Core: Service Learning

Service Learning as Action

Service Learning is a compulsory element of the CP core, constituting a minimum 50 hours of the student's CP course. Whether you are well established in your DP and CP course offerings or completely new to the CP as you prepare for authorisation, consider using Service Learning as a way to focus on skill development explicitly. Another way for them to make connections with other elements of their course but also prepare for the skills they will truly need in the future.

New to Service Learning? Start here

The requirements

Students commit at least 50 hours to authentic real-life service learning projects: this can be a single service learning experience or an extended series of service learning experiences.

Like the other aspects of the CP core, Service Learning allows students to build on their prior knowledge and make links between their academic and career-related disciples and core requirements as well as the learner profile and the IB mission statement. Through the application of Approaches to Learning such as communication and social skills to real -life situations, students develop key capabilities such as decision-making, problem-solviing, initiative, responsibility and accountability for action.

Students follow 5 stages

This framework can enable to students to explore personal development, metacognitive processes, different learning styles, communication and collaboration with others,  acquire and transfer skills and knowledge to new contexts as well as all attributes of the learner profile.

1. Investigation: students analyse a selected issue to ascertain a community need as well as explicitly identify their own areas for personal growth. The parameters of their service learning experience are explored.
2. Preparation: students spend appropriate time acquiring knowlege and skills to help them understand the real needs of the community rather than prioritising their own.  A plan is formed
3. Action: students implement their plan either through direct service, indirect service, advocacy or research or a combination of a number of service types. Students take action to respond to community needs
4. Reflection: reflection takes place frequently with students considering themselves in relation to personal, local and global contexts. Continuous and frequent reflection informs action and next steps
5. Demonstration: throughout this process, students are explicit in the how, what and why of their learning and identify their accomplishments through formal or informal sharing of their experiences through their service learning portfolio.

Four types of service learning

Students' service learning plans will involve one or a combination of the following:

Direct Service: 'Students engage directly with the people, environment or animals'[1]
Indirect Service: 'Though students do not see the recipients of indirect service, they have verified their actions will benefit the community or environment'[1]
Advocacy: 'Students speak on behalf of an issue of public interest in order to promote awareness and understanding through dispersal of accurate information that may lead to others taking action'[1].
Research: 'Students collect information from various sources, analyse data and report on a topic of importance to influence policy or practice'[1]

Case study 1: The International School of Monaco

Context? Multi programme DP school in the first year of the CP with a priority to design a core where 'each element supports and feeds into the others'[2]
Is service learning timetabled? Yes, in the first term, students use timetabled service learning lessons for the research stage and to identify local ethical issue and needs. Research is built in throughout the two year course with a '360' feedback loop with community partners.

Examples of projects?
Local ethical need identified
Response to local need
Childhood literacy in multilingual environmentsConvert school library books to digital format with voiceover to share with local schools
Ethical supply chainsUse of documentary to raise awareness of ethical issue that was explored for a reflective project
Access to sport for disadvantaged childrenCreation of tennis tournaments at a local tennis centre to promote access for all
Children's mental health i/ssuesCreation of a social media project to counteract the effects of isolation during the pandemic and connect the school community
Key question for success? 'Are the students thinking about what they think the community needs or what the community thinks it needs?'

Case Study 2: Verdala International School, Malta

Context? An IB World School offering the DP and just going through authorisation for the CP with a priority to identify the location and reach of service learning.
What role does research play? The research stage of service learning incorporates explicit reference to Approaches to Teaching and Learning; not just research skills but social, communication, self-management and thinking skills too. Research also involves identifying the best source of expertise; for example students must seek out guidance from someone in the community with local knowledge to carry out accurate risk assessments for a new problem involving data collection for a National Park on the island.
How do you ensure the students are creating relevant service learning experiences? Students must ask themselves 'have you asked what is really needed?' For example a response to helping a local refuge centre was to create a clothing and bedding drive but this resulted in so many donations that the refuge centre had no place to store these effectively. Students spending time to work out where the priorities should be and avoiding the impulse to create a quick fix.
What part does reciprocity and reach play? The school hosts international nights and invites guest speakers from local projects. The school has long term projects that students cannot just slot into without reviewing, revisiting, reimagining or reinventing the oroject. The project may not be new but the learning will be.
Key question for success? 'Have you considered what is REALLY needed?'[3]

