When you reflect on your life at school, what do you remember the most?
Is it the friends who supported you through thick and thin, the teacher who inspired you to be who you are today, the compelling classroom discussions or other memorable experiences you can cherish for a lifetime? Throughout the years, there are a few things that you remember and many that you tend to forget, but the impact that an event or person made in your life stays with you forever.
This makes service-learning a principal aspect in education – its ability to make a difference in the lives of both students and the community involved. While it may seem that service learning benefits the community immensely, it makes an equally important impact on the lives of the students who participate in it.
What is service learning?
Researchers Janet Eyler and Dwight Gilesa define service-learning as “a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students work with others through a process of applying what they are learning to community problems, and at the same time, reflecting upon their experience as they seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding for themselves”.
It is also important to note that service-learning is different from community service, volunteering, internship and field education even though it shares similar components. While community service and volunteering focus strongly on service goals, field education and internships, and lean towards attaining knowledge or learning, service-learning, on the other hand, emphasises both service goals and student learning equally. Service-learning is connected to the course curriculum and the activities have clear learning outcomes. They address the real needs of the community and provide students with an opportunity to reflect on their experiences.
Benefits of service-learning for adolescents
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adolescent children between the ages of 10 to 19 years are highly impressionable and it marks an important transition period. During this time, adolescents work towards independence, build meaningful relationships with peers, and develop a personal value system. However, this is also a time when they might make unhealthy choices or engage in experimental behaviours that lead to lifelong habits that impact their future health.
The WHO emphasises the importance of positive development for young people, particularly the development of certain social skills, sense of self-esteem, sense of discernment, ability to empathise and connect with other people.
Numerous studiesb have shown that students who are involved in giving back to the community tend to perform better academically and are more likely to finish school and succeed in their future endeavours. By bridging academic knowledge to the real world and seeing this knowledge in action, they develop a genuine passion for learning. In addition, they also learn to collaborate with others, plan effectively, make decisions and solve problems.
Participating in service-learning activities also allows them to gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. For example, they might discover how well they can cope when exposed to stressful situations but find it difficult to lead a team. Or they might even learn of innate talents and abilities they never knew about. When they are exposed to different situations, they get an opportunity to build on these skills and work on weaknesses.
Aside from academic and self-developmental reasons, service-learning is great for the adolescent brain because it allows them to socially connect with other people, showing a positive effect on their emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. According to Stanford Medicinec, strong social connections lead to increased longevity and improved immunity. On the other hand, people who can connect well with others are more likely to develop higher self-esteem, have empathy for others and less likely to fall into depression.
Most of all, when they focus on the problems faced by others instead of their own, it shows improved health and reduced stress levels. The London School of Economics and Political Scienced found a link between self-reported levels of good health and happiness and formal service work. Giving back to the community makes people feel happier and improves their mood.
Giving back to the community – The Charterhouse Way
Apart from the myriad of benefits reaped by the giver, it encourages students to become active participants in their community and work towards overcoming challenges together to make the world a better place. The WHO states: “With more than 40% of the world’s population under the age of 24 years, young people have to be part of any meaningful solution to the world’s challenges – and this is their right”.
At Charterhouse Malaysia, we believe our duty is to help students achieve this in a proper manner. And this is done by providing them with the best tools, knowledge, skills and passion to have a positive impact on the community and the wider world as a whole.
Our school ethos is rooted in the three ambitions we have for our students – to study, to create and to inspire. We believe that education is not only about memorising or regurgitating information. It is the ability to think independently, solve problems and adapt to new situations.
Creative thinking is fundamental to deeper learning and is at the heart of everything we do. Carthusians are engaged in the Independent Learning Programme (ILP), which forms an integral part of our curriculum at Charterhouse Malaysia. Throughout their two-year programme, our students conduct an Independent Research Project that encourages them to solve a real-world problem. The project is linked to the curriculum in one or more of the subjects that the learner is pursuing. However, a criterion of every project is that it should be of “demonstrable value to others”.
Hence, we take it a step further and embed it into the concept of service-learning. Students must reach out and go into the community, interact with the people, work with them to identify the challenges and come up with solutions. In this way, they learn to have a real and meaningful impact on the community they are in and carry this vital knowledge with them, be it in the university or their workplace in the future.
Carthusians are also provided with opportunities within the school and through learning projects in the wider community to make a difference and inspire others. The traditional house system – adopted from Charterhouse UK – emphasises participation rather than skill, instilling in students a sense of camaraderie and community.
When students engage in independent learning projects embedded in service learning, they develop critical thinking skills and important personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others.
Through community projects, students develop respect for others and learn to act with ethical integrity. In an environment that respects the individual and relationships, they develop compassion and mindfulness, which fosters the development of ultimate human qualities.
The activities at Charterhouse Malaysia supports the healthy development of a student and accentuates our school culture, which declares that a person’s success is measured in the value of others.
Students graduate from Charterhouse with much more than a renowned qualification. They also have the skills and future-ready qualities that will allow them to move confidently and responsibly in the world.
Charterhouse Malaysia is the Asian extension of one of the original 7 public schools in the UK. A Future-Ready education awaits at one of the most prestigious institutions in Asia. Be part of the Founding Carthusian today.
a. Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning?
b. Vanderbilt University
c. Stanford Medicine
d. London School of Economics