Education Beyond the Classroom

Today, service learning or community service learning is increasingly being recognised as an important part of education to develop active and compassionate future leaders.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), an academically challenging and holistic education programme, has assimilated social services as a fundamental part of its curriculum.

While emphasising the development of the whole student—physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically—the programme promotes and supports service learning by making it mandatory for students to engage in a variety of community service initiatives.

Taylor’s College Sri Hartamas is one of the few private colleges in Malaysia that offers the IBDP. The programme is taught over two years and has gained recognition and respect from the world’s leading universities.

The college’s IBDP students are required to complete an annual community-service project that will take them beyond the classroom, giving them a platform to acquire new skills by working directly with the community.

Earlier this year, 32 first year IBDP students from the college travelled to a village in Beng Mealea, near Siam Reap, where they spent five days working with a local school there. The trip was organised in collaboration with Camps International that specialises in international volunteer and service programmes.

“As part of social learning, all first year IBDP students at Taylor’s College are encouraged to participate in an international service trip to rural Cambodia,” says Valerie Smith, IBDP lecturer in Theatre Arts & Literature.

Smith has been coaching first year IBDP students through the process of planning and carrying out the annual service trip overseas and this was the third time IBDP students went to Cambodia.

She says there were three main projects that they engaged in this year: to help build accommodation for the local teachers, to show local farmers eco-friendly farming techniques (and the creation of an organic garden) and to teach local students English.

“The aim of the trip is to create learning opportunities outside the classroom. It has become an important part of the students’ IB experience and we hope to mould them to become more globally minded and caring individuals.

“When we were there, the students stayed in very basic accommodation. There were only a few hours of power supply by generators. They also ate local food and mingled with the locals. What they experienced was close to how the natives lived,” says Smith.

In fact, the trip has left an indelible mark on many students who are keen to share their first-hand experiences.

“I’ve not only learned new things like perma-culture and sustainable farming but also a different mindset,” says Trischa Theva, 20. “I learned that in what we do, we are responsible for not just ourselves but also our neighbours and community.”

She was inspired by the local children who seemed “satisfied and happy”.

“Their smiles were so contagious. We have so many things yet we complain and are not satisfied. It really puts things into perspective,” she says. “After being there, it makes you feel thankful for what you have,” says Saw Xiu Ching, 17, whose most memorable moment was seeing how the young children were eager to learn English.

“I was teaching the children that day and during a break, the kids came back with a ball and wanted to play with me. It was a simple game and each of them would shout out a word that they had learned when they caught and bounced the ball. I was really happy to see how they wanted to learn.”

Saw was the leader for the fund-raising activities for the trip. Through a few events, the students managed to raise US$960 and they brought items like clothes, books and other necessities to the villagers.

For his part, Moses Wong Cheng Qing, 19, was sad to discover many of the local children do not have the opportunity to go to school because their parents need them to work in the farm. He feels compelled to go back there again the future.

“What I hope is for the students to develop not only the values of helping other people, but also the pleasure of helping others,” says Smith adding that students are required to put together a reflective documentary piece that they will share with other students.

She says IBDP students have to take six subjects at higher level (HL) and standard level (SL) covering various disciplines such as languages, social studies, the experimental sciences, fine arts and mathematics.

But embedded in the IBDP curriculum is compulsory extra-curriculum activities that come with the acronym CAS—Creativity (arts-related activities), Action (sports and physical activities) and Service (community services).

For CAS activities, students are encouraged to generate their own projects outside the college. Each student is to take up a project of 18-month commitment; they are also required to spend a minimum of 30 hours on each of the CAS category.

“Taking up these projects is a path to self-discovery. You are exposed to many other things outside the academics and may discover something you love or you are good at,” says Smith. For instance, Wong has found his new passion in running after joining the college’s running club.

“Initially I was pushed to run by the teacher but now I really love it. I have joined some competitions and am still maintaining about twice a week 10km-run during exams,” says Wong. He is also involved with an orphanage project called Project Adopt, which was started by a senior IBPD student.

Saw’s 18-month project is under Creativity—she is learning a Chinese musical instrument, and for social service, she has joined the Smiling Tummy, a soup kitchen project that feeds the poor and homeless.

To her, the IBDP’s biggest advantage is she can keep her options open for university degree. She can also explore various subjects before deciding what to do in the future.

Likewise, Trischa is happy the programme has opened her eyes to new things. “I have come to realise how much more open I’ve become as a person and with friends, I am able to talk about topics concerning community and society rather than about ourselves only.”

The Sun Daily, posted on 19 August 2014