5 Building Blocks of Character from Leaps: Episode A

August 25, 2021

A safe and well-functioning building cannot exist without a firm foundation. Likewise, building a better tomorrow for children means building the right foundation for it today. Having good character and a sense of integrity is that very foundation, which guides a young person even when no one is looking or telling them what to do. It becomes their moral anchor even as our world changes and advances.

So how can we better understand and advocate for the importance of character-building in education? And how do we support children as they continue to navigate today’s digitally-driven world, and help them leverage the benefits that come with it?

To explore this topic, Leaps of Knowledge invited leading educationists, thought leaders, teachers, parents, and partners in education to come together on 31 July 2021, at Leaps: Episode A - Act With Integrity. The virtual event took place in three parts - the global premiere of Episode A (also broadcasted live on nine other partner channels such as Teach For Malaysia, Pemimpin GSL, Firki by Teach For India, NUTP Malaysia, XCL Education Malaysia, and Edvolution Enterprise), an exclusive Masterclass featuring international practitioners of education, as well as a fruitful and meaningful connect session where participants shared their views and pledged to be advocates of kindness and compassion.

“I pledge to promote character-building in my own home by always showing good examples to my children regardless of their age. Because I think, the earlier, the better!” - Zalena, Parent
“I pledge to promote character-building in my students by teaching them problem solving and critical thinking, and instilling the mindset of contributing back to the community through empowerment.” - Justin, Music Teacher
“I pledge to promote kindness among students in my school so they can pass on the good vibes to the next generation.” - Jenith, Teacher

Here are the good vibes and the 5 interesting takeaways from Leaps: Episode A:

Children do what we do, not what we say

Screenshot taken from Episode A

There’s a saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While nature states that children inherit their parents’ physical traits and even personality traits, nurture argues that the human mind is a blank slate at birth and it is the environment, learning, and experiences shape us to be the person we are today.

“The foundations for who we become, as adults - our moral values, our virtues, start when we're born,” said Professor Colin Diamond, Professor of Educational Leadership at Birmingham University. In very early stages of life, children start building their character by mimicking their parents’ behaviours, and imitating words that their parents usually use. According to Professor Colin Diamond, the very basic human values and virtues provided by the parents in the early years is carried along by the young child as he or she grows and begins to socialise out of the household. And so, parents have the most opportunity to set the foundation of their children’s character from a very young age, by modelling choices and actions that are essential to being a person of good character.

However, the responsibility of modelling good character and behaviour doesn’t fall solely on parents. According to Dr. Goh Chee Leong, Group CEO of XCL Education Malaysia, the kind of environment set in school and in the classroom, is reflective of the kind of values committed to and the behaviours practiced by school leaders and teachers.

"If we want to inculcate values, like integrity, compassion, kindness, honesty - these are things that students need to see in the adults on campus. They need to see it in their teachers. What we're doing is creating an environment where children see these values in action and that's a lot more powerful than anything else.”

Character can be taught, caught or sought; education systems should teach compassion by placing it at its core

Professor Colin Diamond shared the Jubilee Framework, developed by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues based in the University of Birmingham, where development of character can be “taught”, “caught” or “sought”. For character to be "taught", the school provides educational experiences in and out of the classroom. Students are equipped with the language, knowledge, understanding and skills, and attributes for character development. For character to be "caught", it has to happen naturally. To echo Dr. Goh, this means that the school community should provide the example, culture, and influence that motivates and promotes character development. Finally, for character to be "sought", this happens when students develop a habit of seeking, desiring, and freely pursuing their own character development. In “teaching” character, the school provides ripe opportunities for students to reflect and develop personal habits committed to character.

Kevin Fullbrook, Director of Al-Bayan Bilingual School in Kuwait, believes that if we truly feel that values such as compassion are important, then the guiding statements in school should narrate these values. “We need to explicitly teach it [compassion], place programmes where it’s [compassion] embedded in the programme, doing part of a lesson that’s focused on compassion...” so when students leave school, all that they’ve learned - the subjects and the attributes of character - are intertwined.

To prepare our children to weather life’s hard storms, we need to build up their character

Screenshot taken from Episode A

Petrina Shee Satvinder, Co-Founder of the Dignity for Children Foundation, believes that we are not equipping children adequately if we focus only on academics, as character will determine how they weather through hard storms in life.

