IRGIB Africa University in Cotonou, Benin, successfully hosted the first of two planned physical summer schools for the ACCESS project in 2022. The 5-day summer school began on 28 March 2022 and ended on 1 April 2022, under the theme ‘’Improving graduate employability through service-learning implementation in African HEIs: Academic and business collaboration’’. Over 50 in-person and virtual participants took part in the Summer School. The main participants were representatives of the seven partner universities of the project – board members, project coordinators, lecturers and PhD students.
The Opening ceremony was held at the IRGIB African University auditorium with guest speakers from the public and private sector, the education ministry in Benin, universities, the German Embassy in Benin, students and other key stakeholders interested in Service-Learning at HEIs. Some of the dignitaries and speakers were Prof. Virgile Ahyi (President, IRGIB African University), Prof. Zacharie Vissiennon (Vice President, IRGIB Africa University), Prof. Dr. Utz Dornberger (Director, SEPT Competence Center, Leipzig University and Project Lead for ACCESS), Senator Albert Feliho (President, Entrepreneurs Association in Benin), Mr. Karim Youssao Abdou (representative of the Ministry of Higher Education, Benin) and Madam Laetitia Dagnonhoueton (representative of the German Embassy in Benin).
After the keynote addresses, it became clear that the educational sector in Africa needs reform to enhance knowledge transfer efficiency while prioritising and intensifying interventions in vocational and practice-oriented training at higher educational institutions (HEIs). This means increasing graduates’ entrepreneurial capabilities, skills and competencies to curb the rate of graduate unemployment in the African sub-region. This highlighted the importance of incorporating Service-Learning into the curriculums and teaching modules of HEIs.
Service-Learning is an educational approach that combines academically relevant service or practice activities that address human, community, environmental and/or business needs in the training course. The summer school was thus intensive learning and sharing ideas through presentations, lectures, and group workshops.
The objective of the summer school was to ensure that each ACCESS partner university presented the status of Service-Learning in their universities, learned from others, brainstormed and designed new service-learning modules, curriculums, or initiatives to be implemented in their universities. The topics include an introduction to service–learning, strategies for implementing a service-learning program, service-learning course planning and design, integrating service-learning using modern digital tools, collaborations for successful service-learning, and sustaining a service-learning program in HEIs. Each topic was presented using theory and real-world examples from the represented universities to help the understanding of participants. For example, the Online Marketing Challenge (OMC), a Service-Learning extra-curricula module implemented by SEPT at Leipzig University, was presented as a case study to inspire participants. The key presenters of the Summer School were Prof. Utz Dornberger (Leipzig University), Prof. Houinsou Dedehouanou, Vanessa Mbamarah and Ayi Kangni (IRGIB Africa University), Dr. Ralph Nyadu Addo (KNUST), Dr. Gonzalves Nshimiyimana (INES Ruhengeri), Dr. Henry Yatich (Mount Kenya University), Dr. Ademola Lawal (University of Ibadan) and Dr. Marwa Chérif (University of Tunis).
In the end, each of the seven universities worked as a group and presented a service-learning initiative to be implemented at their universities. A final keynote was made by Prof. Utz Dornberger, where he thanked all participants and especially the IRGIB Africa University, for the splendid organisational work done. He further motivated each university to implement the initiatives developed, which’s lessons can be organised into a service-learning handbook to inspire other African universities. Prof. Vissiennon (ACCESS IRGIB Africa University Board Member), on his part, thanked all the participants for their hard work during the last 5 days and wished them a safe return to their respective countries. He also thanked the Benin team for organising this ACCESS Summer School in Benin. Each participant was presented with a certificate of participation.
Aside the intensive training and workshop activities, social and touristic engagements such as city tours, sightseeing, and joint dinners were also arranged for participants to deepen their interactions and networking and better experience the host city, Cotonou. An excursion to the historical town of Ouidah was organised on the last day of summer school. Participants visited the python temple and the Museum of the Zinsou Foundation.
The second ACCESS Summer School in 2022 will be hosted by the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana from 16 to 20 May 2022 under the theme “The future of work: A focus on employability skills development”. Read more about it here.