Professor Terry Lovat and his colleagues at Newcastle University, Australia, monitored the Australian government’s Values Education initiative in schools, a few years ago. And, it was found that a concerted and coordinated effort by schools on this front produced tangible results.
Lovat’s team found that:
- Students’ academic diligence was enhanced (parents and schools will be delighted!)
- Conflict among students decreased or was managed more constructively
- Students actively involved peers without friends in activities
- Classrooms and playgrounds were safer and more harmonious
- Students demonstrated greater empathy, honesty and integrity
- Students treated school buildings and grounds with respect
- The relationship between teachers and students was more trustful
- Classrooms became more democratic instead of being authority-driven (by a teacher)
- Teachers scouted for opportunities to acknowledge and reinforce appropriate behaviour
- Students gained a greater capacity for self-reflection and self-appraisal
- Students felt a greater sense of connect and belonging
Closer home, the City Montessori School (CMS) in Lucknow is a good example of how to impart moral values to pupils. The school, with around 40,000 pupils spread across 20 campuses, is known for its idealistic ambitions, with pupils being taught a philosophy of universal peace and globalism under the motto ‘Jai Jagat’ (victory be to the world).
CMS bagged the 2002 UNESCO prize for Peace Education. Influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, the school believes that education is not only about providing academic content, but alsocharacter and values training. The school acts on the belief that ‘Spiritual understanding combined with reasoning expands a child’s ability to better perceive, empathize and comprehend’.
A study by the students of the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow titled ‘Incorporation of Moral Values and Emotional Intelligence – A Comparative Study of 12 Indian Schools’ found that CMS students were significantly more aware of values like empathy, social responsibility, loyalty, courtesy, truthfulness, cleanliness and obedience than other school students.
The need for a concerted approach
Of the thousands of schools in this country, there are very few that have a holistic or concerted approach to values education. There are many schools trying to do something about it, but the efforts are sporadic. Jyoti Kumta, teacher trainer in values education/life skills, writes; “No school that I have come across schedules more than one class a week for values education. There is no standardized syllabus. Classes are taken by teachers who have not been trained to teach the subject and often, seem to have no interest." Her contention is that since values are predominantly imbibed, they must be taught, ideally, by people who are willing to lead by example. Demonstration, discussion and practice are more effective ways of teaching values than lectures, games and activities. Schools can follow three approaches:
- Teach values during planned value education classes
- Integrate the teaching of values with other subjects
- Make it a whole school approach, or have a mix of these approaches
Today, if parents feel strongly about certain values, they have to diligently search for and choose an appropriate school for their child. Says Bharti Sahay, an architect, “It’s important for me that my children develop a liberal outlook and respect people who are different from them culturally. My children go to the Ahmedabad International School where children have to work on projects involving different communities. The children are encouraged to think for themselves and draw conclusions,” she says.
A structured framework
Professor Rajeev Sharma, a faculty member of the Indian Institute of Management in the RJ Mathai Centre for Educational Innovation, Ahmedabad, was a consultant for a research paper, ‘Education for Values in Schools – A Framework’ brought out by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The paper describes ways in which schools can inculcate values in children in an effective and interesting manner. Some strategies suggested in the paper are silent- sitting and reflection (which calms and inspires), role play (the process of acting out helps in the better understanding and reinforcement of values) and recounting stories, folktales and anecdotes (an appealing way of getting across an important value-based message).
Reciting hymns and group singing ensure that the words/lyrics remain in the child’s consciousness for a long time. Other group activities like projects, sports and games teach tolerance, cooperation, team spirit and how to accept defeat gracefully. Discussions and workshops on contemporary issues as well as art, poetry and creative writing competitions with values as the theme can also help.
Apart from these strategies, a school’s policies and practices, particularly in handling discipline and creating a positive, caring environment, are important. But it is vital to actively involve students in the efforts. The role of teachers is to put the child on the right path, not by imposing but by watching, suggesting and helping.
A holistic approach
Akhila Seshadri, senior teacher at The School (KFI), Chennai, says “What other schools call Moral Science or Values Education permeates every sphere of our school. But there is a designated period (once or twice a week) called ‘circle time’ in which students and teacher discuss various issues - friendship, teasing, boredom, following rules, gender issues, rape, corruption, war, death, fear and so on.”
Sports day is sans a victory stand, medals or cups. “Only cheers prevail,” she says. Even academically, when she is teaching History or Civics to the children, values come in. Her colleague and she halt academic classes if a value-related issue crops up or is observed. “The academic learning will continue, but if the issue is not spoken about, it will be a missed opportunity,”
she adds. Says Deepa Hari, who has been working for over 20 years on educational projects, “One of the key concerns of values education is the dichotomy between what children are taught as the right values and what they observe in their surroundings. It is essential to discuss not just what is right but to question why it is right and under what circumstances. This means helping them develop critical thinking skills. Not only is this more effective, it is also more interesting for children.”
Deepa has been involved with Sangati, a project implemented in 905 municipal schools in Mumbai, for the last six years. It is a three-year course taught in classes 5, 6 and 7. “Sangati integrates and puts into perspective (that is, adds the ‘values’ dimension to) many themes and topics that form a part of the regular school syllabus.
For example, while discussing ‘skin’ in a science lesson there is also a game related to skin colour. This leads to a discussion on discrimination on the basis of colour and race, leading to the understanding that a person’s skin colour has nothing to do with his qualities,” says Deepa.
Values education indeed provides great value!
Aruna Raghuram is a freelance writer from Ahmedabad