Exploring the role of service-learning in human development: perspectives of staff, students and community members
Mtawa, Ntimi Nikusuma
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Higher education institutions (HEIs) and particularly universities are increasingly being linked to debates about development. This perspective is dominated by two schools of thought. On the one hand, universities are positioned as drivers of individuals’ and nations’ economic development. On the other hand, apart from an economic focus, there is an emerging discourse that calls upon universities to advance broader human development. The study is premised on two arguments. One, the overemphasis on economic imperatives of universities undermines and neglects their social values related to human development. Two, in the scholarly works focusing on universities and human development, more work focusing on specific and concrete strategies that can enable universities to promote such notions of development is needed. This study builds on and contributes to the universities and human development debate by arguing that service-learning (SL) has great potential and some challenges to enable universities to promote human development. Traditionally, SL is positioned as a mechanism through which universities could achieve both educational and social purposes. These purposes include, among other things, enhancing pedagogical practices, fostering citizenship capacities, advancing social justice and developing civic-minded graduates. Generally, these purposes frame SL as a potential contributor to human development within and beyond universities’ boundaries. However, in spite of these potentials, SL is understudied and often its values are assessed in relation to students’ academic credentials and personal development, with less attention to benefits for communities. In response to these gaps in universities and human development perspectives and the SL field, the study explores the role of SL in human development from the perspectives of university lecturers, students and external community members. The study is guided by a central research question that focuses on the contribution of SL to human development. The study is situated within the interpretivist paradigms, in which qualitative methods are employed to explore the perspectives of staff, students and community members on SL. The study collected qualitative data using document analysis, in-depth interviews, focus groups and observations. The study integrated the Human Development (HD) and Capability Approach (CA) advanced by Mahbub ul Haq, Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, and the notions of Participatory Parity, Transformative and Affirmative remedies of Nancy Fraser, as conceptual and theoretical frameworks. Both HD and CA were used to analyse and theorise the role of SL in enhancing capabilities and promoting human development. Based on these frameworks, I argue that SL can enhance capabilities and promote human development values. However, to do this, its design and implementation ought to be foregrounded in procedural principles for human development such as agency, empowerment, participation and sustainability. The outcomes of the analysis is a CA- and HD-informed framework for SL, in which I propose capabilities and HD values as a response to SL design and implementation in the direction of human development. The dominant capabilities suggested by students, community members and lecturers include multi-layered affiliation, narrative imagination, local citizenship, critical thinking/reflection, learning, knowledge and skills, capacity to aspire, public good-related professional capabilities, and citizenship capacities formation. The human development values and related processes include inclusive and active participation, a sense of empowerment and agency, enhanced sustainability, diversity literacy, space for deliberation, participatory parity, and reasoning, and advancing partial (remediable) justice. However, promoting these HD values and related processes in and through SL faces a number of conundrums and tensions. HD and CA frame SL into two spectrums. At one end, they conceptualise SL as a strategy through which universities can advance public good and human development of the communities in which they are located. At the other, HD and CA enable us to interrogate the unexamined discourses of power and privilege, which act as barriers to transformative potentials of SL. I conclude the theorisation of the study with a proposed expansive SL framework that could enable the modification and improvement of SL in the interest of promoting social justice in a grassroots and empowering fashion.