During the October 2008 Tadamunn: Towards Civic Engagement in Arab Education Conference, students from the region met to discuss a variety of themes including citizenship, driving social change, motivations for volunteering, and community-based learning. The sessions engaged students in a constructive dialogue about civic engagement on university campuses in the region. The final session of the conference allowed students to share with senior administrators and faculty the outcomes of their discussions and recommendations for future action.
The student presenters focused on four sections (1) the current situation and challenges, (2) students' capacity as change agents, (3) student motivation, and (4) recommendations needed to improve the civic engagement on university campuses in the region.
During the youth conference portion, students felt a lack of awareness about civic engagement at institutions in the Middle East & North Africa region. Many described the level of volunteerism at their home institutions as low and believed that there is a gap between the faculty and local community. They also mentioned that students lacked creativity due to the curriculum at their university.
The student presenters described their ability to implement change on different levels. In the classroom, students may learn different theories and learn about current issues facing communities and society. Working with the community, students would be able to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to effect change. The students stressed the importance of building nation-wide and regional networks to promote civic engagement and share best practices. A world-wide network would be the final level of effecting change through the use of technology. Students assured the audience that it would require a gradual process in order to effect change of this magnitude.
Students felt it important to discuss motivations for participating in civic engagement. They attributed students' participation to several factors including faith, personal experience(s), the sense of belonging to a social movement, and social interaction with peers. In addition, they debated whether volunteerism should be made mandatory in universities, presented compelling arguments for and against this policy, but did not come to a final conclusion.
The students provided the administrators and faculty with many suggestions to increase civic engagement on their campuses. Their highest priority recommendations were to incorporate community-based learning courses in the curriculum; providing opportunities for post-graduation work and/or volunteering in public service; for universities to provide funds for student-led civic engagement projects, mentorship and support for student leaders; and more open dialogue and communication with students. Other recommendations included a database with civic engagement opportunities and raising awareness about civic engagement at the primary and secondary school levels