Teaching responsibility

08 September 2008 | Story by Chris McEvoy

Prof Seth Pollack

The purpose of any university is research and to teach, but Fulbright Scholar Professor Seth Pollack adds another to the list: public service.

He believes it is also a university's responsibility to become involved in its surrounding community and in its teaching, to develop students into socially responsible adults.

Pollack, a full professor and director of the Service Learning Institute at the California State University in Monterey Bay (CSUMB), US, is in Cape Town to help develop various curricula at UCT and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) through service learning programmes.

It's an innovative approach that links a university's academic curriculum to the concerns of the surrounding communities. "Traditionally, students' community work is considered an extra-mural activity, completed on a volunteer basis, but in a service learning programme, this becomes a required part of the course," explains Pollack.

Students can also become involved in tutoring in specialised subjects, such as computer literacy, in economically disadvantaged areas. Pharmacy students at UWC are currently working in surrounding clinics as part of their training.

It's not enough for graduating students to be technically competent professionals who simply join the workforce," says Pollack. "They should also be conscientised with a strong sense of reciprocity and a commitment to civic engagement."

Pollack will be in Cape Town until June 2009. He is affiliated with the UCT Center for Higher Education Development (CHED) and can be reached by email.

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