Service-Learning in Belgium
Although experiential education has been part and parcel of Higher Education practices in Belgium, service-learning was barely known as a pedagogical concept until recently. In 2012, the University of Ghent (UGent) started a pilot program to explore the possibilities of service-learning within the university, and to establish a university-wide service-learning course for 3th year bachelor students (“coaching and diversity”). Two years later, at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), service-learning found its way bottom-up, starting with a pilot course in Chinese Studies, and quickly broadening in scope to 16 service-learning courses throughout the university by 2019. In the meantime, a service-learning team has been established to support all these and future courses.
Service-learning was recently also adopted and adapted to the local context by other universities in Flanders (Dutch speaking region), such as the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen), and the University of Hasselt (UHasselt). At the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Antwerp, service-learning is meaningfully linked to a long(er) tradition of ‘Science Shops’ (Wetenschapswinkel), where students perform their thesis research for non-profit organizations.
In the Walloon (French speaking) region, some initiatives have been taken in the last two years (especially in the universities of Namur, Liège and Brussels). While universities have only recently began to explore the concept of service-learning, vocational schools (‘Hogescholen’) in Flanders, such as Odisee, VIVES, HoGent, UCLL and Karel de Grote-Hogeschool, have been experimenting with service-learning for a long time without using that name. They have a great deal of experience with experiential education connected with society.
In 2015 these institutions have made the commitment to integrate service-learning in their teacher training programmes.
In order to bring together all existing experience, expertise and knowledge in an appreciative way, an informal network was established in Flanders in the spring of 2019. In this network, supported by UCSIA, vocational schools and universities exchange good practices and knowledge. They work in close cooperation with the ‘Ecocampus’ program within the Flemish Environment, Nature and Energy Department (LNE), as they focus on sustainable Higher Education.
All higher education institutions mentioned above have been working together to prepare a Flemish conference on service-learning, that will take place in the context of the 2nd European conference in Antwerp, 19-21 September 2019.