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How can Character be Taught?

Having established the need for character education, its importance and the challenges of measuring it effectively, how does one actually teach ‘character’? Eleanor Doughty criticises the government initiative as adding ‘another tick box for already overstretched teachers.’ We disagree, as the funds enable a school to invest in more efficient resources and perhaps even more staff. While teacher workload is certainly an issue, it does not discredit the importance of character education.

To see how effective these extra funds could be, we conducted a survey of several school staff. Firstly, only 43% felt their schools did enough to develop character in students while another 43% felt that their schools were restricted by their lack of resources and 57% considered the lack of financial investment available to be the main problem. These insights reveal a need for exactly what the government’s initiative is proposing; to help character education through increased funding which would enable schools to access more resources.

Secondly, by its very nature, character education should not be a ‘tick box’ taught within the classroom. Eleanor Doughty herself states that ‘character cannot be taught out of a textbook or with a learning objective.’ This time, we truly agree with her! However, while these methods may not be used, it is not to say that character cannot be developed at all. There is a difference between being taught character and being able to develop it when put into an environment that sufficiently challenges a student through various experiences.

In fact, Eleanor’s opinion that ‘the experiences that make you who are you are not always obtained in a formal setting’ only strengthens our point here. No one working in this field has mentioned teaching this character education through textbooks as Eleanor seems to believe. In fact, some of the ways the the government suggests that the character traits are taught are through are the following: extra-curricular activities, volunteering projects, mentoring and role modelling with successful professionals, outdoor activities and survival weekends. While these are only a few ideas to be used as guidelines it seems, the word ‘activities’ prevails and with it prevails the belief in the power of experiences in shaping character.

Our surveyed school staff gave many different suggestions on what they thought would be the most helpful way to develop character education in schools. Some of these suggestions included putting the students’ education into context by educating them about different pathways in the future and enabling them to relate their views to a wider social context. Many also propagated the usefulness of experiences that drew students out of their comfort zones and gave them new experiences outside of school and exposure to the outdoors. Interesting, as this is exactly what the Yes Futures Programme is built on! Those surveyed do think that ‘character’ can be developed and none assumed it must be necessarily taught within the classroom. Some may argue that ‘character’ is unique to each individual and therefore cannot even be developed through broad activities at all. However, each individual’s response to each challenging experience is as unique as they are, therefore allowing each activity to mould and teach them in individual ways.

While the character education fund may be new, the concept of developing ‘character’ qualities through experiences are certainly not new. In fact, Yes Futures has been incorporating the majority of the government-suggested methods within their programmes long before the fund was even announced. The Yes Futures Programme involves empowering students by challenging them to work in a range of unfamiliar environments including the outdoors, the workplace and through fundraising activities. It also incorporates integrated Career Coaching that give the students’ education more context. The results of the Yes Futures Programme also speak for themselves in answering the question of whether character education can be developed or not. 100% of students, parents and teachers see a positive impact from our programmes, while 92% of students significantly improved their confidence, resilience and communication skills and 87% of students felt more motivated to achieve at school. These results are in addition to the glowing reviews of the programme from parents and teachers of the participants. These results not only prove that opportunities that open up new and challenging experiences to students can be created, but that they are successful in developing key character traits. So can character be developed? The answer is a resounding Yes!

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