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A window of opportunity

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November 18, 2015

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A window of opportunity

In ancient times, the Gurukul system was the mainstay of our education system. It produced great spiritual masters and texts, but that system is long forgotten. In the past, religion and values were inextricably intertwined and even today it is our religious organisations that are working relentlessly towards teaching values. However, present day education is not comfortable with bringing religious organisations into our schools. They want a more secular approach based on objective research findings.

Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Formation of character should have priority over knowledge of the alphabet.’ Theodore Roosevelt said, ’To educate a mind without morals is to create a menace to society.’ The Dalai Lama exhorts us to ‘educate the heart’. Over the ages all great philosophers, from around the world, have agreed that Moral Education/Character Education/ Values Education must be an integral part of education. Now, research in the field of Character Education/Values Education/ Social and Emotional Learning is convincing educators, policy makers, administrators and governments, of the power of teaching gratitude, compassion, generosity and the like. In ancient times, the Gurukul system was the mainstay of our education system. It produced great spiritual masters and texts, but that system is long forgotten. In the past, religion and values were inextricably intertwined and even today it is our religious organisations that are working relentlessly towards teaching values. However, present day education is not comfortable with bringing religious organisations into our schools. A more secular approach based on objective research findings is needed.

The Indian government, recognising the rampant corruption, crass materialism, and wide-spread violence that is a part of day to day life, has sought to address the problem. In 1952 the National Commission of Secondary Education first highlighted the need for ‘training of character and personality’ but it was only in 2005 that concrete measures were initiated. A directive was sent out by the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) that all schools should devote at least two periods a week to teaching Life Skills. They followed it up with lesson plans for teachers and many other related resources. In 2012 they released a Values Education Kit. This consisted of a set of activity cards for all classes, a teacher’s manual, and a CD with values based songs. The manual promotes a holistic approach to Values Education and they have even started asking values based questions in the board examinations.

In spite of these efforts by the government, and in part because of them, the situation in schools is one of confusion and ignorance, and the initiative seems to be floundering. Most teachers have no idea about the efforts made by the government, and the few who do, do not know what to make of the resources provided by the CBSE, or the time allocated for teaching VEd, that is at their disposal. Most schools have not even made it a part of their weekly schedule, and if it is, it is not used effectively. Teachers generally use the time to complete academic syllabus, their own administrative work, some extracurricular activities, or just give students a free period.

The international scene is replete with the work of organisations and educational institutions that can and should be used to help educators in India develop a much more effective curriculum. Institutions which can guide us may include: The Character Education Partnership, CASEL, Institute of Excellence and Ethics, Character Lab, The Dalai Lama initiatives, VIA Institute and Universities of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, which are based in the US and Canada. In the UK there is the work of Dr Neil Hawkes, Learning for Life and the University of Birmingham, whereas in Australia the government itself has initiated a Values Education programme, and all this is just the tip of the iceberg!

We need to take advantage of all the past and current research programmes and initiatives from across the world, consider individual school requirements, prevailing conditions, CBSE guidelines and create a programme for schools that is secular, based on strong research evidence, easy to implement, sustainable, and replicable across schools while supporting diversity among schools.

As a starting point I have identified one such solution as a result of being in the system and observing it closely for over twenty years. This long term Values Education programme is currently being implemented in two schools. It is in tune with CBSE guidelines and acceptable to schools, teachers, parents and students. Due to school schedules and constraints of time and resources, presently only one period a week has been directly targeted. This is the window of opportunity that we have!

The reason for targeting just one period a week is that at present, it is not being used effectively, and it seems to be the fastest way to get the teachers’ attention. No project with schools can succeed unless the teachers are convinced of its effectiveness and are willing to commit to it.

The mission of the programme is to create a model Values Education programme which ensures that VEd becomes an integral part of a school curriculum. To achieve this, work is taken up in one school at a time. Teachers’ skills and awareness, are addressed through regular workshops, and changes are made to existing systems and processes in order to create a more responsible, accountable, transparent and collaborative school culture.

Simultaneously, the time allocated to Values Education is used to ensure that students have an engaging, supportive and reflective experience in their Values Education class. The programme itself is partially Internet based and partially face-to-face. It addresses systemic change through the personal and professional development of teachers. It focuses on helping the school become a Learning & Design Community. To help implement this ‘reflective practice’ it has a Collaborative Design component. So everyone in the school is invited to be actively involved in the design and implementation of the programme. Inputs from students, teachers, management and parents are integral to its successful execution. Feedback from all is a continuous process and changes are made along the way, to suit the individual (teacher) needs and the constraints of the school.

The objectives of the programme are –

  • To motivate all teachers to make a conscious, deliberate effort to take responsibility for teaching values/social and emotional skills or ‘educating the heart’.
  • To make teaching/learning of values engaging.
  • To create awareness about latest research in the field of Values Education/ Character Education/Social and Emotional Learning and to share effective teaching strategies.
  • To identify teachers with an interest in teaching values and place them as VEd teachers in the school.
  • To establish how VEd curriculum evolves in terms of the developmental needs of students and how it gets integrated into their curriculum.
  • To ensure that the programme is sustainable by involving everyone in the process and adopting a Collaborative Design approach.

When I started working on this project, it was only because I was intrigued by the international body of work and my own interest in the field, but now there has been a sea change in my approach. My dream now, is to create a process for identifying and training teachers of Values Education, which will ensure that teaching values becomes an integral part of the school curriculum. In the process, I expect to touch the personal and professional lives of teachers, students, parents and the entire school community.

By far the greatest advantage of my involvement in this programme, has been to myself. After all, the best way to learn is by teaching. Hence, I am of the firm belief that teachers who show interest in this programme and take it on with commitment will, in time, grow as individuals themselves. What better way to address social change than to begin with one’s self!!!

Jyoti KumtaJyoti Kumta is a trained teacher, counsellor, assessor and trainer with a wide variety of experience. She initially taught in various Army and Air Force schools around the country. Then she counselled parents, teachers and students in Delhi Public School, Agra. She has also worked as an Executive Assessor for Development Dimensions International (DDI), an internationally recognized company in the field of corporate assessments and training. However, she realised that her heart lay in schools so she consolidated all the skills (teaching, counselling and training) learnt over a period of more than two decades and prepared a training program for school children and teachers in the area of Value Education/ Life Skills. She is currently conducting a year long training programme for teachers of Vikhe Patil Memorial School, Pune. Her aim is to create a structured, sustainable, blended learning programme which will ensure that Values Education becomes an integral part of the curriculum.

The author may be contacted at jyotikumta@gmail.com

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