Instilling positive values in children should start at early age

Evaries Rosita ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 11:06 AM  |  Supplement

Most childhood education experts agree that building a child’s character must begin at preschool age. During this period, children can be easily shaped and guided to learn about what is right and what is wrong, and to learn to live a value-filled life. They can easily absorb and emulate what they see and hear from the adults in their surroundings.

Thus, teaching positive values such as honesty, courage, responsibility, compassion, integrity, self-discipline, self-reliance, kindness, friendliness, tolerance, respect, love, justice and mercy will likely be more effective when the youngsters are at preschool age than when they are at adolescent age.

In today’s society where academic achievement and performance is at prominence, the importance of character building seems to have been forgotten. We acknowledge kids’ achievements more than we acknowledge their characters. We are more engrossed in finding out our kids’ academic performance than imbuing them with positive values, which will build their character and which can enable them to make the right choices in their future lives.

To counterbalance against something harmful and destructive from the environment the child may experience, instilling good human virtues and moral values is of paramount importance. And, early age is an ideal time to do so.

Unlike academic achievement that can be unstable over time, virtues and moral values are consistent throughout the ages. They are the basic foundation of building a child with noble character, a child who is able to discern what is morally correct and incorrect, and a child who can make the right choices.

Home is surely an ideal place for parents to raise children with character. To successfully help build kids’ character, parents don’t have to be either a child psychologist or a child consultant. What they must do is to be optimistic and have faith in their parental skills, no matter what their educational backgrounds are.

In fact, parents must be aware that they are the best teacher their children have ever had.

Parents certainly have their own typical ways of teaching their kids value systems at home, but they need to understand that simply telling kids the regular dos and don’ts won’t yield any optimal results.

Children don’t learn the values that make up good character simply by being told about them. They learn instead through observing and then emulating what other people are doing and acting out around them.

Among the many ways parents can use as examples to teach how to live a value-filled life, parental modeling is the best way. That is, parents set an example through their own behavior and actions.

Every day offers countless opportunities for children to emulate what their parents say and do in upholding the values they are teaching their children.

How parents do and accomplish daily routines can show children every value in this life. They can set examples of courteous acts to children like respecting people with different cultures, religions and races, valuing honesty and showing compassion and care when others are grieving.

A note of caution, however, needs a mention here. Consistency in upholding values as demonstrated in what parents say and do every day is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Parents may teach the importance of valuing honesty, yet never keep their word when they promised children something, like having a picnic on a weekend. They may tell children the value of fairness, yet treat other family members unequally.

If parents do this, their children are likely to emulate and eventually develop these attitudes as well.

Reinforcing positive values can also be done through something that captures a child’s interest. Fiction and nonfiction books, folk tales, poems, plays and television shows are some resources that may draw a child’s attention.

These resources can exert a considerable influence in building kids’ character both negatively and positively. However, with parental guidance and a careful selection of children’s literature and TV programs, parents can direct their children to be critical in discerning what is good and what is bad for them.

The writer used to teach English for young learners. She can be reached at evariestj@yahoo.com.

Homework: Chance to explore or just a chore?

Simon Marcus Gower ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 11:01 AM  |  Supplement

“School should be school and home should be home!” — The words of a father with a child in an Indonesian, national primary school here in Jakarta.

“Homework in primary school is unnecessary but it is good in high school.” — A mother reflecting on her child’s progress in primary school.

“It is a waste of time. Homework should be abolished!” — Perhaps unsurprisingly: a high school student who gets a lot of homework at a national school here.

Different people can have quite extremely differing views on the value of school homework. It is probably a reasonable estimation of the situation to suggest that most students could happily live without it but it might equally be reasonable to suppose that many teachers would feel uncomfortable without the presence of homework.

But is there a middle ground for homework? Is it possible to recognize some value in students doing some work on school activities at home? Perhaps we could start from an extreme point of view and see if we can work our way back to some “middle ground”.

So let us look at the point of view of extreme opposition to homework. There are those that do say that it is nothing but a waste of time and can be oppressive. There is a feeling that children get cajoled, even somewhat bullied and intimidated into doing homework.

Parents too can feel some intimidation with a fear that if the child does not do homework there is a danger, even likelihood of failure. But these things represent misperceptions and even abuses of what homework is or really should be.

