Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning in the United States and South Africa: A Comparative Analysis Informed by John Dewey and Julius Nyerere

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning in the United States and South Africa: A Comparative Analysis Informed by John Dewey and Julius Nyerere

Article excerpt

Service-learning is a teaching strategy increasingly used within higher education (Campus Compact, 2005) both in the United States and abroad (e.g., Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea). The International Partnership for Service-learning and Leadership (IPSL), a nonprofit organization advocating for service-learning experiences linked to study abroad, states that "the idea behind service-learning, of linking the classroom with the larger world, theory with practice, is an idea of worldwide potency" (Tonkin, 2004, p. 5). This paper explores the similarities and differences between service-learning in higher education in the U.S. and South Africa and offers an explanation, based on two theories of education, as to why these similarities and differences exist. Three macro-level dimensions are derived from the work of John Dewey (1916; 1927) and Julius Nyerere (1974) for comparing the U.S. and South African expressions of service-learning in higher education. Finding common ground in these educational philosophies is important for purposes of stimulating constructive dialogue, yet exploring the unique approaches taken in different contexts is an equally important step toward creating a framework for cross-national studies.

Background of Service-Learning in Higher Education

As a relatively new pedagogy (Stanton, Giles, & Cruz, 1999), service-learning has gained prominence in American higher education since its emergence in the early 1990s. The growth of service-learning in the U.S. is due, in large part, to (a) the work of Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents supporting student education for responsible citizenship (see www.compact.org), and (b) the funding of program and course development grants awarded by Learn and Serve America, a program initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service, (a U.S. agency of the federal government; see www.nationalservice.org). The leadership and work of these two organizations coincided with changes within higher education that focused on (a) an increased emphasis on engaged pedagogies (Edgerton, 1994) and active-learning strategies in undergraduate education (Marchese, 1997; Shulman, 2008) and (b) a resurgence of the public roles and responsibilities of American higher education (Boyer, 1994, 1996; Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2000; Maurrasse, 2001). Service-learning has a presence in all institutional types and across all fields of study in American colleges and universities (Campus Compact, 2005; Zlotkowski, 2000), and has been said to have its roots in "the long established American belief in voluntary service ... and in the conjunction of education and practice that lies behind the land-grant colleges of the nineteenth century, yet it has many genealogies in many traditions across the world" (Tonkin, 2004, p. 6).

Corresponding growth of service-learning has taken place in South Africa since 2000 (Lazarus, Erasmus, Hendricks, Nduna, & Slamat, 2008). This growth was initiated by the Joint Education Trust (JET), a private sector initiative comprised of leading South African companies, through the Community-Higher Education Service Partnerships (CHESP) initiative which began in 1999 (see www.chesp.org.za). Sponsored, in part, by the Ford Foundation and the government of South Africa, the CHESP program funded the development of more than 100 service-learning courses, or modules, across eight institutions of higher education in South Africa (Lazarus et. al.).

Service-learning was introduced in South Africa as a well-defined pedagogy at the time that South Africa was undergoing a "comprehensive agenda for higher education transformation" (Badat, 2003, p. 12) to commit resources to engage more meaningfully with the communities the higher education institutions served. Through the CHESP initiative, teams of South Africans visited selected campuses in the U. …

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