Ahead

AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995. AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995. AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995. AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995.
AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995. AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995. AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995. AHEAD is an approved Charity Institution recognised by the MRA for the purposes of the Income Tax Act 1995.

University Placements in CSOs

Is it a wonderful step towards Community Engagement Failure?

Suraj Ray – President AHEAD

Universities in Mauritius, some not all, make it compulsory for students as part of their curriculum to engage with the ‘community’ through civil society organisations (CSOs) or what is commonly known as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Community is a social unit comprising of people with shared socially significant characteristic, such as place, set of norms, culture, religion, values, customs, or identity.

Often, CSOs work mainly with communities which are groups of people, individuals and/or families sharing common characteristics such as economic status, life styles and people facing similar cultural and/or social challenges which bonds them. For example, individuals from vulnerable/poor families share similar economic status or homeless people have housing, security and the fundamental basics life challenges.

The whole idea of the universities is to not only encourage but ensure that students pursuing undergrad studies devote some of their university time with the community. It’s basically inculcating in young people the concept of community service and/or a feel of the real world by being part of the community. Unfortunately, this placement opportunity is taken very lightly by the students and the university does not seem to attach much importance too.

When students go for placements/internship in enterprises there is some noticeable interest and this is consistent. There is a sense of pride and appurtenance when it comes to enterprises. There is consistency in as much as students are eager to utilize the opportunity to given from the space carved from the academia environment to engage fully in the enterprise they have chosen. So, students report to their site of placement/internship regularly and show interest.

Whereas when university students join CSOs, it’s like why are we being compelled to join CSOs. Few students really show interest and enjoy such placements. Others, well a majority of students, show less interest, if not any, as they are absolutely not interested and already know that they will not/never join ‘that world’ for a career or living. Students will often not report to the CSOs or simply choose a most convenient way for them and send questionnaires by emails to be answered online without ever bothering to even visit the CSO or talk to the social workers or community leaders. This is an attitude and reality to be addressed.

This whole mindset is the direct and pure result of individualism and digitalisation makes this mentality a norm. The disconnect with people, society and/or the community has become not only more visible but gravely real. So, is there a problem? The answer is yes!

The University of Technology of Mauritius (UTM) has an interesting programme for its undergraduate students known as the Community Learning and Engagement (CLEn) programme where first year students join CSOs and are expected to spend some hours engaging with the community as the name itself suggests, over a span of months. But the major challenge for the students is tuition time. Whilst students must spend their time with community at the CSO, they are required to attend classes at the university physically and/or follow online classes. The time table is flawed and the university does not have any follow up on this undesired situation. And this is a major drawback. How to expect a student to complete his/her programme with the NGO/CSO? And at the end of the day, how will the NGO/CSO rate the student? These are again questions!

The University of Mauritius has a less engaging programme where students enrolled on Diploma/BSc (Hons) Social Work and BSc (Hons) Social Work Practice have study visits in selected Social Service Organisations in order to familiarise the students with the social service institutions in Mauritius. Students also have Social Work Practice Placements which span over 6 weeks undertaken during the university vacation in year two. Six week is a reasonably good period. But here again CSOs will not find the student for six weeks. It will be a few odd staggered hours or a few online email interactions. What will the student learn? The same problem with other universities, the students will have physical classes to attend at the university and/or have online classes. All this not only defeat the whole concept and/or idea, but kills anything called interest in social work or community engagement, per say.

As individualism espouses new boundaries and touches new heights, digitalisation reinforces disconnect with reality and which invites more and more interaction with virtuality. People will connect with people via Apps… but at the end of the day real people need real food, real shelter, real cloth and real security and medical facilities. Unfortunately, this will not happen in a virtual world, but only when human beings connect with each other.

Suraj Ray
President – AHEAD
3 June 2024

Blog by AHEAD
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