Why now is the time for schools to reimagine Service Learning and voluntourism experiences

In our last article we discussed the importance of school principals and executives undertaking a strategic review of the school touring program. We believe going through this process with the right partner will help to manage risks and ‘iron out’ any gaps, including missed opportunities amongst the student cohort, as well as build a forward touring program that is:

  • Strategic, safe, ethical, educationally edifying and meaningful to engender true learning outcomes and support classroom teaching;
  • Curriculum-linked and customised for the school community; and
  • Filled with subject-related, real-world experiential learning activities that really engage your students by exposing them to experts in the field and potential future careers.

One consideration that is likely to emerge during a strategic review of past touring programs is the ethically grey area of the old model Service Learning tours. Also known as voluntourism, traditional Service Learning is an approach where students volunteer with an agency or tour operator, typically in physical volunteering or ‘community or conservation assistance’ activities.

While many schools are eagerly involved in Service Learning tours, we believe now is the time to remagine how we engage positively with local communities, both domestically and internationally.  Recently, ethically grey areas have emerged that question the approach of these tours.

In short, there is a much broader way in which young people can contribute to the world. In fact evidence is mounting that traditional Service Learning programs – such as village building activities and orphanage visits to name two common examples – often cause more harm than good and perpetuate deficit mindsets. You can read more about that here.

We have heard from many principals and other school executives regarding their concerns about meeting their duty of care – both to overseas communities, as well as to their own students. This means ensuring that they are not participating in programs that do not fulfil their intended purpose.

And what is that intended purpose? First and foremost, a truly ethical tour will offer co-created learning between the student and host culture. It will teach the ’why’ skills of civic participation; engage students in critical thinking; and develop a lifelong ethic of social justice and active global citizenship.

Planning such a tour takes time and the right experience. The right touring partner will conduct the necessary research and planning for you and be able to provide specialised advice, ensuring your students are able to take tours which still support local communities, and are also ethically sound.

Your partner may even be able to align your touring program with your school’s Reconciliation Action Plan, as well as help to create pre- and post-tour content or even project-based learning opportunities for your students, maximising the longevity of the learning impact of each tour. There should also be a location chosen with which your school can develop a long term relationship, so that both the school and its students have an ongoing purpose to assist this community through the local NGOs that are implementing the programs that will create long-term change.

In order to meet this need, at Latitude Group Travel we offer schools Community Learning Projects. Aligned to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and with learning at their core, these tours allow schools and students to delve into some of the world’s greatest challenges. They are a modern evolution of traditional Service Learning programs, building resilience, leadership and inspiration in students.

Why the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide critical structure to ethical student engagement with domestic and international communities. They define agreed priorities and aspirations to combat the economic, social and environmental challenges faced globally.

When used as a tool for learning, the Sustainable Development Goals provide a clear path for global engagement, deepening student understanding of the structures and systemic issues that hinder the development of an equitable and sustainable world.

As our Community Learning Projects are aligned completely to the goals as chosen by the students, they deliver an impactful, safe and real-world learning opportunity, empowering student sense of achievement and engagement. Operating through a curriculum-aligned thematic chosen by the school, students engage with the structural challenges of communities, gaining a deeper understanding of the host destination, and the people working from within communities for change.

Next article

In the next article in this series we’ll be talking more about Community Learning Projects – in particular, what is involved; what can be achieved; and some of the practical outcomes for students, teachers and schools.


With the end of the 2021 school year on the horizon, now is the time to conduct a strategic review of your existing school touring program and make forward plans for 2022 and beyond. To find out more about our Strategic Review Tour Review and Planning Consultation Service,  please contact us at Latitude Group Travel on 03 9646 4200 or go to our website and request a brochure here.

Related articles:

If you missed the previous articles in this series, you can catch up on them here:

6 reasons why now is the time to revolutionise your school touring program

COVID-Safe checklist: 5 questions to ask your educational travel partner

How the right touring partner can enrich and enhance classroom learning

Is an ad hoc touring program creating inconsistent student opportunities in your school?

How you can increase executive oversight of your post-COVID school touring program

Is it time to undertake a strategic review of your school’s touring program?

Previous Post
Is it time to undertake a strategic review of your school’s touring program?
Next Post
What does a reimagined Service Learning program look like for your school?

Related Posts

No results found.