Many people ask me about what I do and when I answer them with ‘Character Education’, many people give me blank looks. They don’t know what character education is and it’s understandable – not many people talk about it. In a time when grades and academic achievements are hailed high above all, values and soft skills are often put on a shelf.
But I am a true believer of character education because I see the need for it and I see how it is effective in developing children. Character education is about building a child up in his core values so he knows how to make the right decisions, to know how to interact well with others and to be a positive member of society.
In a time when a reported 80% of children between 4 and 11 years old in Hong Kong don’t know how to dress themselves, when bullying is apparently worse in Hong Kong than in overseas, when children are cheating their friends of money on Facebook or even killing their own parents, we need to think about what really matters. Will grades make up for broken relationships? Will test scores make up for wrong life choices? I think not.
And if we believe that prevention is better than a cure, then let’s build the right foundation first, before the building starts to topple. It’s much easier to do what’s right than to undo what’s wrong.
Children need to know their identity above all. To know their strengths and weaknesses, to know their passions and purpose, to know their goals and dreams. This sense of identity helps build a child’s confidence and is a way of respecting the way that God created them. We have a poster up at JEMS that says ‘An original is worth more than a copy’ and it’s so true. If we have children who always want to be other people, they will never be the original that they were created to be. Trying to make an artist into a doctor will probably mean not having a very good doctor at the end of the day and vice versa. So let’s see our children as unique individuals that have value, worth and amazing talents.
I believe that values are taught, whether implicitly or explicitly. We can teach children to value themselves and to value others. We can teach children the importance of honesty, tolerance, perseverance, responsibility and all the other traits that make a successful individual. We need to teach children these values so that they will know how to make decisions. Parents cannot forever make decisions for their children and when they are put in situations where they have to make hard choices, it will be their values that influence their decisions.
Relationships are so core in a person’s life. It really makes me sad when I see highly achieving individuals who have great grades in great schools getting great jobs have broken relationships with their parents, friends or colleagues. Character education prepares children with the values of respect, patience, honesty, integrity and the skills of communication, creativity and leadership to be able to help them thrive in relationships.
Children are so blessed these days with all the things they have and the things they can learn but often the consequence is having children that are ‘me-centred’. Character education helps children see that the world is not just about them and their lives but that the community has many people in it, and there are many ways to care for others. Caring for the community helps children grow in empathy and compassion – character traits that help children work well with others.
Studies have shown that strong character leads to success in academic work, ability to socially interact with others and general success in life. With such great returns, will you invest in character education today?
Founder and Principal
JEMS Learning House