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Character education vital

DURING your schooldays, did you ever encounter the wrath of those older pupils who used their strength to frighten, and sometimes, hurt weaker boys and girls?
Both at primary and secondary school levels, I experienced the brutality of some bullies. At college, life was different, as there was a certain kind of freedom in which there was complete satisfaction in all academic undertakings – no intimidation, no harassment.
The final station of most of those who used to terrorise their fellow pupils in primary and secondary schools is anyone’s guess. Their bad behaviour negatively affected every aspect related to schoolwork and, hence, they were low achievers.
From the moment a child is enrolled in school, he or she spends a lot of time with teachers and other pupils. Because of this, schools should offer an important opportunity to ensure that children get the support that they need to reach their full potential.
There must be a deliberate commitment to help young people become responsible, caring and contributing citizens. Character education should be emphasised in the curriculum as well as school culture.
Character education refers to the teaching of children in a manner that helps them develop as moral, good-mannered, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, compliant and socially acceptable beings.
It is aimed at ensuring that they develop a global perspective and values based on qualities including love, truthfulness, kindness, justice and respect for all members in the human family.
It is important to note that there are schools – mostly private institutions – that have seriously embraced character education programmes as part of their culture.
Their common approach is to provide a list of principles or values around which different activities and lessons are planned. These values and principles include honesty, kindness, courage, hard work, endurance, diligence, stewardship, generosity, freedom, respect, justice, equality, peace, love and unity.
Therefore, as individual subject teachers plan their work for a particular term or year, each lesson will have relevant, core human values that children must grasp and put into practice. For instance, a history topic, The San: Hunter-Gatherers, can include an objective such as:
At the end of the lesson, pupils should be able to state the human values depicted in the way of life of the San people, i.e hard work, unity and respect for human life.
Then throughout the lesson, the teacher will emphasise the fact that it is possible for everyone to live by these same values both in school and community set-up.
Even from topics that deal with events which caused destruction to human life and property, such as Shaka’s wars and World War I, the point that can be underscored is that courage, discipline and endurance, as human values, should be exhibited in all areas that benefit humanity and the environment surrounding man; not for destruction.
What about a lesson in biology? Reproduction? Human values include reverence for God, stewardship, respect for human life and empathy.
So, basically, individual teachers should be able to identify the core values in each of their lessons and the various extracurricular activities.
And for it to be effective in schools, character education must involve everyone – teachers, parents, learners and members of communities. Events such as parent-teacher association meetings, open days and enrolment should be utilised fully by school authorities to directly involve communities in promoting human values among school-going children.
When all stakeholders unite around developing pupils’ character, schools are assured of achieving great results. This is because of the fact that the approaches involved promote the intellectual, social, emotional and ethical development of children, who, in turn, grow up with an understanding of why it is important to uphold values and principles such as justice, love, courage, hard work and compassion, among others.
Finally, character education helps create an integrated culture that supports and challenges both children and adults to always aim for excellence. As Thomas Lickona and Matthew Davidson – in the book Smart and Good Schools – state, character education “helps young people become smart and helps them become good”.
Institutions that have implemented this policy can bear witness to the fact that it improves school culture, increases achievement for learners, prevents unhealthy and anti-social behaviour, and improves one’s job satisfaction in adult life.
Even prospective bullies and others who exhibit deviant behavioural patterns in our schools will inevitably become capable individuals and good citizens.