How schools can be better potters

By Baleng Wutor Mahama. Baleng, 24, is in his fifth year as a student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below. *Runner up of the NUHA Adult Blogging Prize 2016*

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.

34 comments on “How schools can be better potters

  1. Maxwell Aladago on

    Indeed, “humans are not just mechanical beings”, and schools shouldn’t make us; schools should make us more humane. Baleng Wutor Mahama, thanks a lot for revealing such deep insights showing why it’s imperative for schools to take the social and moral growth of students just as seriously as their academic development.

    I have not stayed with my family for more than a month since September, 2014 because I’m always in school. Thus, if my social and moral development were sole responsibilities of my parents, I would have been socially and morally stagnant for these past two years. Just imagine what I could become.

    Schools must mold students hearts too lest they become machines.

  2. Martin Junior on

    Thought-provoking piece. I think that the school curriculum is already overloaded actually. That is one of the reasons why character training has not featured much in bring up students. What we can do is to deconstruct the school curriculum and draw it with this broad perspective that you propose in mind.

    Well done young man.

  3. Baleng Mahama on

    Good point Martin Junior concerning the fact that the school curriculum is overloaded. However like you said, the choice lies squarely in our hands. We can restructure it to achieve the purpose we want to achieve. We must however be clear in our minds what exact goals we wish to achieve through education and then we can work towards achieving them. This has actually been done in the past, however, character training is often relegated.

  4. Kossi Akplah on

    Your thoughts on the subject are on point, Sir. But it brings up the question: who determines what ‘values’ must be inculcated in the child? The narrative becomes even more interesting when we consider the fact that even within a particular culture, there are individuals who do not ascribe to certain social norms and principles and may therefore not even agree to have those norms and principles imbibed into their kids. In fact, must the child have a say at all in what social things must be grown in him/her? Or will that be the sole prerogative of ‘adults’ who may even be socially defective themselves? Would love to read your thoughts on the points I’ve raised here, bro!

  5. Solomon Nkansah on

    2. Though I agree with you that students spend a lot of time away from their families and rather at home, I still think the family should have the primary responsibility of raising the child. It is probably about time that parents began nurturing their students. The school offers a complex of influences and one wonders where exactly the child will final end up. Yes, incorporating character education is absolutely important, but I think that the family must also be given a wakeup call.

  6. Joseph Baidoo on

    In my school, the teacher had the habit of awarding marks to the best behaved student in the class at the end of each day. This helped to whip the rest of us in line, since everyone wanted to get extra points just for behaving well. Though we more interested in getting the marks than actually developing a good character, the practice still sort of rubbed on some positive social behaviour skills which are useful to me even to this day. It is a really practical piece, well done

  7. Bolibie Ahmed on

    I couldn’t have agreed more with you!
    The family’s role in child upbringing cannot be over emphasized. The sad truth however is that, parents have to work long hours to be able to cater for the family needs, the result is that, they are unable to spend ample time with their children. The solution to this, I think, is to redesign the curriculum to include the moral upbringing of the child instead of the proverbial three(3) “R,s” you rightly mentioned !

  8. Baleng Mahama on

    I think it is one of the difficult question to answer as to who sets the standards of acceptable social behaviour. However, there are some behaviours that obviously throw the human society into chaos. Stealing, bulling. are quite clear-cut untoward behaviours that many will frown upon. On the other hand, there are certain behaviours that are generally accepted as good and encouraged in almost every society. This include, sharing what we have with others, donating to the poor, being truthful, etc.

    I however concede that certain issues are more contentious. It becomes easy however when such contentious issues are analysed within the context of one’s social environment. What is socially acceptable behaviour in one culture may not necessarily be acceptable in another culture and this must be put into perspective in tackling such issues. The religious and social beliefs of the individual and the society in which they live in may also influence what is socially acceptable and what is not. We may also look up to the law to draw certain lines in some cases.

  9. Abigail Asante on

    This write up is really a beautifully written one. You are quite widely read and the essay was also well-researched. For young people like you leading the way in these discussions, there is a lot of future for the world. A nation that prioritizes the issues of education and discusses them will surely see progress.

    Qudos to NUHA Foundation for organizing such a stimulating discussion on education, I am enjoying the discussion and will keep following.

  10. John F Busuuri on

    Right on point. Our educational system has been skewed to just impacting knowledge to students. Wholesome education involves both knowledge and skill training and character modeling. It’s not too late for schools/society to be re-introduce the other wing of education.

