Values Education and Life-wide Learning: Learning About Values

by Christopher Drake

Paper for the Sixteenth Annual Conference of The Hong Kong Educational Research Association
"Exploring New Frontiers in Education", Hong Kong, China, October 1999

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As humanity stands at the threshold of the frontier to a new millennium, one distinguishing feature of the land ahead is that life will be full of many challenges. The world of tomorrow will almost certainly be more demanding than that of today. An information explosion, technology, increased social and environmental problems, new demands for ethical responsibility and accountability, the relentless pace of change, internationalization, demographics and a new global consciousness are all exerting new pressures on the individual and world society as a whole.

Remarkable progress has been made in some areas of life for some people but such afflictions as pollution, poverty, injustice, violence and ignorance remain and, in this globalized world, they cannot be ignored by anyone. Increasingly, a fresh concept of learning is being seen as indispensable to our further progress, and indeed survival. Education is being called on not only to provide a nurturing life-line for the self but also to pave the way to overall human development and well-being: to trail-blaze a broad path of learning for all that begins, at the latest, in the cradle and never ends. On this new vision of learning, and consequent new levels of understanding and awareness, we have laid our hopes and aspirations for a world of peace, prosperity and harmony.

For this vision of learning to be translated into action, we must explore new frontiers of education and open rich new seams of understanding. Our understanding must not only extend out to the changing world around us but first of all must reach inwards to the unchanging inner self so that we can develop and grow as whole human beings, with a clear sense of self-identity and integrity, and thus realize our full potential. And if we wish to extend our horizon to encompass an advanced tomorrow we must not overlook the fundamentals; learning is as much about truth and life as knowledge and living. The concept of learning as a life-long process was firmly established by Learning to Be, the 1972 report of the Faure Commission, but attention now needs to focus on the width and depth of our education as much as on its length. As Learning: The Treasure Within, the 1996 report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century by Jacques Delors et al., states: "Choosing a type of education means choosing a type of society". Thus, narrow and shallow education will only lead to narrow and shallow minds and people; surely our destiny must be more than this.

The quality of life, standards of living and overall well-being of society depend to a large extent on the values it lives by and the quality of choices that are made by the individuals within it. Education must address the whole person, and include the ethical and personal; these dimensions of learning must be seen to be at least as essential as the conventional basic components of education and intellectual development.

The World Declaration on Education for All, produced at the 1990 World Conference on Education for All at Jomtien, Thailand, defines basic learning needs as comprising "both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions and to continue learning."

Life tomorrow, and indeed today, is thus marked by the need for a tremendous breadth of personal capacity and the ability to make informed and balanced choices: choices we make as individuals in our own right, exercising our freewill, and also as members of society and the world community. The new frontiers that the world is facing demand that education reform itself.

It is clear that learning must be a life-long process but it also needs to be life-wide and life-deep: it must address the whole person and give individuals a breadth and depth of personality and personal skills in their preparation for life. The era that we are hurtling into is of a knowledge-based e-world but as everyone becomes an instant intellectual, in one way or another, we must not overlook personal and social maturity. As well as nurturing intellectual development, education must help individuals identify, and adopt, personal and social values that they can call on to guide the decisions they make, their relationships, work and life as a whole. It must help them develop a depth of character and a clear sense of their own identity, integrity and what they believe to be important in life. We must learn, and keep learning, about the rights we have as individuals but also about the responsibilities that go with them and the values that are the building blocks of rights and responsibilities.

As important as the task itself is how we learn about and teach these values. Young minds have energy, drive and curiosity but need guidance and road-markers if their journey towards maturity and wisdom is to be secure and successful. Such guidance should respect and reflect the dignity, individuality and freedom of reflective and critical choice of the learner.

