Monday, May 24, 2021

On University’s Social Outreach and Constructive Engagement with the Society

 By John A. Akec

Universities, throughout the globe, have been recognized as public goods; and are charged with the important responsibility of generating new knowledge, and unlocking innovations that advance and increase the prosperity of the societies they serve. Hence, in order to be counted as a world class institution in the 21st century, universities must be seen to be addressing the development concerns of the nation through their tangible and intangible contributions to the society.


As aspiring world class learning institution, the University of Juba is called upon to innovate and engage with its surrounding communities. The question is how can we do that? The idea of serving society is not new. Traditionally, universities have been known to carry out three functions: education, research, and service to community. Under the old paradigm, or the so called education 3.0, “community service” was treated as a separate activity that is divorced from education and research functions of the university. However, in the unfolding education 4.0 which will usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, community service is integrated into teaching and research, and as an activity in itself. How? we may ask.


Let’s recall that education 1.0 started in the ancient times and extended up to the Middle Ages (14th century) and aimed to produce good citizens, involved one-on-one interaction between teacher and student, and was mostly concerned with imparting basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. 

Then education 2.0 followed the invention of printing press in 15th century, and allowed one teacher to educate many students at one single time. It enabled one-to-many education, and led to multiplication of learning centres and dissemination of knowledge throughout the world through published books. It extended continued up to 19th century. The invention of computer in the 20th century allowed universities to collaborate globally through communication technologies such as the internet. It led to exponential increase in the demand for higher education globally.

And finally, the advances of information and communication technologies in the 21st century as demonstrated seen by prevalence of mobile internet, social media, cloud technology and big data, massive online courses (MOOCs), the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, robotics and artificial intelligence, advanced materials, and biotechnology and genomics. All that have ushered in the emergence of education 4.0.

In education 4.0, universities must follow student-centric pedagogies, allow for flexible curricula and learning schedules, prepare students for jobs that are yet unknown in terms of required skill sets, and to embrace life-long learning. The goal of education 4.0 is to prepare students to be global citizens endowed with humanistic elements, values, beliefs, and insights that will make them more effective members of the global village.

This can be pursued at several fronts. At teaching front, a teacher must be a facilitator to student’s learning, as opposed to being a mere content deliverer. Student must be enabled through new pedagogies to interact with the curriculum and the outside world. By so doing, the student will be in position to apply their learned knowledge to tackling developmental challenges facing society.

Second, the research undertaken at our universities should be directed at tackling problems that are relevant to contemporary public developmental concerns. It implies avoiding the usual top-down framing of research questions by a professor, and moving to a collaborative form of research in which questions are framed around the immediate needs of the community. This community-based approach to research allows the stakeholders or the beneficiaries of the research outcomes to contribute in research design.

And thirdly, the goal of social outreach/community service ought to be nurturing active citizenship in our students, and to endow them with humanistic values, empathy, respect, tolerance, and keen consciousness about their responsibility towards society. The students will be prepared to play their roles as global citizen who have respect for other domains of knowledge, and possess ‘learn ability’ skills which is defined as “preparedness to listen to other forms and domains of knowledge, and have humility to open up to new learning succeed in various careers.”

All this is a tall order. Yet, it is a bridge our universities must cross if we are to participate fully in the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution, and attain world-class statuses.


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