Edlira Gjoni, representing Mary Ward Loreto Foundation

Background

The 20th International Service-Learning Conference took place on 22th- 26th August 2017, in the San Agustín Conference Hall of Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina.

The conference was organized by CLAYSS, with the support of the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) and the Ministry of Education of Argentina. It gathered teachers, heads and students from schools of all levels and modalities, as well as higher education Institutions and social organizations working with the Service Learning Approach in their work in education.

The Conference takes place within the framework of the International Service-Learning Week and it also included a Service-Learning Research Symposium, where researchers and practitioners of Service Learning share findings and evidence based recommendations for future steps in Service Learning.

The ClayssConference has been established as the most important event for experts and institutions that drive the service-learning pedagogical approach. During the event, 16 parallel workshops were organized, with participants from various experience and background in the development of service-learning practices and programs and with the participation of leading specialists from Argentina, Latin America, and other regions around the world.

For the second year, there were representatives from Central Europe (Matej Bel University in Banksa Bistrica) and for the first time in this conference, Eastern Europe was also invited to participate.

Representing Mary Ward Loreto Foundation and the new initiative on Service Learning Project in Lezha, Ms. Edlira Gjoni participated actively in all sessions of this important event on Service Learning Approach.

Ms. Gjoni participated in all actives during this week of solidarity, accountability, responsibility and new learning approach, which emphasizes the student’s learning outcome based on the service they offer to the community, making them better citizens, leaders and active in their initiative and civic engagement.

The conference is a unique opportunity of sharing and updating among those who are committed to solidarity and service learning as pedagogy.

The Service Learning Week had three main components for the invitee from Albania:

  • Visiting schools which apply Service Learning Approach in Argentina (Small group of special invitees)
  • Participating in the Research Symposium and Workshops, (closed event for Education Academics only), to contribute to an evidence based understanding of the SL and the next steps for a wider use of the approach
  • Service Learning Conference, open to 600 participants, on SL as a pedagogy and the network of SL in the world.

In the next sections, there is a summarized overview for each of these three components of the conference.

The Activities – Visiting SL schools

For a better understanding of Service Learning implementation, spirit and impact, Clayss organized day visits and dialogue with four schools who apply Service Learning approach in Buenos Aires, in schools for all level of education, from secondary school and public universities, to vocational schools and private institutions, as below :

  1. Centro Educativo “IsauroArancibia“, which is a formal Education center for Adult Education, teaching people from vulnerable groups, who have not had the opportunity to complete formal education. Service Learning here is applied in all subjects, it might take up to one year, and it is implemented in the form of small projects who are initiated by students and MUST finalize as a useful service and benefit to the community (i.e. ending drug use, raising awareness about street violence and helping the city council in their public work: planting trees, painting kindergartens, maintaining the small parks).
  2. Instituto Virgen Inmaculada, secondary catholic school in Buenos Aires outskirts. Here Service Learning is applied in arts and culture classes, producing audiovisual content and uploading it on the internet, to be used by peers inside the school and outside Buenos Aires. The aim is to interact with other young people in the neighborhood and through visual art and creativity, to develop ideas on how they are helping their community to be a safer and better place for all.
  3. Escuela Técnica N° 12 Gral. José de San Martín. Vocational school in Buenos Aires, applying Service Learning in its electronic branch. Students from the 1st to the 4th grade work with the community to develop useful solutions for affordable heating, creative gardening in the city and other electrical solutions for their daily life. The schools is one of the best performing schools in Latin America.
  4. Escuela Superior de Comercio Carlos Pellegrini–High school which has managed to institutionalize the Service Learning after 5 successful years of Service Learning projects, and has a specific curriculum which prioritizes the approach.

Key learning from visiting the schools:

  • Service Learning takes different forms and meanings in every school
  • There is not a unique, standardized model regarding number of school hours, insertion in the curriculum or duration of the project.
  • What is common in all projects is the approach: Students get engaged in a project that serves the community and at the end of it, there is a grade for each student which is reflected in the final grade of each subject included in the project.
  • All Service Learning projects are supported by an NGO, by local business or any other source, with small funds that enable students to produce the materials required for the Service Project (i.e. printing leaflets, purchasing row material for small initiatives, producing audiovisual content, organizing local campaigns for road safety, etc.)
  • In all schools, there are at least two teachers who provide extra contribution and serve as contact points (school coordinators) for the Service Learning Projects, and the supporting organizations provides a modest incentive for the extra work.
  • Service Learning is widely used in Latin America, and in the form of “Project Work” as a separate subject, it is optional in almost 80% of Argentinian schools.

