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Title: An exploration of community engagement in rural India : a case study of the Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya (Women's University)
Authors: Naidu, Lyrise 
Issue Date: 18-Mar-2019

A significant part of social work field education, particularly service learning provides a powerful yet underutilised opportunity to advance both community engagement and social justice, which is the ethical imperative of the social work profession. The program developed by the Department of Social work at Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya Women‟s University, entails engaging the local community, with the intention of understanding community needs and mobilising and empowering local villagers to address issues of concern. In doing so, the rich space of the village community is transformed into an active teaching and learning space for students.
The current study was undertaken at the Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya (Women‟s University), as it sought to understand how academics and students within the Department of Social Work conceptualise community engagement and what values and principles are used to guide the engagement process with the surrounding local village community. It further explored how community based learning is enhanced through the immersion of students within the village milieu.
Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study was to explore how community engagement is operationalised at the Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya (Women‟s University). It sought to understand more deeply the values and principles that guided community engagement in a rural context in India. The study also investigated the processes that underpin community engagement within a rural context as well as the benefits that this engagement had for students, academics, and the community.

This study is based on a qualitative research approach as it sought to extract rich information pertaining to the engagement process and experience. There were two samples in this study, one included social work academics, and the other, students

from the Department of Social Work. Two data collection techniques were used viz. semi structured interviews and focus group discussions. Data was collected till saturation. In total, 6 academics and 11 students involved in community engagement were interviewed. In addition a focus group discussion was held with academics and students separately. All data collection occurred at the university site. The process of data analysis was guided by the steps of thematic analysis. This enabled the search through the transcripts to be reduced to patterns and similar themes. Words and phrases were generated to represent these themes and sub- themes. The themes served to illustrate the essence of students and academic responses.

The broad themes that emerged from the analysis included viz. conceptual issues, student values, principles, processes underpinning engagement with rural communities, social justice action, and learning from the community and transcending challenges. The study found that a diverse range of values and principles were used to guide engagement with the local community. Some of the critical values and principles that emerged from the study were that of respect for diversity, non-discrimination, demonstration of humility and empathy, self- determination, social justice, and effective communication. Moreover, the community engagement process was found to be characterised by being socially responsible, rapport building, continuous interaction with the community and the interconnectedness of teaching, research, and engagement. In addition, the findings reflected that due to exposure, diverse cultural groups, students, and academics learnt valuable lessons from the community, such as unity with the community. This learning was linked to positive behaviour that promotes social tolerance, personal and interpersonal development, and openness to diversity. The findings also reflected that engagement is a core pillar along with teaching and research within the Department of Social Work. Effective teaching and extensive learning is asserted by active learning. This is reflected in the current study which demanded that students not merely acquire effective cognitive skills and logical skills, but also personal and interpersonal skills. Furthermore, the placement of students in the villages was important as it promoted the development of genuine community-university partnerships and created awareness of the importance of such collaboration.


The field education component easily transforms itself into service learning within the context of the Department of Social Work, at Bhagat Singh Phool Women‟s University. The study highlighted critical issues around the conceptualisation of community engagement, its processes, and the social justice imperative as part of community engagement. It captures the salience and benefits of community engagement in social work, where the beginnings of community engagement are being stirred. This is crucial given the lack of empirical attention that documents its value in India. More importantly, it highlights how service learning can be harnessed as a pedagogical approach, as students were able to develop intercultural skills, negotiate difficult conversations in the face of cultural dynamics, understand and practice democratic principles, as well as fulfill the social justice mandate of the profession.
Submitted in fulfillment of the requirement of the Degree of Master of Management Science: Public Management (Peace Studies), Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa, 2019.
Appears in Collections:Theses and dissertations (Management Sciences)

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