One of the strongest pull factors influencing parents' decision to send their children to private schools is the variety of extra-curricular activities being offered there. It is not only about sports but also about new methodologies focussed on increasing students' learning outcomes through off-classroom activities.
If the federal government and the provincial and municipal governments are serious about strengthening the public education system, then investing in volunteerism is going to be a safe bet. As a consequence, children will be active outside the classrooms, and their parents will be proud of their community work
Among them, there is the concept of "service and learning" intended as an area of practical studies, where students undertake community-oriented work that contextualises parts of the curriculum imparted in the classroom.
We are talking about a way of boosting the knowledge and understanding of real issues that are otherwise studied just through the lens of textbooks.
A progressive classroom focussed on gender equality and social inclusion based on in-classroom discussions would have the students know more about the issue, doing research on their own, and with the guidance of the teacher, students would be encouraged, as a classroom activity, to approach some organisations working in the field.
In the best cases, a real interaction with experts and victims of gender violence could occur, where students will have the unique opportunity to understand the depth and the gravity of the issue by engaging with those who are working to help solve the problem, including victims turned into public advocates.
Such an interaction would be a real "gamechanger" sort of experience having profound impact on the students' way of thinking.
In other cases, students might be more directly involved in some activities, working side by side with local communities and local wards: it could be a tree plantation project, an awareness campaign for climate action or finding solutions to help those most disadvantaged.
Some private schools are very good at such social impact activities while others might invest more energy and resources in them in the future.
Now what if also the community-run schools started organising classroom-based activities that also include a stronger community dimension? What if such schools, the backbone of the public education system in the country, also understood the importance of inculcating the young minds with practical knowledge founded on universal principles like social justice and equality? This might become a reality if the draft National Volunteering Policy, now being discussed on the ground and virtually by the civil society and citizens alike, is approved.
The document, recently disseminated by the Policy Research Institute (PRI), a government think tank mandated with its formulation, offers a holistic and comprehensive vision on how volunteerism should be promoted to help the country achieve the sustainable development goals, or SDGs.
It is positive that the document strongly focusses on the role schools and learning centres have in promoting volunteerism, recognising how "volunteering can be integrated with the educational works", paving the way, in the future, in which " a roadmap and guidelines shall be prepared for the implementation of volunteering works under the educational program".
If the federal government and the provincial and municipal governments are serious about strengthening the public education system, then investing in volunteerism is going to be a safe bet.
As a consequence, children will be active outside the classrooms, and their parents will be proud of their community work.
And local governments will also be having new opportunities to engage and work with the local communities as well.
The draft policy is clear that a system must be in place for volunteering to take root in the community schools.
"An appropriate mechanism shall be established for the operation of volunteering programmes in coordination with the educational agencies and organisation-institutes.
The role of the federal, province and local government shall be increased for the same," it says.
Inter-ministerial work and collaborations between the different layers of governments are never easy, but again, the country has the possibility to really leverage the ingenuity, commitment and civic passion of the people for better societal outcomes when the draft is approved.
It will allow better interactions, better collaborations and partnerships between citizens and the state. In short, it will enable the foundations of a new social compact, something that has been strongly called for by the United Nations Secretary-General.
The draft, correctly, even goes as far as to ensure that "provision shall be made to evaluate the students' performance through their volunteering works for achieving their educational degrees".
It is going to be very interesting to really assess the personal changes happening at each student's level after being involved in community activities.
To truly make lasting positive changes happen at the child level, we need to be sure that embedding volunteerism in all its varieties and shapes, including service and learning at the school level, won't be based on a one-off approach.
That's why the draft policy calls for a proper working system for this to happen, and a lot will depend on the principals and teachers themselves.
Certainly a framework is needed, further regulations will be indispensable for all this to work out in the right way, but ultimately innovating teaching methodologies through volunteerism at the community school level will depend very much on them.
With the right support, right motivation and incentives, volunteerism could be one of the key ingredients in truly re-booting the public education system, making it more impactful, more relevant and, why not, more competitive as well.
Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities
A version of this article appears in the print on March 09, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.