Service learning

Programs at VU University Amsterdam

In the 2015-2016 academic year, VU University Amsterdam has introduced community service programs for students. Six pilot programs from different faculties have been selected and have been evaluated. For the 2017-2018 academic year, a new program is developed. More information is at the VU Community Service webpage. (hier in het Nederlands).

An Evaluation of Service Learning Programs in Secondary Education in the Netherlands

How can schools promote civic-mindedness among youth through service learning? Can schools promote civic-mindedness through mandatory service learning programs at all? These questions guided a study of service learning experiences and civic-mindedness completed in 2009 among Dutch youth (12-18 years) in secondary education. Past studies of the effects of service learning programs in the USA, Canada and Australia have produced mixed results. While some studies claim that mandatory programs do not promote civic-mindedness, other studies do claim positive effects. Differences between schools in the characteristics of the programs may account for these differences. Therefore, the study examined civic-mindedness among 2,491 students in secondary education in a variety of programs from 34 different schools requiring service from a country that has not been studied before: the Netherlands.

In the past decade, many schools in the Netherlands have started to offer service learning programs to students. The programs vary widely in content, the level of supervision, integration in the curriculum and student reflection. At each school, students participated from classes that had completed the service learning and from a control group of classes that had not.

Most students in the survey (77%) reported positive or very positive experiences during service. On average, students who had completed the service learning programs scored higher on civic-mindedness indicators than did students who had not yet participated. Specifically, service learning was associated with stronger civic values, social support behavior, engagement in charities, and engagement in politics. Positive experiences during service were positively associated with civic-mindedness. A limitation of the study is that changes in civic-mindedness could only be examined in the course of one school year. Whether the programs had more lasting effects is unclear.

Update (September 2, 2013): Mandatory service learning programs were legally introduced in 2012  in the entire country after a period of pilots and evaluations including the survey above. In 2013, the mandatory aspect of the programs has been removed as a result of a change in the coalition in office.

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