A Sustainable Volunteering Project for Quality Education
Education is the most powerful weapon we have as human beings. A sentence that perfectly expounds the great power of this weapon is: “You can give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Beatrice S.
Education in the international community
“Quality education” had been a highly debated concept in the past years, especially before UNSDG number 4 (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Education) was introduced. Now the international community tends to have a fairly uniform interpretation on the concept of quality education, on which the majority of the countries can count on. The United Nations community has never attempted to provide a full definition of “Quality education”, but from The World Declaration on Education, in 1990, and from the following UNESCO’s resolutions, “Quality education” can be defined as that “that provides all learners with capabilities they require to become economically productive, develop sustainable livelihoods, contribute to peaceful and democratic societies and enhance individual well-being.” (source: VVOB education for development)
Why society needs education
The importance of being educated can be clearly seen in consideration of the differences based on educational background, which are often the main causes of undeniable, and oppressive socioeconomic disparities due to the great disparity into the labor market, thus free access to education can make an enormous difference in the quality of life of an entire community. As a consequence, we can see not only an important reduction of poverty but also an increasing number of people’s lives saved by commonly acknowledged basic medical treatments.
In this specific social context, an effective volunteering work tends to set the basis for a sustainable education system, following the UN guidelines for sustainable development. For these reasons, this kind of external help aims to have a positive long-term impact on the population without compromising its beliefs, and its environment, without underestimate the importance of cultural sensitivities. A community has to be given the chance to improve itself from within.
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Volunteer work in education
On these premises, the clear objective of volunteering in the education field is to provide free access to education to the local communities in need, to give them the basis on which to build their personal improvement, and create robust roots for ongoing educational development. Collaboration with local partners is usually a useful instrument to expand learning opportunities. Effective partnerships in the local community become, moreover, particularly beneficial when dislocated hubs are available. This is an efficacious and powerful way not only to build up connections among the neighborhood but also to reach out to rural communities.
A volunteer organization and local partners can work on collaboration deals, where partners, for instance, will provide locations, and promote the availability of free classes, while the volunteer organization will provide free classes and workshops of any subject for the local community, and work on its own resources. A practical example can be found in Luang Prabang (Laos). Here an international volunteer association works along with the local library to deliver free English classes to children, Monks, and teenagers. In this example, the library makes its rooms available to the volunteers, while these last ones bring with them all the necessary teaching material.
Disadvantages of volunteer work
Another important element that can not be left out of consideration, with regard to a volunteering teaching project, is the local teachers’ community. Public and private schools hire local teachers and pay them a monthly salary. When a volunteer association appears on the scene, the biggest risk is the creation of a competitive environment between free study opportunities and local schools. This is what needs to be avoided. A sustainable project aims to support local teachers as well as public education, it wants to empower them, rather than taking their jobs. A solid collaboration can be built between the external education support and the local institutions. Paid teachers, along with volunteers, can develop an innovative teaching curriculum without breaking the general governmental guidelines. Local teachers are also a great resource in this specific environment, as they boast considerable experience in the education field in their own country. Public institutions and local teachers are able to mitigate the impact of a pure western education system, taking into consideration local culture and customs in every decision step. In this case, open communication with the schools and the ministry of education is a possible solution to develop an effective collaboration.
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Working alongside local communities, and gaining their consent through a mutually respectful collaboration, are crucial elements to keep in mind when working on a volunteer education project. Compromises are fundamental in order to avoid being culturally invasive and to respect the local education system.
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