Helderberg College stands on the threshold of a new future. In response to fundamental changes in South Africa and throughout the world, the college is transforming its function, role and purpose so as to respond to new needs and environmental conditions. In this goal Helderberg College is not alone. Throughout the world, institutions of higher education are facing the challenge of engaging more closely with surrounding communities, developing an intellectual foundation for such engagement and integrating seamlessly the key aspects of the college’s mission: teaching, research and service. In the Republic of South Africa, national policy has identified service as central to its educational goals. The Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) requires “community service” to be part of an in institutional audits, while on the other hand the Council for Higher Education (CHE) includes in its policy, critical cross-field outcomes (team work, problem solving, citizenship, learning and research skills).
Helderberg College’s Mission Statement
“Helderberg College is committed to excellence in higher education. Therefore, it seeks to provide an optimal environment in which faculty and students can mutually search for, assess and acquire the knowledge, skills, virtues and understanding necessary for a lifetime of education, service and leadership. In so doing, it seeks to further, both directly and indirectly, God’s cause in the world.”
Helderberg College’s philosophy is anchored on:
- Excellence in education,
- An attitude of service,
- and A sense of mission to the world.
Helderberg College is committed to the integration of academic learning, teaching, and research with service to and in the communities of Helderberg College, within the context of partnerships.
Why Service Learning? Tertiary institutions in South Africa are called on to promote active citizenship, to be relevant and responsive, civically engaged and committed to social change. In the Republic of South Africa, national policy has identified service as central to its educational goals. The Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) requires community service in institutional audits while the Council for Higher Education (CHE) includes in its policy, critical cross-field outcomes (team work, problem solving, citizenship, learning and research skills)
Steps in Implementing “Service Learning” at Helderberg College
The service-learning requirement is characterised by the following:
- An academic staff member integrates a service-learning component in an existing course or integrates it in a new course s/he is designing.
- The service requirement is 20-40 hours during the semester.
- The service experience is with a service and/or community agency, which the academic staff member has chosen, either with the help of the service-learning/ community engagement office on campus or through his/her own connections.
- Reflection activities are conducted by the academic staff member, both in and out of the lecture hall.
- Student reflections are integrated with module subject matter in order to ensure academic learning, as well as effective service.
- The academic staff member monitors the service experiences of his/her students.
- The evaluation of the student’s service-learning experience is included in the module assessment criteria and is done by the academic staff member, with feedback from the community and service agency supervisors.
Possible impact of Civic Engagement (CE) programs:
The blending of the HBC academic programs with civic engagement and practical community-based training has generally brought about understanding and reciprocity between HBC and the communities in which they engage. This interactive process will have far-reaching outcomes for the students, the HBC and their respective communities.
- a) Impact on students
Broadly, the key impact on HBC Students will be twofold:
- There will be an attitudinal impact in that participation in civic engagement activities will result in more favourable attitudes towards working in deprived communities. Students will have a better appreciation of community problems and needs.
- The other possible and significant impact is the opportunity for experiential learning and the ability to have a real-life application of the concepts that had been taught, thus making the theory more meaningful and resulting in a more effective real world preparation.
These key impacts result in the following benefits to students:
- Participants acquire leadership and communication skills;
- Students are better prepared for post higher education;
- Students are more professional in their approach;
- Students become more employable and are more competitive in the job market;
- Students have the opportunity for socio-cultural learning;
- Networking opportunities might lead to longer-term employment (over 60 percent of students in Australia ); and,
- Civic engagement has an impact on setting new career directions – some students might change their career prospects after their community-based experiences.
There is a possible reciprocity or mutuality of beneficiation between Students and HBC on the one hand, and the community on the other. For example, HBC Students will provide transmission of knowledge and techniques to entrepreneurs, but this knowledge and experiences transfer will also go the opposite way from entrepreneurs to students. Learning will become learning
- b) Impact on the community
At a general level, HBC civic engagement will significantly improve the social, economic, and political condition of beneficiary communities. Apart from being empowered through various programs, including greater access to education, cultural development, micro entrepreneurship, health, and literacy, communities also will benefit from tangible infrastructural projects realized through the partnership between the HBC and local government structures. Civic engagement programs furthermore will provide training and support to NGOs and community-based organizations, and important gains will be realised in building the capacity of local government officials for improved service delivery. Beneficiaries are variously described as citizens of the community, voluntary organizations or community-based organizations, and micro entrepreneurs. The most significant impact will be the direct impact on the lives of the beneficiaries in terms of awareness and better knowledge, better techniques and better opportunities or living conditions. In other words the beneficiaries will be empowered. Other aspects of the impact felt at community level are:
- A ‘domino’ effect – themes of projects are diffused to other locations, and the initiatives can be catalysts for social change or similar projects in other locations;
- Results in involvement from local and provincial government in providing infrastructure;
- Accurate information is provided to the media to inform stakeholders in the projects concerned;
- Access to education for disadvantaged communities;
- General development of a civic culture and skills for participation in a multiparty democracy;
- A social network of support, and the provision of a gateway for community / voluntary sectors into HBC; and Organizations are assisted to complete projects that would otherwise have been put onto the back burner.
- c) Impact on HBC
Civic engagement will facilitate the forging of sustainable, interactive links between the college and its communities. It will give the college an opportunity to provide services and widen their sphere of research and learning, by extending their activities into new fields. Through different programs the college will manage to build relationships of trust and improve its public image among local communities. Community-based interaction will also provide HBC with opportunities to collaborate with other stakeholders in the development arena such as private sector companies and government agencies. These networks will facilitate employment, recognition, and funding opportunities for students and faculty.
- d) Impact at the Faculty or institutional level is as follows:
- Enhanced public / community image of HBC;
- Enhanced awareness of social needs and problems;
- Valuable research results that could, inter alia, influence public policy. Improved capacity to provide useful services to address the needs of communities. Possible receipt of national awards for successful social service programs;
- Networking with industry, putting theory into practice;
- Opportunities for collaboration, e.g. publishing papers jointly, participating in seminars, and engaging in joint ventures with communities;
- Learning how to conduct productive negotiations through dialogue; and
- Being able to make important contributions to new knowledge in the world.
HBC CE FUTURE PLAN
- Expand / improve / enhance the work that is currently being done;
- Promote appropriate partnerships between government, other universities, and agencies involved in social development;
- Include / integrate civic engagement in the curriculum as a requirement for graduation;
- Initiate more voluntary service;
- Conduct research into specific problems; and
- Establish a unit / center to drive civic engagement.
CE Provides Opportunities for Networking
- Networks are a point of contact, enabling those involved in civic engagement to establish partnerships more effectively and encourage collaboration.
- They also play a role in establishing interested contacts that may be useful in accessing funding. Very often, these networks are able to provide some funding directly.
- Networks act as a forum for discussion, and as a place in which research papers linked with civic engagement can be presented. This reinforces the academic nature of civic engagement that is so important in light of the challenge that many academics face of civic engagement not being recognized as an academic endeavour.
- Networks also play a role in creating awareness among higher education institutions as well as government, media, and funders, of the role that higher education can and should be playing in social development.
- Good networks can also introduce institutions to a range of new practices and ideas. Networks could provide workshops and active training for faculty and staff on the practice of civic engagement. There is also the potential for universities to support each other through networks, by playing a more direct role in coordinating partnerships and sharing resources such as training, manuals, infrastructure, and expertise.
- The potential of establishing student networks of civic engagement.
- Networks are not always seen in a positive light. Networks might create competition among universities for funding and good civic engagement opportunities.