  11. Collins Gaba on

    Wow, this is a Great Piece of work. It’s very true.
    At about age 15 most of us leave the house to attend boarding schools, then we later continue with University education.
    All of this is done away from home, what this means is that the Prime of our lives are spent in school.
    So I really side with you in saying its very important therefore that character training is incorporated into our curriculum.
    Once again Baleng, good piece, you really did your research well

  12. Akite Flavian on

    Nice piece Wutor. education really is nothing if we cannot “contribute meaningfully to society”, and I think the teachers should know the important role they play in a child’s upbringing to enable them find better means of shaping their lives from school.

  13. Eugene on

    Congrats brother for the great thoughts on the subject. I very much share your view point. Many have often neglected the true goals of education. If it’s just the accumulation of academic knowledge, then students are obviously being half-baked. The problem with our society today is not so much the growing number of illiterates, but an increasing turn out of uneducated literates ;very learned, yet uneducated ;full of knowledge, yet lacking in social wisdom. Society suffers in consequence because of the apparent dis-junction between the Knowledge acquired and its utility to society. Schools must therefore take a re-look at what they aim at and society in general must define clearly the goals of education beyond academic credentials. This would give inspiration to the students to strive for a holistic education, rather than academic qualification.

  14. Abudu Nalwie on

    This is a great piece. The emphasis of our educational system seems to be on only data crunching and that’s all there is to it. Even, psychology which is supposed to be the study of the Psyche (soul) has got it wrong. This write up thought provoking. Kudos Baleng Mahama Wutor.

  15. Yussif Abdus-Salam on

    Nice piece bro, always an inspiration to the young ones. There is no doubt that our educational system needs improvement and someone has to take a step, and I think u just did.

  16. Fawzu on

    In fact, the prime aim of education is to see a positive change in behaviour. It’s an undisputable fact that our current system of education lays much emphasis on academic work to the neglect of character transformation.
    As teachers make frantic efforts to ensure that their learners absorb stuffs cognitively, much should equally be done to their moral training to ensure their (students) holistic upbringing. Of course, a great deal of time is used up in school hence, much can be done by teachers in supporting students to possess the right attitude.
    To Wutor, I say kudos because the piece is fantastic and right on point

  17. Kingsley Munachi Anyata on

    Nice piece Baleng. I think the whole essence of education is for us to live meaningful lives. To live a meaningful, we have to be socially and academically sound.

  18. Abraham Aman on

    Great work. Though I generally agree with you that education does have a two prong role, I don’t agree that the school should be responsible for equipping the student with both aspects. We as individuals have a personal responsibility to live as upright people in society. No matter how much the school teaches us, if we don’t accept it, then we are still going to be the same way we are. Therefore, instead of focusing on how much the school can help us, let us rather focus on how we can help the school to help us. I strongly believe that if the individual makes a decision to imbibe good characteristics, he will be able to do it.

  19. Baleng Mahama on

    That is an interesting question Doreen, but I guess the answer is quite obvious. To inculcate good behaviours in other people, it is important to reward those who put up such behaviours. That way, they are not only encouraged to keep that trait, but those with a bad attitude get to learn and look up to them. In this regard, instead of seeing it as discriminatory, one can also see it as an opportunity to teach the other students to develop a more acceptable character.

  20. Doreen Addo on

    Hello Baleng, you did a great job on this essay, I was just discussing it with Abraham and we both agreed that you really did justice to the topic. however have a question, do you think it will be fair as someone alluded earlier for schools to award marks for demonstrating good character? Won’t that be discriminatory to other students who for no fault of theirs come from families where they were not brought up in an upright manner

  21. Rufus on

    Scary revelation: good education in the wrong hands is disastrous. Many schools do well in molding good character. But so long as we applaud interlect to the neglect of the growing habits of students, we live to reap ‘angels n demons’ as superstars.

    We must care about yielding ‘angels’ and that’s what the article calls us to do. My character tomorrow is built from habits of today. A personal choice is very important; cos long as we live character keeps building and evolving.

    Schools are part of the deal to offer us a model. The author brings up an issue relevant first for the individual and then for the institution. C’est bon!

  22. Babatunde Abass on

    This a really inspiring piece Baleng. I am telling all my friends in the office to comment. You deserve to win the ultimate prize

    All the best dear and keep breaking new grounds

  23. Ama Owusu on

    This is a great piece dear, The school must realize how really indispensable it is to building up we the future leaders of this country. If we don’t get all that we need from school, then we are doomed to wallow in the wilderness when we finally come out and begin to work.