Case Study 3: The Plymouth College of Art, UK

Context? Plymouth College of Art started offering the CP in September 2019. Like many schools, their rolling out of this programme has been impacted by the pandemic. As a result service learning has arguably developed in a different but meaningful way. Adaptability has been the key!
What role does research play? The key here is to find a starting point and be willing to adapt to circumstances. Once you have CP2 students they can act as great advocates for service learning and can model their process for CP1 students.
How has the pandemic impacted service learning? Students are inspired by their career-related studies experiences. For example, students started their service learning journey designing a mural that would be created in the local community. With the pandemic, this service learning opportunity was paused but not abandoned; it evolved into a digital mural-making opportunity. Students have also developed projects in mask making. The overall effect has been one of making meaningful connections with the local community.
What has been the impact of service learning so far? Service learning requires students to step literally outside the parameters of their CP course. Their career-related studies are of course practical and with real world relevance but the service learning demands creating a direct impact in your local community. What has been most noticeable is the impact of opportunities for smaller projects and individual learning within larger legacy projects.
Key takeaway? The power of the individual. Service learning can create ideas 'of what one individual can achieve'[4]. Seeking that moment when 'the total educational experience is  more than the sum of its parts' [1]

Case Study 4: BAHM, Malmo Borgarskola, Sweden

Context?  An established CP programme in a school that has offered the DP for over 20 years, the challenge here was to find new ways for students to be motivated by service learning. When the real world meanings are made clear and opportunities arise for students to be more in touch with the world, it allows students to thrive in the core[5].
What role does research play? It is not just about finding a starting point. Research is needed the whole way through service learning as a way of continuously identifying needs.
How do students find relevance in their service learning experiences? There have been numerous examples of where students have not found true meaning in the research phase but by putting themselves physically in places with opportunities, their experiences have truly taken off. For example, a group of students working with a local car company, found an opportunity to create a tyre safety campaign to encourage safe changing of summer to winter tyres in the local community. Another example included a student working at a building firm but finding an opportunity to revolutionise they way they classified, recycled and disposed of waste materials.
What has been the impact of service learning so far? Service learning has an impact within the core, the school and the wider community. One student's service learning, language development and reflective project all revolved around the same community project.
Key takeaway?  For students who find motivation and identifying a project they would like to commit to, encourage them to be patient and place themselves in an area where opportunities might identify themselves. 'Build it and they will come'.

Case Study 5: The Leigh UTC, Dartford, UK

'Success for a student depends on where they are trying to find meaning in what they are doing'[6]

Context? 'Links to career areas both inside and outside of school brings authentic opportunities to the Service Learning aspect of the CP'.

What is the key to successful service learning experience over the two year course?
Research: there needs to be a thorough research stage so students can clearly identify the needs of all stakeholders
Skills: students need time to build skills across the course so CP1 can very much be about building skills working on projects within the school community
Practicality: students need skills that can help turn theory into practice
Inspire and celebrate: a sense of competition can work well with students as well as key moments to recognise the achievements fo service learning opportunities
Where are the problems? Service learning can seem relatively straightforward when students already have interests and the drive to push these further. Students can really struggle when they have no real starting interests.
What role does the whole core play in service learning success? For the service learning to work, it needs to be closely affiliated with the PPS course and the development of ATL skills and 'teaching students how to be learners'. There should be explicit application of shared core elements such as ethical issues and dilemmas. These are often taught in a separate section of the course but opportunities can be found to bring this into service learning with the identification of needs in the local community that involves a clear ethical dilemma.
Key takeaway? Look at potential for legacy in the service learning projects that are created with the community as this
gives a greater sense of 'working with' rather than 'working for'.

CP Perspectives: Service Learning during the pandemic

Le Bocage International School (LBIS), Mauritius

Globally, educators have found themselves having to adapt more than ever thought possible with the challenges the pandemic has brought. Namrata Gujadhur, the CP Coordinator at Le Bocage, International School, tells us how she, and her team of dedicated teachers and students, have navigated the Service Learning course during the last 2 years and the adaptations made in such difficult circumstances. No doubt this is typical of many wonderful CP schools around the world.

Le Bocage International School (LBIS), Mauritius

'At Le Bocage International School (LBIS), we have some cardinal principles that we abide by and our main motto is to Learn, Build, Innovate, and Succeed, by nurturing innovative & holistic leaders for a changing world. It is almost unquestionable that the COVID-19 pandemic has eclipsed the lives of one and all. Different individuals have felt its effects at varying intensities depending on their status, place, and condition. This perhaps undesirable condition of the globe has pushed Service Learning at Le Bocage to discover dimensions that otherwise would have been left veiled. 


Students have engaged in exhaustive research in finding NGOs, communicating and collaborating with them in order to develop online platforms through which these NGOs may reach out to a larger audience and accordingly dispense help to those in need. 


