The Role of Social Entities in Service Learning
Service-Learning in Spain
Service-Learning is an identity element of the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, a Jesuit university in Madrid (Spain). The commitment to Service-Learning has to do with the university’s own mission: which professionals we want to train and what for do we want to train them. It is an institutionalized model that starts from the Rectorate; a project that is developed within the strategic plan of the university. In this institutional model of Service-Learning, the role played by social entities play is critical, because pretends to emphasize the use of the service as a model of learning. It is often preferred to name it learning-IN-service.
It involves confronting the student to a social problem and being able to analyse it, get involved in it, and solve it by putting at work knowledge, personal abilities and academic skills. However, we must be cautious in talking about social commitment as defined by Aramburuzabala, McIlrath and Opazo (2016) in the Europe Engage project “An innovative pedagogical approach that integrates meaningful engagement or community service with the curriculum, and provides students with academic credits for learning that stems from active community engagement and the opportunity to work on real problems. Experiential reflection and learning strategies underpin the learning process and service is tied to academic discipline.” Service is essential in the SL. However, commitment cannot be assured. The term “integrate” in the above definition should therefore be deleted, as it is understood more as an aspirational element than purely conceptual.
A third component of S-L at the Pontificial University of Comillas is the relational component. S-L is the perfect tool to create university community. It is a way of relating (formatively) very different from what comes to be traditional models. In this sense it is worth highlighting the inclusion of other actors in the educational process that are not only the regular ones (students, teachers and social entities), such as the professional people who contribute their expertise and knowledge. For us, working with (for) the Third Sector is, therefore, not only an element for networking but also a multidirectional learning process where every stakeholder takes away some kind of educational outcome (curricular or social). Even more, a fourth component of our model is professional related public, which are those persons who mentorship the students with technical skills from a purely professional approach. Apart for guaranteeing the quality of the service, this brings a differentiated, although unpredicted, value in the experience of S-L: professionals also learn about the social realities to which they would not otherwise have access; the interaction between professionals and students implies a mutual enrichment of the experience. It is a way, in short, to build community with a common goal in which all actors learn and serve.
Turning to social entities, in the early years of the institutionalization of S-L program (2014 -2017) they were invited to participate as “customers”: organizations that had a social need that could be resolved by our students who somehow, they acted in a “consultant” role. The students should understand the problem raised, agree with the entities on deliverables, work schedule and meetings.
They have to work to meet those requests in the most effective and appropriate taking into account the identified needs. The key issue was that the “customer” was satisfied at the end of the experience. Contact with the final beneficiaries was sometimes not even necessary, as the problems were sorted out with the social entities technical staff. “Thanks to this initiative we are going to achieve something that we couldn’t do because of the level of resources we have”
As from 2017, there has been a change in the relationship with entities. Now relationships are understood rather as companions of the educational process of the students, sharing with them the definition of the educational objectives of the service. They therefore intervene as partners, companions, participants, etc., rather than as customers who receive. They become more and better involved in the processes and make students more involved in the social problems in which they are immersed, using the learning-service as an element of raising- awareness in a more determined and systematic way.
“We thought the SL was a very good idea when it came to us, you needed us and we needed you”; “We don’t just care what students can give us, which is a lot because we could not do it because of a lack of human resources. It is not the same as what a consultant firm can offer you in a pro-bono basis, because it is true that they have more resources, but they have a standard working method, they are not flexible. We look forward to participating in this in a “I give you, you give me” scheme. Universities need to promote these initiatives so that people can become aware and start getting to know the real world.” This idea was repeated by several of the entities that work with our University. Also, it was appointed the idea of having a joint experience of mentoring-social entities and students.
By Carlos Ballesteros,
Head of the ICADE Business and Social Guidance Service
Universidad Pontificia Comillas