Office for Service-Learning: Division for Community Interaction

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Vision of the Office

Service-Learning as a transformative, learner-centered and community-oriented pedagogy in all academic programs of the Stellenbosch University

Mission of the Office

The purpose of the Office for Service-Learning is to offer support and capacity to staff and students to promote the integration of community interaction:

  • in the curriculum through service-learning, and

  • into research through community-based research methodologies

A fivefold strategy is followed namely:

  • Strategically positioning service-learning, as a learner-centered community oriented pedagogy, and community-based research in the University,

  • Fostering enabling internal partnerships,

  • Building sustainable external partnerships through which resources can be shared,

  • Designing and offering accredited capacity building programs for faculty, and

  • Offering continuous support to faculty to initiate and implement curricular community interaction

Historical Context

In South Africa, in line with the global trend, universities are embracing service-learning as a teaching methodology because it gives status to the notion of scholarship of engagement that suggests interaction with communities as a scholarly activity involving both educators and learners (Smith -Tolken, 2005). The following historical highlights provide a context for the office:

  • Since 1999, service-learning was established in South African Higher Education Institutions through the leadership of the Community Higher Education Service Partnerships (CHESP) initiative of JET Education Services.

  • In 1999, service-learning was still a new and untested concept in South Africa. Yet, the continuous efforts and keen interest of academic and community leaders contributed to the success of establishing service-learning thus far (Stanton, 2006).

  • These developments are in line with the statement of the National Plan for Higher Education which indicates that community engagement is currently not viewed as an option in South African Higher Education, but as a prerequisite. The general vision for community engagement in South Africa is based on the White Paper on the Transformation of Higher Education (1997).

  • Despite these trends, service-learning is still a peripheral activity in many South African universities.

  • In its vision, Stellenbosch University clearly articulates its response to the call for community engagement in South Africa. The strategic framework of the University adopts a new paradigm for community service: it commits itself both to an inward transformative disposition as well as an outward-oriented role within the developmental challenges in South Africa. Stellenbosch University sets itself the aim create an environment within which ‘knowledge can be discovered, can be shared, and can be applied to the benefit of the community’ (SU Mission Statement).

  • The 2012 vision statement of Stellenbosch University therefore includes community interaction, which is supported by the Community Interaction Policy, as one of the five strategic elements of its mission. The policy indicates a paradigm shift towards curricular-based community interaction with service-learning as a pedagogical model of preference.


In 2004, service-Learning was an unfamiliar concept on the Stellenbosch campus. Since 2005, when the first capacity building program was offered, there was a steady increase in awareness of the pedagogy. The first capacity building program coincided with an international service-learning symposium held on campus in November 2005.The symposium, “Service-Learning:  Models for the 21st Century – Intercommunity, Interdisciplinary, International” was sponsored by Stellenbosch University and the University of Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.  A number of 140 scholars from 4 continents attended this conference that took place over three days. Since then, two more capacity programs were offered which proliferated the service-learning modules offered at this University substantially. Service-learning has become an established practice and is now moving towards institutionalization. The aim is to have at least one service-learning module in each of the academic programs offered by this University by the year 2015.  At Stellenbosch, following the Bringle and Hatcher formulation, service-learning is defined as:
A curriculum-based, credit-bearing and carefully structured educational experience in which students:

  • Participate in an organised community interaction activity that meets identified and agreed upon community goals, and

  • Reflecting on the service activity in order to gain a deeper understanding of module content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of social responsibility towards society as a whole.