Other opponents of homework suggest that it is useless at all levels of students’ abilities. For stronger students it is suggested that homework can be a waste of time. For them, being asked to do exercises based on tasks done in class, that they are already familiar with, is without value.

For weaker students, who have not grasped ideas or concepts in class time, homework can reinforce bad learning as they attempt to do exercises and just go on doing things in the wrong way.

Again, though, it might be suggested that these represent abuses of what homework could and should be and signify poor use of the possibilities that homework can offer. Stronger students should be challenged by their homework, and homework for weaker students should be set to their levels and appropriately reviewed as a possible means of addressing and remedying problems.

Extremely negative viewpoints on homework tend to define it as some unnecessary evil that is nothing but an onerous chore and has a tendency to create bad feeling toward school work and resentment to the whole idea of study. It is claimed that homework impinges on home time that should be for family to be together and for children to play.

These viewpoints are perhaps understandable when children are overburdened by reams and reams of homework and homework is simply being done for its own sake rather than any beneficial learning purpose.

Equally too, when homework is set that is simply beyond children’s abilities and parents end up doing the homework, for them the learning value and credibility of homework is pretty much lost.

But all of these things do represent distortions of what homework really can be and can do for learning children. Two keywords might be: moderation and constructiveness. That is to say, in the context of homework more is most likely going to add up to less. Therefore, moderate amounts of homework spread through the week may be more useful than expecting hours and hours of homework each evening.

Keeping homework constructive quite simply legitimizes the whole process. Giving students a purpose and preferably some motivation to actually do the homework makes the whole process useful.

People do complain that homework can be repetitive and so boring but in some subjects, such as mathematics, some repetition and so practice of problems can be one of the best ways of learning. Again, though, moderation is critical; repetition of 100 problems or even more can lead to repetitive boredom and some loss of learning.

That keyword of constructiveness also applies to teachers. Some teachers use homework as a threat or punishment. The line “be quiet in class or I will give you more homework” damagingly sets up homework as a punitive and negative weapon rather than a beneficial learning experience.

But that is what homework really ought to be; it ought to be a beneficial learning experience. Students should not lapse into the notion that once the bell rings and they rush out through the school gates learning ends. They ought to potentially have some willingness and desire to follow up and continue their learning beyond the classroom.

There are ways in which things learned via homework can prove lastingly beneficial. For example, students can review and so reinforce ideas and concepts learned during the school day. They can also revise and read up for lessons to come.

These kinds of experiences and developing skills are beneficial for the student that seeks to continue studies to university level where a greater sense of independence and self-directed learning is the norm.

Self-directed learning and the opportunity to explore and discover things independently are definitely things that can happen in the process of doing homework. Children that are stimulated to seek out information in libraries, from newspapers and magazines to the Internet are children that are getting a head start for future challenges.

But the stimulation and challenge that comes with homework has to be reciprocated and respected by teachers. Teachers that use homework as a punitive measure are generally not reciprocating or respectful.

Similarly, when students have done homework but there is no review, feedback or appreciation the whole process is undermined and respect for the concept of homework is lost as is respect between and for teachers and students.

So is homework really needed or not? There are people that say that it should not be necessary; that claim that school work should be done at school and homework represents either a curriculum that is too full or an inability of the teacher to get through materials efficiently.

Homework though is not some continuation or compensation for the classroom. It should be there to support, assist and reinforce what is happening in the classroom. A student — in his final year of high school at a state run school here in Jakarta — who admitted to actually disliking homework highlighted the benefit it can bring when he noted that it was “interesting” and “encourages (students) to learn more than what they learn in school”.

It may not always be comfortable or easy to do homework but overall benefits and gains that may accrue from it seem to outweigh the negative thoughts and apparent losses to “home time”.

Quality education: A significant key for children’s success

Mon, 11/10/2008 11:56 AM

Daryl Forde, Contributor, Jakarta

A number of schools have nowadays offered quality education as well as teaching more advanced schooling curricula to improve student performance. The good schools, however, are the educational institutions which also provide professional development opportunities for their teachers and staff.

Education is a prerequisite to development. Quality education will equip people with the knowledge and skills to improve their way of life, to protect themselves from illness, to enhance their professional opportunities, and to take an active role in the family, the community and, in a larger extent, the human kinship.

