Why moral education is a lifelong pursuit

February 13, 2016 08:01
Children who wait their turn show character. Traits like this should be highlighted to encourage children to appreciate and embrace them. Photo: gettyimages.com

At a recent banquet, I was asked what I do for a living.

I replied that I educate children to become moral beings, with a sense of responsibility, perseverance, compassion, dedication to contributing to society and enthusiasm in participating in social service.

A woman overheard me and said she should bring her truant boy to my class. As it turned out, we did not have time to discuss my education philosophy. 

Some people might argue moral education is for rebellious kids meant to remold them into more obedient children.

I disagree. Moral education is a lifelong pursuit.

Renowned educator Dr. Michele Borba lists five steps to what she calls "moral intelligence".

Step 1: Accentuating character traits

This is more applicable in a school setting.

Borba believes that highlighting character traits on banners, signs and posters around campus creates an atmosphere that reinforces character building and strengthens a sense of responsibility.

Putting up motivational quotes on bulletin boards or a charity box at home encourages cooperation and shared family activity.

Accentuating virtues publicly allows children to appreciate and embrace these traits.

Step 2: Explaining the value and meaning of these traits

These traits need to be discussed in language best suited to the children's ability to comprehend.

For instance, parents might explain responsibility as “looking after one's belongings". They might use lost or damaged toys as examples of what happens when someone is being irresponsible.

Step 3: Teaching what these traits look like

Action speaks louder than words. Encourage your children to tidy up their schoolbags, manage their time and show their sense of responsibility.

Step 4: Providing opportunities to practice these traits

Building character is no different from strengthening one's muscles -- use it or lose it.

If your children forget to bring their homework to school, they should take responsibility for their negligence.

Don’t be lenient or you would have deprived the children of a valuable lesson.

Step 5: Doing self-reflection

This means constantly and retrospectively thinking what else could have been done better in terms of morals and manners.

Set modest goals to achieve higher goals.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 11.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Founder and Principal at JEMS Learning House