Student Volunteering in Schools – Part 1
Posted on: October 5, 2018.

Author: Mrs. Radhika Mohan, Educational Consultant

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Student volunteering programs play a prominent role in our school. I often find them enthusiastically involved in Buddy Reading programs, café maintenance, running the school tuck shop, in motivational classes where older children tutor the younger ones, participating actively as Student Council members, organizing school events like the Library Day every month, and such. The list, however, is not exhaustive. I think we are still at the nascent stage. We must empower our students a lot more to become the ‘right kind’ of volunteers.

Students aged 14-17 years were asked “What is a volunteer?” No surprise! Their response was as narrow and limited as you would expect, centering largely on ‘helping other people in need’, shares a teacher, Susan J Ellis. Very few schools may have an inbuilt curriculum in their learning program, which would teach students about volunteering. The curriculum should cater to first educate the teachers on the subject, and then to help them teach their students.

The highlight must be on elucidating the historical and current role of citizens in community involvement. Yes, students are encouraged to DO volunteering. This is already happening a bit, quite certainly. But the challenge lies mainly in trying to put this exercise into a meaningful context. How to incorporate an awareness of volunteerism as a natural part of learning.

Says Susan, “Citizen Action is ‘Volunteering’”. A huge step forward would be simply identifying “Citizen Action” as “Volunteering” when discussed in the classroom. For example, in India, and countries elsewhere, history and social studies subjects teach about ‘movements’—the Peace Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Swadeshi Andolan, the Chipko Movement, the Namantar Andolan, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and many more. So, what is a Movement?

It is nothing but the cumulative effect of the efforts of countless citizens on behalf of a cause involved in activities such as protest marches, lobbying government officials, public gatherings, speeches to change public opinions, and such. These are all what the people do—above and beyond their daily routine of earning their livelihood. This is the actual impact of the act of volunteering.

It would be illuminating to say that no one gets paid to do what is to be done justifiably. Every revolution begins with the action of one person and with the support of people willing to risk all for their beliefs: “I am doing something for a good cause that will help my community live a better life.”

It would be heartening if teachers spoke about the ‘right to assemble’, and about other rights to students. Free speech is integral to lawful citizen action, even if aimed at changing the status quo of important issues of concern in the society. As education professionals, we need to practice volunteering, not just simply teach. Why, even in our school, we follow simple volunteering practices; not just teaching volunteering! …

…continued in the next part

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