THIS year’s Teachers Day theme “Developing Knowledge, Perfecting Morals” is significant as it emphasises not only the acquisition of knowledge but also of good morals.
Elements of good morals, virtues and ethics are the basis of all great religions of the world. In Islam, Muslims are told to copy the deeds of our beloved Prophet and frequent mentions are made throughout the Quran of righteousness, good morals, integrity and honour.
These qualities are also enshrined in Christianity, Hinduism and Confucianism.
Gandhi once pointed out that one of the roots of violence is knowledge without character.
Sadly, the Moral and Islamic classes, which happen to be one of the builders of good morals in schools, are mere showcases of reading, writing and other language exercises. At most, these classes expound the theoretical aspect and stories of good morals without any practical implications or involvement of the students.
The 36 moral values taught in Moral classes, for example, are meant for rote learning to be applied in the examination.
Similarly, most of the content taught in the Islamic classes have very little practical impact on students. Those who score As in these subjects often do not show signs of being better individuals than their weaker counterparts.
In schools, teachers themselves are the moral agents. Other than just enforcing the normal school rules and regulations (which is generally left to the discipline teachers), all teachers should take a strong stand against unacceptable behaviour in and out of the classrooms.
In the first place, they must earn the students’ respect through shows of the efforts they have put into their work, in the way they teach, speak, act, dress and carry themselves. Some negative practices of teachers often seen in schools include being late for classes, leaving early, going out of school without notice, doing personal errands during school hours, carrying out small businesses and being generally negligent in their duties. Sadly, these examples of low morals are often noticed by students.
Broadly speaking, among others, students who have left school should have developed acceptable social values, are able to distinguish between right and wrong, are generally truthful, well mannered, considerate, respectful especially to their elders, courteous on the road, are not racially or religiously biased and always responsible for their actions.
The unusual sympathy and outright support among some for the Islamic State (IS) is a case in point, where rational and religious judgement have gone overboard.
The violent road demonstrations now very common in the big towns too are all symptoms of low morals manipulated by irresponsible leaders.
In the public service, we see ample real examples of these in the rude doctors, arrogant police officers, unapproachable heads of department and other little napoleons. All these qualities had their humble origin in homes where children were neglected or over pampered, and in schools where only academic excellence is seen as important.
In the National Education Blueprint (2013-2025), the development of values-driven plans has been suggested, such as the Student Integration Plan for Unity, community service and reinforcing the One Sport, One Club and One Uniform body.
These might look good on paper but driving these plans into action is another thing. This can be seen from the poor performance of the co-curricular activities and the One Student One Sport vision in schools. In most schools, teachers and parents are still too exam-oriented to support these values-driven plans.
If we really want to walk the talk in perfecting morals as mentioned in Shift Three, we will have to take concrete steps that are action-oriented and spelt out in black and white. We must not let it go the way of many other unsuccessful educational plans in the past that looked good on paper but simply lost their lustre along the way and were abandoned. They were never properly enforced or monitored in the first place.
If we are serious about perfecting morals, some form of instrument is needed for proper and fair evaluation of the students’ morals. It could be in the form of a basic, standard Likert-like scale where marks are entrusted to and agreed upon by all the teachers of a class. The evaluation must include practical aspects of morals such as attitude in class, general manners, obedience, humility, truthfulness, courtesy, etiquette, punctuality, being considerate, team spirit, participation, co-operation, leadership qualities, respect for teachers, friends and elders, understanding ownership and property rights of others, involvement in community service, eco-friendliness, religious and racial tolerance, etc. These must also be properly recorded and stored. The marks of the students from these tests over two years must be endorsed in their leaving certificates.
Letter, The Star