Saturday, November 17, 2012
Catching Up in Service-Learning
Service Learning in some form or the other has long been broadly accepted wisdom in universities in many countries such as the USA. It may appear under different guises or have broader or narrower meanings, such as community service learning, civic engagement, civic responsibility, ... It may be compulsory or elective. But many universities recognize its academic value.
In Hong Kong (and to some extent in China), we are catching up. More and more service learning subjects and associated service projects are being offered. More and more students are taking them and discovering how meaningful and enjoyable they can be. More and more teachers and educators are seeing the real and tangible benefits.
We are still encountering questions such as: It is good for students to do volunteer work, but why should they be given academic credits? Some students do not want to serve, why should we require/force them to serve? Some students have poor social skills, why should they be asked to serve? It is very hard to assess their performance and how much they learn, why should we do it? It is very expensive to teach this way, why should we do it?
The fact is: Through service learning, our students are becoming more mature, more resilient, more responsible as students as well as citizens. Isn’t it what education is about? Perhaps it is precisely those students who do not want to do it and those who have poor social skills who need it the most? Perhaps it is not as difficult as it seems, as many people have been doing it already? Yes, effective education is expensive; but ignorance, the result of ineffective education, is far more costly.