Challenges, benefits and experiences of distance service-learning in an African context : a thematic analysis.
Over the past decade, research in the field of service-learning with a special focus on the notion of social justice has been growing progressively. Distance service-learning, being a fairly new concept, has not been researched to the same extent as more traditional approaches to service-learning. Located within a social justice framework, this qualitative interpretive study explored the challenges, benefits, and experiences of a distance service-learning programme in an African context (Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Lesotho). Students and members of community organisations from these countries participated in a pilot programme of the “REPSSI/UKZN certificate programme”. This study focussed on their experiences of the service-learning module. Telephonic interviews were conducted with the participants. The experiences of the students and the community organisations that hosted them are analysed and discussed in the context of an Afrocentric perspective. With regards to doing service-learning by distance learning students reported struggling with a lack of face-to-face interactions with their instructors. Another main finding in this research was that some student participants’ personal economic instability complicated their experiences. The notion of Ubuntu was very present in the findings, students explained the many ways in which their service-learning was driven by an Afrocentric paradigm. Both student participants and members of community organisations explained how beneficial it was for them to be exposed to this programme as it provided the opportunity to receive new knowledge. Although the programme appears to have been mutually beneficial, the lack of learning reported by the students and their emphasis on the service aspect of service-learning is of concern. Students limited reports of engaging with reflection, and the absence of any details of what they learnt from the programme or from engaging with communities, raises concerns about any level of social justice being achieved.