This blog post is part of a webinar that will be hosted by JUMP! Foundation, led by Claire, and will explore the concept of Learning Service. The webinar will be held on April 23rd, 2019, and is free and open to all. For more details, and to sign up, check out this link.
What is Learning Service and Why is it Important for International Schools?
International schools aim to be world leaders in the quality of education they deliver, with a duty to incorporate global learning into the curriculum. Leadership, service and community engagement are often major priorities of international schools, and an important strength they offer to this field is the diversity of their student bodies. On the other hand, these priorities can be aspects of school life that are the most difficult to manage – and get right. Being learning that is outside the classroom and often extra-curricular, it can take a back seat for students and staff pressured into prioritising examination content.
It is notoriously difficult to achieve success in school community outreach programs. If it is hard enough to ensure that students are engaging in deep and exploratory learning, it is even harder to guarantee that the service programs are having the intended impact on causes and communities. The stark reality is that social change is a long and complex process, and packaging it into bite-size chunks so that students can “have a go” can produce tokenistic (if not downright harmful) results. You may have already been a little too close to a construction project where the bricks were laid crookedly, a donation drive that had trouble distributing the second-hand clothing and canned food, or a teaching program where overwhelmed teenagers struggled to control a class of unruly seven-year-olds. This is not to undermine the efforts of student volunteers, but simply to recognise that the professional non-profit sector itself struggles to sustainably respond to and solve deep-rooted community issues.
All of this is not enough for us to give up on the value of community volunteering and school service programs – on the contrary, there has probably never been a time when youth activism has been more important and relevant, and in fact it is a challenge for us as educators to ensure the opportunities we offer are worthwhile. But how can we ensure this is the case?
The concept of service learning was developed as a response to school community service programs needing to be measured in terms of student learning outcomes as well as the outcomes that are harder to pin down, the impact on the community. Most service learning models emphasize critical reflection (usually in the form of writing or discussions) as a vital element that is needed to maximize the learning that comes through the service. While this development is certainly commendable, myself and a team of co-authors have argued that this shift in language does not go far enough. We agree that critical reflection is essential to effectively offer service, but we don’t think the model of service learning, with service first in name and action, goes far enough, especially in the international context. In this framing, learning appears as a byproduct of service—a secondary add-on. With learning service, learning is front and centre, which is the emphasis of our approach and the key to mitigating the negative impacts of international service.
Learning doesn’t need to be viewed as the byproduct of our actions. Learning is an essential component to ensure that the service we do is actually making the difference that we want it to. For this reason, learning service flips learning and action around so that learning comes first. In schools, learning service may look like a series of learning modules exploring the root causes of an issue, student-led research into a topic they plan to address, workshops or interviews with people affected by the issue or people taking action to solve it, and careful planning of a realistic and sustainable intervention. Student learning and reflection continues throughout any service undertaken and beyond – into the monitoring and follow up of the project, and also into the continued involvement of the student and the way it affects their future choices and lifestyle.
If you are interested in how the learning service philosophy might be applicable in your school, you can get the book here, or sign up the LIVE webinar hosted by JUMP! Foundation at 5pm (GMT+7/BKK) on 23rd April.
About the Author
Claire Bennett is a co-author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteer Travel. You can find out more about Learning Service from their website: www.learningservice.info or follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.