PALAR as a methodology for community engagement by faculties of education
Community engagement (CE) is a core function of the university in South Africa. In the field of education, the imperative to pursue and promote CE provides an exciting opportunity for researchers to work with school communities to address the many challenges that threaten the quality of teaching and learning. Yet, relatively few researchers in education faculties have expertise in this emerging area of scholarship. There is therefore a need to develop among academics a capacity for community-based research and deep knowledge of how to approach it effectively. This conceptual article positions participatory action learning and action research (PALAR) as a creative, innovative, collaborative and self-developed way to achieve this purpose. Findings from various PALAR projects, in which the authors have participated, provide evidence of PALAR’s utility for disrupting traditional notions of partnership, power relations and knowledge creation. However, they also highlight the challenges this form of enquiry poses within academic environments geared for research that follows a more predetermined, researcher-controlled trajectory. These findings are helpful for stimulating thinking about how such challenges can be addressed to ensure that the research, action, and knowledge we create through this process actually translate into practical community improvement.
Keywords: action learning; action research; community engagement; higher education; participatory research; school communities