In many parts of the world, including Ghana, there is a growing demand for the formal school system to be more actively involved in teaching children about good character and ethical/moral decision making.
That growing demand clearly reflects the fact that society is reaching out for something more fulfilling in education than a sheer attempt to enhance the intellect. The growing demand is in line with the view expressed years ago by Theodore Roosevelt, a former American President, that” to educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”
It is this rationale that informs the need for a continual overview of school curriculum as we see now in our country Ghana. The inefficiencies of the current Objective Based Curriculum are being addressed more and more as the Common Core Programme is now being promulgated widely. At the base of the Common Core Programme is the belief of nurturing a new generation of honest, creative and responsible Ghanaian children. As such, every part of the curriculum including the related pedagogy, should be consistent with the following values inculcated into the learner:
Respect for all, Diversity, Equity and Equality, Hard work and Commitment to achieving Excellence, Teamwork and Collaboration, Truth and Integrity.
The issue of school-based character education however produces a myriad of questions. These include: Do schools have a moral purpose? Should shaping of character be as important as the training of the intellect? Can virtue be taught in a formal educational set-up? Should value charged issues be discussed in the classroom? Whose values should be taught? And, at the end of any such teaching, how can character and values be accurately measured?
These questions are not new, nor are they indigenous to any particular period of history. Rather, they have arisen throughout the history of education. How these questions have been answered and how Philosophers, theorists, educators, politicians as well as the general public have responded to them have varied from generation to generation.
In Ghana, the general public seems to agree that schools have a moral purpose and that shaping the character of our future leaders is as important as the development of their intellectual capabilities. Thus, the Ghanaian public is clearly giving out amoral mandate to our educational institutions to vigorously pursue and address the issue of good character development, as well as deep-rooted ethical and moral decision making.
That mandate is given out through the often openly-expressed views that “it is our educated men (and women) who have failed our society”and there is even an erroneous and damning perspective that “the problems of Ghana are mainly the creation of educated sons and daughters, not our illiterate folks”.
In most of such expressions, the allusion and the emphasis are on failures and problems on the moral/ethical rather than on the purely intellectual front.
However, our schools having been urged to address the issues of moral and ethical education, the questions remaining are: How should our schools respond? What responses will be effective and why?
In attempting to answer the above related questions, we need not re-invent the wheel. We can glean lessons from historical approaches taken at one time or the other by societies eager to ensure education achieved two great goals: to help people become smart and good.
For example, in America and much of the Western world, especially in the past, society at one time acted on religious conviction and insisted that schools tackled character education directly through discipline, the teachers’ example (as role models), and the daily school curriculum. The public schools’ source book for both moral and religious instruction then was The Bible.
Thus, while children practised their reading or arithmetic, they also learned Biblically rooted lessons about honesty, love of neighbor, kindness to animals, hard work, thriftiness, patriotism and courage.
From this, it is evident that it is essential to establish the objectives of character education if such an educational programme is to succeed. The programme must have an adequate theory of what good character is in order to give schools a clear idea of their goals.
In that regard, character must be broadly conceived to encompassed the cognitive, affective and behavioral aspect of morality. Good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good. Schools must therefore help children understand the core values, adopt and commit to them, and then act upon them in their own lives.
The pivotal core ethnical values that should form the basis for good behaviour are caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility and respect (for self and others). An educational programmecommitted to character education must explicitly name and stand for these values at all times. These values must be promulgated to all members of the educational community and be well-defined and in terms of behaviours that can be observed in the lives of the society’s young ones.
A secondary step would be to model the pivotal values, to study and discuss the models, to use the finalized and agreed models as the basis of human relations in schools, to uphold ‘tried and tested pivotal value models’ and to showcase them by making all education community members and constituents accountable to the ‘tried and tested standards of conduct’ that are consistent with the core values.
The true assessment of a character-building programme would be the measure of change in the behaviour of the students, on and off campus. Needless to say, manifestation of such an educational programme would need to be celebrated, honoured and rewarded if the resultant manifestations are positive and reflecting in less violence, less cheating, less bullying, fewer acts which could lead to an insurrection, less involvement in drug-abuse and occultism andfewer acts of immorality, etc.
If character education is to reverse moral decline, it has to be effective. Character education cannot run on the assumption that children can simply be ‘fixed’ by affixing “Character Education’ into the syllabus and in the school timetable.No ! That would not do. The issues of general and student-specific ‘character deficiency or lack of control’ should be fully addressed (taking into consideration the group or the individual’s social environment) and be included in the details of a character education programme.
Needless to say, character education must be taught by educators consistently at all times and on all occasions. This is because the character of the teacher is lived, modelled before the learners (and scrutinized, emulated by the learners) on a minute-by-minute basis. The teacher, no matter what subject he is taking, must at all the time be aware of the saying that students learn 10 per cent from what is said and 90 per cent by what is lived before them. In other words, ‘actions speak louder than words’.
But the goals of character building cannot be achieved by the educational system and teachers alone. Our young ones are products of our schools as much as they are products of our entire society and culture. The two, our society and our culture outside the bounds of the formal educational system thus bear a collective blame when our young people exhibit less than exemplary ethical or moral conduct in their lives.
There is the need to re-tune our society and culture to become primary tools that will provide the operative values that give concrete direction to the lives of our young people. A comprehensive approach to developing the character of the pupils, students, learners and other young ones must be a collaborative effort.
That is the only way out. For if the entire society does not reinforce and daily drum home the goals of deep-rooted ethical and moral behaviour and celebrate them , any character education provided solely by the formal education system will be gravely undermined and inadequate.
Parents, relatives, chiefs and queens, men of religion, politicians and other key leaders and all stakeholders in our society as well as the media and other institutions must be galvanized and be ready to join hands with our schools in leading the way in an all-embracing character education programme if the behaviour of our young ones are to be positively affected for the good of all.
By Pastor John K. Soudi