Service Learning   

  • …if you believe in something, you must not just think or talk or write, but must act.
    Peterson (2003)

    Service learning within the Career-related Programme

    Service learning is the development and application of knowledge and skills towards meeting an identified and authentic community need. In this research-based approach, students often undertake service initiatives related to topics studied previously in their academic disciplines, utilizing skills, understandings and values developed in these studies. Service learning builds upon students’ prior knowledge and background, enabling them to make links between their academic disciplines and their service experiences.

    Service learning provides opportunities for students to apply their interests, skills and talents along with academic knowledge towards the common good while being observant of personal development and the impact of their actions. Student engagement in the process of service learning often engenders a natural enthusiasm as students find meaning by bridging classroom content with purposeful action.

    Through the authenticity of the experience, there is the potential to transform or redefine a student’s behaviour and actions within his or her personal values, changing the student while the student’s actions change the community for the better.

    During service learning, students develop and apply academic knowledge, personal skills and social skills in real-life situations in accordance with the IB mission statement and the IB learner profile. These skills include:

    • decision-making
    • problem-solving
    • initiative
    • responsibility
    • accountability for actions.

    Service learning fosters positive development in four key areas:

    • Knowledge development refers to a deeper understanding of the nature, purpose and importance of what is learned through varied approaches to content and experiences. It should lead to improved cognitive and intellectual skills, while providing a richer context for academic learning and improved student engagement.
    • Personal development refers to the ability to tap into students’ self-perception in relation to their abilities and potential. During the service learning process, students identify personal interests, skills, talents and areas for growth. Through awareness of their strengths, areas for growth, inner feelings and thoughts, students become more self-aware, self-confident, self-directed, able to take risks and resilient.
    • Social development refers to the ability to work with other individuals and within groups. Issues of responsibility, commitment, communication, independence and interdependence, diversity of opinion, leadership, recognizing emotions and interpersonal relationships can all be explored.
    • Civic development refers to becoming involved in community issues and developing pro-social behaviours. This can lead to an increased awareness of community connections, community problems, citizenship and social responsibility, which in turn allows the students to develop an understanding of
      the relationships between local and global concerns.


    All CP students are required to engage in a service learning programme. Completion of service learning is based on student achievement of the five service learning outcomes.

    All students are required to maintain and complete a service learning portfolio as evidence of their engagement with service learning throughout the programme and of application of the five stages of service learning. While not formally assessed, the portfolio gives students an opportunity to outline and
    reflect on their service learning experience. This provides the school with evidence that the student has achieved the five service learning outcomes.
    As part of the programme, students engage in three interviews with their service learning coordinator.

    These formal interviews are documented by the coordinator and the student as further evidence of student achievement of the five outcomes.

    • The first interview is at the beginning of the service learning programme.
    • The second interview is at the end of the first year of the service learning programme.
    • The third interview is at the end of the service learning programme.

    The provision of service learning is expected to run concurrently with the other components of the CP core.

    The career-related context

    With many students, it may be appropriate for the service learning plans and identified need to be correlated to their career-related studies. If, for example, students are undertaking a course on health care as part of their career-related studies, service learning experiences related to hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centres and nursing homes could be ideal.

    For some students, exploring a distinct or different area of interest may develop or provoke new avenues for exploration and open further career opportunities. In most service learning experiences, students will come into contact with people in diverse roles in society and learn about careers that may be new to them, or that they may experience and understand in new ways.

    Links with the personal and professional skills course (PPS)

    The relationship between personal and professional skills and service learning is relevant and useful to the students. Service learning coordinators/advisers are encouraged to make links between personal and professional skills and service learning.

    Each of the five themes of personal and professional skills has relevance to service learning.

    • Personal development: forms the basis for self-reflection and explores the skills required to organize and manage time, make decisions and manage change.
    • Intercultural understanding: the exploration of cultures and cultural perspectives, including one’s own, enables students to be effective in diverse settings.
    • Effective communication: focuses on interpersonal communication, writing, presentation and IT skills.
    • Thinking processes: explores the topics of ethical thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem-solving and lateral thinking.
    • Applied ethics: the IB’s commitment to principled action requires students to take responsibility for their actions and consequences and act with integrity and honesty.

    These themes can be utilized by the service learning coordinator/adviser in consultation with the personal and professional skills teacher. Incorporating aspects of the personal and professional skills course in service learning would provide further relevance to the students of the interrelated nature of the components of the CP core.

    Links to academic studies

    Service learning should be associated wherever possible with students’ academic studies. Service learning provides an ideal vehicle to make tangible the nature, content and knowledge of the students’ academic studies. For example, a student studying business management may utilize the knowledge gained to undertake social entrepreneurship benefiting an area of the local community. A student studying biology may investigate the local waterways and develop a plan to assist with cleaning it up.

    Subject-specific teachers can assist students in developing service learning experiences by deepening their understanding related to a relevant issue identified by the students. Students can utilize their classroom time to investigate and research issues associated with their subject area, leading to planning and action of service learning experiences.

    Teachers can deliberately integrate the process of service learning within academic courses to advance understanding through depth of inquiry and application of knowledge and skills to meet an authenticated need. When integrated within an academic class, students can participate in the five stages of service learning:

    • investigation
    • preparation
    • action
    • reflection
    • demonstration.

    By doing so, students become more capable of transferring this process to an idea of their own design.

    Service learning is known to enliven academics as students see how their studies can be readily applied in the community.

    For example:

    • Students learn about an event in recent history and, as a result, collect local stories from senior members of the community to contribute to the library and historical archive. Students develop both inquiry and documentation skills.
    • In a literature class, students create and perform a contemporary version of a play for elementary children. This increases the students’ understanding of the original text while developing their collaboration, writing and communication skills.
    • In a mathematics class, students assist in designing a community parking lot to maximize the number of cars while ensuring adequate spaces for accessible parking for disabled people.
    • In a science class, students identify a location for a rainwater garden then install and maintain it as a model for the local community.

    As service learning is integrated within academic classes, teachers and students find a shared purpose in applying knowledge and abilities in ways that call upon the continual development of transferable skills.

    Experiencing the process within a classroom heightens student confidence in taking independent action.

    The international dimension

    Service learning builds on other international dimensions experienced by CP students. They are encouraged to view aspects of their service learning in a broad, global context. They are challenged to become internationally minded and culturally aware. Students can investigate and reflect on cultural values and behaviors, leading to a greater understanding and respect for other peoples and the way in which they lead their lives. Students should be reminded, however, that often it is just as important to look closer to home. Working with people from different social and cultural backgrounds in the local context can do as much to foster international-mindedness and mutual understanding as international service learning experiences or projects.

  • Information on these pages is from the Career-related Programme Service learning guide. International Baccalaureate Organization. 2015. Print.