It has been widely discussed, as well as emphasized, that providing students with opportunities for community outreach activities, internships and field practices within a curriculum that enables students to experience challenges in applying their classroom learning to real-life situations is important, especially in Social Sciences and Humanities. Practice-based learning gives students a significant advantage in the highly competitive world of work. Practical experience helps to improve socio-emotional aspects of employability skills so that the capacity of such students'competentcy for unlimited opportunities available in the world of work will be much higher. Involvement in collective community activities can also contribute to improving their life skills and self-confidence, and it brings about a sense of belonging and social responsibility to their communities. A majority of Arts Faculty study programmes lack provisions for practice-based learner centered-learning and many undergraduates leave studies and the university environment with little confidence and uncertainty about succeeding in future career opportunities in the world of work as they are endowed only by a accumulated body of knowledge, and they lack skills and favourable attitudes. The reviewers of undergraduate study programmes in the Faculty of Arts have frequently emphasized the need to embed internships and community outreach activities to the study programmes.
In recent self-assessments and study programme reviews, the Faculty has strongly identified that it requires a paradigm shift, a shift from the conventional academic and teacher-centered practices to academic plus equally skill emphasized, practice-oriented and more student-centered teaching and learning. Incorporation of formal outcome-based education and learner-centered teaching and learning practices, and compulsory internship is important. At the same time promoting “community volunteering”, “internships” and “community outreach activities” within the study programmes is also recognized as an effective “student-centered” strategy to be adopted in university education.
Volunteering is now recognised, particularly in more developed countries, as a legitimate and structured activity with specific responsibilities in place as a way for individuals to formally participate in the mainstream processes and activities of local communities. This perspective takes volunteering beyond its traditional, benevolent, charitable or philanthropic interpretations. It demonstrates new purposes and outcomes making it somewhat a quasi-professional activity. For example, UN volunteers reverberate that volunteering is an effective and successful way of generating enormous benefits to both the volunteer and community. While volunteering for community development, young people also develop their own skills and talents, and further feed into a pool of skilled professionals creating better opportunities for addressing development goals. This cycle creates a cohort of young people with the potential to change their world and meet development issues head on.
Involving students in community volunteering and outreach activities will therefore have a positive impact on their personal and professional development. It will instill among them a sense of belonging and social responsibility to their communities. It will also be an opportunity for them to practise their classroom learning in real-life situations. It will empower them with self-confidence and a positive self-image. It will also make a difference to the community and organisations that they are involved in as volunteers. Most importantly it will enable them to learn and improve socio-emotional skills and to apply them in an “emotionally intelligent” manner in professional contexts. It can become a pathway to employment.
Inspiring students to be involved in community volunteering and outreach activities requires an enabling environment. The first step of this process is to establish a “formal structure” that will ensure the planning and the implementation of voluntary activities in an accountable manner. With such a formal structure in place, the coordinating functions of the faculty’s compulsory internship and field practice programmes can also be easily accommodated. Amalgamating all activities such as volunteering, community outreach and field practice into a single “formal structure” will facilitate a holistic, kinesthetic model of learning; a way of “learning by doing”. Another significant advantage is that it will facilitate some students who may have special interest in community activities to fulfill the compulsory internship requirement according to their own interests and career expectations.