May 25, 2016
Soon after I appeared for SLC in the year 2003, I got an opportunity to volunteer at St. Xavier’s Social Service Center. While volunteering at the center, I got a chance to see the reality that was so different from what was real for me within the confines of the classroom and my circle of close friends and family members. The hardships and challenges faced by the differently-able children at the center awakened my senses and as I look back on it, they made me more empathetic and compassionate.
I only wish I had an opportunity to experience it while I was in school. As a secondary level teacher now, I advocate for students to have a firsthand experience in community service so that they are aware of the social reality and they know how their small efforts can positively change the larger community.
Student participation in community services has multifaceted benefits. While the students benefit by getting an opportunity to apply what they have learnt in classroom in the real world, the community benefits as it leads to the development of citizens who are empathetic, compassionate and have civic sense. Today, as much as we need skilled and qualified doctors, engineers, teachers and journalists for the country’s development, we also need empathetic, kind and benevolent professionals in all sectors. Humanity is the need of this century and we cannot transfer it through books. It can only be learnt through experience.
The Education Act of Nepal (2028) limits the participation of students in community activities as an ‘extracurricular activity’ and states that schools should encourage students to be involved in programs promoting social service and awareness about the environment. It also encourages activities such as cleaning and sanitation of educational institution and public places, school-building, gardening, etc. Despite such limitations, some private schools are engaging their students in community service. A private school in Lalitpur successfully ran a campaign titled ‘Don’t Sell Cigarettes to Minors’ last year. The students conducted a door-to-door campaign and made local shopkeepers aware of harmful consequences of selling cigarettes to minors. Students, school management and teachers along with community members collaboratively strived to bring positive social change.
This is just an example of how schools are engaging students in community service. A little research on the needs of the local community can further benefit the schools that are planning to introduce similar programs. However, it is important to orient teachers and ensure that they don’t perceive it as an added responsibility, but take it in positive spirit. It is important that teachers understand and accept the need to conduct such activities as they have a vital role in implementing such programs. This can also be an opportunity to develop leadership qualities in teachers as they become community- and school-leaders and change makers. Furthermore, it may also lead to higher self esteem and job satisfaction in teachers.
On the other hand, schools shouldn’t adopt such practices only because other schools are doing it or because it is one way to promote school brand. A proper strategic planning and a clear understanding of the objective of such practice can augment school reputation as well as improve student achievement. There should be strong collaboration between schools and community bodies in order to plan, design and implement programs that can benefit the community. Parents’ participation is as important as they must understand why it is important for their children to engage in community activities.
Research suggests that service-learning helps students understand their role in the larger world. It is also an instructional strategy which allows students to analyze and solve problems in the community. Students engaged in community service activities may also reap benefits in their career as they will have gained experience in handling responsibilities, doing clerical jobs and communicating with people from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds.
As John Dewey said years ago, a democracy depends on the willingness of learned citizens to engage in the public realm. Again, there are multiple benefits of engaging students in community services. So schools must do more to bring students out of their classrooms and into the community for hands-on learning.
By Elisa Shrestha