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Moral education: Will it revive virtues?
By Dr S Saraswathi
The new Human Resource Development Minister, Pallam Raju, is reported to have plans to focus on moral education in school curriculum to reinforce value systems in the younger generation. This follows closely the move by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to look into the possibility of reintroducing moral and value-based education at the elementary level.

The move was made in the course of discussions on the problems of ageing population and in recognition of the positive role that moral education can play in sensitizing children towards the elderly. The Ministry of SJ&E has invited a delegation from the NCERT to discuss this in the forthcoming National Conference on Ageing to be held shortly.

The debate on the question of moral education, going on from time to time, is now resumed in connection with the task of framing policies and rules concerning empowerment of senior citizens and the elderly. However, the subject of moral education is not restricted to any single purpose. It has much wider implications that extend to the whole gamut of our thoughts and actions.

The possibility of including moral education as part of elementary education has been under the consideration of the NCERT also. In fact, the subject used to be part of elementary schooling. This is practically revival of an idea that crops up now and then and raises heated debates which unfortunately digress more on peripheral issues rather than focusing on the need to promote personal and social morality.

Moral education means different things to different people. It is often confused with religious instruction even by knowledgeable people. This confusion underlies the major opposition to teaching morals in schools. Morals are common to all religions. They have human values and are intended to inculcate human virtues.

Moral values transcend geographical, religious, cultural, and social differences. These are universal. In his State of the Union Message, former US President Clinton once called upon all schools to give character education, to teach good values and good citizenship.

Moral values have been emphasized by philosophers and educationists from the days of Socrates. The very word “character” is derived from the Greek “charakter” meaning “enduring mark”. It is contained in the distinguishing qualities of a person or the principles upheld by a person. Good head, good heart, and good hands indicating good thinking, sensibility, and good action are the hallmarks of good character.

The Kothari Commission on Education recommended that comprehensive value education must start at the beginning of school education. It spelt out the aims of education as imparting knowledge, skills, balance, vision, and identity. But, for want of effective faculty and finance, the proposal did not succeed.

The National Policy on Education (1986) refers to the growing concern over the erosion of essential values and increasing cynicism in society and the need to readjust curriculum to make education a tool for cultivation of social and moral values. Such value education, the policy states, should help eliminate obscurantism, religious fanaticism, violence, superstition, and fatalism. Apart from this combative role, the policy includes certain positive contents based on our heritage, national goals, and universal perceptions.

The National Youth Policy of 2003 acknowledges the objective of providing appropriate education to youth to enable them to develop into good citizens of the country. It emphasizes the need for an educational system to instill in the youth an abiding sense of patriotism and values oriented towards the unity and integrity of the country. It calls for elimination of all forms of violence, and adherence to good moral and ethical values, and respect and reverence for India’s composite culture and national heritage.

There is no dearth of pious resolutions and admirable policies. But, what we sadly encounter today is rampant political and administrative corruption and an exploitative economic system, to which the educated more than the non-educated are the contributors. Can this situation be rectified by proper educational system imparting character education?

The foundation for good conduct and behaviour must, of course, be laid at home. The first agent of socialization is the mother and the immediate family. Its place cannot be substituted. Therefore, the parents must have the necessary ability and knowledge to play their role as socializing agents. One can commonly come across parents abusing and beating their children for disobedience particularly in poor and illiterate families. They hardly realize that their behaviour becomes a role model for the child.

Next comes the teacher in the school as the custodian for children. It is necessary to start moral education at the elementary level. For, habits are formed early in life and such habits govern a good part of later life of an individual. Moral education should teach what is right and what is wrong, and should develop a desire in children to be “good” human beings. Honesty, self-control, friendliness, fairness, respect and caring nature are considered qualities to be fostered. Traditionally, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice are counted as cardinal human virtues. These can be cultivated by only practice.

Social morality requires a democratic spirit, adherence to rule of law, justice and fair play. Civics and citizenship education are integral part of moral education.

Both Personal and social morality are common to all and have no particular religious basis. Critics attempting to associate value-based education with any religion and then condemning it as anti-secular must ponder over the rapid degeneration of values in public and social life right in front of our eyes. Morality is essential to vibrant democratic politics. “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith” as Tocqueville asserts.

In the US, character education is currently in vogue and focuses on development of some virtues. It is believed that increase in juvenile crimes, sexual promiscuity, problems of suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, teen-age violence, and such youth problems can be tackled by systematic character education.

Perhaps growing juvenile problems demand special remedial courses in the US, which is not the case with India. But, India faces serious credibility crisis in various forms in several places. It needs to be addressed immediately. Value-based education becomes important in this context to correct devaluation of virtues. “Intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of education”, as stated by Martin Luther King, Jr.

(The author is Former Director ICSSR, New Delhi)

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News Updated at : Sunday, November 18, 2012
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