    Like King said, the most educated person may end be morally inept and will therefore instead of ensuring that the right thing is done will rather try to skillfully amass wealth only onto himself and all of this we can avoid if we just decided to add some bit of character education in the school curricula

    I do not know you man, but you piece is just two captivating to ignore. Good Luck

  24. Clement Yowing on

    A friend sent me the link to your article in the afternoon and only now did I get the chance to read it. You are not an educationist, but you write like one. You most definitely a multifaceted fellow

    This is my thoughts on your article

    Society is currently on its knees because we are interested only in successful people and less in their character. You look at the current US elections and hear the things Trump says and you are appalled and yet a lot of people are still diehard supporters.

    Society has made character training a peripheral issue, it is probably about time we began to put more thought to the issue as you rightly explained

  25. Deborah Ashong on

    This is a great write up Mr. Mahama.

    Earlie this year, I had to choose a senior high school for my child and guess what, I went through all the schools and my goal was to get a school that did not only emphasize academic excellence but also personal character excellence

    To my surprise, I found none except the religious schools. We really have to wake up as a people and face realities. If you asked me, I will tellyou we are busy producing robots.

    Yes, we are producing robots, people who mechanically know how to things but have no human face and a loving heart and that is absolutely dangerous for the generations to come

  26. Baleng Mahama on

    Thank you everyone for your contributions.

    I share in your dilemma Deborah, these days everyone is interested in enrolling their wards in schools that boast of excellent results rather than moulding students to be better people. To say the list, this is a pity and I hope things were not the way they are currently.

    The problem is also with higher educational institutions, they do not add any component of extra-academic achievement in the admission process. All that they are interested in is that you have scored a long list of excellent grades and then their job is done.

    Universities must go beyond just academic results because they can be very deceitful. There are a lot of people who cheat in these exams to obtain their results and so the wrong people end up being admitted.

  27. Gabriel Collins on

    Thought provoking piece you have over there Mr. Baleng. I like the follow up discussions too.

    I am a great fan of Martin Luther King and I have always thought deeply about what he implied in that speech about the purpose of education which he gave at I think Morehouse College….I am not quite sure.

    Your write up however threw more light on it. I remember I read somewhere where he gave a practical example of some one in America who was highly educated and yet was indulging in criminal activities.

    As you suggested, the solution lies in trying to catch students young, I even think that as far as primary school, students should be encouraged to develop good inter personal skills in their daily academic work. The good thing is that, once these traits are imbibed, they will always grow up to be better people than perhaps we have.

    The world does not only need a pradigm shift in economic and political dispensations, but the educational sector will benefit from a little overhauling and one of the sticking points where the transformation should take place is as you pointed out, how schools can keep the balance of producing all round students.

    I hope you win and I wish you good luck

  28. Cosmass Appiagyei on

    This is a great piece Baleng.

    Character training should be a central concern of every educational institution. Indeed, I suggest that every school is constantly reminded of this important role each day.
    However schools should be openminded about the background of the students that come to into them. Not all peoope come from good homes with good parents who devote the time to see to their character needs.

    The current status quo must change and it starts with begining these discussions.

    Qudos to Nuha Foundation and I honestly wish you Baleng, Ia have read through the others and your article stands tall

  29. Solomon Nkansah on

    As I remarked earlier, this is a brilliant write up. My follow up comments on the discussion so far are these;

    Yes I agree that educational institutions must go beyound just focusing on academic excellence in order to encourage character training amongst students.

    My point of departure from that assertion however stems from the fact that the character training cannot be quantified. Unlike academic excellence which is objective, awarding marks for good character in educational settings is going to be objective, basically based on what the teacher things of you and the mark you are supposed to get.
    This really will not also be fair to the other students, so I need more convincing as to how exactly educational institutions can incorporate character training in admissions

  30. Baleng Mahama on

    That awarding marks to students based on their ability to prove that they are of good character is subjective is definitely true. Having said that it is important to realize that the whole system of examination in many settings is subjective, a teacher will have to evaluate your work and based your output assign you a certain grade. Therefore, doing same for character training to help inculcate good ideals in students is in fact commendable.

    In addition, teachers have never been trained to be arbitrary and biased in the way the award marks to students, we can therefore at least trust them to do the right thing


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