Sometimes, the focus of the service-learning experience is not on the community (D’Arlach, Sanchez, & Feuer, 2009). Take, for example, students building houses.
Research on service-learning is largely focused on the student experience rather than the views of the community. When students go into the community, they do not always have the skills to make it possible to fully commit to the community served. Community based organizations usually say they are grateful for help. But the lack of skills, availability, and short duration of commitment are problems with service-learning.
Instead of sending students to help build houses, for which they may not have the skills, it might be more useful to have them apply skills they already have.
Although service-learning can be useful for teaching students valuable skills and promoting a sense of purpose, it is important to factor the community experience into student-based service-learning. Long after the student completes the service, the community members have to manage a poorly built house. Instead of sending out inexperienced students, it could be more beneficial to the community to promote community employment, or for community members to teach students skills the community can use.
By Bess Wilhelms, Clark University, USA
D’Arlach, L., Sanchez, B., & Feuer, R. (2009). Voices from the community: The case for reciprocity in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 16(1), 5-16.
Worrall, L. (2007). Asking the community: A case study of community partner perspectives. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 14(1), 5-17.