Service learning occurs when students engage in real-life community projects to learn skills. Students are able to combine theory with practice and gain experience in real world situations with diverse groups of people. It is a powerful form of community engagement that also has the added benefit of learning during the process.
This valuable form of learning can have an incredible impact not only on students, but on the community and school at large. So, where does this value come from?
Here are 5 reasons to run a service learning project in your school:
1. Student Participation and Design
When students are involved in the direction of their learning outcomes then they are more invested. They can choose what they are passionate about and what interests them. Service learning gives a great opportunity for students to be involved, and to not only participate, but also to help design the process.
Additionally, service learning gives students agency so they start to harness the power of their voice and their ability to make an impact in the world. Too often young people have been told that they are ‘the future’. Service learning enables them to understand that they are not just the future, but they are also powerful beyond measure in the now. Their unique voice and perspective can make an impact right now. It is a wonderful tool to empower young people.
2. Development of students’ critical and creative thinking
As Service Learning responds to needs in real time, it needs to be flexible and dynamic. It encourages students to think creatively and critically about the current problem that needs to be solved. Service learning also caters to different learning styles and allows the uniqueness of each student to problem solve according to their strengths and skill sets.
It is a real and tangible learning experience. It also has the ability to create a different dynamic with the teacher. The student-teacher relationship can be transformed in a well designed service learning experience. Overall, the experience lends itself to holistic learning. It incorporates the head, heart and hands and goes well beyond intellectual development.
3. Development of student empathy
Service learning is an excellent opportunity for students to develop their soft skills. These skills include leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving, adaptability and their work ethic, among others. All of these skills have the potential for positive impact during service learning as students are required to engage in all of them.
One soft skill that is very difficult to teach is empathy. The development of empathy is a key part of emotional intelligence. For the most part service learning is about interacting with other people - often people that can be quite different to the students. This is a fantastic opportunity for them to broaden their understanding of the human experience and develop their empathy for others. Service learning gives students hope and helps them to understand the difference they can make in their community.
4. Connectedness to Community
There are a lot of demands on young people and even if they have the desire, they might not often have the time to engage with the wider community. This is a great opportunity, embedded in the curriculum that allows them to connect. It gives students an insight into the wider community and a deeper understanding of community problems.
There is also a greater likelihood that they will continue to engage with the organisation and the community at large beyond their school years. It increases their sense of civic responsibility at a young age and hopefully that sense of responsibility stays with them.
5. Benefits for the community
Of course, there are multiple stakeholders in service learning and it is very important to ensure that it is a mutually beneficial experience for all that are involved. Service learning done well should be a positive experience for all the stakeholders, including the community.
The aim of service learning is to provide a service and hopefully one that improves the community. It gives the organisation and the community at large the opportunity to engage with students and young people in a positive and productive way. It is not only mutually beneficial but when service learning is done well all the stakeholders can engage in the learning experience.
Doing service learning, and doing it well, takes effort but has immense value that can be gained for the different stakeholders involved. It is a strong pedagogical method to educate students holistically and create stronger connections within the community.
Lauren Hichaaba is the Director of the Cagliero Project. She has qualifications in Development Studies and Education, has worked as a teacher both in Australia and Zambia and has led many overseas immersion programs for high school and university students.
At Yellow Arrow we are passionate about connecting students with meaningful service learning opportunities. If you would like to keep the conversation going and connect with other people working in this space, click here to join our Service Learning Network. If you would like advice on how to develop a service learning project contact us to see how we can work together.