Beyond students under the guidance of teachers, initiated a “Bigs and Littles Programme” through which they mentored the younger and new students of the school, online. The intent for this activity was to allow the new students to familiarise themselves with the people and culture of the LBIS community as otherwise they would have been deprived of this opportunity due to the lockdown imposed soon after schools resumption in January. 


Students have wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to manufacturing masks, created ebook on nature’s cure for healthy living, organized food drives for the homeless, hosted online fitness, stretching and Zumba sessions, initiated a lockdown solidarity campaign with the Rotary club, etc. They also created digital brochures, and posters to raise awareness in view of the significance of abiding by the COVID-19 protocol suggested by the local government for the safety and benefit of all'

with huge thanks to Namrata Gujadhur

Creating and reviewing a course

'Service learning within the CP Service learning is the development and application of knowledge and skills towards meeting an identified and authentic community need'[7].

A good starting point whether you are creating a course for the first time or reviewing your current provision, is to ask two connected questions.

Establishing successful service learning involves three key shifts in mindset:

1. Shifting from traditional 'community service' approaches
2. Shifting to a context of partnership and reciprocity: 'working with' rather than 'working for'.
3. Shifting to an understanding of the difference between service and service learning.

Challenges for schools

How do you actually create service learning opportunities in the real world?
And how do you enable students to identify the real world significance of the skills their are utilising?

The following aspects can represent challenges to creating and embedding a Service Learning programme. These are explored in the case studies given below on this page and how schools have gone about tackling these challenges.
  • Making service learning meaningful and authentic
  • The appropriateness and impact of the 50 hour allocation   
  • Perceptions: cultural attitudes, perception as an add-on or just a mandatory requirement to meet  
  • Recording, monitoring, reflection, quality of interviews
  • Links to real world scenarios
  • Difficulties in aligning with CAS and building on best practice
  • Establishing the difference between service and service learning
Further questions for deeper discussion
How do you encourage the development of curiosity?
How do you identify authentic needs?
What processes do you have in place for students to deepen their learning?
How prepared do your students feel to take action? What scaffolding do you put in place to help this process?
Do your reflective processes and platforms encourage or hinder good reflective practices?
How do you celebrate service learning projects in your school and wider community?
How able do your students feel to present their findings to a wider audience?
Prioritising in Service Learning

Research, Relevance, Reach and Reciprocity

When it comes to strengthening a service learning course, schools can consider four key areas of the research stage, the relevance of all projects, the reach and longevity of the service learning projects and the reciprocity opportunities between the community and the school. In a series of upcoming case-studies, there is a common language of success in service learning:

  • Schools prioritising the design of a core where ‘Each element supports and feeds into the others’
  • Students really think about what the community thinks it needs rather than what they think the community needsS
  • Students identify and verify needs through reciprocity
  • Students identify the location and reach of learning
  • Authentic opportunities come from links to career area both inside and outside of school
  • There is explicit attention paid to skills to turn theory into practice
  • There is a closely connected affilitation with the Personal and Professional Skills course
  • Service learning happens with close attention to ATL skill development
  • Extended time is given to the research stage
  • The potential for legacy is identified early on
  • Success for a student depends on where they are trying to find meaning in what they are doing

  • Students understand the impact just one individual can have.

Establishing success in service learning

Discuss to what extent students fulfil the following factors that contribute to service learning success

… students design and carry out projects themselves following the inquiry cycle and work collaboratively.
… students engaging with the four types of action: direct, indirect, advocacy and research
…when students create projects with close links to real world significance.
… there is a designated SL coordinator and teamwork with the leadership and service learning team – timetabled lessons.
… there are opportunities created for students to share and celebrate on a grand scale
…. online platforms are used in a way that allows thoughtful evidence and monitoring.

A checklist for students before moving into the action phase of their service learning project could include ...

Have you designed and carried out the project yourself?
Are you following the inquiry cycle and working collaboratively?
Does your project/s have real world significance?
Are you using your allocated service learning time effectively?
Have you considered how you will share and celebrate your service learning experiences?
Have you established good working practices that allow you to reflect effectively and not waste time?


  1. a, b, c, d, e The IBO, The Service Learning Guide, for use from August 2016, p16
  2. ^ with thanks to Tania Leyland
  3. ^ with thanks to Nicky Schembri at Verdala International School, Malta
  4. ^ with thanks to Michelle Lester at Plymouth College of Art
  5. ^ with thanks to Andreas Lejon at Malmo
  6. ^ With thanks to Sophie Dickinson at The Leigh UTC
  7. ^ The IBO, The Service Learning Guide, for use from Augus 2016
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