Service Learning for Improving Academic Success in Students in Grade K to 12: A Systematic Review

Abstract Background: School‐based service‐learning is a teaching strategy that explicitly links community service to academic instruction. It is distinctive from traditional voluntarism or community service in that it intentionally connects service activities with curriculum concepts and includes structured time for reflection. Service learning, by connecting education to real world issues and allowing students to address problems they identify, may be particularly efficacious as it increases engagement and motivates students, in particular students who might not respond well to more traditional teaching methods.

Objectives: The main objective was to answer the following research question: What are the effects of service learning on academic success, neither employed, nor in education or training (NEET) status post compulsory school, personal and social skills, and risk behavior of students in primary and secondary education (grades kindergarten to 12)? Further, we wanted to investigate study‐level summaries of participant characteristics (e.g., gender, age or socioeconomic level) and quality of the service learning program. Search Methods: We identified relevant studies through electronic searches of bibliographic databases, governmental and grey literature repositories, hand search in specific targeted journals, citation tracking, and Internet search engines. The database searches were carried out in November 2019 and other resources were searched in October 2020. We searched to identify both published and unpublished literature, and reference lists of included studies and relevant reviews were searched. Selection Criteria: The intervention was service learning which can be described as a curriculum‐based community service that integrates classroom instruction (such as classroom discussions, presentations, or directed writing) with community service activities. We included children in primary and secondary education (grades kindergarten to 12) in general education. Our primary focus was on measures of academic success and NEET status. A secondary focus was on measures of personal and social skills, and risk behaviour (such as drug and alcohol use).