• Service-learning in higher education

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    THE time-old threefold function of higher education is research, instruction and extension. In Philippine state colleges and universities, production has been added as a fourth function.  All these functions are supposedly tied up together, each, in the service of the other for higher education to be truly a potent provider to society of useful services and products. However, often these functions in actual practice seem to be alien from one another in that there seems to be minimal or no relationship among them — minimal if at all, in coordinating planning and executing them.

    Research and instruction.  Ideally, what is taught in class is supposedly the product of scientific search for truth of an aspect of reality being studied via the research function of higher education. Keeping up to contemporary thought or latest research findings in one’s discipline is an obligation of an academic. Even a course in ancient history can be better appreciated not only in the context of its own time but its impact on present day thought as well.  In this sense, research is in the service of instruction.

    Research and extension. As a service to society, higher education extends its expertise to an individual or groups of individuals or communities. Thus, universities have activities known as extension services or outreach programs. Through their students, assisted/supervised by faculty members or staff, universities extend their expertise to help provide the needs of a community – usually a chosen community within their respective catchment areas. A needs analysis precedes determination of the nature and activities of the outreach. In this simple way, research is in the service of the extension function.

    Instruction and extension.  A university shares its knowledge in the service of mankind.

    Along with the academics in charge of outreach, a university extends its expertise in a number of ways.  Nursing students teach/train the adults such as mothers the practical ways to provide proper healthcare to their families.  Home Economics students could teach housewives affordable recipes for better nutrition. Business students can coach small sari-sari owners on the basics of bookkeeping while considering the size — small/medium enterprises. Law students can do legal advising on popular law. Education students can teach IP’s numeracy and literacy, etc.  It is through this loop of relationships of the three functions that the practice of sending students to extension posts (at times doubling with on-the-job-training) that complete the mutuality of  this  threefold function of higher education in the simplest manner.

    Extension as “service learning.”  The new millennium has brought about much thought on extension or outreach or community service as a third function of higher education.

    Modern day forces foster emphasis on the reformed function of universities from being ivory towers to be social catalysts to meet, what Ernest Boyer (1990) calls, “the compelling needs of contemporary society.”

    In its unique ways, a university addresses the threefold function of higher education as expressed in its mission statements and goals. Through these statements, a university defines its identity – its vision of itself as an institution of higher learning, its institutional aspiration as to what it would like to be, with what it wants to be associated or known for, the relationships it would like to foster with the local community, regionally, nationally, and in the view of internationalization, its relationship as a Filipino university with Asean as well as to the rest of the world. However worded a university’s vision, mission and goals are, these statements could simply remain as printed words. It is how the university shapes the dynamics of its threefold function that incarnates the service dimension of its mission as a 21st century university.  Service dimension does not only refer to the communities outside the university. It refers to all levels of its constituents – for example, students being prepared for employability across borders, etc,
    So what then is service learning as an emerging trend in Philippine higher education that can animate the service function of higher education? Service learning has taken a mix of cooperative education, project-based outreach, civic engagement, clinical or related learning experience (RLE), field work/practicum, internship  and even volunteerism, albeit, losing some of its essence somewhere in time?

    Service learning as a core component of civic engagement is defined as “a credit-bearing educational experience in which students a) participate in an organized civic activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced set of personal values and civic responsibility.” (Bringle and Hatcher, 1995 p.112).  The vision for service learning is how higher education institutions can connect with their communities to share resources to respond to the “most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems, to our children, to our schools, to our teachers, to our cities“(1996, pp. 19–20). Boyer’s call is aligned with higher education rethinking about how community involvement can change the nature of faculty work, enhance student learning, better fulfil campus mission, and improve the quality of life in communities.”(Bringle, Games, and Malloy, 1999) < https://keycenter.unca.edu/sites/default/files /Innovative_ practices_in_service_learning_and_curricular_engagement.pdf>

    Our hyperlink points to the critical difference and distinguishing characteristic of service learning to be its reciprocity and “balanced emphasis on both students learning and addressing real community needs.”  Syllabi in service-courses link learning objectives “to meaningful human, safety, educational and environmental needs that are co-determined with community partners and service recipients.”  “Lectures, readings, discussions, and reflection activities supplement the student service.”

    Back to the classroom, the service experience is better understood, made more meaningful through discussions and reflections.  Depending on the curricular level of students, studies on real life problems are assigned which “make academic learning relevant while simultaneously enhancing their social skills, analytical ability, civic and ethical responsibility, self-efficacy, and career development.” http://www.uncfsu.edu/civic-engagement/service-learning/ definition-of-service-learning

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    Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, PhD, is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.

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