Build­ing Char­ac­ter Among Chil­dren Through Schools

The Jakarta Post - Magazine - - Education Supplement - Kamini Mathur CON­TRIB­U­TOR The writer is a teacher in the English depart­ment at Gandhi Me­mo­rial In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal School (GMIS) Jakarta

Not so long ago, one would not have even men­tioned the word “char­ac­ter” as some­thing that needs to be given im­por­tance, be­cause the val­ues and morals that we im­bibed came nat­u­rally to us ei­ther from our par­ents or schools and the com­mu­nity.

Today, how­ever, it is dif­fer­ent - chil­dren are ex­posed to a wider world through so­cial me­dia and are of­ten wit­nesses to a world that is filled with tur­moil and un­cer­tainty, cor­rup­tion and dis­hon­esty and mis­in­formed judg­ment. The lack of hu­man warmth is over­whelm­ing, mak­ing each one of us re­al­ize that the crux of the prob­lems lies in our cor­roded value sys­tem. We are pre­dom­i­nantly turn­ing into so­cial be­ings who are more ma­te­ri­al­is­tic and less spir­i­tual and hu­mane in our thoughts and be­hav­ior. So what should be done and where can we look for in­spi­ra­tion? A stu­dent on av­er­age spends eight to nine hours daily in school, in­ter­act­ing with many dif­fer­ent peo­ple and get­ting ed­u­cated in a num­ber of ways. It is as such the school’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that the stu­dents are in­cul­cated with val­ues that make them strong, car­ing, re­spon­si­ble and con­tribut­ing cit­i­zens. Char­ac­ter build­ing is a step and a long-term plan if one wishes to see any pos­i­tive re­sults. It is a process that re­quires pa­tience and peo­ple who them­selves have in­tegrity and a re­lent­less de­sire to pur­sue this as­pect of ed­u­ca­tion that can­not be taught through school books and must be shown or demon­strated through ex­em­plary be­hav­ior. We can­not live by prac­tic­ing dou­ble stan­dards; today’s kids are smart and they can eas­ily de­tect when teach­ers are at fault. Char­ac­ter build­ing be­gins at a very young age and right here in our class­rooms when chil­dren en­ter an en­vi­ron­ment which is threat­en­ing and in which their abil­ity to fit in will be tested. It is at this point that his char­ac­ter be­gins to shine, as he can ei­ther be coura­geous and stand up for him­self or choose a means that is dis­hon­est but will help him sur­vive. A good value sys­tem be­gins at home. When a par­ent lays down rules and sets pa­ram­e­ters for chil­dren to fol­low, it al­lows the chil­dren to im­bibe good habits and dis­ci­pline their young minds. Get­ting up early, fol­low­ing a cer­tain rou­tine, greet­ing and ad­dress­ing fam­ily mem­bers po­litely and eat­ing proper meals all are a part of char­ac­ter build­ing.

Sim­i­larly, in schools, teach­ers are the first hu­mans to whom th­ese young minds look up to and try to em­u­late. It is as such im­per­a­tive that a teacher’s be­hav­ior, and not nec­es­sar­ily his knowl­edge, be im­pec­ca­ble. His im­par­tial­ity to­ward one and all, con­stant en­cour­age­ment in the face of flip­pant at­ti­tudes and im­mense pa­tience to pur­sue the la­tent tal­ent are some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that strong teach­ers need to prac­tice. Coun­sel­ing a child for his bad be­hav­ior and mak­ing him un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of miss­ing a dead­line can have a greater ef­fect than in­sult­ing him or pun­ish­ing him with a de­ten­tion of two hours.

At times teach­ers face eth­i­cal dilem­mas when deal­ing with ado­les­cents – should we tell them that their be­hav­ior is un­ac­cept­able? What if he starts hat­ing me and calls me a bad teacher? Teach­ers are hu­mans too and essen­tially sen­si­tive, so it is not sur­pris­ing that he or she may feel con­flicted when be­ing strict.

Treat­ing stu­dents as adults and in­tel­li­gent be­ings can cre­ate trust be­tween stu­dents and teach­ers and help them ac­quire an iden­tity of their own as well as be­come crit­i­cal thinkers. Con­flicts must be re­solved through di­a­logue and be­com­ing trans­par­ent with school poli­cies. No child should feel that there is a hid­den agenda be­hind our ob­jec­tives. A school that al­lows its chil­dren to be who they are and treats them with re­spect and lis­tens to them can hope to see in­di­vid­u­als with in­tegrity.

Char­ac­ter build­ing has to be in­te­grated in both a school’s cur­ricu­lum and the school’s cul­ture. Again it is not merely the con­tent, but one’s ap­proach to­ward that con­tent, that is im­por­tant. Teach­ing lit­er­a­ture from dif­fer­ent parts of the world not only al­lows stu­dents to be­come more tol­er­ant to­ward oth­ers’ cul­tures, but also helps them ac­cept their own more fa­vor­ably. A re­cent de­bate about dis­cussing re­li­gion in the class rooms was re­solved when it was de­cided that the ap­proach should be to in­ves­ti­gate dif­fer­ent cul­tural per­spec­tives, the pre­vail­ing stan­dards of the times and the per­sonal be­lief and faith of in­di­vid­u­als while ex­plor­ing this topic. Teach­ers and schools need to be more open-minded when it comes to deal­ing with cur­ricu­lums that are in­ter­na­tional in na­ture.

Char­ac­ter build­ing can­not be done in iso­la­tion; it is the col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity of par­ents, teach­ers and the com­mu­nity to make sure that we our­selves are who we want our chil­dren to be. Be­ing a par­ent or a teacher is not the best of or the eas­i­est of roles but one that must be played with in­tegrity and hon­esty so that our chil­dren can be the ben­e­fi­ciary of a good value sys­tem.

na ha rd Wa to Se / JP


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