A Pathway to Personal Development
Samrat Bhattacharjee was inspired to incorporate service-learning into his work at Scottish Church College in Kolkata, India, after a visit to Lady Doak College, where he attended a United Board-sponsored program and observed service-learning practice. He felt the principles of service-learning resonated with the mission and vision of Scottish Church College: creating morally upright, intellectually sound, and socially conscious persons capable of serving the community. “This is the idea that has motivated me to try and extend education beyond the walls of the classroom, to the benefit of society,” Dr. Samrat explained in a recent interview.
The United Board’s Virtual Consultations on Service-Learning, held from August through November 2020, gave him an opportunity to learn more about service-learning and what distinguishes it from social service or community outreach. As educators from a range of institutions shared experiences and advice, Dr. Samrat became fascinated by the ways in which service-learning can facilitate personal development. “The moment of reflection after completion of service-learning program helps the inner self to manifest, which in its turn shapes the student or faculty member’s future thinking,” Dr. Samrat said. “There is the element of reciprocity wherein, through such services, not only do you get to learn so much about the people you are working for, but you are also able to tune in to your own consciousness.”
Still, there were practical considerations for Dr. Samrat to take into account. “Our college is an affiliated institution, so we cannot modify our curriculum per se,” he explained. “From the consultation, I gathered that institutions like mine can initiate such programs in the form of certificate courses, which will be beneficial to the students as they will be involved in something over and above their regular curriculum.” With that in mind, Dr. Samrat designed the curriculum for a three-month certificate course for students of the zoology and microbiology departments, which will engage them in assessing the water quality of a slum area near Scottish Church College. The college also will explore ways to implement service-learning in other departments.
When service-learning is integrated with an academic discipline, it can help college and university students develop intellectually and grow as human beings – key components of whole person education. Dr. Samrat also believes it could be valuable for younger students as well. “The early years of life comprise a critical period, during which any instilled ideas are permanently rooted in the mind, or imprinted,” he said, “so the concept should be taught to neighboring schools as part of extension or awareness programs.” In that way, service-learning, with its ability to combine personal development, spiritual awakening, and social awareness along with enhanced disciplinary knowledge, can be an even more powerful force. “I feel that if such programs are adopted by every institution, the world will soon become a much better place for all of us to live in,” Dr. Samrat concluded.