Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
January 26, 2004
Required volunteering has little effect on students, U of G prof finds
A preliminary study of first-year students at the University of Guelph reveals that the 40 hours of volunteer work now required for graduation from Ontario high schools is having less effect on students' personal growth than more structured U.S. youth service programs do.
Paulette Padanyi, chair of Guelph's department of marketing and consumer studies, surveyed 265 U of G students who graduated from either the old curriculum that had no required community service or the new four-year curriculum that requires 40 hours of volunteer service to determine if the change had been beneficial. Padanyi presented her study results at the annual conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action in Denver, Colorado.
"Our results found the program did not influence students' attitudes toward themselves or their communities," said Padanyi. She believes the problem stems from the lack of structure the Ontario Ministry of Education provided to school boards when the program was implemented in September 1999.
In the United States, where required youth service programs are more prevalent, studies have shown that structured programs have a more beneficial effect. "Structure involves things like, does the school actually help you find a volunteer position, does it encourage you to share the experience in class or to reflect on the experience in a journal that you can hand in and have graded?" she said. "Structured volunteer experiences make students stronger individually by giving them a greater sense of self-esteem, and maturity and a greater ability to deal with school work."
Padanyi did see a positive outcome in two areas of the required community service in Ontario's high schools. "In terms of future volunteering plans, there's a bit of an exposure benefit from the current high school volunteer requirement," she said. The study participants who completed volunteer work only to fulfil the graduation requirement were a little more likely to be currently active in community service or to have plans to become active after university than were students from the old curriculum who had no volunteering experience.
Also, participants who completed the required service in addition to doing volunteer work on their own had increased self-esteem, higher tolerance of diversity and a stronger work ethic than those who completed only the required amount of community service. "That shows there's a quantitative effect," said Padanyi. "The more volunteering you do, the more influence it has on your views."
She will repeat the study for the next three years to determine whether the impact of the program improves as it becomes a more accepted and entrenched part of the Ontario high school curriculum.
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.