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In their latest round of posts, UETLA grantees reflected on the teaching philosophies that inform their community engagement work.

Sunitha Srinivas of Rhodes University in South Africa opened her post with some ancient wisdom from Socrates that’s still relevant in a 21st century context: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

Jordaan_groupMany grantees echoed this sentiment. Themes emerged about what this type of “flame-kindling” teaching might look like: promoting critical thinking? Developing leadership? Inculcating flexible and lateral thinking? Constructivist teaching? Elvis Akomoneh of Saint Monica University in Cameroon framed it as “constructing a scaffolding” that will support students as life-long learners.

All seemed to agree that this type of teaching requires great skill, humility, vulnerability, and commitment; not to mention a departure from business as usual in the university classroom.

For most of the grantees, civic engagement initiatives, community partnerships, and service learning projects provide the contexts that allow this type of deep, authentic learning to take place.

According to Sunitha, the students at the University of Rhodes aren’t just training to become pharmacists, but leaders who are also poised to make an impact in health justice and advance health as a human right. Focusing on prevention and community empowerment instead of the traditional “Disease-Drug-Dispense” model requires a new type of learning environment, one that Sunitha’s students find by partnering with the local St. Mary’s Development and Care Center.

The Faculty of Pharmacy’s community engagement initiatives also spark cross-disciplinary collaboration, like when pharmacy students worked with the computer science department to develop a computer-based health education quiz that piloted at the South African Science Festival, SciFest.

Another South African educator, Martina Jordaan, writes about the Community-based project module she implemented for the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria; the first time service learning was incorporated into the curriculum. Martina says the module incorporates the work of educational theorist David Kolb, and is rooted in “project-based, problem-based and enquiry-based learning.” This gives students skills and understandings that would be difficult to develop in a traditional classroom: students form their own teams, negotiate with community leaders on choosing and developing projects, and coordinate with the community on implementation. Ultimately, says Martina, students “are expected to construct their own knowledge and understanding of a learning opportunity.”

Community engagement also helps “kindle the flame” in Elvis Akomoneh’s nursing students at Saint Monica University in Cameroon, many of whom spend their time at Saint Monica preparing to run franchised health centers in Cameroon’s underserved communities. Elvis writes that his own educational experience informs his pedagogical approach today: although he graduated as a top hematology student, his program never actually taught students how to draw blood. Today, Elvis is committed to teaching practical skills and a relevant curriculum.

This is tricky, though – Elvis acknowledges that what’s “relevant” is constantly changing, a process fueled by rapidly advancing medical technology. Elvis, like other UETLA grantees, stresses that the end goal in this context must be to “produce learners that are [able] to easily integrate into any environment and proactive enough to provide solutions to new challenges.”

Kindling flames, indeed!