Historical Memory of Service-Learning in European Higher Education
Service-Learning in Lithuania
Service-learning within the Lithuanian higher education is in general concentrated within two universities, namely the Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) and Šiauliai University. Service-learning was first introduced under the influence of the United States of American (USA) to promote democratic changes and strengthen civic society in post-soviet Lithuania. Therefore, the introduction service-learning was perceived as a ‘borrowing’ that needed to be culturally adapted and adjusted to the local context.
Lithuanian authors have pointed out the cultural and historical differences between USA and Lithuania, which created different conditions for service-learning and indicated a need for cultural adaptation and interpretation.
Since the 2000s cultural interpretations of service-learning has gone through several stages (Mažeikis and Lenkauskaitė, 2008). The first stage between 2002 – 2003 engaged a period of analysis that incorporated the studying of texts and experiences by authors of service-learning within other countries and mostly within the USA. At that time, it was noted that the idea of service had negative connotations within the Lithuanian context and it was suggested to introduce Cooperative Studies (Kooperuotos studijos) instead of service-learning as a term (Mažeikis, 2004, 2007).
The second stage was called period of Creative misreading when between 2004 and 2006 a whole series of seminars and discussions were held, and a range of popular and scientific articles were published at Siauliai University, where initial teaching and learning materials were developed and pilot service-learning sessions took place.
The third phase encompassed the institutionalisation of service-learning at Šiauliai University between 2005 and 2006 (Liukinevičienė, 2007). During the fourth stage, systemic and wide implementations of service-learning were carried out between 2006 and 2007 when several institutions (namely Šiauliai University, Šiauliai and Panevėžys Colleges) brought eight hundred students and sixty academics into service-learning. During this time forty-four courses were updated and underpinned by service-learning and two hundred communities were engaged. In 2006 – 2008 a new stage of quantitative and qualitative evaluations and intensive scholarly discussions commenced to reflect on the experiences.
It is important to note that significant financial support from EU Structural funds programmes created a foundation for the strong institutionalisation of service-learning at several institutions in Lithuania (mostly at Šiauliai University) and allowed for the development of experimental practice of service-learning on large scale. Other EU projects CIVICUS (2004-2006) and Europe Engage (2014-2017) that were implemented at Vytautas Magnus University also contributed to establishing a European network of service-learning institutions and were focused on research and evaluation of service-learning practices across Europe.
However, this brief historical overview of service-learning in Lithuania reveals the significant role that external donors and sponsors played in initial developments (US institutions in earlier 2000s and EU funds starting from 2004 when Lithuania joined EU). Despite successes, these circumstances raise questions on sustainability and viability of service-learning in Lithuania. Without local initiatives and essential efforts to promote civic engagement and citizenship education on national and regional level, service-learning remains episodic and fragmentary practice with weak historical and cultural roots.