Embed values in school lessons
Today, more than ever, when unrest across the world is being triggered by certain fundamental principles of thought stemming from various religions, what can education and teaching do to create better, open-minded and liberally assertive global citizens?
All good education institutions know that true education surpasses the need to drive students to get good grades that will further enable them to get into good colleges and thereafter, good jobs. Good schools know that it is the shared responsibility of teachers to help students understand their moral responsibilities, true freedom, and inculcate a robust sense of citizenship.
The real dilemma that schools face with such a perspective, is, how to do all this and yet meet the social definition of success? How can teachers make parents understand that their children will take better care of them once they have the right value systems in place rather than just a high-paying job? Another dilemma that schools face is how to teach children social and family values without encroaching upon religious values?
Most schools avoid teaching anything about religion while a few others choose just one religion and concentrate on teaching it well. The goal of such a curriculum is to familiarise children with their own religion and Indian traditions of belief. I am of the opinion that it is possible to teach values without concentrating on any particular religion. I have studied the Finnish and Singaporean education system fairly well with this in mind.
Today, the world is looking at this small country of Finland to understand how it has managed to excel in education all these years. The transformation of the Finnish education system began some 50 years ago as the key propellant of the country’s economic recovery plan.
In fact, the educators had no idea how successful their education system was until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardised test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. This success continues even today.
While Reading and Math will always be important, it is intriguing how ethics and values are taught in Finnish schools. There is no special subject called Moral Science but values and ethics are integrated as concepts into every subject in the most natural way right from junior school.
The school curriculum introduces all religions to students and helps them understand the cultural and human significance of religion. A key part of religious instruction is dealing with ethical issues in a way that is appropriate in schools. Most schools in Finland are multicultural, and representatives of different religions hold traditional celebrations and invite everyone to participate.
Sharing the universal joy of celebration and learning about others’ traditions with an open mind poses no threat to any faith. In fact, it has been found that the more they know, the easier it is to consolidate one’s roots.
Another young country that is slowly leading the way is Singapore. Its students have topped in Science and Maths in the latest PISA tests. Singapore has an interesting moral education programme called Being and Becoming where they teach intrinsic values for good living.
It even has a course on Nation Building and Citizenship which is offered to students to create pride in their identity without disrespecting others. The school system promotes secular moral education that can be complemented by religious education at home.
If schools in India can take care of these important issues with a certain amount of conviction and boldness, then we truly can create global citizens. Values of integrity, respect, responsibility and compassion can be taught even in kindergarten through Math and nursery rhymes. Teachers must really understand the gravity of their responsibility and feel empowered to craft the futures of their students. This will only happen if we begin to look up to the teaching profession.
I will never forget what one of the teachers in a small Finnish school explained many years ago. He said, “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work. Our incentives come from inside.”
I dream of the day when I will hear similar words in one of our government schools that are shaping the future of 50 million young citizens of India. There is no dilemma about that whatsoever.