The department is well known for its hands-on work with rural communities. Community engagement is truly one of our department's cornerstones. We are engaged in research-linked community engagement through our postgraduate research as well as the work that the Rhodes Restoration Research Group are doing through the Sub-tropical Thicket Restoration Programme.
We are involved in community outreach activities (volunteering) by interacting with local schools to increase environmental awareness. This is achieved through the recently launched Tree for Life Project as well as involvement in the Khanya Maths & Science club. In addition, we are engaged in service learning through our third year projects as well as serving on boards, policy forums etc. in our capacity as environmental scientists.
In the last few years, service-learning has gained increasing attention from different disciplines across Universities. Students grow as citizens, communities benefit from an active and eager to learn group working within their organisations, and universities enhance their social responsibility. Service-learning proposes a synergy between learning and service to local communities (Howard, 1998). Although incorporating a community service component in a given course might not be always be seen as challenging, creating a space where both learning and service take place in mutually beneficial and transformative ways is.
In the context of environmental science, service-learning is an integral part of the Honours course at Rhodes University, providing the opportunity for students to: apply their learning; share their knowledge; provide a service with the local community. With that in mind, the Environmental Science Department at Rhodes, together with the Rhodes University Community Engagement, partnered with the Amakhala Foundation and the Sandisulwazi High School in Paterson to develop a service-learning course.
In 2017 the Honours class of the Environmental Science Department worked with the Amakala Foundation who are establishing an Eco-Schools project at a High School in Paterson. The eco-schools project is an education programme that has been implemented in over 52 countries. In South Africa Eco-Schools are managed by WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) and it has the support of Nampak (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, 2013). The Honours class were by guided by the Amakala Foundation team to work closely with the students at the school guiding them in the process of Eco-Schools programme.
In 2018 the project continued with a new honors class and a a different set of learners from Sandisulwazi. Here are some highlights of 2018:
- The learners chose healthy living as their theme for the year. Bringing together this year and last year's theme, which was global and local issues with a focus on littering, the group decided to do a pick up and clean day at the school, focusing on the sports field.
- On top of that, it was pointed out by the learners that they didn't have anywhere to sit in the school grounds. The group then proposed to make benches out of alien invasive species and/or ecobricks.
- One subject that was of particular importance to the female students was the lack of access to pads. The honors students then decided to organise a pad drive for the Sandisulwazi learners.
Social learning handbook
Staff from the department, together with colleagues from the Environmental Learning Research Centre, have published a handbook for practitioners that has been four years in the making. The handbook is based on intensive participatory work conducted with community partners in the Eastern Cape since late 2009, from which lessons are drawn about how community and individual capacity can be built to deal with the multiple stressors that rural people face. The handbook was peer-reviewed by grass-roots NGO practitioners from around the province and country, and offers practical guidance for community engaged research and development.
Last Modified: Tue, 14 Jan 2020 15:26:57 SAST