More than fifty countries have recognised the importance of value education in the school curriculum, and even those that have not, undoubtedly recognise the fundamental fact that children need to grow up with a sound system of values if they are to mature into good human beings and responsible citizens.
So far so good; but the catch lies in the poser, ‘Who is going to decide on the system of values to be imparted, and what, indeed, will be the values?’
As things stand in our country, a general directive has been issued to educational institutions that value education should form a part of their curriculum, but the details have been left for the schools to work out themselves.
All in all, the move has not paid rich dividends. While it is true that some of the better schools undertake social service programmes in their neighbourhood (at times even without linking it with value education) or stage mock parliaments to prepare their children for leadership and good citizenship, it is also a fact that a majority of schools are not very comfortable with the subject, and just go through the motions of teaching it.
One cannot blame them either: firstly, in the absence of a definite syllabus and trained teachers on the subject, the classes meander and finally lose their way. Secondly, it is a subject in which there is no provision for assessment, with the result that it ends up being largely ignored—as much by children as by their parents.
So where do we begin? That is a difficult question, but before we even try to answer it, an important point needs to be borne in mind. In a democracy, different sets of values coexist. What is right for one particular group may be wrong for another.
Let us take the ideal of speaking the truth, which almost all institutions have included in their list of values to be imparted to the children. Supposing a gangster, looking for an innocent would- be victim whose whereabouts you happen to know, asks you if you have seen the person, do you blurt out the truth, or do you take recourse to a lie which, many would contend, is, in this instance, more virtuous than the truth? When we deal with value education, it would be advisable not to talk in terms of absolutes, but keep our attitudes flexible.
As knowledge expands and education spreads, a whole lot of people get cleverer, but they do not become happier, and the world they help to build does not become any better. Why? Because cleverness is hollow when it does not have good values to back it. It is like a dry well.
There is an urgent need, therefore, to improve the quality of value education currently prevalent in our country. How that can be done is a matter that our best minds would do well to give their prompt attention to.