The education system prepares children for adulthood in numerous ways. It provides knowledge of the world, helps children forge relationships and helps them gain qualifications that will see them move up the educational ladder and land their first jobs. There has always been an emphasis on ‘academic’ ability; how well children can remember facts and figures, how well they can articulate answers in writing and how to carry out mathematic or scientific processes. However, the world is changing rapidly. Digital technology, virtual reality, and even artificial intelligence are putting increased emphasis on a different range of skills and attributes.
The challenge facing our educators and the system is that it’s almost impossible to add these things into our curriculum at the rate required. Furthermore, which subjects do we remove in place of the raft of technological skills we should be adopting? Unfortunately, we’d almost definitely see the arts subjects make way, but that’s a discussion for a different blog! Without the ability to make wholesale changes to the curriculum, we must focus on the principle of helping children ‘learn to learn’. This, along with the development of a series of character traits will best prepare children for their adult lives.
What is character education?
Character education is the development of a range of traits valuable to people in life both in and outside the world of work. Some of these traits include the very fundamental traits of good human beings such as honesty and kindness, many of which should be embedded in children from a very young age, indeed. More complex traits include resourcefulness, endeavour, leadership, teamwork and a willingness to fail – these are harder to develop, especially in some children.
Therefore, we could say that character education helps children be ‘better’ people, but I believe it should make them more ‘useful’ people, which certainly includes the former. Developing a person who is trustworthy and hardworking, who also has the ability to overcome challenges, think and behave innovatively and inspire others to work with them is a truly powerful combination.
Surely this should be the number one priority for all schools and institutions in this day and age?
But there’s a problem.
Integrating character development with a traditional school curriculum represents various challenges due to the difficulty of measuring attainment, progress and the fact that academic subjects are given top priority. These are the challenges facing a range of subjects like PSHE, some arts subjects and those developing ‘soft skills’. Character education has, therefore, remained a fringe topic amongst the majority of schools and falls in and out of vogue.
How can schools deliver character education?
It is unrealistic to expect schools to adopt character education as discreet lessons in their already full curriculum. In fact, running intensive character education modules over the course of a half-term has limited benefit to children, as these traits must be developed and cultivated over their entire childhood.
Rather, parents and teachers must be aware of the skills and character traits required of children and build in exercises across the curriculum to aid their development. There are several institutions devoted to the delivery of character education who provide resources and guidance for teachers in this area. We believe that many of life’s most important characteristics can be described as ‘enterprising’ and therefore, the Clever Tykes books help to develop a broad range of them.
Whilst society is also evolving, the sheer pace of technological development we’re seeing in the 21st century is genuinely creating significant challenges to the existing school system. Whilst character education is absolutely nothing new, now is the time when it, or something with similar aims, must be widely promoted amongst all schools. A purely academic focus is becoming increasingly obsolete and is failing to prepare children sufficiently for the lives ahead of them. The frustration is that we have the resources and time available to rectify this problem.
If you’re a parent or teacher, especially of primary school children who are more able to develop these you must think creatively about how to best inspire children in the key traits they may not be currently developing.