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Teaching values to children

My answer to: What are some essential virtues/values/morals that, you think, should be taught compulsorily to everyone in the current Indian education system? (To vote and comment on Quora, visit the link here.)

During my training for the Teach For India Fellowship at Pune, I learnt one seemingly obvious, but very important thing. I learnt that you may have a whole list of values and rules you subconsciously live with, but giving them a name changes their whole meaning for you. I was not categorically taught this as part of the training, but I observed this within myself at the Training Institute. One of the core values of TFI, “sense of possibility” (the realization that everything, howsoever challenging and impossible it looks, is possible), was something everyone often comes across in spirit, through stories, through quotations, etc. But when this was given the name “sense of possibility”, with this name being reinforced again and again throughout the five weeks, it acquired a whole new meaning for me, and I felt a lot more confident about things.

I think, for children, it works this way:

  1. Give a name to the value: Introduce the value, give a name to it which they will be using all their life. I mean, you should obviously tell them they shouldn’t tell lies or they should always speak the truth, but once you give the name “truthfulness” to this value, it acquires a whole new meaning for the child.
  2. Give examples: Give a couple of stories that depict a particular moral value.
  3. Give non-examples: Give a couple of stories where the characters depict the opposite of that particular moral value, and show how they suffered because of that.
  4. Bring it to the student’s real life: After telling stories about the value, bring the lessons to the context of the students. Let them explore examples and non-examples within their own life.
  5. Regular reinforcement: Forget the example and non-example stories now. Now, let the students practise the value in their own life. Ask them everyday what one example they saw and what one non-example they saw around them throughout the previous day, for the particular value. Even otherwise, every time you feel they failed to live up to that value, ask them, “Do you think you just showed <insert value name>? Why/Why not?” This helps them question themselves, and they will be more particular about living up to the value.

Even as adults, we often fail to showcase basic human values, so it’s acceptable for students to fail and learn. Success in moral values isn’t as easy as success in academics (though that is has its own challenges). This is also very very gradual. But if a curriculum with the above five steps in a structured manner is followed for the following list of basic values, one value at a time, it will have a positive impact on students.

  • honesty
  • respectfulness
  • compassion
  • patience
  • self-control

These are the must-haves to start with. If a child acquires these, acquiring most other values should become easier.

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