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The Importance of Values Education

Posted on: April 3, 2024

This paper was written by Roger Gordon Packham, Western Sydney University, Associate Professor, and presented at the Oxford Roundtable on Education in July 2023. Professor Packham is co-editor of How Values Education Can Improve Student and Teacher Wellbeing.

Values education is needed for the traditional reasons of education people of character who will ensure a harmonious society, one that can deal in better ways with many of the current social issues and helps to promote the wellbeing of all. Notwithstanding this vital rationale, it is also my contention that the issues of the Anthropocene (the current geologicale age, the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on the Earth, are dramatic and require a values-based approach if they are to be improved such that human and all other life can be sustained. Such issues must be addressed urgently; education holds a key role if society as we know it is to be sustained rather than doomed. 

The place to start is with our own view of human nature. As humans are complex creatures with a good side and a not-so-good side, the questions is: which side do we turn to? Educators need to support the positive view of humankind, that humans are more cooperative rather than competitive, that human kindness and altruism can change how we think and act, as a foundation for achieving true change in our society. This is a key aim of values education, to stand up for human goodness despite the cynicism that this may bring out in others, and the fact that it may need us to stand up against the 'powers that be' since it can threaten their powers.

This more realistic view of human nature has major implications for how young people are educated to this truer view of humankind. What is needed is a change that is rooted in the hearts and consciences of individuals - their innate values. There is a need for a values education that draws on the good work that is already being done and expands it, not as a separate speciality within education, but as a responsibility of all of society, enabling all educators to incorporate values into the whole school environment.

This was the aim of the Australian Federal Government project that ran in the early 2000's and demonstrated many benefits. So how might incorporating values education into schools be developed further today? All teachers are aware of the need to address all three learning domain areas - the affective as well as the cognitive and the psychomotor competences - to achieve a holistic education for their students, with holistic education seen as the development of the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of a person in an integrated way. However, impediments to teachers introducing values and Character Education in their classrooms include time and curriculum constraints, yet often more importantly, a lack of understanding about exactly what and how to teach in the area of values education. Teachers may be overwhelmed with trying to understand the deeper meanings of desired values, so often they give up, or only pay lip service at a surface level, rather than getting to the deeper understanding that is what brings about changes in students (and themselves).

However, there are many opportunities to teach the principles of human values through all curriculum subjects and topics, with the added advantage that schools do not have to abdicate in any way their responsibility to teach the academic (cognitive) and other skills; however, it does require that they rethink the ways in which they do this.

Two key aspects involved in implementing values education:

  • A language of values
  • A framework for acquiring values

Every subject taught has a basic vocabulary, a language which expresses, defines, and captures the scope and uniqueness of that particular subject area. Values education is no different; it also needs a vocabulary which allows people to manipulate and tease out an understanding of vlues through an awareness of social behaviour, emotions, and other affective domain issues.

A framework that enables this to be done effectively is the Education in Human Values (EHV) programme. The EHV model is based on eliciting five human values that are seen as universal and inter-dependent, that are already inherent in all of us, and that are traditional to most cultures: Truth, Right Action, Peace, Love and Non-violence. The framework allows for schools/teachers to identify the values that are important for their contexts and wider culture.

A fundamental principle of EHV is that all teaching needs to be based on Love and that the teacher's example in 'living' the values is the most critical component. 

The goals of EHV are:

  • To bring out human excellence at all levels: character, academic, and 'being', leading to self-awareness, self-confidence, self-motivation and being 'fully' conscious.
  • The all-round development of the child (the heart as well as the head and the hands).
  • To help children to know 'who they are'.
  • To help children to realise their full potential.
  • To develop attitudes of selfless service.

There are several teaching approaches that are particularly useful in drawing out the values inherent within children. Here is an overview of the five key ones:

  1. Silent sitting, which has some commonalities with the currently popular practice of mindfulness. Silent sitting refers to encouraging pupils to sit quietly and allow their minds to relax for a few minutes, particularly at the beginning of a lesson, to make them feel more focused and peaceful. Often this time is used to listen to soft, relaxing music. Silent sitting is frequently combined with guided visualisation, which can be used in various ways to promote students' understanding of and reflection on their own values.
  2. The use of quotations or positive affirmations, based on the idea that students' thinking can be influenced by regular exposure to positive statements. The teacher can select quotations that are relevant for the child's age, interests, and culture. Quotations can be displayed every day and used as a basis for discussion, or dimply be left for the students to read for themselves.
  3. Encourage teachers to utilise opportunities to tell stories and anecdotes about famous people, heroes, and ordinary people who have demonstrated the kinds of values under consideration. By regular exposure to stories of such people, and reflection on the values portrayed in relation to their own lives, the pupils will come to value the good qualities described and then to use them as a framework to drawn on when the need arises.
  4. Music and song are valuable ways of promoting inner peace and emphasising postive values. These days, with concerns that young people are exposed to many negative values through song, there needs to be counterbalancing by the use of music and songs that promote feelings and celebrate aspects of the five key human values.
  5. Group activities are important. Apart from the fact that current research about teaching suggests that pupils can come to better understanding if they have the chance to work together in pairs or small groups, this methodology allows for the development of unity, co-operation, mutual regard, and creative conflict resolution, all of which are essential if people are going to be able to live together in peace and harmony. In EHV, group activities encourage collaborative interdependence, with members each contributing their own strengths and talents, therby illustrating the concept of 'Strength in unity'. It is also very easy - and important - to adapt the principles to existing classroom practices, thus empowering all teachers, irrespective of their subject specialisations, to be teachers of values. There are two ways in which the EHV model can help to achieve this:
    1. By the careful selection of appropriate examples and recognition of 'teaching opportunities' to promote values education without needing to make any changes to the syllabus.
    2. By addressing contemporary problems that exist in schools, such as discipline problems, pupils refusing to work, bullying, and lack of respect for authority. The EHV programme empowers teachers to examine themselves and to think about how they might be able to reflect the major human values in their own behaviour, particularly their interactions with students and colleagues. In do doing, they can enhance their own mental health and wellbeing, their resilience to cope with the sresses of teaching, and improve the ways in which their pupils respond to them.

These concepts are expanded, described, and discussed in our forthcoming book "How Values Education Can Improve Student and Teacher Wellbeing: A simple guide to the 'Education in Human Values' Approach", Packham, R, Taplin, M., and Francis, K. (Eds), Routledge, 2024.


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