Civic Responsibility And Mandatory Service Learning Projects Education Essay

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A number of studies have shown that service learning is an effective learning tool for schools as it helps to develop character and nurture values in the students. (Winnings, 2002;Kaye, 2010; Bhaerman, Cordell, & Gomez, 1998; Kahne,Westhiemer & Roger, 2000; Andersen & Murphy,1999)

"Service Learning is defined as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning process, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities." (What is service learning, 2011)

Hence, many schools are increasingly incorporating this pedagogy into their education system and implementing a mandatory policy for students to fulfill a set number of community services before they graduate. (Winnings, 2002; Kaye, 2010)

Likewise, in the National Institute of Education (NIE), student teachers are required to participate in a mandatory service learning project known as Group Endeavours in Service Learning (GESL) during their first year in school. As teachers play a pivotal role in students' lives, they are expected to possess the right values and attitudes. Henceforth, NIE has made service learning as a mandatory component within its curriculum for all student teachers to ensure that they are able to develop a stronger awareness of the various needs in our community. In turn, this would help them to relate the importance of community involvement projects to their students.

Despite the numerous studies (Winnings, 2002;Kaye, 2010; Bhaerman, Cordell, & Gomez, 1998) that have shown the extensive benefits of service learning, little research(Bringle & Duffy, 1998; Harrison, 1987; Billig,2000) has been conducted to find out the effects of mandated service learning on students' attitudes, and whether they would be as effective as voluntary service learning projects. Service-learning expects a level of altruism that requires participants to be intrinsically motivated. Thus it seems unlikely for students to internalize prosocial values through the mere implementation of mandatory projects in schools.

Henceforth, the aim of this paper is to examine the benefits and limitations associated with mandatory service learning in NIE, and more specifically find out whether the GESL project is able to meet its intended objectives of instilling a sense of civic responsibility in the student teachers. Using the survey findings, I focus firstly by evaluating the effect of mandatory service on trainee teachers' attitudes. Secondly, I will investigate the impact of GESL on the respondents' prosocial attitudes.


The surveys were gathered from 15 student teachers from different GESL groups during the author's geography lecture. By soliciting data from students of different GESL group, the author would be able to obtain a more representative sample of the data. First year students were chosen to be the respondents for the surveys as they have just finished their service learning module (GESL) and would be able to give a more detailed perspective of their GESL project.

The questionnaire consists of 9 questions that solicit students' perception of the benefits and limitations of service learning programmes in NIE; the motivations underling volunteerism; and also several questions that measure the impact of GESL on respondents' prosocial attitudes. To encourage honesty, names were not included in the survey. Respondents would only need to state their gesl group and the activity that their group has organized in the survey.

The survey consists of open-ended and likert-type questions to evaluate their GESL experience. The likert scale questions measures the respondents' view of the gesl experience, whether they would continue with voluntary work after GESL and also their degree of agreement or disagreement regarding aspects of prosocial attitudes. There were also open-ended questions that solicit the respondents' views regarding the GESL experience, and whether service learning should be mandated in NIE.

Findings & Discussion

To determine whether GESL is able to strengthen students' sense of civic responsibility, the data collected from the questionnaire will be analyzed.

As seen in the findings, respondents who were more active in community work(15% of the respondents who volunteered on a monthly basis) showed a significant increase of prosocial attitudes after GESL. These respondents tend to react positively towards the questions that measures their aspect of social responsibility(refer to Fig 1, 2 and 3). On the other hand, respondents who participated in community work because they were required to, showed a decrease in their prosocial attitudes. Fifty-six percentage of the respondents disagreed that "being actively involved in community issues is everybody's responsibility".(refer to Fig 1) Likewise 47% of the respondents who disagreed with the previous question also show disagreement with this question "The GESL project has made me want to become more actively involved in issues that will positively affect the community" (refer to Fig 2)

Fig 1: Distribution of responses to Question 5

Fig 2. Distribution of responses to Question 6

As mentioned in (Chapman & Ferrari (eds), 1994, p6 as cited in Kendall, 19991)

Even though "service learning program are designed to promote the internalization of prosocial values and attitudes by students, mere participation in service may not achieve this goal".

This was evident in the findings, as 37% of the respondents indicated that it is either unlikely or very unlikely that they would continue to volunteer in future service learning projects,(refer to Fig 3) One of the respondents explained her choice of answer:

"I don't think I would continue to take part in such service learning project because it is simply too time consuming and I don't think that we are able to contribute much to the community as it is a one-time event".

Another respondent stated:

"I feel that I don't have much say in choosing the project due to the large size of the GESL group"

Fig 3. Distribution of responses to Question 8a

Results from Deci and Ryan's cognitive evaluation theory further confirm that mandatory service learning is unlikely to promote prosocial attitudes in the students.

