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Towards an ethical ecology of international service learning

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International Service-Learning (ISL) is a pedagogical activity that seeks to blend student learning with community engagement overseas and the development of a more just society. ISL programmes have grown as educational institutions and non-governmental organizations have sought to achieve the goal of developing ‘global citizens’. However, Service Learning (SL) in general and International Service-Learning (ISL) in particular remain deeply under-theorized. These educational initiatives provide policy-makers with a practical response to their quest for a ‘Big Society’ and present alluring pedagogical approaches for Universities as they react to reforms in Higher Education and seek to enhance both the student learning experience and graduate employability. After outlining the development of ISL in policy and practice, this paper draws on the rich tradition of ISL at one British university to argue that ISL is a form of engagement that has the potential to be ethical in character, although a number of factors are identified that militate against this. The contention is that ISL which promotes rational and instrumental learning represents a deficit model and, therefore, ISL is conceptualized here as a transformative learning experience that evinces distinctly aesthetic and even spiritual dimensions. Upon this theoretical groundwork is laid the foundations for conceptualizing ISL in ways that ensure its ethical integrity.

Keywords: ethical; international; service-learning; transformative

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2013

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