Why our education system needs to focus on character building

  • Aditya Tandon, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 17, 2016 19:43 IST
(Hindustan Times)

A fiduciary, something most readers would have never heard of, from the Latin fiducia (trust) is most commonly defined as ‘a person to whom property or power is entrusted for the benefit of another.’ While a noble idea by any account, it has become increasingly redundant during a period in which ethics and morals no longer seem to shape one’s decisions.

Certainly, one would think that the Indian Corporate Law would protect its citizens from being swindled out of their money by consultants and bankers and lawyers who simply drop the term ‘fiduciary’ in agreements to give their clients a false sense of safety and security. But the trouble is not in the law, it is in the lack of moral and ethical values that is so prevalent in almost all business done in India.

Naturally, this has to be changed, and the only way to tackle this is from its roots; from our primary educational institutions. For so long, the craze has been about instilling creativity and innovation into the curriculum––the importance of which I do not mean to undermine––but the shift that needs to occur in the educational system is towards character building; it is our responsibility to instil the correct values into children in order to allow them to succeed and create better societies.

This is not to blame educators by any means, but simply to suggest that we should work towards helping children to develop character traits––such as gratitude, perseverance, and grit, among others––where they spend almost a quarter of their pre-teen waking hours; no longer can we depend on parents with 12-hour work days to entirely take care of this.

This is especially important for India, where most associate academics with rote learning and memorisation––and I would argue, rightly so. Schools in the United States and Britain have already started investing more time and money into intertwining academics and character-building, the combination of which Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation, a public charter school system in the United States, called the “double helix” of education in a recent interview.

While the best method of educating children academically and instilling such character traits and values concurrently is still rather contentious, in that no one seems to be able to agree, what should not be contentious is the paramount importance of these traits in helping children succeed. In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2015 report titled “Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills,” researchers highlighted the importance of not only cognitive skills, which can impact financial wealth and employment, but also that of social and emotional skills, which largely correlate with friendship, health, and happiness.

“Today’s children will need a balanced set of cognitive, social, and emotional skills in order to succeed in modern life. Their capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others, and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” the OECD researchers wrote.

This is not to say that character building and academics are the only important facets of a child’s education, but it is to draw attention to the importance of building environments in which children are able to grow and develop character traits that will lead to them being more ethically grounded individuals who are more likely to succeed––something which is not often spoken about in the Indian primary education system.

Maybe one day a fiduciary agreement will start to mean something, but the only way for us to get to that point is to refocus our primary education system to work towards not only advancing intellectually astute individuals, but also towards empowering those individuals with the character traits that will allow them to succeed in their future endeavors.

The author is a 12th grade student reconciling with all the possibilities in the world around him. He is passionate about the intersection of philosophy, history, and economics in the 21st century, and aims to pursue courses around these subjects as he advances to university in the fall of 2017. Students who want to share their opinions with HT Education can email their articles to hteducation@hindustantimes.com, marked ‘your voice’.

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