Community Engagement

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In line with the strategic thrusts of UJ, members of SCITECHED are involved in Community Engagement projects. Community Engagement refers to initiatives and processes that employ the knowledge capital of a higher education institution in the creation of symbiotic relationships (be they informal and unstructured or formal and structured within an academic programme) between the institution and identifiable interest groups that address the development needs of such interest groups.

We also see community engagement as a commitment to the upliftment of communities through education. This “education” is not only focused on poorer or needy communities but includes providing opportunities for people from all walks of life to share in the joys of education. For this reason we devote community time to interdepartmental teaching and illustrate our willingness to engage in inter-departmental collaboration for the benefit of the greater community. The previous training of school principals regarding the use of educational technologies under the auspices of the Umlambo Foundation is only one such an example.

Many departmental members contribute as organizers and facilitators at the annual Faculty of Education Excursion which has become an important component of the faculty community engagement initiative.

In a variation of community engagement, in the form of outreach, we are heavily involved in voluntary organised activities initiated outside of academic programmes that address the development needs of a community interest group. For example, Prof Geoff Lautenbach (past chairman of the BOTSOC branch at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens) is still involved with the Botanical Society of South Africa where a number of projects have already contributed to the creation of a children’s garden and a water-wise garden at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. Ongoing efforts are made to spread the message of the importance of biodiversity and we specifically promote science and technology awareness to the community through similar educational activities and events which align well with the national drive to increase interest and awareness in the scientific field which may also be seen as a key driver of change. In this community outreach we provide services related to education as determined by the community at large. It is our aim to formalize these outreach programmes through the signing of formal memorandums of understanding and to convert them all into formal community service projects.

Prof Lautenbach also provides voluntary service to the National Training Committee of the SANParks Honorary Rangers where a number of training and educational aspects of their functioning are addressed.