Service-learning originates from American civic education, i.e. from education for democratic action and active citizenship and it is based on the idea that students acquire a democratic way of thinking and acting through social learning and civic engagement. Service-learning as a method of learning and teaching in the United States is often practiced in both schools and universities. It is based on combining theoretical teaching content with practical work for the common good. In service-learning projects, pupils/students need to deal with the needs of their city need, their districts or the society as a whole and thus contribute to the common good. Projects can be implemented in the social, cultural and political areas as well as in the field of nature and environmental protection.

Topics of service-learning in the field of nature and environmental protection – education for environment and sustainable development

The protection of the interests of the environment and nature as a dimension of sustainable development is a pillar of the promotion of the common good and contributes to the preservation of the quality of life in the natural and built environment. The field of nature and environmental protection provides various opportunities for the implementation of service-learning projects. In accordance with the motto “Think globally – act locally”, various problems and challenges can be identified as starting points for student engagement at the regional level.

It is believed that young people are particularly interested in better shaping their future and future generations and are the driving force of educational processes.

Precisely because of the above, education for sustainable development is considered as an appropriate theme of service-learning and the reason why the Association for Nature, Environment and Sustainable Development Sunce participates in service-learning programs at the University of Split.

Through the service-learning program, students from different faculties work together on projects that contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development. This way of working enables the interconnection of students, but also teachers of different faculties, and the approach to environmental topics from different perspectives. Students, teachers and mentors from Association Sunce make and deepen contacts while strengthening their motivation for joint engagement. Also, often students gain insight into how their knowledge is applied in areas that at first seem unrelated to their courses or education in general.

You can see more about the mentioned programs on the page Office for service-learning for the environment and sustainable development in Split.

Basic principles of service-learning

There are three important principles in the implementation of the service-learning program: the link between the service-learning and the actual needs of the partners in the project (reality), the relationship between the university and the non-university partner based on mutual support (reciprocity), connection between theories and practices, i.e. knowledge and actions of students (reflection).

Reality – real need

It is very important that students’ engagement is tailored to the real needs and problems of the society and of the partners. In accordance with the teaching objectives and with the university partners, the specific tasks and objectives of the service-learning project are agreed.

Reciprocity – the principle of reciprocity

The principle of reciprocity allows all stakeholders of service-learning to benefit equally: students, higher education institution and the external partner. Students gain important practical experiences and social competencies and become more sensitive to problems in their environment. In interaction with society, academic education and scientific research are linked to the questions, problems, and challenges of civil society. Higher education institutions are opening to and integrating into their social environment, and service-learning partners are receiving science-based support.

Reflection – the connection of knowledge and action

One of the principles of service-learning is regular reflection in which practical experiences are considered in the context of academic learning, building a bridge between theories and practices. This provides a thorough understanding of professional content; in addition, it leads students to think about themselves and their own professional image. Targeted questions encourage them to rethink the situations and activities of the service-learning program and their impressions, and to value new experiences and skills. In addition to the above, students can process and exchange experiences gained in the practical application of scientific knowledge. Reflection “connects learning and social benefit which is the key that enables the students to learn through experience in service-learning projects”.