Service-Learning in Slovakia
Development of service-learning in higher education in Slovakia started at Matej Bel University (MBU) and it can be stated that MBU is the leader in this field in Slovakia, conducting research, solving grants and publishing both at home and abroad. At Elsewhere in Slovakia, only the Prešov University in Prešov devotes any time to service-learning and then only in the education of social workers; the Catholic University of Ružomberok is, at present, only in the initial phases of its introduction. There are also several elementary and secondary schools conducting service-learning pilot projects (many in cooperation with the Volunteer Centre in Banská Bystrica and MBU).
MBU has been working on the development of voluntary student activities since 1998, particularly in cooperation with the regional Volunteer Centre in Banská Bystrica. MBU has been providing service-learning since 2005. It was implemented by one teacher (nowadays coordinator of service-learning at MBU) within the subject Third sector and Nonprofit Organizations in the education of future social workers. Since 2013, the project Development of innovative forms of education at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica has been instrumental in the qualitative and quantitative
development of service-learning at MBU. Based on the assessment of students’ needs, we have applied service-learning since the academic year 2013/2014 to a two-semester optional university subject Service-learning 1 and Service-learning 2 led by an interdisciplinary team of 10 teachers from different departments. In 2016, MBU entered the international programme directed by CLAYSS (Latin American Center for Service-Learning) supporting the development of service-learning at universities. More than 30 teachers from MBU were educated about the implementation of service-learning through on-line and on-line courses offered by CLAYSS. At the same time, a platform for an exchange of information and experience in the field was created. Service-learning was officially confirmed by the rector of the university as a way a university can meet its third mission in 2017. In the academic year 2018/2019, more than 15 subjects at MBU include service-learning pedagogy and 17 teachers were involved in the implementation. The subjects are part of different study programmes in different faculties, mainly: social work, pedagogy, social pedagogy, teacher education in different areas, economics. Since 2013, more than 400 students have participated in service-learning projects in cooperation with different community partners (schools, community centres, municipality, non-governmental organizations, houses for social services, community foundation…). There is no administrative or support staff at department/faculty/university level helping teachers with the administrative issues. The involvement of teachers is not part of their performance; they do not have any special benefits from it or financial motivation. The involvement in service-learning or any community activity is not part of the teachers’ regular evaluation. In 2018, the Fund for Supporting Students’ Service-learning Projects was established at MBU. For the first time, students have the opportunity to obtain support for their project implementation from university sources. The implementation of the university third mission and service-learning in the university curriculum is an important structural issue. We have managed to complete the first steps in the process. The biggest challenge is not so much the formal change but the mental change, which is a long-term and challenging process.
The specificity of service-learning development in Slovak conditions is its connection with education for volunteering and civic engagement. In April 2018, the Strategy for Education of Children and Youth for Volunteering in Slovakia (Koncepcia výchovy a vzdelávania detí a mládeže k dobrovoľníctvu) was adopted by the Minister of Education, Science, Research and Sport.
MBU is actively involved in the Service-learning network in Central and Eastern Europe.