Sunday, July 22, 2018

Inclusiveness in Service-Learning

This year (2018) the theme of the IARSLCE research conference on service-learning and civic engagement is inclusiveness.  The participants of the conference is pre-dominantly American, and female. Among the several hundred (400?) people there, it seems no more than a couple dozen are non-Americans.   The keynote speaker is a female black professor.  The key issue appears to be the inclusion of ethnic minorities in the USA, particularly blacks, and even more particularly female blacks.  It seems the focus is on who should be served.  But the participants in service-learning is also an issue.  

In the closing plenary session, I raised a number of issues related to inclusiveness, in the field of service-learning.  First of all, the academic disciplines involved are lopsided - the hard science and engineering are hardly represented.  It is not that there are no service-learning activities involving engineering.  Universities such as Purdue and programs such as EPICS are doing really interesting and impactful work.  But they are largely missing from this conference.  

Then there are these service-learning communities outside of the USA.  In 2016, I went to a service-learning conference in Buenos Aires in Argentina which had been running for 19 years, attended by 600 people from all over South America: Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, …  There were only a dozen people there, including myself, who could not speak Spanish.  The way they run service-learning is quite different from the American model. 

And then there is Asia.  Our university has organised 2 international service-learning conferences in Hong Kong (2014, 2016), each attended by ~200 people.  And we are going to organise a third in early 2019.  There the participants are from Hong Kong, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, …,   with only a handful of Americans.  We are learning that the American model of service-learning has to be adapted to the Asian environment. 

And then there is Africa.  And Europe.  The communities of service-learning itself are hugely diverse.  How can we bring them together?

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