What is education? Before you read ahead, I really want you to think about this question. To me, the true definition of education has been summarized really well, in the following quote from the book The Little Prince.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
This quote really captures the essence of education. Education, is just not about covering grade level content, but is also about empowering students to think out of the box, it is letting them challenge conventional norms and ideas, and it is letting them to be creative; but this is only possible if in the classroom a teacher ties ‘character ethics’ in every aspects of learning. It is something that seems so obvious but is highly ignored in classes. In short ‘Character ethics’ is the foundational ground for great and authentic learning.
I can say this with affirmation because of my own personal experience of teaching for two years in an under-resourced school. The kids that I was teaching were on average 4 to 5 years behind their actual grade level. I still remember, the despair that I felt, when I saw the class average of my grade 7 students in Science being at an abysmal low of 40%. Often, in such situation one feels tempted to retort to an external locus of control, so as to justify one’s own incapability of assessing the actual classroom situation. Nonetheless, it was only after doing an Action Research, that made me realize that the fundamental problem lies in having systems that were extrinsically motivating my students, hence stifling their development on important social skills. For instance, students were not able to handle conflict in their respective assigned group (of four), which was making group work highly ineffective.
It was then that my co-fellow and I decided to dedicate one whole month on character building activities. We introduced qualitative class goals which were ‘teamwork’, ‘discipline’, ‘hard work’ and ‘determination’. Visualization and specificity were crucial in this process, since it is often difficult for students to understand abstract terms. Hence we began by asking our students how our qualitative goals would look like in action, and then eventually linked it to character traits that would enable them to take such actions. This process not only helped us to communicate with our students effectively, but also ensured that everyone was on the same page.
The process of inculcating character ethics however did not end after a month; but was then also brought into the process of lesson planning. As a result, every activity that I did in class was linked to the development of a particular character trait, such as ‘active listening’ or being ‘tolerant’. However, more importantly the expectations were shared and the goals were reminded in the activities that I did all the time.
The results were phenomenal. My class average did not only rise to 80%, but the pace of our lessons also increased. Moreover students began to devise their own ways of working with each other. For example one group in my class decided to give customized tests to each other. Groups also began maintaining their respective ‘group folder’ in which they kept and shared different learning materials with each other. Some groups made their ‘group goal’ and made trackers so as to track their group progress. As a result my class became a more student led than a teacher led class.
I can say that transformational change and exponential academic growth are indeed the outcomes of well invested time on character development. However, it is important to understand, that this needs time and commitment from the part of the teacher. Furthermore, unlike teaching subjects that can be limited within predetermined time slots, character development is a 24/7 business. I think we would all agree that knowledge can only be useful and sustainable when it is given to individuals who are very strong on character. However, we would also agree that inculcating ‘character ethics’ is not possible without a teacher.
Bareerah Hafeez Hoorani was a fellow at Teach For Pakistan, and taught for two years in an under-resourced school. Before joining the fellowship, she did her BBA from the Institute of Business Administration Karachi. During her fellowship she did an Action Research and wrote a research paper on it; and her paper was accepted in the second educational conference that was organized by the Institute of Business Management. Now she is planning on doing MSc in Economics from Geneva University.