As schools continue to struggle to adapt to the shifting needs of the 21st century, the importance of community development and social change increasingly drive the structure of education. Combined with a focus on inquiry and reflection, students in many progressive schools now shape their own learning, seeking to use the knowledge and skills gained in the classroom in real-life contexts. At NIST, service forms such an integral part of the community that students launch their own NGOs, partner with global organizations and, in the case of the NIST Microcredit Bank (NMB), make a difference in the lives of those who support them every day.
A student-run service group that aims to enrich all members of the NIST community, the NMB offers debt relief, business loans, and scholarships for the children of the school’s support staff, which has become a primary focus. In many cases community service programmes within schools only touch the surface, maintaining a distance between the students and those seen as the recipients of support. The NMB, like other service initiatives at NIST, works at a deeper level by basing its activities in research-based, sustainable economic and social development. This requires a commitment to building relationships and partnerships, and in turn forging a supportive community.
Now in its fifth year, the programme has now awarded over 100 scholarships to more than 50 students ranging from the primary to tertiary levels. In many cases these funds have enabled the children of our support staff become the first in their family to go on to higher education opportunities, and have also provided financial relief for those who are supporting larger families. The students of the NMB do not view this as charity, but rather a responsibility that aligns to the school’s values of integrity, caring, community and growth.
In addition to commending the recipients for their effort in qualifying for the scholarships, Head of School Brett Penny summed up a key part of the school’s vision as he addressed the members of the NMB: “The purpose of education should not simply be to learn math or science, or to go on to a good university. Education should contribute to building a better society. By being a part of the microcredit bank, you have already taken the first step toward making a positive impact in the lives of others.” If this initiative is any indication, all of the participants will go on to make a difference well beyond the walls of the school.