As an IB school we have a strong commitment to service, but as with many schools translating the idea of service into the realities of action needs some thought. One of the issues that we have bumped into is the question of what came first, the learning or the service? An infamously difficult question to answer. Also, which one is the driver?
Currently, our school system of requiring students to participate in community service – a kindly forced-volunteerism – is based on the idea that learning will happen through the service projects that we are engaged in. While this may be true, as a school we would hope that the learning we carefully plan for in units of inquiry would further enable students to contribute to the community, to take action, to have a voice.
So it seems that we may not need to answer the question, rather recognize the cyclical nature of the service/learning relationship. Next year, we hope to follow through more consistently with action originating from school based learning and some of this will be in the form of service. Identifying some of the great action that our students are involved in independently and supporting this with further learning incorporated into our units of inquiry is also important. In this sense, the process should incorporate an element of ‘service for learning’ as well as an element of ‘learning for service’, but only if we widen our focus.