The Department of Government and International Relations (GIR) in the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLPS), at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), piloted in fall 2017 Service Learning (SL), in cooperation with the six German political foundations based in Lebanon. GIR professors have begun implementing this community-based approach to education with the support of the University’s Center for Research in Education (CARE) and Dr. Patricia Nabti of the Beirut Learning to Care Institute. The purpose of SL is to combine the advantages of experiential education, community service, and fieldwork. Instructors and students collaborate in linking the content of a specific course on campus to benefits for the community at large.
The 23 students enrolled in the Political Ideologies course (IAF 301) were divided into seven groups of three to four students. Each team was allocated one German partisan foundation, or Stiftung, representing diverse ideologies. In collaboration with each German Stiftung, students developed a plan of action, targeting service agendas ranging from water and hygiene; occupational health and safety; access to higher education for people with disabilities; fair trade and eco-farming; waste management; labor union rights in higher education; or local and regional cultural heritage. Each topic area was linked to a specific German Stiftung and its unique worldview. The Christian Social team, therefore, dealt with the right to clean water from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Papal Encyclicals, such as “Laudato Si’ – Care for Our Common Home”– linking up with the Hanns Seidel Stiftung (HSS). As for the Liberal team, they approached mobility in universities by basing it on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and good business practices, in cooperation with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF). Students working with the Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) related their project on labor unions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Christian Democratic team highlighted the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s (KAS) focus on the Social Market Economy; the Green Party’s Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS) assisted the students with an environmentalist approach to both agriculture and global terms of trade; finally the Leftist Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RSL) suggested promoting the working conditions of Lebanese and refugee employees in Akkar.
FLPS Dean Dr. Maan Bou Saber commented on the first phase of the project, stating, “Law encompasses life, law is everywhere. Thus, our students need to work out in the field during their studies to promote rule of law throughout society.”
The GIR students presented on Tuesday, November 5, 2017, their results to participants in the CARE two-week workshop sessions. With the support of the GIR chairperson, Dr. Dany Ghsoub, and their instructor, Dr. Eugene Sensenig, they discussed their experience and the results of their projects with instructors and professors from all seven NDU Faculties. Dr. Nabti provided feedback to the students and she pointed out that “research in education has demonstrated the need for practice based education in all disciplines. SL generates high levels of motivation and provides for high retention rates.” Dr. Nabti, will be accompanying the further implementation of SL in the GIR department in the spring and fall terms 2018. According to Ghsoub, “Frontal, lecture-based teaching can no longer prepare students for the requirements of the job market they will be competing in. Service Learning is the best way to get them out into the field and give them hands-on experience before they graduate.”