Exploring community benefits in community based learning : a study of an international community based learning initiative in Wentworth, Durban
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Community Based Learning (CBL) is a pedagogy that h as been fast tracked by the South African government as a means to make universities more relevant to local communities and assist with development initiatives sorely need ed across the country. The approach is also gaining popularity in its own right in institu tions of higher education in South Africa. But the issues of entering and working with communities are complex, and become even more complex when the students placed in local communities are international students. The purpose of this study was to explore the CBL programme of the School for International Training (SIT) in Wentworth, Durban and to identify the benefits and challenges to the community from the perspective of the community. A qualitative, descriptive design was used to garner rich informat ion of the perceptions and experiences of community members involved in the CBL programme. The study employed purposive, convenience sampling to select community members wh o have been involved as community workers or homestay families so as to ‘illuminate’ the research question. Personal interviews and focus groups were conducted with these community members. Content analysis was done on the data generated and to ensure credibility, data triangulation was done using a field journal and st udent reflection papers from selected semesters of the CBL programme. The overall findings indicate that the Community Ba sed Organizations (CBOs) and the homestay families did benefit from the programme. T he organizations did not want the ‘help’ of the students, and found their dwelling on service as patronizing. The community appreciated its dual roles of being teachers and le arners: with organizations in particular having their experience and knowledge affirmed as t eachers of Community Development (CD). The community believed that students could be strong role models for local youth. The presence of the students within the community a lso led to an increased interest within the community of Coloured history, culture and iden tity. In terms of CBL the presence of the students led to an increase in volunteerism amo ngst homestay families and other families wanting to host students in the future. The programme also led to a substantive, if brief, increase in the goodwill between the often feuding community organizations of Wentworth. Finally, there was also lingering hope t hat the students and SIT as an institution would deliver better prospects for families and organizations such as funding, building networks and lasting personal relationship s. The community also noted costs to the interactions, mainly in the form of inappropriate behaviour of some students, both in homestays and within the community in general. These included ethnocentric behaviour as well as the use of drugs and alcohol. These were cited as negatively affecting the impressionable youth of Wentworth. The study concludes that benefits do accrue to the community, but the relationships within the programme need to be nurtured and the whole initiative viewed as a process. International CBL programmes can be fraught with intercultural concerns and misunderstandings and thus take significant time to nurture must be approached with great caution. Attention must be paid to power differenti als that may exist, and visiting universities must be honest with communities in the ir needs and what they are prepared to give. These programmes, if not managed properly, have the potential to become extractive and follow patterns set by failed development projects.
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