AS we continue to struggle as a society with issues of values and attitudes, the time has come for us to examine the possibility of introducing the teaching of character education into the school curriculum at both the primary and secondary levels of the education system.
We need to stop and take a serious look at the society, since it appears that we lack the fortitude and wherewithal to produce men and women of good character. Last week was a most embarrassing one for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). In two instances, six of their members were arrested and another is on the run for their alleged involvement in harbouring a criminal, robbery, and facilitating the escape of a prisoner. It should be very clear to all of us that without positive and good character, corruption intensifies.
Corruption has become embedded and entrenched in the social fabric of the society over the years and it will take a strategic, collective and deliberate effort to rid the society of this destructive monster, and as such we must begin with the future of the society — our children. We must ensure that our children are given the tools necessary to develop into citizens who have acquired positive social skills after learning the basic tenets of decency. Since it appears that our homes have failed in this regard, the onus is now on our schools to try and bridge the gap left by parents who have abandoned their duties.
Character education is simply about how people treat each other. As a society we do not treat each other well. We kill and maim recklessly and we abuse our sons and daughters. We drive badly and curse each other on the roads daily. We spew out hate and show levels of intolerance against those in the society whom we view as different and threatening, failing to recognise that what binds us together as a people surpasses that which separates us.
Character education is the deliberate effort to develop virtues that are good for the individual and society by affirming our human dignity. Values such as respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, justice, choices, safety, tolerance, knowledge are only some of the ideals with are associated with the teaching of character education.
These values have become even more important in the teaching and learning experience of the 21st century since more and more of our students are exposed to issues of bullying, school violence, sexting and pornography, which continue to create havoc for school administrators, parents and the wider student population. It is important that we facilitate and expose our students to all the necessary tools and skills which will make them into better adults. There will be some who will argue that Social Studies is currently being taught in our schools. However, some of the traditional high schools did not include Social Studies among the subjects that they offer, and even when these schools offer Social Studies it's an option and not compulsory.
The teaching of character education should be compulsory in all public institutions of learning at the early childhood, primary and secondary levels of the education system.
Global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, ranked Jamaica at 83 out of 176 in their 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Since 2010, Jamaica's ranking has been improving. However, the society is still stigmatised as corrupt.
Interestingly, in 2009 Transparency International warned that Jamaica was likely to succumb to what is referred to as state capture.
The term is used to describe a situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country use corruption to influence policies, the legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests. We must act with a sense of urgency and dispatch, and implement serious measures to tackle corruption at all levels. If we fail to do so, then the prophecy of a 'state capture' will in fact come true. We can and should implement inexpensive and corrective measures such as the teaching of character education in our schools.
In recent times there has been a growing body of research that supports the idea that the teaching of character education results in the improvement in academic performance, students' behaviour and attitudes. Students who are taught character education at an early age are more likely to succeed in higher education as well as in their careers.
Marvin Berkowitz, Professor of Character Education at the University of Missouri - St Louis, in his well-reasoned and logical synopsis of the issue, believes that students who attend schools where they feel valued and safe will work harder. One certainly cannot argue against his hypothesis as this makes much sense.
Surely, before we get to the academics which is the primary focus of our institutions of learning, we must inculcate a culture of respect for self and for others if our schools and the wider society are going to be places of safety for all of us to live, work and raise families.
Wayne Campbell is an educator.