With youth related crimes and juvenile delinquency on the rise in many societies, the need for character education in schools has grown tremendously. In this month’s Ilm o Amal, Zehra Anwer looks at why and how schools and teachers can get involved in character building and teaching values.
Is the sole purpose of education the acquisition of knowledge, facts and the prospect of securing a better future?
Surprisingly, if you ask most people this basic question today, they will answer in the affirmative. As a society on the whole, we have become extremely negligent of our duties and responsibilities not only as citizens of the country we live in, but also as global citizens of the world.
All parents want the best for their children; the best school, the best teachers, best grades in the hope that they will one day be the best professionals in their chosen career paths. But what about becoming the best human beings? Caring for others, being aware of their responsibilities and duties, being able to differentiate right from wrong, good from bad, making sound judgments based on reasoning and avoiding indulging in activities that will inevitably damage the very core of society.
The need and importance of character education in schools has grown tremendously over the years. While it is true that most parents send their children to school to learn about math, science and technology, it is also true that these are not the only things they need to learn in order to become successful. This is why re-introducing character education in schools and universities through curriculum has become so important.
Character education can be defined as the process of teaching kids core ethical values such as; respect, justice, restraint and love which will enable them to become not only better human beings, but better citizens and also prevent them from going astray.
A Review of Related Literature
Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in youth related crimes; youngsters are increasingly indulging in criminal activities, juvenile delinquency has become a grave problem for many societies and incidences of school-shootings are rising at a shocking rate. It is not a question of crimes or offences that occur inside school premises, it is a question of how these students conduct themselves outside of schools where there is no one to keep a check on their behaviour. What kind of human beings will they grow up to be? There is an ever increasing pressure on policy makers, educators, teachers and parents to reassess the ‘superficial values’ we are passing onto our children.
Over the span of three or four years there have been a couple of heart-wrenching incidents involving killings of young students by other young people in Karachi, Pakistan. These shootings usually started with trivial arguments. Only if we had taught our children how to resolves conflicts and respect others opinions, Hamza Ahmad and Shahzaib Khan, the two victims, would not have been in their coffins at such a tender age.
Emile Durkheim in his book ‘Moral Education’ describes two stages in childhood: the first one taking place almost entirely in the family or what we call nursery schools. The second is in elementary school, where the child learns to interact with his environment and begins to leave the closely knit family circle. It is this latter stage that plays a critical role in the moral development of a child.
He stresses that before this stage a child’s life is too simple and his intellect has not yet developed enough to understand the underlying concepts and ideas about morality. He can only be given a general idea about a few simple ideas and sentiments. However if the foundations of morality are not laid beyond this age, i.e. beyond school going age, they never will.
There is, therefore, a dire need to address moral and ethical issues at classroom level so that these concepts become engraved in the minds and hearts of our children. Sergiovanni (1996) asserts that schooling is a moral endeavour by its very nature, thus the moral development of a child is not the sole responsibility of a parent, the society is general and schools in particular must play their respective roles in the moral development of children.
Bers (2009) seconds the opinion of researchers in the same direction and argues that since we live in a society where concepts of self, community, what is right and wrong are constantly changing it has become particularly challenging for young people to construct a sense of self and to identify their most cherished values. Therefore, there is mounting pressure on schools and society to create learning environments that explore these issues.
To develop character, schools must strive to become a community of virtue in which intellectual and moral values are modelled, expected, studied, reflected upon, upheld, celebrated, and continually practiced in daily life.
Moreover, it is suggested that reinforcing these values through school routines will help bring about a positive change as they strive to:
• Promote well-being and happiness of individuals.
• Make it possible for us to live freely in a community where everyone is respected.
• Help us elucidate our rights and responsibilities as citizens.
• Encourage reflection on actions; for instance asking ‘Would you want to be treated the same way you treat others?’, ‘Would you want everyone to act in the same way you do?’
The last point is particularly important; it sheds light on how we can shape our behaviour through reflection and restraint. If one does not want to be treated the way he is treating others he will be compelled to modify his behaviour and change for the good.
If we spend some time reflecting on our actions, behaviour and attitudes in an attempt to become a better person, we will be able to identify those practices that are not only self-destructive like; over-indulgence in alcohol, substance abuse and smoking, but also those practices that are a menace to society and disrespect others, such as; bullying, theft and the use of physical force, to name a few.
As important as it is for educational institutions to integrate moral and ethical values in their curriculum, it is perhaps even more important for teachers to model these values since they have the greatest influence on students. Wandizalk (2012) affirms that educators must make a stronger commitment to inculcate ‘values’ through education by not only teaching about them, but also by being better role models themselves.
The following section explores how character education can be integrated within the existing curriculum to meet the needs of the society and help raise children with strong social, cultural and moral values.
Teaching Values through the Curriculum
Schools should strive to move towards a democratic system of education that focuses on the acquisition of ‘good values’ for the betterment of society (Chattey&Mittelberg, 2004).
While some people argue that certain aspects of a child’s life, such as; differences in socio-economic background, family structure and lifestyle may account for the difference in a child’s values and behaviour, advocates of character education believe that schools play an important role in the formation of values since their education in school is ‘constant’ (Brooks& Goble, 1997).