Equally important, education contributes to attitude change in people which in all countries and sectors is one of the biggest challenges to development. Emphasis on education emerges as a must for any nation’s development.

Many parents now opt for enrolling their children in schools with curricula which are internationally recognized. They look for a quality education that will allow individuals to maximize their learning objectives, but that will also encourage additional training to ensure that they are valued enough in the job market.

Quality education is indeed a significant key for children’s success. Concern about the quality of education has been expressed by philosophers, politicians, parents and educators for centuries.

The concern stems from how individuals perceive the role and nature of education in society and it is a concern that will doubtless continue to exist. Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of interest on how to improve the content of specific subjects, particularly language learning, science and mathematics.

Many countries have revised syllabi in these subjects in order to improve student performance. This focus on content has been very successful in those countries where the attainment of knowledge is regarded as the most important ingredient of a quality education. And to ensure that the quality is maintained, a standard of performance by students is measured by regular testing and the use of standardized benchmarks.

In his new book, Five Minds for the Future, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner describes the need to develop five kinds of minds of ways of thinking and acting that must be offered to students today. Three are related to the intellect: the disciplined, synthesizing and creative minds; two emphasize character: the respectful and ethical minds. Gardner argues very persuasively that the tools of knowledge from one discipline are not sufficient any longer to answer the questions of an increasingly globalized world.

What is needed is interdisciplinary expertise and teams working on common goals to come up with solutions that are creative and wise. A quality education must foster intellectual development and students must be able to distinguish what is relevant and meaningful from the mass of available information. Schools must give students opportunities to take a risk and to take chances to think differently and in non-orthodox ways. It takes courage and a creative mind to challenge the existing orthodoxy. Creative people take chances. Schools must also encourage real respect for cultural differences and demand that students reflect on the quality of their work.

Enhancing the learning environment means blending concept, fact, knowledge and application. There are characteristics to enhance the learning environment. These include a focus on effort and positive attitudes to learning, the use of new tools and approaches to learning and teaching and adopting accelerated learning strategies for those who need to “”catch up”” or for those who should advance at a quicker pace.

There should also efforts to improving the quality of assessment and feedback to students and parents, shared knowledge about best practice as well as energetic and sustained leadership by all. A main role of the school is to ensure balance in all areas and that in this era of international educational reform we use our experience as educators to ensure that students receive an education that will effectively prepare them for the next stage of their learning and give them the skills and the knowledge to make them confident to tackle the unknown challenges of the 21st century.

Selecting the good or right schools for the children may be easy for some parents but hard for the others. ANPS, however, has set the characteristics of good schools to help parents choosing educational institutions. Among the characteristics are whether the school has developed, documented, published, and implemented a set of clear policies, knowledge of and respect for Indonesian cultural values, diversity, and the natural environment, using both Indonesian and English as educational language, professional development and developing and applying national and international learning outcomes in their curriculum framework.

Other characteristics include whether the school emphasizes student-centered learning and has the resources and facilities to achieve learning outcomes. The Association of National Plus Schools has now 64 member schools. Nine members, including Sekolah Tiara Bangsa – ACS (International), Sekolah Bina Nusantara, Sekolah Global Jaya, Sekolah Ichthus, Sekolah Victory Plus, all in Jakarta, Buah Hati-Cita Hati and Sekolah Ciputra in Surabaya, Sekolah Bogor Raya in Bogor and Sekolah Pelita Harapan in Sentul have been accredited as satisfying such characteristics.

Leaders in ANPS schools were aware of the importance of effective and dynamic practices in promoting successful and sustained change. At their annual conference, school leaders participate in a series of meetings which help them to shape and sculpt a vision of educational quality educational for the future. They are also encouraged to develop a professional learning community in their schools. Quality schools have quality leaders.

ANPS also provides information via seminars, and workshops for teachers to engage in practices and activities that foster not only their own growth but also assists the emotional and personal growth of their students.

Founded in 2000, the ANPS aims to promote and develop quality education in Indonesian schools, provide professional development opportunities for teachers and staff, create a forum in which practitioners and leaders could discuss common educational issues as well as extend the means by which educational quality standards could be established and monitored. Information about ANPS is available at www.anpsonline.org.

–The writer is Chairperson of the Association of National Plus Schools in Indonesia (ANPS) and also the Executive Principal of Sekolah Tiara Bangsa – ACS (International) in Jakarta.