The ethics of ‘doing good’

7 February 2014

Claire Bennett from Learning Service - click here to view videosFor many teachers, global citizenship education is not something we see as ending at the walls of the classroom. Whilst it is important for students to intellectually explore the issues facing our interdependent world, and reflect on connections between themselves and others across the globe, the aim of this kind of learning is that awareness translates into action. That is, learning outcomes can be measured in changing behaviour in everyday life – such as helping out the new student in the classroom or turning down the heating at home – or the larger actions it inspires – such as a student-led campaign or service projects.

Many schools encourage students to become active in their communities, some even weaving local volunteering into their curriculum. A growing way for young people who are passionate about changing the world to engage in global citizenship education is for them to take this volunteering further afield, to go abroad and offer direct ‘help’ in addressing global issues such as poverty. Your school might already have, or be considering, a partnership with a volunteer travel company offering trips for school groups.

The desire to go abroad to help is an admirable one, requiring passion and courage. However, along with the increase in the volume of young people going for short-term volunteering stints overseas, the number of service providers offering experiences has also proliferated. Sometimes motivated by a profit or status-building incentive, volunteer placements can end up being surface level experiences created purely for volunteers to feel good about themselves. Or even worse, the good intentions of students and the institutions that support them can be taken advantage of by corrupt organisations or unscrupulous individuals who may even harm or exploit those the project purports to help.

Learning Service, an advocacy group made up of individuals working in the fields of education, tourism and development, have made a series of resources to help educators and volunteers ensure they are making informed choices about international volunteering.

We are launching a mini-video series, with tips and ideas of how you and your school can engage responsibly with this field and ensure the experience is educational and empowering for all.

Five videos have so far been released, with one more coming out shortly. Here’s the first one – follow the links below to find the rest.

1. Finding a Responsible Volunteer Placement

2. Being a Valuable Volunteer

3. Returning from your Volunteer Experience

4. Orphanage Tourism

5. How can I do good in the world?

6. Tips for responsible travel: Southeast Asia

Please encourage your students to watch and discuss the videos – they can even answer questions on the website in order to enter a competition! The prizes include KEEN shoes and travel goodies from Eagle Creek. Plus if you answer all six questions correctly you can be entered into a draw to win a 3-night stay in Cambodia! But hurry, the draw closes on 18 February.

For more information, follow the Learning Service team on Facebook and Twitter, or reach out via

We’d be interested to know your opinions of volunteer placements overseas. Please tell what you think – any good or bad experiences? – in the comments box below.

Claire Bennett has worked in global education for the last 10 years. She worked on the Global Youth Action project in collaboration with Think Global and worked with teachers to embed a global dimension to the classroom. Now living in Asia, she is working with advocacy group Learning Service.

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