What is Learning Through Civic Engagement/Service-Learning?

Service-Learning – Learning through Civic Engagement is a teaching and learning method that combines formal instruction with related civic engagement of the students (Seifert & Zentner 2010). The children and adolescents get involved for the common good, be it in a social, ecological, political or cultural project. They do something for other people and for society while gaining democratic experience (service) at the same time. The special feature is that the civic service of the students is part of their instruction and related to the subjects being taught in the classroom. The work is planned in the class, the experiences gained are reviewed and related to the curriculum (learning). Learning through Civic Engagement is suitable for all types of schools, all ages and subjects.

For example: in their physics and chemistry classes, students study complex natural phenomena. Based on this, they design simple hands-on experiments that they will do with the pre-school children of a nearby day-care center. Or, another example: students are learning about the different aspects of “growing old” in their ethics, German and biology classes. So as to deepen their understanding, they organize memory and computer training for the senior citizens living in a nursing home near the school. One more example can be given using the subject of social studies: students learning about civic participation and local politics work together with the local district management center to develop an online poll regarding the design of public areas in the district. Subsequently, the students will present the results to the urban planning committee.

What are the goals?

  • Students and teachers train democratic and social competence,
  • Students learn how to put their knowledge into practice in a productive manner. Their understanding of classroom subjects is deeper and more comprehensive,
  • Students become more motivated, self-assured and effective, their attitude towards school is improved,
  • The school will change: it will become more open towards the community, develop a climate of cooperation and strengthen the individual promotion of students.

The network “Service-Learning – Lernen durch Engagement” The network “Service-Learning – Lernen durch Engagement”

What does the program Learning Through Civic Engagement do?

  • It promotes Learning through Civic Engagement as a teaching and learning method and way of opening all types of schools throughout Germany. For this purpose, it has initiated the network “Service-Learning – Lernen durch Engagement”, an association of schools and regional partners in (currently) fifteen German states,
  • It promotes and maintains this network, within the framework of which more than 150 schools are implementing Learning Through Civic Engagement now. The partners act as competence centers that persuade schools, either regionally or on the state level to add Learning Through Civic Engagement to their curriculum. They advise and mentor the schools throughout the implementation of the teaching method and bring the schools into contact with one another,
  • Based on research and practical pedagogical experience (its mentoring services), it develops quality standards for Learning through Civic Engagement and consistently revises the approach, e.g. by publishing materials for teachers and teaching assistants as well as doing scientific research,
  • It cooperates with numerous universities and colleges throughout Germany so as to establish the Service-Learning method for university students as well, particularly for those training to be teachers,
  • In addition, it presents Service-Learning/ Learning through Civic Engagement to the public and represents it with respect to education, youth and civil participation policy.

Current pilot projects

“Service Learning in MINT Subjects” – Combining studies in MINT subjects with social engagement.

The Siemens Foundation and the Freudenberg Foundation are advocating that instruction in MINT subjects (mathematics, informatics, natural sciences, technical sciences) be research-based, pragmatic and convey values. By merging the Siemens Foundation’s science and technology education program Experimento and the Service Learning program of the Freudenberg Foundation, new approaches and materials for conveying values as part of MINT instruction were developed. Students learn about the social relevance of natural sciences and technology. They gain a sense of responsibility for nature and the environment to benefit the common good and can actively define their values. Committed teachers at elementary and secondary schools in Saxony-Anhalt, Berlin and Bavaria are participating in the model project: together with students they are testing the applicability of Service Learning in such subjects as mathematics, chemistry or biology. The experiences gained will be used to draw up teaching materials for teachers.

“Service Learning for Vocational Opportunities”

This project is a long-term cooperation between the Deutsche Bahn Foundation and the Freudenberg Foundation, which was started in 2015. The objective is to use Service Learning to increase the skills and strengthen the vocational orientation of young people. When defining appropriate focal points, Service Learning can improve the educational situation of adolescents and young people. However, to do so, strengthening the skills needed for vocational training and vocational orientation needs to be the defined pedagogical goal, and the social engagement of the students should be linked to dual education/vocational training programs and vocational orientation.

The experiences gained are reviewed and related to the curriculum. The experiences gained are reviewed and related to the curriculum.

Who is financing Learning Through Civic Engagement ?

  • Freudenberg Foundation, Weinheim
  • Siemens Foundation, Munich (since 2014)
  • Deutsche Bahn Foundation, Berlin (since 2015)
  • Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (it is sponsoring, throughout Germany, training courses for teaching assistants with the aim of expanding the network and gaining new Service Learning competence centers, 2012-2014)
  • The network comprises the local competence centers which, however, are responsible for their own fundraising.

