Increasingly there are voices in our media considering and commenting on the importance of education in the formation of “character” in children and young people. We see this as a very good thing – and have said so in many of our previous posts.
This morning’s “Thought for Today” on Radio 4 (The Today programme) featured the Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, who spoke eloquently about character development, and about it being the main point of education. He has posted the entire text of his “thought” today on his personal blog:
“This is the understanding that gave rise to universities in the first place. Education was seen as the development of the character of a person in community, and not just a means of getting jobs to earn money. Not surprisingly, it was primarily about expanding the world of a student into a freedom to live universally – an opening up and not a closing down of perception and experience. And, contrary to some of today’s dominant cultural worship of ‘success’, this approach assumes we have something to learn. It is rooted in the humility that knows how little we know, and how hard it is to change our minds.
Essentially, then, this suggests that we need to recover – at the heart of our assumptions about education – that education is a means to an end and not an end in itself: the end is the formation of character, and qualifications simply help us to measure how far that character is being shaped.
It can only be hoped that all students will see their value going beyond results that only measure a little of what matters . . . and possibly say nothing about who they are as persons.
We’ve commented in previous posts on the lack of any consensus in England on ‘the point of education’, and on the need for such a consensus to be carefully set out in a proper constitutional document – not least to prevent every single secretary of state for education using education as a political football and a personal hobby horse:
The Basic Act of Education
Is there anywhere where we set out in clearly accessible language the entitlement, the accountability, the aims, the rights of the child for a quality education that will lead them into a lifetime of learning?
Although there are guiding principles outlined in education acts, and entitlement is evident within this, there is no document that collates the principles of education in this country, and it is something that would be of enormous value.
Now consider the case of Japan. Prior to World War 2 the aim of education in Japan was to “guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne “. How similar this sounds to our own contemporary politicians who blatantly talk about the purpose of education being to enable Britain to ‘compete’ in the ‘global economic race’.
In the aftermath of WW2, Japan passed THE FUNDAMENTAL LAW OF EDUCATION (*KYOIKU KIHON HO*) (Law No. 25) [Passed: 31 March 1947]
The intention now was to prevent the indoctrination of Japanese children with nationalistic and imperialistic ideas and to enable children and young people to become “people who love truth and peace . . . rich in individuality“.
Article 1. Aim of Education
Education shall aim at the full development of personality, striving for the rearing of the people, sound in mind and body, who shall love truth and justice, esteem individual value, respect labor and have a deep sense of responsibility, and be imbued with the independent spirit, as builders of a peaceful state and society.
Article 2. Educational Principle
In order to achieve this aim, we shall endeavor to contribute to the creation and development of culture by mutual esteem and cooperation, respecting academic freedom, having a regard to actual life and cultivating a spontaneous spirit.
Article 8. Political Education
The political knowledge necessary for intelligent citizenship shall be valued in education.
The schools prescribed by law shall refrain from political education or other political activities for or against any political party.
Article 9. Religious Education
The attitude of religious tolerance and the position of religion in the social life shall be valued in education.
The schools established by the state and local public bodies shall refrain from religious education or the activities for a specified religion.
Article 10. School Administration
Education shall not be subject to improper control, but shall be directly responsible to the whole people.
School administration shall, on the basis of this realization, aim at the adjustment and establishment of the various conditions required for the pursuit of the aim of education.
We believe that education in England has indeed been subjected to “improper control”, and we think it’s time to enshrine a proper consensus about our aims and purposes of education in a constitution or a fundamental law that can only be changed by a referendum of “the whole people”.
A final thought on “character education”, or “personal and social development”. A former Director of Education at the London Institute of Education, Percy Nunn, set out three clear aims of education – “to form character; to prepare for complete living; to produce a sound mind in a sound body.” No mention there of A*s, since these essential purposes or goals of education ought to apply to ALL students, regardless of academic ability. (We also advocate the highest academic attainment and high intellectual achievement for all those who aspire to and are capable of such efforts)
The key question that arises is whether these aspects of personal and social development can be specifically and directly TAUGHT – or whether they can be LEARNED within certain educational contexts and settings, i.e. schools, colleges and universities? If so, how do we form character? How do we prepare children for complete living? How do we produce people with sound minds?
We need a fundamental law of education.