There may be as many varied definitions of the term “education” as there were varieties of sports at the 2016 Olympic Games. Summarising the key words in those definitions however, one can describe education as a systematic process of facilitating learning and honing skills, beliefs and values to cause individuals to develop personally, so that they can contribute meaningfully to society. This definition makes it quite apparent that education has a two-prong function. It has an inherent objective to not only train the individual to acquire knowledge and skills but also to develop fundamental values that will enable them to blend successfully in their social milieu. The latter function has however received little attention in many educational circles, notwithstanding how consequential it is.
The Necessity of Character Training in Schools
Day in and day out, we are confronted with issues that call on us to make decisions on very important situations that pertain to our interactions with other people. Either we are confused as to whether we should kowtow to the demands of our peers though we know they are wrong, or we are contemplating whether to take a bribe or not. Without a sound foundation of character education, we are doomed to make poor decisions when such issues arise. In an essay on the purpose of education in 1947, Martin Luther King Jnr. the American civil rights icon had this to say, “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” Therefore, to achieve its true purpose, education must be all-encompassing.Equipping people with academic knowledge alone will not suffice. In fact, in some cases, arming people with only academic knowledge is detrimental if we are to go by the words of Theodore Roosevelt that, “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.” That is likely to be the result if schools continue to focus on equipping students with academic knowledge without incorporating training on social behaviour.
Is it the Responsibility of Schools?
To help us answer the question above, let us explore the example of education in Ghana. Pupils in Ghanaian public basic schools spend about seven hours in school each weekday. Students who then opt to go to boarding senior high schools stay in school throughout the entire academic period. Again at the tertiary level, most students either stay in hostels on campus or rent apartments in the vicinity of the educational institution in which they study. This holds true in many other countries, with students in primary schools in Indonesia and the US spending 1,252 and 1,096 hours respectively in school per year. These statistics are according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which seeks to promote policies that engender development around the world. The essence of this backdrop is to highlight the simple fact that, a large chunk of the time available to students each day is spent in school. The family, which is the child’s primary source of socialization in most cases, does not influence the child as much as school does. Today’s parents are too busy and do not always have the time to carefully teach their children how to interact well with other people. Because of this, character training just like academics should be a fundamental priority in schools. The student in the hands of the teacher is like clay in the hands of a potter. Whether he/she comes out well-rounded or otherwise is the responsibility of the teacher and by extension the educational institution. It is therefore imperative that schools and universities develop ways to chip in character training alongside academic education.
In addition, schools and universities are avenues for students to be influenced negatively by their peers. They may leave home good people and return fully corrupted. Universities especially are grounds for students to be recruited into gangs and to engage in other socially reprehensible behaviours without the knowledge of their parents. Indeed, even if parents do find out, there is little they can do without the help of the school. To counteract this threat therefore, teachers must incorporate training on social behaviour even as they teach students to acquire knowledge and skills.
It is also worthy of note that although the unavailability of jobs is one of the main cause of unemployment in many countries, in some cases people miss out on jobs because they do not possess good social and interpersonal skills. Companies and job recruiters today are looking beyond just academic certificates to find out how well-rounded the applicants are. Today’s job market is interested in graduates who are able to work in a team, get along with other people and have a good attitude towards their work. It is through training on social behaviour that some of these “non-academic” but important traits are imbibed by the student.
For most teachers and educational institutions, the entire educational program is all about the proverbial three “Rs”. To them, as far as students are able to read, write and do arithmetic, the job is done. This upside down approach to educating students must be re-examined. Humans are not just mechanical beings; we are also social beings. We have to interact with other people and without a sound foundation of character training we are doomed to falter even though we may have the best of academic qualifications. If students devote a chunk of their time attending school, there is no reason why educational institutions should not be at the forefront in ensuring training on social behaviour. Schools and universities must be more proactive in character training to ensure that students come out with their heads (knowledge and reasoning ability), hands (skills) and hearts (character training, values, beliefs) fully developed.