Service-Learning in Japan

By: Amy Meuers, NYLC CEO

I had the honor to speak at the Japanese Conference on Philanthropic Education on Saturday, March 17 at Komazawa University, Tokyo. Japan has placed great emphasis on peace education ever since WWII including the incorporation of it in their 9th grade civics classes and in their constitution under Article 9. My participation in the conference was to share how service-learning is a way for students to be active participants in their own education. My desire was to show that when students discover the positive impact they can have in the world – that is when the real learning occurs.

At NYLC, we envision a world where all young people become civically informed and engaged global citizens by participating in service-learning as part of their educational experience. We work with educators (both in the classroom or after school), students, community leaders, and businesses to incorporate peace, justice, and sustainability into the fabric of all education systems by asking students to be of service to their community as part of their educational experience –to learn, lead, and grow through service-learning.

Successful service-learning projects are tied to specific learning objectives, and many of the best are tied to numerous areas of study. For example, when seventh- and eighth-graders studied the historical significance of a local river, they developed projects to build nature trails, tested water samples, documented contamination of the local habitat, and restored historical sites. Their teachers connected those activities to studies in earth science, mathematics, language arts, physical education, music, visual arts, and social studies. These connections not only deepened the impact projects had on learning, but also provided the young people with a broader understanding of how different subjects are interrelated. Service-learning helps students make connections to learning outside the classroom. It is hands-on learning but most importantly, it connects to community and empowers each student to lead change.

The 20th century educator, John Dewey is the founding father of service-learning. It is based on his central tenets of experience and democracy. He wanted to see students experience education. He said, “When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious.” Dewey wasn’t the only educator who felt this way. Progressive activist Jane Addams, Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, and Mahatma Gandhi all envisioned education rooted in community and democratic principles.

 It (education) “either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” -Paulo Freire

Transforming the world –powerful stuff. Service-learning encourages students to not only dream of a better future but to create it. It is democracy in action.

As an organization, NYLC has been a champion, a resource, and a contributor to the field of service-learning whether in the United States or in countries around the world. We see ALL young people as active contributors to society, and schools a place where students can act as resources, be active in the learning process, not passive. A place where they produce or contribute to the world, not just a place where they consume. We want all young people to see themselves as someone who can give, lead, and learn. We know that all young people, no matter their background, their abilities, can be leaders through service-learning. It was an honor to bring the tenants of service-learning to Japan and share the tools and resources that have been developed with the educators and students who are passionate about creating a better world for us all.