Empowering Future Leaders: Service Learning and the Sustainable Development Goals

by Samuel Hodge.

We are going to delve into a topic close to my heart – the intersection of service learning and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we navigate the path towards creating global citizens, this journey is not just a part of our curriculum but an integral aspect of our school ethos. The theme flows through our Mission, Vision and the fabric of what we do, with four of our core values focused within a global citizenship strand (Collaboration, Integrity, Kindness and Open-mindedness). We uphold these core values to underpin all our outreach work. These words have become our student drivers: 

Collaboration in working with NGOs, stakeholders and the community to drive change. 

Integrity is being honest about how we can support and having strong moral principles to deliver on what we pledge. 

Kindness is shown through how we use our time to teach others and show understanding and compassion. 

Open-mindedness is about understanding a problem and looking at lots of options before we act. 

A school’s mission statement should be at the centre of everything you do with your students in mind. Is this the case in your school? Are you focusing your school conversation back on your future plans?

Poll: What are the 3 skills/values you want students to leave your school with when they graduate?

A Purposeful Journey: Integrating Service Learning and the SDGs

At the heart of our educational philosophy lies a commitment to nurturing responsible and compassionate individuals. There has never been a more important time to develop skills, and what better way to do this than through the integration of Service Learning and the SDGs working on real-world problems with external partners such as NGOs? The SDGs serve as a compass guiding our students towards a deeper understanding of real-world issues (take a look at the sustainability compass – systems approach). By weaving these concepts into our curriculum, we aim to empower our students to be active contributors to create a positive change in the world.

The Sustainability Compass is easy to understand. A regular compass helps us map the territory and find our direction. 

N is for Nature – All of our natural ecological systems and environmental concerns, from ecosystem health and nature conservation, to resource use and waste.

E is for Economy – The human systems that convert nature’s resources into food, shelter, ideas, technologies, industries, services, money and jobs.

S is for Society – The institutions, organisations, cultures, norms, and social conditions that make up our collective life as human beings.

W is for Wellbeing – Our individual health, happiness, and quality of life.

Navigating the Landscape: A Glimpse into Our Initiatives

1. School to Community – Local to Global Impact

Our students engage in The POWIIS project (Service learning/passion project curriculum – an elective project for 2 hours every week) addressing local environmental concerns. From waste management to sustainable practices, they not only make a tangible impact in our community but also link their actions to broader global goals, fostering a sense of interconnectedness. 

One example of this is how students build layers on top of a simple project/idea to take them to the next level. Students first start to explore the problem, let’s look at waste/rubbish. Beach cleans are a fantastic way to get involved and call students to action. Beach cleans have a place, however, they do not tackle the issue of education and the waste from its source. They also do not repurpose the rubbish or collect any data.

2. Collaborative Learning Spaces

Imagine a classroom where students take charge, collaborating on passion projects that transcend traditional subjects. Service learning projects become the bridge between theory and practice, creating a dynamic learning space where students actively contribute to solutions for challenges outlined in the SDGs and the local area.

Through this model students share their knowledge in the community, the data they have collected and how people can help. After/during a clean they collect data, engage in sorting the waste, cleaning, shredding (recycling) then repurpose the material into flower pots, carabinas etc.  

3. Learning Without Walls

In our commitment to fostering a holistic and immersive educational experience, we embraced the concept of “Learning Without Walls.” This initiative transcends traditional classroom settings, encouraging students to explore beyond physical and conceptual boundaries. Through various outdoor and experiential learning opportunities, students not only gain a deeper understanding of theoretical concepts but also develop crucial life skills.

The “Learning Without Walls” beach cleaning is not just a service to support wider society, it is an amazing learning opportunity to approach and extend beyond the beach. Geographical boundaries are no more, and we break down conceptual barriers within traditional subjects (why do some beaches have more waste or a specific type of waste?). Interdisciplinary projects challenge students to synthesise knowledge from various disciplines, fostering a more comprehensive understanding of complex issues. How can we measure microplastics? How can we separate and test for a type of plastic (floats on oil/water)? How can we reuse this waste? How can we recycle it? What process can we use? What is the resin code? All inquiry-based questions for students to explore. 

By setting up pop-up shops across the island the students have been able to create a sustainable business from waste, turning a simple beach clean into a cross-curricular model with links to Science, Design and Technology, English, Business Studies and many more. This approach empowers students to navigate an ever-changing global landscape, fostering adaptability, resilience, and a genuine passion for lifelong learning. Through these initiatives, we are not just educating students, we are preparing them to thrive in a world that demands creativity, collaboration, and a deep sense of global responsibility.

Innovative Approaches: Letter to the Future Leaders (Our strapline “be the change”)

Dear Students,

As you embark on this journey of service learning and SDGs through the POWIIS Project, remember that you are not just learners but leaders of tomorrow. Your actions today ripple into the future. Let this be a letter to inspire, a reminder that each effort, no matter how small, contributes to a larger narrative of positive change.

Engage and Reflect: Your Thoughts Matter

As we explore these initiatives, I invite your thoughts and reflections. How do you envision your school contributing to the SDGs? Share your ideas, concerns, and dreams with us. This dialogue is an essential part of shaping our collective journey towards a sustainable and just world.

POLL: Do you embed the SDGs in your curriculum or as part of your ECA/club programme? Yes, no, considering

In Conclusion: A Call to Action

In conclusion, the amalgamation of service learning and SDGs is not just an educational strategy but a call to action. It’s a call to nurture compassionate leaders who understand the power of collective effort. Let’s continue this journey together, weaving a tapestry of change that transcends borders and generations.

As always, your engagement is vital. Share your thoughts, collaborate with us, and let’s continue to grow as a community committed to making a difference.

Samuel Hodge is the Deputy Principal ( Student and Community Development ), Prince of Wales Island International School, Penang, Malaysia

To connect with Samuel on LinkedIn, click Here

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In next week’s Leading Your International School Principal’s Blog,  Grant Fox – the World Cup-winning fly half of the New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ rugby team looks back on his career and his lessons in leadership.  

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