Short Communication

Cracking the nut of service-learning in nursing

Hester Julie


Higher education institutions (HEI’s) worldwide are being held more accountable for both the effectiveness and relevance of their educational programmes and are being challenged to “reinsert the public good into higher education”. These reasons have contributed to the development of the service-learning movement globally. In South Africa service-learning became entrenched in HEI policy documents in less than a decade ago. Although there are national policy guidelines for community engagement and service-learning as a particular type of community engagement, the implementation of service-learning has occurred sporadically as HEIs struggling with the many changes at all societal levels.

Whilst the school of nursing at University of the Western Cape is cognizant of this national policy imperative as stipulated in the guidelines of the Higher Education Quality Committee, how these statements will be operationalised within the undergraduate nursing programme has not been addressed. The question that therefore needs to be asked is what teaching staff perceive to be the enablers and challenges for institutionalising service-learning in the programme by exploring the perceptions of those involved in teaching on the programme.

An exploratory, descriptive, contextual design was used. Participants who included academics (n= 18) and clinical supervisors (n= 18) employed at the school of nursing, completed a self- administered, structured questionnaire, adapted from Furco’s self-assessment rubric for the institutionalization of service-learning in Higher Education..

The preliminary results reported here are part of a wider investigation into the implementation of service-learning in selected modules in the undergraduate nursing programme. The findings reveal that the school of nursing has to engage in critical mass building activities because none of the respondents were aware of the Higher Education Quality Committee’s assessment criteria for service-learning. Approximately 9% indicated awareness that the institution has an official definition of service-learning that is used consistently to operationalize most aspects of service-learning on campus. However, the majority (91%) reported on the absence of a campus-wide definition of service-learning; the inconsistent use of service-learning to describe a variety of experiential and service activities, or that they were unsure. Respondents indicated that institutional and departmental for and involvement in service-learning for academics, students and community participation was minimal. Although three respondents attended training sessions, all indicated that they would either like to receive information about the national service-learning policy guidelines, or attend training sessions on service-learning.

It can thus be concluded that the academics and clinical supervisors are willing to participate in activities to overcome the challenges identified. It is therefore recommended that a tailor-made training programme be designed to address the needs of the school of nursing in order to institutionalize service-learning in the undergraduate nursing programme

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service-learning; undergraduate nursing; level of institutionalization;

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2011;3(1):24-25.

Article History

Date submitted: 2011-03-17
Date published: 2011-06-17

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