by practical examples of courses that illustrate service-learning.

Consequently, a number of academics across several academic disciplines were invited to contribute to this particular publication entitled Service-Learning in the Disciplines: Lessons from the Field. The intention of this publication is to illustrate how service-learning has been conceptualised and implemented in different academic disciplines and to record the lessons learnt through this process. While the subject matter of each case study included in this publication may be discipline-specific, the lessons learnt cut across disciplines and should be informative to any academic interested in the inclusion of service-learning in their academic offerings regardless of their academic discipline.