Service Learning Research Symposium

Meeting at the Ministry of Education Arg about Service Learning

Meeting at the Ministry of Education Arg about Service Learning

The one-day Research Symposium brought together presentations, findings and analysis of research on Service Learning from different parts of the world, in varioustopics. Papers are available for teacher training and for use from NGO staff, and for MWL foundation, some of the relevant papers collected, which can serve for the pilot Service Learning and future endeavors are:

Health, game and communication in popular areas

Teaching innovation project to promote Service-Learning and Social Responsibility

Service-Learning: Experience and effects of this methodology in the community

The potential of Service-Learning for the personalization of school learning

Service-Learning in the implementation of public policy for children

Intergenerational project and emotions in a context of vulnerability

Girls’ and boys’ ideas about participation: their importance in Service-Learning projects

Impact of Service-Learning in students 5 years later

Evaluate and improve the processes of institutionalization of Service-Learning Projects in Secondary School

The community in an experience of Service-Learning in a business context

Service-Learning and development of social and personal responsibility

Community Intervention Program: An experience between academia and communities

How does the SL methodology impact the learning process of university students?

SL Contributions to academic training from the students’ perspective;

How to teach-How to learn: Service-Learning as an Opportunity to Improve the Practice;

Experiential learning based on organizational and professional challenges

Building Social Networks as an Experience of Service- Learning

The Conference

Conference

Held at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, organised by Clayss

More than 600 participants from all over the world participated in the Service Learning Conference, which provided a good balance of the last 20 years of contributions of service-learning to an inclusive and quality education. The main session was dedicated to the Service-Learning as an innovation and educational tradition in Latin America and the world.

The main part of the conference were the workshops, where participants were actively involved to contribute in 12 sessions which shared and planned next steps for Service Learning in schools, universities and organizations.

The workshops produced useful information and ideas for Clayss and for the participants on how to start a service-learning project at school, how to use Service-Learning in socially vulnerable contexts, how to use Service-Learning in various subjects and peculiarly in science and technology, the best ways to effectively use Service-Learning in Social Sciences and training for active citizenship for students, etc.

At the end of the first day, participants witnessed the Service-learning impact in the voice of former students. Four former students who used Service Learning at school were invited to share their successful stories from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico. This was the most welcome part of the conference, as the four students returned to a Service Learning event after more than 10 years. It was therefore highly interesting to observe the impact of the approach in the work and character of these four students, who are today community leaders or reputable professionals in carpentry, city guide, veterinary and teaching.

The four emphasized that Service Learning, apart from better academic performance, helped them to become better citizens, active and engaging humans, and increased their sense of responsibility for the communities where they live.

Currently, they are all active and reputable leaders of their communities and support actively service learning in their former schools.

The second day of the conference, which was also the last one of the Service Learning Week, highlighted the award-winning experiences of the “EscuelasSolidarias” Presidential Award 2016- Argentina and “Solidarity Education” Award in Uruguay.

One panel discussion was dedicated to the service-learning networks and how it is being spread around the world. This is where Mary Ward Loreto Foundation has just entered, and in the coming conferences, will have its space on the panel and network, to share its experience and SL steps in Albania.

Conclusions

Service Learning is a very interesting approach that puts the student and the community at the center of the approach, where apart from serving to the community in practice or special hours, the students acquire skills and abilities beyond academic achievements.

  • Students who participate in Service Learning approach gain leadership skills, become better citizens, actively engaged people and reasonable citizens, giving an example to others for a healthier democracy.
  • To apply Service Learning in schools, a sense of commitment, open mind and flexibility from schools and teachers is required. Extra work and out-of-the-box thinking is necessary to implement the approach, and often, funds are required to complete SL projects. Therefore, not all schools and all classes are able to be involved, without the willingness, the commitment and the financial support.
  • Networking with Service Learning NGOs, schools, universities and institutions is required.
  • The approach can be adapted to the context and there is not a fixed-model of how the approach should be implemented
  • The most important outcomes should always be:
    • The students acquire new skills, academically and not, becoming a model of civic engagement and leadership
    • The communities benefit from the project
    • The schools stand out of other schools because of the approach
    • The NGO’s apply an impactful approach that serves both the schools and the communities.
  • It is necessary to focus, participate and master various steps, such as: teacher training, cooperation with education institutions, internal agreement with the schools on how to adapt SL hours within the curriculum, peer-to-peer consultation and exchange, itinerary of Service-Learning projects in the other experiences, expanding the network within NGOs and Institutions in Albania, exploring the chances of the institutionalization of Service-Learning in Schools, discuss with other NGOs and institutions the Social Responsibility, school commitment and Service-Learning in education, address with the selected school the “solidarity education” and extension of the school day and explore the opportunities to see organizations as spaces for service-learning.
  • Service Learning can last from 3 months to an entire academic year, deepening on the project and the subjects involved.

Final note

Service Learning is one the best proven approaches to help students become civically engaged, better citizens and take the lead early in their life.

There are many ways to implement a Service Learning project and with the willingness and flexibility of schools and support of organizations, the students and the communities in Albania can truly benefit from this practical and impactful approach.

MWL Foundation can be the leading organization in Albania in SL projects and in the SL network that is being built by Clayss in Central and Eastern Europe. Excellent opportunity for the staff, for the schools, for students and for the organization to give its example outside Albania.

Details of Clayss:

www.clayss.org.ar

Edlira Gjoni

Buenos Aires, 26 August 2017