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Embodying service learning in the MYP curriculum

IB educator Malikah Sheriff shares how Middle Years Programme (MYP) schools can integrate service as action into the curriculum.

By Malikah Sheriff 

Integrating service as action within academic learning is often a difficult task but when you have service ingrained in your school’s DNA, it allows you to go the extra mile to initiate need-based action. At NIST International School, we aim to empower students to highlight issues that the community is passionate about. We strive to live by our four fundamental values: integrity, caring, community and growth through the various service groups and projects led by members of our community.

One of the most notable additions of service-learning within our curriculum is embodied in our individuals and societies social entrepreneurship unit.

The social enterprise unit

Social entrepreneurship is a concept wherein an organization applies commercial strategies to maximize human and environmental well-being improvements, rather than for profit. Four individuals and societies teams from our Middle Years Programme (MYP) created a project-based social enterprise unit, highlighting the importance of authentic service and transforming ideas into meaningful action with the statement of inquiry “Social entrepreneurship can be used to benefit individuals, societies and the environment by fulfilling needs with available resources” underpinning their project.

“The transformation of service ventures into fully functional service groups is the longer-term impact of this unit”.


Over two to three months, students learned basic economic concepts such as supply and demand and sustainability models, for example the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s circular economy. They were also introduced to traditional models of businesses/charities and given a new perspective on a spectrum of business models adapted from J. Kingston, founder of Venturesome, outlined in the figure below.

Figure 1: A spectrum of different business models adapted from J. Kingston Venturesome.

Students were then introduced to sustainable development goals (SDGs) and asked to define business or product ideas based on the community’s business principles and authentic needs. They then put those concepts directly into practice by creating a business plan for their social enterprise, guided by investigations into similar ones in their field of interest. A sample can be found below.

Figure 2: Sample task description highlighting the knowledge and understanding developed thus far.

The beauty of this unit is that investors, teachers and guests invited to a social enterprise showcase also have a say in declaring the best ideas in terms of overall venture, the likelihood of success, contribution towards community wellness and preservation of the environment.

Picnic, the student leader of the social venture Yellow (that won first place) said “In terms of learning, it gave me background knowledge on how social enterprises work and what potential it had to develop the world in the future. We never knew that honeybee conservation was such a big issue so working with our beekeepers was an eye-opening experience as we got to learn about the lands of Khao Yai”.

The social enterprise CRUSH, which won under the wellness criteria for promoting fluoride-free tooth powder to impoverished communities, said “The social enterprise unit allowed us to explore issues that we were passionate about, even if we had no exposure to them previously. For example, within our group, none of us were very knowledgeable about the dental hygiene issue in the communities here in Thailand. This unit allowed us to explore the issue, which we then became passionate about. It also taught us a lot about corporate social responsibility, especially in our roles as global citizens of the future”. —Soroush for CRUSH, class of 2021.

“Service learning empowers students to experience authentic learning that stays with them”.

Perhaps the short-term impact of this seamless mélange of service within the curriculum is in terms of knowledge and understanding built; however, its articulation in real-world contexts has allowed students to carry it forward by forming permanent service groups within the community.

Longer-term impact

The transformation of service ventures into fully functional service groups is the longer-term impact of this unit. Students continue to respond to the urgent needs of communities by adopting sustainable action, allowing for organic growth of their ideas and inspiring many students to follow in their footsteps.

A few examples of such service ventures turned service groups are YELLOW and JUNO) showcased below. YELLOW is an initiative based on improving conditions for local bee farmers and promoting fair trade of organic and local honey.

The YELLOW team together with their teachers.

JUNO is advocating for women’s health, wellbeing, the importance of menstrual education and sustainable options.

This is the most active service group now and here is a glimpse of their business plan for the future.

Final thoughts

Service learning is a curricular structure that allows for the outcomes to be met and empowers students to experience authentic learning that stays with them. Pink from Juno said: “The social enterprise unit in year 10 made me more aware of the issues surrounding period poverty and the amount of waste generated from single-use menstrual products. Due to the manufacturing of biodegradable pads (our focus at the time) being highly unfeasible, we wanted to find a way to work towards the same issues in a way we were capable of doing instead of discarding the project altogether, leading to the creation of the service group Juno’’.

Furthermore, it allows students to be responsible and accountable for their decision making in terms of the impact it may have on the communities they choose to serve. In essence, all the MYP service-learning outcomes were met through this unit as students worked to develop their strengths in situations that were beyond their comfort zone, yet planned and initiated action collaboratively while working on an issue of global significance and considering the ethics of serving communities through their action.

Malikah Sheriff is a Middle Years Programme (MYP) individuals and societies teacher, Diploma Programme (DP) business management teacher and theory of knowledge (TOK) coordinator at NIST International School in Bangkok, Thailand. Malikah believes that learning service through the curriculum and as stand-alone lessons or modules is critical especially during the MYP years to help students achieve a deep understanding of what she terms as essential principles of service. You can connect with here.

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