“We don’t want students to go to communities with the idea that they are there to help others, that communities have problems that experts (professors and university students) come to fix, much less that they think they are better than community members because they are more educated or have more scientific skills […] Social change is closely aligned with a social justice agenda that aims to work for a society in which individuals and groups have access to equal treatment and a fair share of opportunities and benefits”. (Osman and Petersen, 2013: 8-9)
Service-learning (SL) has spread throughout the world especially in the last 50 years, generating a substantial contribution to the revision of teaching methods in formal education systems. It can be defined as a teaching methodology –and also a philosophy- that seeks to promote student learning through the design of solidarity activities that seek to respond to the genuine needs of communities. SL develops its educational potential by connecting social demands with academic learning, promoting the development of transversal skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication and social commitment.
The projects and pedagogical proposals focused on SL present these three programmatic characteristics simultaneously:
- They require the development of solidarity service actions aimed at addressing real and felt needs of a community.
- They are actively engaged by the students in each of their phases, from planning to evaluation.
- They are intentionally connected to the teaching content, both in terms of curricular guidances and the development of professional and citizenship skills.
In recent decades, the questioning of traditional teaching models and their inadequacy to the demands of the knowledge society has promoted the development of so-called “active pedagogies”, aimed not only at promoting the construction of scientific knowledge, but also at developing “soft” and socio-emotional skills.
Educational institutions are called upon to promote, beyond disciplinary and/or professional knowledge, the acquisition of skills that make active citizen participation and sustained commitment to the local, national and global community possible. Numerous publications show a growing interest in better articulating the missions around the concept of “committed university” and “university social responsibility”.
Faced with the enormous challenges of our time, several international higher education meetings at the global and regional levels have issued declarations emphasizing the need to strengthen the social participation of universities associated with the objectives of sustainable development by 2030 (United Nations, Target 4.7). Their representatives have even promoted local development processes that require the formation of networks and the joint work of educational institutions and social organizations with the public sector, in order to address structural issues that cannot be changed by the participation of teachers and students alone.