Character education is vital and should be explicitly taught

Amid rapid change, uncertainty and a mental health crisis, character education has never been more important to our role as educators

Amid rapid change, uncertainty and a mental health crisis, character education has never been more important to our role as educators

19 Jun 2024, 5:00

The scope and purpose of education is vast.

On the one hand, we are preparing learners for a rapidly changing workplace where automation, artificial intelligence and technological advances are reshaping the very fabric of employment where machine-to-human relationships may become as important as human-to-human ones.

On the other, we are fostering a lifelong love of learning, widening horizons and guiding students to recognise what they need to live a flourishing and purposeful life.

In this brave new world, the ability to adapt, to pivot and to stay curious, resilient and determined while retaining our sense of humanity are not just advantageous – they are imperative. And that means character education is more important than ever.

Character education has its roots in Aristotelian ethics and philosophy. In practice, it is a much more down-to-earth set of practices than this origin suggests. We recognise it in FE as the host of things we do to develop our learners into young adults who have the wisdom to make good choices and to live good lives.

What we are doing when we focus on these ‘power skills’ or ‘employability skills’ is providing deliberate opportunity for learners to develop positive character traits that they can then use in all aspects of their life.

Every time we get our learners to work as part of a team, we provide an opportunity for them to develop empathy, reflection and confidence. Every time they have a go at something new, we develop their courage and resilience. And every time they volunteer or take part in community events, we foster their civic virtues.

Foregrounding this type of work into a more formal character education curriculum enables us to be more deliberate. Done well, it offers us a roadmap to more effectively meet their needs.

It nurtures a growth mindset – instrumental for learners’ wellbeing

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has created a framework for developing character that means we don’t have to leave it to chance. It offers a clear, evidence-based and deliberate pedagogy that follows a three-step approach.

Character caught

Character can be caught through the college culture: by seeing good character role-modelled by all members of the community, through positive relationships between lecturers and learners and through the implicit ways we show them we care about their futures.

Character taught

This part of the approach requires subtle shifts to the tutorials and subject curriculum courses, but it is something that can easily be implemented with deliberate design.

Once learners have a vocabulary to talk about their own character development and understand how to practise traits such as critical thinking, optimism, resilience and compassion, it’s easier for them to reflect on which character trait might help them be their best selves in any given situation.

Character sought

This means providing opportunities for students to develop their character through leadership roles, volunteering opportunities or learning experiences that challenge them. A rich extra-curricular programme, trips and charity weeks all contribute to this.

Character education enables learners to develop the skills and attitudes they need for the changing world they face – to adapt to it and to shape it to their priorities. It nurtures a growth mindset through which they are more likely to view challenges as opportunities, which is instrumental for their wellbeing.

It also prioritises the development of critical thinking skills, enabling students to analyse complex problems, evaluate information rigorously and make well-informed decisions. In an era marked by online misinformation, disinformation and harms, this ability to think critically is essential.

Finally it can foster creativity and innovation by encouraging students to cultivate curiosity, imagination and perseverance. These traits empower students to generate novel solutions and contribute fresh perspectives to their professional and personal endeavours. In a competitive and innovation-driven economy, this is paramount for driving progress and maintaining a competitive edge.

The world of business has always been clear that whilst academic achievements can help get young people through the door, it is their strength of character that will often get them the job.

So let’s teach it, deliberately and explicitly, so our learners flourish in the workplace and in their wider lives.

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One comment

  1. Gerald

    Genuine question – Do educators and institutions teaching virtues, character development, critical thinking etc need to have and demonstrate those traits themselves?

    If they cannot or choose not to practice what they preach, does it undermine what is being taught and learned?