Values such as respect, responsibility, love, honesty, tolerance and cooperation must not just be thrown down at youth from on-high but role-modelled and practically experienced if they are to be freely inculcated and become part of the instinctive and spontaneous behaviour of young people. In a suitable environment, youth can learn, acquire and express such values and corresponding attitudes, habits and behaviour. Indeed young minds are often a more fertile ground within which such values may grow and flourish and in preparing the world citizens of the 21st century, education must have human, moral and spiritual principles and values at its heart, and the resulting expression of them as its aim.

Addressing this need, Living Values Education offers a package of materials containing practical methodologies and tools for use by teachers, and parents, to help children to explore and develop twelve key personal and social values. The twelve values specifically covered in the Program are:

Cooperation Freedom Happiness Honesty Humility Love Peace Respect Responsibility Simplicity Tolerance Unity

The Program materials have been developed by educators from around the world, in consultation with UNICEF's Education Cluster, with the support of UNESCO and the sponsorship of the Spanish Committee for UNICEF, UNESCO's Planet Society and an international non-governmental organization, the Brahma Kumaris. The Program's approach is experiential, participatory and flexible, allowing it to be adapted according to varying cultural, social and other circumstances. It also contains special modules for use by parents and care-givers and for refugees. At these turbulent times, education can no longer limit itself, whether by content, gender bias or age cut-off, but must transcend these frontiers and become an inclusive learning process that embraces the family and community, as well as the classroom, as places of learning. In a world teeming with poverty, deprivation and insecurity of many kinds, the maximization of all inner personal resources is essential and life-long and life-wide learning means that all within society are engaged in learning, for themselves and others - a true learning society.

The Program provides a means for educators around the world to collaborate - creating, sharing and dialoguing as they work with a variety of values-based educational experiences. This cooperative partnership has produced positive results in a variety of educational settings, as described in more detail below. The Program's contents are varied and include reflections and discussions as well as games and other practical activities for use within school curricula and other educational contexts.

The common element among these activities is that all have values at their core. Some then create situations of simultaneous teaching and learning where values become tools for building, sharing and integrating - where learning is an expression of what we believe in and live for. Allowing children and young adults to explore and understand values while immersed in their daily school experience, the Program is based on the view that each human being has the potential for peaceful and loving attitudes and actions and to grow and learn new life-skills. When educators create open, flexible, creative, and yet orderly, values-based environments, students will naturally move closer to understanding their own values and develop their own way of thinking.

The Program's vision is of people living together in a world of inclusion in which there is respect and appreciation for each culture. Its activities aim to help children and young adults learn to perceive, understand and act in ways that promote peace, justice and harmonious coexistence and respect diversity.

It is only with values such as these that humanity will be able to comprehend, face and resolve the challenges in today's world.

The purpose of Living Values is to provide guiding principles and tools for the development of the whole person, recognizing that the individual is comprised of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions.

Its aims are:

  • To help individuals think about and reflect on different values and the practical implications of expressing them in relation to themselves, others, the community and the world at large;

  • To deepen understanding, motivation and responsibility with regard to making positive personal and social choices;

  • To inspire individuals to choose their own personal, social, moral and spiritual values and be aware of practical methods for developing and deepening them; and

  • To encourage educators and caregivers to look at education as providing students with a philosophy of living, thereby facilitating their overall growth, development and choices so they may integrate themselves into the community with respect, confidence and purpose.

The practical outcome of using Living Values activities in schools, and an awareness of the changes that can come about, are helping to strengthen appreciation of the benefits, relevance and necessity of values in the classroom. This in turn is highlighting the crucial role to be played by educators, as education must be values-based if it is to provide the indispensable preparation that is needed for life in a challenging world. The demands that are being imposed on front-line teachers and their need for training, materials and support cannot be underestimated. It is hoped that Living Values materials, and a supporting network, can help educationalists in meeting the challenges that they are being looked on to deal with. But policy-makers, public authorities, parents and educators must come together and work together. Only then will it be possible to deliver empowering values-based education, without which formal education may lack purpose and direction and is certainly incomplete. World society is constantly crossing new frontiers and education must take the lead in this regard in order to give direction to the way ahead as we journey forwards in search of a better tomorrow.