Service-learning prepares graduates for the future

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia students at the My Asean Community Initiative in Kampung Sanchey, Wilayah Kratie, Cambodia.

STUDIES have identified positive improvement in the competencies of students who attended internship or industrial training.

In other studies, significant changes were noted in undergraduates’ attributes after they completed certain courses, particularly in terms of their teamwork skills as well as professional abilities.

However, not all undergraduates completed their industrial training or have internship opportunities.

Not all educators emphasise improvingtheir students’ generic and professional skills in the classroom or projects.

At the same time, the classroom or lecture method of learning does not give students “real experience”. Learning in the classroom is limited to discussions and learning theories. Real-life situations, as some scholars argue, can only be experienced in field studies outside the classroom.

The Education Ministry stresses on the implementation of High Impact Educational Practices which include 11 best practices in teaching and learning.

Among them are firstyear seminars and experiences, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, writing-intensive course, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity or global learning, serviceor community-based learning, internships, e-portfolios, capstone courses and projects for final-year students.

These practices have been widely tested and shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds.

So, what is service-learning? It is defined as a method of teaching and learning that utilises experience in providing service to the society.

It is an approach that combines academic learning objectives, soft skills and students’ community service by giving meaningful contributions to society. Service-learning has been widely implemented in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia since 1970s.

The method has its root in John Dewey’s theory of experience. Although Dewey never addresses the specifics of service-learning, yet his writing closely informs and links the philosophy of education to theory of inquiry, experience, social service and social transformation.

Experiential learning is a process of learning through experiencing or learning by doing.

It immerses students in an experience and then encourages them to reflect on the experience in order to develop new skills, new attitudes or new ways of thinking. Technically, servicelearning is part of experiential learning that ful fils a course’s learning objectives by performing services in the community.

Srvice-learning is part of an experiential learning approach that links students with their immediate community. It differs slightly from volunteer work although many consider the two comparable. This transformative method of teaching and learning provides avenues for students to engage in structured activities intentionally designed to enhance their learning and community service while fulfilling their needs.

Service-learning blends community service with specific course goals. At the beginning of the term, students will be informed from the course syllabus that community service will be part of their assignment and assessment, and that service-learning is one of the approaches of learning they will experience.

By the end of the semester/course, meaningful learning aims and community service can be reciprocally achieved.

So what are the advantages of servicelearning?

It increases retention of academic

content by providing students with experiences that have real-life consequences.

The students may find out that the science and theories they learn in classes are relevant and applicable in real-life situations. In a long run, service-learning produces future-ready graduates who are holistic and are able to function well in a society.

Various studies on service-based learning have proven that students can improve their academic achievements, build leadership skills and strengthen their desire to serve the community. In fact, experience in service-learning has given students the added professional and career advantage, apart from inculcating civic consciousness and providing ethical services to society.

It also improves and fosters students’ life skills and qualities such as self-discipline, team-building, collaboration, respect for others, respect for quality work, character growth and interpersonal and community engagement.

University students are exposed to positive community service experiences during their undergraduate years, which allow them to learn about life skills and build understanding and caring connections to the world around them. In addition, students connect with people living abroad which enriches knowledge and broadens their horizon and way of thinking.

By Dr Najah Nadiah Amran.

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