Which partners are supporting Learning Through Civic Engagement?

  • As Service-Learning competence centers: community foundations BürgerStiftung Hamburg, Bürgerstiftung Pfalz, Bürgerstiftung Chemnitz and Stiftung Gute-Tat.de, volunteer agencies Freiwilligen-Agentur Halle-Saalkreis e.V., EhrenamtAgentur Essen, Freiwilligen-Zentrum Augsburg, Freiwilligenagentur Cottbus, Freiwilligenagentur Bremerhaven, Freiwilligen-Zentrale Viersen, RAA Brandenburg, IN VIA Germany, RAA Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Job Central, Johanniter-Hilfsgemeinschaft Altmark, Katholische LandvolkHochschule Oesede, Kurt-Tucholsky-Schule Flensburg, Mehrgenerationenhaus Haßfurt, Mehrgenerationenhaus Kiezoase Schöneberg, Nachbarschaftsheim Neukölln, Omnibus – die Freiwilligenagentur, Pädagogisches Landesinstitut Rheinland-Pfalz, Pfefferwerk Stadtkultur, Thüringer Landesinstitut für Lehrerfortbildung, Lehrplanentwicklung und Medien/ThiLLM

Why is the Freudenberg Foundation supporting Learning Through Civic Engagement/Service- Learning?

Service-Learning allows children and adolescents to gain valuable experience needed for assuming responsibility in a democratic society. It lets them experience participation, self-effectiveness and acknowledgement and, at the same time, acquire important skills and social competence. Since it is embedded in the school program, Service Learning can reach children and adolescents irrespective of their age or gender, their social background and the educational background of their parents. They all need reliable educational experiences that will strengthen their empathy, sense of responsibility, engagement and competence. Doing something for others and learning for oneself helps adolescents feel connected to others and to exceed beyond their own expectations. Consequently, Service-Learning is closely related to the goals of the Freudenberg Foundation, in particularly with regard to strengthening democracy as a form of life, integration and participation of all persons in our society as well as learning and experiencing democratic culture from as early an age as possible.

Freudenberg Stiftung
Lernen durch Engagement
Sandra Zentner
Brunnenstraße 29
10119 Berlin
Tel.: +49-30-44046030
Fax: +49-30-44046066

Aktuelle Literatur zum Thema:

Copyright VS Verlag & Beltz Verlag

•Seifert, A.; Zentner, S.; Nagy, F. (2012). Praxisbuch Service-Learning. “Lernen durch Engagement” an Schulen. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz.
•Seifert, A. (2011). Resilienzförderung an der Schule: Eine Studie zu Service-Learning mit Schülern aus Risikolagen. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.
•Seifert, A. & Zentner, S. (2010). Service-Learning – Lernen durch Engagement: Methode, Qualität, Beispiele und ausgewählte Schwerpunkte. Eine Publikation des Netzwerks Lernen durch Engagement. Weinheim: Freudenberg Stiftung. [download]

Change Story

Halil is motivated
Halil expected the worst for the new school year because the curriculum for German looked very boring: describing persons, describing the course of events, reading out loud. The next subject was even worse. Vocational Education would study social organizations and jobs. To Halil all of this seemed extremely boring. And, to make matters worse, Halil and the other boys were supposed to volunteer at social institutions. That sounded like additional work. And that was girls’ stuff, because a real guy doesn’t work in a home for the elderly or in a kindergarten. Halil unwillingly went to the kindergarten, but the eyes of the children there lit up when they heard that he liked to play soccer. That was exactly what was missing there agreed the teachers – a male person who romps around and does sports with the children. Then Halil went to the kindergarten once a week and was the center of attention there. The children were thrilled – he was the “big boy”, the kids listened to him and fought over who could play soccer with him. This made Halil feel good. He hadn’t had this much fun at school for a long time – being there for the children, being involved seemed meaningful to Halil. He reported about his experience during the next Vocational Education class. In German it was easy for him to describe a person, he simply wrote about one of the kindergarten teachers he had met during his time at the kindergarten. Suddenly, school seemed to be more fun, but everything quickly returned to normal: the rest of the instruction was dedicated to reading out loud. Halil was bored, especially because he wasn’t very good at it.

Due to the boring instruction in German, however, Halil looked forward to going to the kindergarten. But then the children asked him to read them a story! And, you know how children are, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. So Halil overcame his fear and grabbed one of the storybooks. And when he noticed that the children calmed down and listened even more attentively when he read more fluently, he was happy that they had practiced at school. And he became ambitious: he wanted to learn to read with emphasis and fluently.