Service-learning in Queensland, Australia

Suzanne Carrington

'Service-learning' describes student involvement in community service using knowledge gained at school or university. In Queensland, students studying inclusive education in the Bachelor of Teaching course complete 20 hours of service in a range of partner organisations. This can include care homes for elderly people and homework clubs for refugee children. Service-learning complements the students' experience of teaching in schools and builds on their university learning. Here Suzanne outlines the way she has developed service-learning.

Why service-learning?
Inclusive education is a core subject for our student teachers. Queensland University of Technology has developed relationships with community organisations that support individuals with diverse needs and disabilities. Student teachers do voluntary work with these organisations. This reinforces the students' learning about inclusive education and they see that 'inclusion' relates to all aspects of marginalisation in society. Service-learning helps students become more engaged with their learning and the teaching profession. It provides them with an inclusive ethical framework to support their teaching practice, and helps them to move from student to practitioner.

Reflective practice
This is a key aspect of service-learning. Students develop reflective practice through activities like reading and discussion and their voluntary service. Their understanding of ethics, diversity, equity, and their roles as teachers and citizens in a democratic society, is transformed by providing this service. Students complete a 'Service-learning Reflection Log', documenting their academic learning and service work. This helps them reflect on their transition from being largely unaware of inequality in society to being very aware of these issues.

Service-learning goals and students' views

  1. To enhance student learning by joining theory with experience and thought with action
    "The experience was challenging, eye-opening and rewarding in many ways. It helped make concrete the theory learnt at university… it made inclusive practices more accessible for me. Theory and practice are so different. Why write an assignment when you can go and experience the assignment?"
  2. To enable students to help others, give of themselves, and enter into caring relationships with others through cross-cultural experiences
    "My experience [at a homework support centre for refugee children] has given me a much greater appreciation of the day-to-day difficulties faced by so many people who are marginalised in our society due to their cultural background, language barriers, [and] migrant or refugee status."
  3. To assist students to see the relevance of the academic subject to the real world
    "I developed inclusive skills and strategies associated with communicating with, interacting with, and teaching students with a range of diverse individual needs. I gained knowledge from my coworkers at the Learning Centre about… working in an inclusive setting. I now feel better equipped to provide a diverse range of students with quality learning experiences."
  4. To increase student civic and citizenship skills through volunteering with organisations that provide support to various people in society
    "I am very glad I undertook this experience. The school is right across the road from my house and I never knew what went on inside. I have learnt a lot about valuing the precious moments of life and noticing the good and value in all people."
  5. To challenge students to address societal inadequacies and injustices and seek remedies
    "This really opened my eyes to how these families struggle, and as a future teacher I need to understand that students from such backgrounds need to be handled with care."

Suzanne is Professor and Head of the School of Learning and Professional Studies.

Contact:
Faculty of Education,
Queensland University of Technology,
Victoria Park Road,
Kelvin Grove Q 4059, Australia.
Email:


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