Unfair! A Grade 9 German Service Learning Project

Service Learning is an educational method that combines learning in the classroom with a practical application of the learning in response to an actual need. Students show engagement in society and combine this with some learning aspect from their curriculum. Service Learning promotes positive values and skills that we care about at LIS, like responsibility, empathy, cooperation, independence and democratic values.

The students deepen their understanding through the practical application of their learning from lessons, and learn to reflect about the process. As the actual process is very student led, it is also a motivating approach that empowers students to make a positive change.

In the project example from my grade 9 German class below, the actual need that the students discovered was raising awareness for unfair working conditions in the production of our everyday products to change our consumption habits, and the curricular link to German was newspaper article writing. Elias, as student from the class, tells us about the process in the article below.  

Britta Rössner, German Teacher & Service Learning Co-ordinator

Over several weeks, our ninth grade German class have worked on a service learning project to inform other people about child labour and unfair working conditions in the production of our everyday goods. We wanted to share with you an outline of our process and results.

It all started in one of our German lessons before October break. Every student had prepared a presentation on Human Rights and one of our students presented on the issue of modern slavery. During this presentation, we realised that we were in fact not well informed about how much slavery was used in the production of goods we buy and use, and decided to take action. Our goal was to inform others about child labour and/or inhumane working conditions involved in the production of everyday goods like chocolate, electronics, fashion products and cosmetics. So we split the class into four groups tasked with conducting research on child labour and inhumane working conditions in one of the four areas.

Going into the project, we all had pre-established assumptions on the kinds of companies that do not guarantee humane labour conditions. Naturally, these were the companies that we researched first. But our research took us on an unforeseen journey and showed us that some mainstream companies we often criticise do not necessarily produce their products unfairly. Some brands we suspected to have non-transparent and not trustworthy production chains were contacted by us, replied promptly, and disproved all of the accusations.

Even so, most companies we contacted did not reply – or replied with mere apologies to our inquiry. For example, we contacted one of the largest US chocolate companies, asking them why they were legally accused of child labour and human trafficking two times already since 2015. At first, they replied with a polite declination, stating the amount of request received. In preparation for this article, we contacted them again, asking for permission to cite their response. To this email they replied promptly, not responding to the citing request, but referring to their anti-child labour projects outlined on their webpage.

But we did not want this to stop us. We used secondary sources next and contacted companies who offer alternatives to unfair products. For instance, the cocoa group contacted the company Tony’s Chocolonely, a company that focuses on 100% transparent and fair supply chains. Once a year, they publish statistics on worldwide cocoa production and their advances in fair chocolate. 

To explore the topic further locally in our hometown, we went on a special touristic tour of Leipzig – with a catch.

This tour took us around Leipzig, but not to point out landmarks or historical facts. Instead, we learnt more about child labour and modern slavery. The point of the tour was to take us to shops that focus on selling products that were 100 per cent child labour and slavery free. To further research locally, we visited and interviewed owners or vendors at such shops. For instance, the group working on clothing visited a local fair fashion storeand spoke with its owner.

But now that we had gathered lots of information, what were we going to do with it? From the beginning we had planned to pass it on to other members of the community to try and remind them of how pressing the issue is. We hoped that they would (sub)consciously look for fair products the next time they went shopping. For this purpose, each student wrote a (German) article on a part of the issue they had looked into. We gathered all of these and created a website that makes them accessible for all (QR-Code below). We printed the QR-Codes on bits of paper and stuck them around school, hoping for curious staff, students, parents etc. to scan and read. To more effectively distribute the information, we wanted to hold a campaign that had an eye-catching effect.

In the week before the Christmas break, we set up poster walls and showpieces in the corridor connecting the cafeteria with the elevator-side stairs: Each group prepared an object to intrigue people passing through, and at each station the visitors were tasked with answering a question or completing an activity. The cosmetics group set up make up bottles on a wooden pillar, and showed under which conditions mica is mined and used in the products. The electronics group displayed a pile of old phones to raise awareness for the fact how often we change our phones (every 18 months in Germany!) and how hard it is to source the materials that are needed to produce it. The clothing group pinned cheap T-Shirts on a bulletin board, and showed visitors a factory which collapsed because of an illegal expansion to the building. And the cocoa group laid 11 different chocolate bars next to each other on a table, asking the visitors to sort the chocolate bars into their level of fairness to raise awareness for different fair-trade labels. Many students took part in these activities.

Our last public appearance was when three of our classmates presented our project to the secondary school at the Christmas assembly. Now, we want to gain awareness among the readers of this magazine – the QR is waiting for interested readers below.

Elias, Grade 9

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.