Have you noticed? We are experiencing a global groundswell of service. The issues we face as a planet have now risen to a level that calls more of us to action. Through service learning, we can engage our young people in learning about and addressing critical issues—hunger, climate change, population migration, loss of habitat, illiteracy, and more—while contributing to the betterment of themselves and others. Youth, who are cognizant of the issues and have the problem-solving abilities to address them, matter. Providing them with the skills and knowledge to do this vital work in their communities and the larger world adds relevance to the process of education.
Service learning---a powerful teaching strategy—creates a conducive environment for developing transferable skills and knowledge, high engagement, and relevance that gives meaning and purpose to school for teachers as well as students. Teachers continually describe how their students go beyond required assignments with service learning. They reveal hidden talents, apply themselves in ways that stretch their intellect, retain what they have learned, and transfer skills and knowledge to new situations. With academic-rich service learning experiences, students are doing astounding
work as they prepare food for people in crises, repair coral reefs, protect animals, and spend time with otherwise lonely elders. When they care about the subject matter and have authenticated a need, students discover intrinsic motivation. This is the key.
What does service learning look like?
Students in two international schools—one in Hanoi and the other in Prague—initiated a collaborative online study of hunger in Vietnam during French class. While improving language abilities and communicating with peers halfway across the globe, students examined issues of hunger and shared what they learned. In each locale students planned ways to interact with organizations and children impacted by hunger.
At the International School in Estonia, students conducted an in-depth study of Tallinn. Using as a guide the student authored book In Our Village written by middle and high school youth in Kambi ya Simba, Tanzania, the Tallinn sixth grade class write a comprehensive book. There book profiled all aspects of Estonian culture. The research, writing, editing, and book design produced an exceptional resource for any one interested in this community, whether they will be reading the book from east Tanzania or as a new family arriving to the school in Tallinn. (See In Our Global Village http://inourvillage.org/global_village_project.html to learn more about this program and see the Tallinn book.)
At Hong Kong Academy, science students examined the use of varied resources by the school community from gasoline for bus transportation to paper to energy and are now designing recommendations for more efficient practices. Their ideas will be formulated in a proposal and, using persuasive writing skills, may well get adopted.
In each case, students become fully engaged in their studies. They see authentic applications for what they are aspiring to both learn and accomplish. The idea of school becomes elevated to a laboratory for ideas for ideas and social entrepreneurship and students of all ages can participate.
As an educator who travels the globe to assist and educate in the service learning process, what is most evident is how international schools all have missions to nurture youth who are knowledgeable about their world and choose to participate in contributing to the common good. With service learning this idea becomes a reality. The excitement palpable. The contributions made—significant. What I see most is students discover who they are as their interests, talents and skills connect with the academic content and skills and learning comes to life. Service creates purpose for learning. And youth prove to be valued contributors for our collective well-being, now and in the future.