Teachers can easily integrate character education in their existing curriculum, for instance, in history classes’ students should not only read about what happened, they should also be given the opportunity to evaluate the situation and make ethical judgments about it.
According to the Character Education Partnership, an advocacy group for character education: “When teachers bring forward the character dimension of the curriculum, they enhance the relevance of subject matter to the student’s natural interests and questions, and in the process increases student engagement and achievement.”
Literature: Research suggests that literature holds great potential for fostering moral growth if used effectively by teachers (Pillar, 1979). Swinger (1975) advocates that readers can be influenced, emotionally, intellectually and attitudinally by what they read. This entails that if teachers make use of literature constructively, by identifying different themes, glorifying socially acceptable behaviour and condemning negative attitude and the inclusion of higher level questions, teachers can help pupils advance in reasoning and judgment (Pillar, 1979).
Social Studies: Social studies, as a subject, involves exploring human relationships and interaction with other cultures. It equips children with the necessary social skills that they must possess in order to live in harmony with people from different social, culture and religious backgrounds.
The aim of teaching Social Studies is to enable students to understand the modern world, tolerate differences and respect others. It helps develop a sense of moral and social responsibility in students (Adesina, A.D.O and Adeyemi, 2003).
Islamic Studies: Islamic studies attempts to promote character building through a two-fold strategy:
• By teaching the message of God. Talking about what is allowed and what is forbidden. This makes up the basic foundation of a Muslim society and directs the actions of Muslims.
• Through story-telling. We hope that children will emulate the good qualities of the various Prophets and develop a strong sense of wrong and right through the different stories about Prophets.
The underlying intention of teaching Islamic studies at school level is that children will learn crucial social, culture and moral values through the inclusion of religion in the school curriculum.
Character building, however is not limited to the curriculum only. Other aspects of school, such as teacher-student relationships, peer-to-peer relationships, extra-curricular activities and teachers in their individual capacity all have a great impact on the values that students learn and adopt.
Teacher as an Exemplary Model
Significant changes, with respect to a teacher’s role, have occurred over the years owing to the rapidly changing societal structure. Schools have now emerged as complex organisations with new tasks being imposed by society (Bergem, 2006). One such task is the moral development of children.
Bergem (2006) asserts that a teacher’s role is shaping the personality and character of children is now heavily emphasised. Not only is it the responsibility of the teacher to teach these values, but he is also required to practice it himself, since students view teachers as their role-model, and will emulate what they see.
Therefore teachers are ‘moral agents’ of the society, they are no longer responsible for just the social and intellectual development of children, but also for their moral development.
While it is true that most curriculum decisions are taken outside of classrooms, by an external authoritative figure such as policy makers, authors or school principals, it is also true that teachers exert the greatest impact on students since they are the ones who execute the content. Hence, they should make a conscious effort to reinforce values through their conduct, the way they talk, and by promoting fairness and honesty in classrooms (Elkind&Sweet, 2004).
Promoting Values through Extracurricular Activities
Extra-curricular activities such as playing a sport, volunteer work, and watching a movie at school also work to promote ‘value education’.
Stoll (1995) suggests that sportsmanship and the development of a good character are the by-products of playing a sport. He was of the view that sport programmes foster skills such as, ethical decision-making and working in a diverse team that lays the foundation of moral character development. Sport programmes provide a social environment to acquire personal and social values and behaviours that contribute to good character and citizenship (Arnold, 1984; Sage, 1998).
However, Sabock (1985) argues that despite the fact that sport programmes present a great opportunity for children to learn honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour it can also provide the greatest opportunity for youngsters to learn how to be dishonest or hypocritical.
Kennedy (2011) opines that movies provide an enriched experience to learners in forming social values among students in a formal class. Downey (2003) elaborates that ideas and actions through the use of films enhances a learner’s social competence. Films bring to life, real-life issues and if introduced properly under the guidance of a teacher, can serve as a means of achieving educational goals by engaging students through emotions, intellect and imagination. Films draw students into the characters portrayed and as a result inculcate social values within their personalities. (Sharjeel& Kiran, 2013)
According to Glenn (2001) service learning programmes and a lifelong commitment to civic participation, sharpen lifelong skills, and prepare students for the work force. Service learning programmes or volunteer work make students realise real world problems and pushes them to play an active role in building society and instilling important social values such as caring for and respecting others.
It is becoming increasingly important to integrate character education into our curriculum as it is the only way of teaching children to respect and adopt these values and save society from impending moral doom.
Most of the problems that we face today can be curtailed if we redesign our education policy to meet the needs of the global, borderless world we live in. Sergiovanni (1996) asserts that irrespective of our race, color, creed and religion we share a basic morality that includes virtues such as; responsibility, respect, trustworthiness and caring for others.
There has been an alarming rise in school related offences over the past decade, this includes activities such as; cyber bullying, threatening, use of force inside school premises and school shootings. The advocates of character education believe that the passivity of educational institutes and the inability of many parents to model and teach these values to children have created a “values vacuum” in youth, and this vacuum has allowed attitudes and behaviours to develop that have a negative impact on schools and the society in general (Chattey and Mittelberg, 2004).
Zehra Anwer is a student of the Department of Education at the Institute of Business Management and wrote this paper as part of her coursework.
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