Can morality be taught, like reading and writing?
The purpose of education should not be only be about elaborate degrees, but also moral integrity. The purposes of education in the 21st century, however, remain a topic of national debate.
But it does not have to be an either/or situation -- the true goal of education should be to prepare students for their lives, their work, and the extent to which they can serve their country.
Such endeavours are possible by equipping that education with morality. And thus, the obvious question then becomes: Exactly who should teach morality?
In a general sense, “moral education” refers to anything that is done to influence how people think, feel, and act regarding issues of right and wrong. Moral education, in other words, can be described as “character education” or “value education.” Though there needs to be a general agreement among our education planners and curriculum designers about exactly what should comprise a moral education and to what extent.
To that end, a report on Moral Education of Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, based in the US, claimed that to be moral meant not only to be able to judge what was right, but to also care deeply about doing it, and to possess the will, competence, and habits needed to translate moral judgment and feeling into effective moral action.
As a nation, we can claim to have acquired the required technology, infrastructure, economy, and level of education, but we are failing to create citizens with qualities of high moral standards. Our society is gradually being plunged into chaos and disharmony; our materialistic and “me-first” attitudes are making us less cooperative, increasing social distance among us in the process.
According to Dr Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in UAE, sustainable development should be supported by two bases: A physical basis represented by scientific, technological, and economic advancement; and a moral basis represented by values, attitudes, and the way we perceive others and ourselves.
To come to our original question: Who should teach morality? Though different social institutions have their individual roles in fostering positive values in children and youths, the significant roles are played by family and educational institutions. Moral education, of course, begins at home, but it must be supported by formal education system and institutions.
Family is the most important platform for children to learn moral values. Whichever society or culture or time it may be, the value system practised in a family becomes second-nature to young family members.
Parenting, without a doubt, is one of the most difficult tasks in the world.
Though ultimately, parents should be the ones teaching their offspring good values, there are parents who miserably fail to practice what they teach their children and expect them to follow suit.
These days, parents are busier than ever, lacking time, patience, and energy required to raise well-behaved and responsible children.
Sometimes, children and youngsters also take advantage of an informal environment prevailing in the family, and simply refuse to follow the advice of their elders (assuming the advice is sound to begin with).
Additionally, situations such as fragmentation of the family, and general dysfunction hamper children’s character development, while some children and teenagers simply do not get moral lessons at home.
In such a situation, the educational institutions should take an added responsibility to prepare children and our youth to deal with the moral challenges of the future.
Educational institutions should not just be a place exclusively for learning how to read and write; it should be the best place (away from home) for students to learn and practice respectful and responsible behaviour.
Teachers are (and should be) the proper agents for the transmission of positive values into students.
Dr Thomas Lickona, former president of the Association for Moral Education in the US, described teachers as “effective care-givers.”
The moral development of students is an important dimension of education. Family, undoubtedly, bears the brunt of the duty to pass on to the young citizens the spirit of humanism and the sense of moral responsibility.
Whatever students learn determines, to a great extent, how they will live out their lives in the future, and how they will contribute in building their nation -- after all, today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.
Afrin Sultana is a researcher at The Bangladesh Rating Agency Ltd.