"When individuals perceive that they are being controlled, they tend to lose their instrinsic motivation to engage in the promoted behavior". (Deci & Ryan,1985, p.62)

Deci & Ryan's study pointed out that mandatory service learning would only turn out to be counterproductive as students would resent service learning activities and avoid such projects in the future. (Deci & Ryan,1985;Sobus,1995; Stukuas,Snyder, & Clay,1999;Gallini & Moely,2003) These research studies are consistent with our questionnaire's findings as only 32% of the respondents indicated that they would participate in community service again. The significant amount of negative responses to these questions indicates that the GESL project was unable to meet its objectives of fostering civic engagement among the students but instead resulted them to have a bad impression of service learning projects.

When respondents were asked about their views on mandatory service learning, many of them responded negatively and opposed the idea of such mandatory service learning programmes. Seventy-three percentage of the respondents felt that service participation in such projects was best left to personal interest and intitative, and should not mandated in NIE. Many respondents pointed out that when reluctant students are forced to take part in such projects, their main goal would be to complete the project in the shortest time possible and not because they truly want to help the community".

"Compulsory community work makes the experience feel more like a burden than a joy. The main focus is shifted towards meeting the requirement set by the school such as fulfilling the number of contact time, rather than meeting the needs of the society."

Chapman & Ferrari argued that "even though service learning program are designed to promote the internalization of prosocial values and attitudes by students, mere participation in service may not achieve this goal. (Chapman & Ferrari(eds), 1994, p6 as cited in Kendall, 19991).This research further confirms our findings, and shows that it is not possible for student teachers to develop a sense of social responsibility by participating in the service learning project. When students are forced upon such service learning projects, they will see the project as a requirement and not because they were intrinsically motivated to help out the community.

Interestingly, when respondents were asked about the factors that influence their involvement in volunteering work, 31% of the respondents' motives for volunteering were extrinsic reasons; travel opportunities, benefits of participating in community service projects;cca points, certificates(as seen in Fig 1). 30% of the respondents said that they would volunteer if their friends were also involved in the activity. This suggests that a significant amount of the respondents are more focused about their own interests and not because they are truly selfless and want to contribute to the community.

32% of the respondents chose personal interests as the main factor for their participation in community service. I expected a mucher higher percentage for this answer as my hyopthesis is that students would prefer to take part in voluntary activities that engage their interests.







Fig 4: Factors that affect trainee teachers' participation in community service projects


The main constraints identified from the questionnaire were "time management" and "conflicting views between teammates". Sixty-five percent of the respondents stated that it was difficult for them to work with their teammates as there were too many "differing views" between the teammates. Thirty percent of the respondents felt that they were unable to benefit much in terms of personal development as compared to the leader or secretary. These respondents felt that their contribution to the project were minimal as most of the funding and proposal write-up were done by the leader and secretary.


It is undeniable that service learning is beneficial and provides students teachers with a better understanding of the various issues in their community. However, would service learning be able to meet its objective of fostering a sense of civic responsibility when service learning is imposed upon them?

In this paper, I have given a new insight into the positive and negative aspects of mandatory service learning. The aim of this research was to find out whether mandatory service learning is able to result in a positive impact on students' sense of civic responsibility. I argued that it is difficult to impel a sense of civic responsibility in the students simply by compelling mandatory service learning in the curriculum.

Analysis of the respondents' questionnaire suggested that GESL was unlikely to achieve its desired outcome as the likelihood of future volunteerism rate was only a mere 32%. (refer to Fig 3) This shows that there was not a significant increase of prosocial values in the students after the service learning experience.

By compelling mandatory service learning as part of the school's curriculum is not enough to give students to develop a better sense of civic duty. This would only result in a counterproductive effect as mentioned earlier in the findings section. The internalization of prosocial attitudes will only happen when the student teacher perceive community activism as an integral part of their lives.

One of the ways to achieve that goal would be to provide a clearer and more structured framework. Student teachers should be given the freedom to form their own groups instead of being assigned to a fixed group at the start. When students are given to choose their project objective and form their own groups, they are more likely to contribute to the community as they care about the issue. Another way to enhance the effectiveness of service learning would be to conduct the project over a longer period of time. I believe that student teachers would be more likely to develop a sense of civic duty when they see how their actions have an effect on the community over a longer period of time.

Overall, even though the findings seem to paint a negative picture of mandatory service learning that alone is not sufficient to conclude that mandatory service learning is ineffective. Whether mandatory service learning is able to instill a sense of civic responsibility remains a widely debated topic. Therefore, more studies would be needed to ascertain if GESL is able to foster a sense of civic responsibility.


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