Updated: May 8, 2019
In service learning, students learn to tackle real-world problems in their community, while building deeper understanding and skills for themselves.
I've seen first-hand what service learning can do to help the local community, while also providing valuable learning experiences for young people. The best thing is - it can be a real win, win. By both empowering youngsters to make positive real-world change (e.g. tree planting, building community facilities in under resourced countries, sourcing materials and planting a vegetable garden at a homeless refuge) while, at the same time, encouraging face-to-face interaction between young people, committed volunteers, community organizations and local businesses; there's incredible potential for valuable learning to take place, in a way that classroom-based learning simply could never match!
Engaging Young People in Local Sustainability Issues
But how can we go about getting children engaged in sustainability issues facing their community? Well, we could encourage students to go around the neighborhood canvassing for opportunities to help local charities and organizations for service learning. However, that would be time consuming and probably not beneficial to the learning process.
Or we could hire a 'gap year' company to organize community work for us in a developing country. But the downside to this is, it would be costly and commercial service learning experiences have the tendency to feel rather contrived, sometimes leaving you wondering whether you made any real difference to the community you were working in.
Community Mapping: Compass of Sustainability
Or alternatively, you could start by looking in your own backyard (so to speak), through a process known as Community Mapping! This is a really useful hands-on precursor designed to give students a good feel of the sustainability challenges their neighborhood is facing, and get them to think about any collective action they could take to give back to their community. It relies on a mixture of kinesthetic learning, class discussion, brainstorming, mapping and action planning, to really get to the heart of local sustainability issues.
A brilliant framework to use for Community Mapping (and any sustainability-based educational activity for that matter) is the Compass of Sustainability; a smart tool for breaking down complex sustainability issues into bite-sized pieces using Nature, Economy, Society and Wellbeing (North-East-South-West) as the axes of investigation as outlined below:
N is for Nature – All of our natural ecological systems and environmental concerns, from ecosystem health and nature conservation, to resource use and waste
E is for Economy – The human systems that convert nature’s resources into food, shelter, ideas, technologies, industries, services, money and jobs