Equip students with moral responsibility, says SU dean

To care for other people means you have a moral responsibility toward them, said Professor Yusef Waghid, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Wednesday (20 April).  He was the keynote speaker at a two-day service-learning research colloquium (20 and 21 April) hosted by SU at the Wallenberg Research Centre at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies (STIAS).

The theme of the colloquium, organised by the South African Higher Education Community Engagement Forum (SAHECEF), was “Service-Learning: Innovations for the Next Decade”.  SAHECEF was formed in 2009 to promote community interaction at tertiary institutions.

Professor Yusef Waghid at the service-learning colloquium. (Photo: Justin Alberts)

According to Prof Waghid, universities should educate students to care for other people. They should learn sensitivity for what happens to other people, to acknowledge the humanity of others and to respect them.

“The learning process must focus on forgiveness, hospitality, risk-taking, non-violence and opportunities for engagement. We need a cosmopolitan learning that will make people feel welcome,” he said.

To care for others implies the protection of the marginalised in society. Prof Waghid argued that other groups must also be regarded as important, and what you demand for you own community must also be extended to other communities.

Furthermore, he was of the opinion that to care for other people has nothing to do with an uncritical loyalty. Someone who does something wrong should not be followed blindly and those who are hostile toward others must be challenged to explain their action.

According to him, university curricula lack an ethics of care and students are not always encouraged to participate in the learning process.  “We can only speak of service-learning when learning serves the other,” Prof Waghid said.

Prof Julian Smith, Vice-Rector: Community Interaction at SU, welcomed the 65 delegates and said this conference emphasises the dynamism, impact and value of service-learning and community interaction. It also shows that service-learning has become an important part of the higher education debate.