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Character education: It’s all about values

June 16, 2012

Physical fights, bullying, foul language, intolerance and lack of responsibility are some of the maladies being confronted by parents and teachers on a day-to-day basis. How shrewdly have our children started answering us back these days? Be it at home or in school, the younger generation appears to have manifested a rather disruptive and violent behaviour putting a big question mark on their sense of values.

Children pick up things from their surroundings, people, the media, school and friends. Once enrolled into a school, they tend to give a lot of importance to their class fellows, who may hail from diverse backgrounds. In classrooms, teachers are seen giving more importance to the curriculum while overlooking basic morals and values. The declining economic conditions and ever-increasing inflation has made it rather obligatory for both the parents to work while the children are left in the care of servants. From a very young age, the kids also become hooked to television. That’s when they get familiarised with rude gestures and profanity, often used in movies, and start imitating the characters they see on the screen.

The parents teachers, and community need to work together to inculcate socially-acceptable thoughts, principles and behaviour in children, which are not only practiced within the four boundaries of the school or home, but also exercised by the youngsters throughout their lives to also be passed down to their off-spring. Parents and teachers can work closely to instil core values like integrity, responsibility, mutual respect, diversity, tolerance, participation, critical thinking and reflection while the community can help and encourage children become positive and disciplined citizens of the country. The question that now arises is: how can these three institutions play their part in teaching character education to the next generation?

Family is the first institution that a child comes into contact with. Hence, it is important that parents begin inculcating the basic set of values such as respect, care, patience and trust by demonstrating them to the child from an early age. Instead of using very negative and harsh words when scolding or admonishing, keeping your tone soft, respectful and sympathetic would help the young impressionable minds understand the rights and wrongs more easily. The language used at home plays an integral role in developing a child’s communication skills and personality. Assertively informing your toddler that offensive language is not appreciated will send a clear message to him or her to refrain from using slang words. Similarly, trusting your family members and loved ones will contribute immensely towards optimistic and healthier mental growth.

Second in line comes the school, which constitutes a major part of a child’s life as it is where he or she gets to spend six to seven hours daily. It is recommended that teachers regularly stress upon upholding principal values throughout the academic year. Social values can be incorporated during lesson activities, through group work, by reading stories and poems and by clearly understanding the teachings of Islam, of course.

Let’s take an English class as an example where Robert Frost’s “The road not taken” is under discussion. The teachers here can use a triangle model for purpose of character building of their pupils. The left side of the triangle focuses on using role models, peers, family members, legends, heroes and reinforcement processes to help the students recognise the positive character attributes of their favourite personalities.

The teachers can ask the students if they know of any difficult choices their family members or friends have made and how it affected them and others. They can also describe the popular and unpopular decisions made by a few role models, explaining how integral a part values play in one’s life. Students can be encouraged to narrate their personal experiences where the decisions they took changed their lives for the better or worse while relating the triangle model with the poem. The right side of the triangle emphasises on processes which are rational ways of dealing with different situations in life. These involve morally-appropriate problem-solving processes, decision making processes, critical thinking processes and the process of reflecting and learning from one’s past experiences. The teachers can try supplying real life case studies as a part of this literature class to help their students realise how to deal with a hard situation in life, ethically. They can also leave the decision of choosing a particular path on their pupils and later discuss the pros and cons of their choices while keeping everyone’s rights in mind. They can motivate their  students to reflect on their actions, critically, and strive to improve their character and mind.

Finally, the triangle rests on values like integrity, cooperation, respect, and skills such as team work, anger management, emotional intelligence, time management, etc. Even these skills can be instilled while discussing Frost’s poem. Teachers can carry out real life case study reading in groups where students would need to respect and cooperate with each other, and within a team manage their time, anger and emotions to accomplish the lesson outcomes. This triangle model can be used in various other subjects like Urdu, Social Studies and Islamiat.

Third, the community can perform an essential role in helping children learn and abide by their personal values and ethics. Do you seriously think that our younger generation would show any ownership and responsibility towards their country if we as their elders littered and polluted our surroundings? Would they show any respect to others when their elders show disrespect to others? Would they learn tolerance, patience and the essence of diversity when they see so much intolerance towards different religions and ethnic groups? Of course not!

It would not matter then how their parents have brought them up or how well their teachers have taught them because on stepping out of their homes and schools they would still see and experience a different world, where all the values, morals and ethics that they are familiar with are being crushed. And they will do the same. Therefore, our community needs to play the biggest and the most important part in order to save young people from going astray. Every individual in the community needs to become a role model for our children. They need to exhibit how principal values guide and monitor their lives. We need to set ourselves as an example for tomorrow’s generation, so that they can prosper and become industrious residents of Pakistan.