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Student Agency in the Time of Covid-19

By Shwetangna Chakrabarty, TIE blogger
Student Agency in the Time of Covid-19

All images created by UISG students.

The International Baccalaureate curriculum requires all students to be actively engaged and involved in service learning. This creates a unique opportunity for students to reach out to the community to help, support, or collaborate for a good cause.

After Covid-19 upturned education worldwide, this has come to a standstill. Students cannot leave school for any field trips or excursions; no visitors, including parents, can come to the school; no bake sales can be held; no food from outside is allowed on campus... In this way, community links are becoming fragile and are on the verge of breaking down.

Though the service-learning opportunities are limited, human ingenuity finds a way to meet all challenges. In Utahloy International School Guangzhou (USIG), student agency has taken on a new meaning as students have taken the lead to ensure that service-learning projects continue in spite of the very real  limitations. Here are a few examples of the ways in which they have responded to present constraints.

UISG Development Bank

Some of the Grade 11 and 12 students run a school-based bank that supports the UISG community by offering loans and grants for service activities outside school (AOC) that are in need of funding. This model is based on that of Professor Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank (1976) in Bangladesh.

The special feature of UDB is that they are non-profit organization and do not charge interest on loans. Students asking for financing for their service projects do not have to organize fundraising activities, they just have to negotiate with the bank  an appropriate payback period. UDB even has a grant scheme, which allows students a payback scheme of anything between 90 percent to 0 percent, based on the need and design of their project. The bank is funded by the money UISG students, Emily Feng Guo and JiYeon, won  after proposing the model of the bank to the ACAMIS Koerschen Grant.

The process is also very well thought through. Students applying for loans have to fill out the necessary forms, share their plans, and meet with the public relations student officer to be considered for the loan. A selection process is put in place and the loan is sanctioned with an agreed payback period. The bank brochure, pictured above, was also created by students. This project is currently led by Jenny Liang, Christina Jung, Stephanie Cho, and Yui Suzuki of Grade 12.

The success of this project has had a massive impact not only on the students who lead it but also on the students who take advantage of this lending opportunity. Role modeling, service, taking action, learning life-skills, leadership, entrepreneurship, and 21st-century skills are a few visible attributes the UDB students exhibit. 

In my role as IB CAS (Community, Activity, Service) Coordinator, I get to work with the students who lead this initiative. It is simply amazing to witness their maturity, integrity, and initiative in leading such a transformative project. It makes me reassured that our future is in safe hands.


This project is run by the middle school. As the name suggests, this is a green initiative that supports the local farmers and producers in the Guangdong province. Our middle school students provide a platform thanks to which the UISG community can purchase fresh and organic produce from a local farm (Huiling Farm). The money raised goes back to the farm.

The students aim to build a long-term relationship with the farm. Through this project they are able to support Huiling Farm and the physically challenged people who work there, all while providing fresh organic produce to the UISG community.

The success of this project has clearly reduced the carbon footprint, helped students to develop business skills, and taken their service as action to another level. The UTAHFRESH project even has three main departments: finance, purchasing, and marketing. The most empowering aspect is that this project is funded by the Utahloy Development Bank.


This is another project spearheaded by Grade 11 students Zixin Liu and Qinghua Hu, who are partnering with United World Schools (UWS) to help improve, through education, the life opportunities of some of the world’s poorest children living in remote and marginalized communities.

Through the UWS partnership, the students will to connect with a remote community, sponsoring a specific school in a village in Cambodia, Myanmar, or Nepal that currently has no access to education. They will transform the life chances of children who might never have entered a classroom without such support. In the era of Covid-19, this initiative continues through sharing teaching and learning resources virtually. Students aim to engage with a cause that they can directly relate to, offer service, and inspire global citizenship through participation in the UWS Global Citizenship Awards.

There are many other projects that are running effortlessly and synchronously alongside the academic program. This testifies to the fact that the school’s mission of nurturing the whole child through holistic education is being carried out by the students themselves. These are wonderful examples of student agency and resilience. Yes, we must social distance, they understand; but this is no time to distance ourselves from social causes.

Shwetangna Chakrabarty is IBDP/MYP CAS/SA Coordinator at Utahloy International School, Guangzhou (UISG). She also blogs for TIE.

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11/08/2020 - samurai
very nice article!



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