International Service Learning: It's Time Has Come

Article excerpt

It is clear that a network of international service learning is in its formative stage, the authors point out. We must not allow the politics of service programs in the U.S. to blind us to the opportunities in other parts of the world that will enable us to advance the theory and ideology of service learning.

Service learning as a teaching methodology has recently emerged in the United States as a part of the school reform movement. Through the Learn and Serve America initiative of the Corporation for National Service, thousands of K-12 schools nationwide have been awarded grants to develop community/school service projects that are integrated with what is taught in the classroom. Combining many practices of the school reform movement - teachers as facilitators, active student learning, reflective teaching, and connection with real-life situations - this new emphasis on youth service has captured the imagination of educators. In addition, every service project has built into it the "ethic of service": students thinking of someone besides themselves, students as resources for the community, and an increase in students' understanding of the value of active citizenship.

Service learning is a grassroots movement that is springing up in community after community. However, because of America's isolationist tendencies; few practitioners have reflected on the impact that this methodology might be having throughout the world. We at the Institute for Service Learning had no idea how widespread the service-learning movement was internationally until we received invitations to attend annual conferences of the European Council of Independent Schools (ECIS) in Montreux, Switzerland, in November 1995 and in Nice, France, in November 1996. The ECIS represents some 2,000 schools in 50 countries, including the U.S. Our task at these conferences was to describe service learning as it is currently being advocated and practiced in the U.S.

The Montreux conference offered three workshops in service-learning methodology. A year later, in Nice, there were 15 workshops and a full-day preconference training session in service learning for 40 international educators. Since these conferences included 3,000 teachers from 40 countries, the workshops represent a milestone in the efforts to promote service learning internationally.

We originally thought that we were expected to be the experts on service learning who were bringing American ideas to Europe. In fact, we were just one part of a worldwide network of service advocates who are sharing ideas and experiences.

The power of the conference experience grew out of the knowledge of the participants. In the area of youth leadership, no school or group of students in the world could rival the Gymnasia Bejigrad, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Led by teacher Barbara Gostica, students at the school not only helped free their country from Communism, but also in just three years brought the English language to their school as part of the curriculum. They remain a vibrant force in all local community affairs.

Kate Harrison of the International School of Geneva has led expeditions into Tanzania, where high school students have built outdoor toilets and set up schools for the use of local villagers. Harrison integrates these experiences into her classroom curriculum to help students develop critical thinking skills and an appreciation of other cultures.

Experts in developing students' creativity include Sally Robertson of the International School of Vienna, Dinos Aristidiou of the Danube Institute, and Annie McMannas of the Frankfurt International School. These three educators bring to the field of service learning new and invigorating ideas about how young people can express themselves more creatively. Their ideas are significant for the U.S. model of service learning because they mirror current trends in this country to increase the level of reflection and celebration/recognition. …