A HIGHER EDUCATION VOLUNTEERING PROGRAM AS A DRIVER TO PROVIDE 21ST CENTURY SKILLS FOR STUDENTS
Today's society finds itself in a crisis not only in terms of socio-economic constraints, but also in terms of its ability to build and develop an inclusive society, marked by interventional citizenship and participatory democracy, and the ability to redefine societal development paradigms. At the same time, the working world is demanding for workers with the 21st century skills (i.e., communication skills, social and cultural skills, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, media wisdom, self-regulation, collaboration). This demand can only be met if schools work to develop them in their students. According to the World Economic Forum, traditional forms of education cannot provide future workers that meet labour market needs. In this scenario, successful education systems are those that encourage teachers and principals to lead innovation in the classroom, the school and the system as a whole, preparing students for the challenges they will face when they get to the labour market. This is particularly relevant in the actual fast-changing knowledge economy, where the 21st century skills drive organizations' competitiveness and innovation capacity. Volunteering, as a tool for deepening participatory democracy and living in society, can also be an efficient tool to the acquisition of the relevant 21st century skills that otherwise are not worked on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). HEIs should, therefore, focus on preparing future professionals at three fundamental levels: scientific knowledge, posture and assertiveness and performing tasks. In this sense, ISEC Lisboa intends, through its Volunteer Program, to prepare students to work as a team, develop critical thinking and be able to face complex situations and solve problems. In this way, encouraging not only the curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, research and development of students' metacognitive processes, but also their ability to contact the professional world and real situations, according to the community requests and where they can apply the knowledge acquired to perform tasks that allow greater social accountability and cultural awareness. This enables learning in a real environment, for limited periods and in a safe atmosphere, where students consolidate knowledge and test hypotheses, and reflect on the actions developed, allowing them to train reflective and analytical skills, providing them with challenges and learning that would not be possible only in the traditional classroom context.
The impact of this project results in real individual transformations and consists of an innovative but essential element for higher education, as well as enhancing the employability of future graduates. This paper presents the results of the first year of the implementation of the program, through a survey applied to the volunteer students. The survey focusses on the 21st Century learning (Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication) and life (Leadership, Initiative, Productivity, Social skills) skills. For each skill students had to answer how often were encouraged to use the skills during the school year and in which area (math, science, social studies, technology, work) they use it the most. Preliminary results indicate that in the area of social studies students apply life skills, while in mathematics, science and technology the learning skills, namely critical thinking and creativity, are the most used.