15/07/2016 6:10 PM IST | Updated 17/07/2016 12:45 AM IST

Our Schools Can Give Children A Moral Compass Through Teaching, Not Preaching

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Recently, there was a theft in my younger daughter's house in rural Maharashtra; a camera, an iPod and cash were missing. The finger of suspicion fell on a student of class eight from a good local school. He used to live nearby and came often to my daughter's house during her absence -- his dog loved to play with my daughter's dog and the maid would allow him to enter the house.

On questioning by police he admitted to the theft and then dropped a bombshell: most of the students in his class indulged in stealing regularly. They all stole electronic gadgets like smart phones, cameras, etc. and immediately sold them to local shop-owners. It was like a game for them and they would compare notes on who stole the best gadget! The police constable also told us about the other risky behaviours these children engaged in, ranging from drinking to serious physical violence.

Such behaviour is not unique to our small rural town of Phaltan. It is happening all over the country. What type of children are we raising in our society? What will they become when they grow up? Will their crimes grow in seriousness too?

How can we mould better behaviour? It can be done partly by making education very enjoyable rather than just a dreary exercise in rote learning.

Listening to this boy matter-of-factly relating his exploits was extremely depressing and I started wondering about how we can create conditions in school such that this type of behaviour does not develop in children!

I think in the race to make the children cram knowledge (and sometimes useless knowledge) we have lost the art of teaching moral science and ethics to them.

Society is putting more focus on money, on consumerism, on consumption of goods – and this is naturally reflected in the behaviour of our children.

However if children are taught ethics and morality as a part of all their courses, then the five-six hours they spend in school each day could help in changing their character for the better. The fact is that parents are often too busy to impart such lessons, instead focusing their energies on ending their children to coaching classes or goading them to do their homework. Discussions on what is right or wrong and ethics are rarely conducted. As a result, children pick up undesirable behaviours from their peers.

So, how can we mould better behaviour? It can be done partly by making education very enjoyable rather than just a dreary exercise in rote learning and exam-passing. If we engage the students thoroughly with interesting hands-on work and experiments then they will have less time to think about criminal things. After all an empty mind is a devil's workshop.

In some of the great schools all over the world, students make things through 3D printers and are engaged in other activities which not only occupy their time but also help them learn about physics, chemistry, mathematics and other subjects in an enjoyable way. This learning method is called the Maker Movement in the US -- students make various items of daily use and in doing so learn a lot about their underlying principles and technologies.

For learning to be imbued with zest and enjoyment, we need great teachers who love to teach and inspire students.

My daughter teaches English and science in Kamala Nimbkar Bal Bhavan in Phaltan. She teaches students of class 7 and 8 English through movie making. She has taught them to make short videos (see some here), which they upload on YouTube. They have become so interested in making them that they spend a lot of time on the Internet searching for themes, music etc. This creativity bug keeps them very busy and they do not spend much time chatting on social networks.

This brings me to another point. For learning to be imbued with zest and enjoyment, we need great teachers who love to teach and inspire students. Presently the whole teaching system in India is based upon the principle of, "Those who cannot -- teach"! Even with very good pay, we rarely get great teachers. I feel one can never just train teachers – people are either born teachers or not. The trick is to identify them in every walk of life and maybe induce them to join the teaching profession.

Another problem in India is that even if you want to teach and have a flair for it, you cannot do so until you have a piece of paper saying you are B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education). This is especially true for government-aided schools.

While there's nothing wrong with getting a B.Ed degree, its course work is boring, horrible and teaches hardly anything let alone how to become a good teacher! Most of the teachers in elementary school have a B.Ed. degree. So one can imagine what type of teachers we are producing -- these are the people who teach in rural schools where a major portion of our population lives.

I feel we should reduce the bureaucratic hold on our school system and allow innovation and creativity to flower. This may help in attracting more motivated and dedicated teachers to our schools.

And, to get back to my original point, we should make ethics and moral science a part of every subject. This continuous focus on morality (not religion) will help the students to raise their quality of thinking.

During my school days we used to have a course in moral science in every grade. Though some of the material was Christian-oriented (it being a missionary school), one book I remember vividly had a great impact on my young mind – it was a book on Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer and outlined his life in African jungles and his missionary work in treating the poorest. It had a great impact on me.

I am sure such inspiring stories of both Indians and others will ignite young minds. Coupled with the teaching of Indian classics, a curriculum thus enriched will introduce our children to noble ideas that they are rarely exposed to either in electronic or print media.

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