“Each student will go through a lot of hard knocks and they will definitely experience many failures. But it is very important that we give them a strong moral foundation to fall back on,” Petrina says.

Education must be grounded in real life experiences, and this encompasses specific topics such as bullying, body image, self-care as well as providing skill training such as urban gardening, sewing, graphic designing, and coding, alongside their academics. More importantly, Petrina believes in encouraging mastery of skill. To master any skill, it will demand a very high level of focus and concentration.

“Then, not only that, it would definitely change the student’s character. The students who come to learn the skill, they have to be so patient, they have to persevere when it's difficult and not just give up halfway. And they have to find the courage inside them - ‘I can do this’ or ‘I want to learn new things’ - they begin to develop passion and more”.

When given such holistic learning environments, something connects in the student’s mind and they become a keen learner. At Dignity, many of them come from very difficult family backgrounds. They have lots of trauma and fear and all sorts of negative emotions that have a very negative impact on them. By coming to school and engaging their minds and their hearts, it helps to build in them a sense of dignity, accomplishment, and self-confidence.

As machines play an increasingly bigger role, so do our values and virtues, in guiding us through this digital age

Screenshot taken from Episode A

As the world advances more and more each day through technology, the thing that will withstand the test of time are our human values and virtues. This is what the Founder of DQ Institute, an international think-tank that set the world’s first global standard for digital literacy skills and readiness, believes. Dr. Yuhyun Park asked an eye-opening question,  

“As the body is taken over by machines, as the brain is taken over by computers, as creativity is elevated through artificial intelligence (AI), what is left of us as human beings? It is our human values that separates us from machines and we need to bring it with us in every facet of our life.”

To be citizens of character in today’s world is to learn to be responsible digital citizens. Real life takes place whether you are offline or online, and so our values in daily life should be incorporated in our time spent in cyberspace.

“When we look at areas of our lives, we start with our identity - how do we represent ourselves? How can we be safe? How can we be secure? How can we communicate with others? How can we have emotional intelligence?”

These are similar questions we need to ask of ourselves digitally. Since COVID-19 hit the world by storm, many research organisations have shown that the screen time of children has doubled, as well as cyber risks such as cyberbullying, gaming disorders, social media addictions, privacy issues and more. Dr. Yuhyun Park believes that because of this it’s now no longer optional for our children to be equipped with digital competencies so they can  use technology safely, responsibly and ethically.

Children already instinctively know to build bridges instead of walls; we need to keep encouraging this value in them

Screenshot taken from Episode A

As connectivity increases around the world, it also divides. Fake news is what fuels another pressing issue of our time: polarisation. Eric Lee, Public Policy Manager for Malaysia & Brunei at Facebook, said that from a YouGov survey conducted between 2019-2020, about 61-66% of Malaysians turn to social media for useful information and important news, while only 29% who encounter false information or fake news would report it. Social media platforms have created these echo chambers where we are fed with information that only covers what we would be interested in, from a perspective that's familiar to us. This limits our ability to consider a different perspective, because we get so accustomed to viewing the world from just one angle.

However, even before social media played such a big role in how we view the world, conflict has always existed between two parties who are seemingly different. Ranjitsinh Disale, 2020 Winner of the Global Teacher Prize, has been working hard to bridge that gap through his programme, Let’s Cross The Borders, which is a project that connects young people in conflict zones such as India and Pakistan, Palestine and Israel, Iraq and Iran, USA and North Korea. Through this programme, students talk about their similarities and discuss their differences, and at the end of the programme, these students are given freedom of choice to make their own decisions on whether they want to continue their newfound friendships, or to end it.

“I never imagined that students were still continuing their friendships. And they were not hesitating, they love each other, irrespective of our countries fighting. So I think this was a positive change. And it's very shocking. If you know that the Indians are loving Pakistanis... oh my God, it's going to be big news here in India, or even in Pakistan, as well!” he tells us.

Ranjit shared that we shouldn’t limit children and young people within the boundaries of their own countries, and more so, to help them realise that we are all ultimately global citizens.

How can I rewatch Leaps: Episode A?

Don't just watch Episode A, sign up for The HEART Course! It's a free online course which creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community.

In five sessions H-E-A-R and T, you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There also conversation prompts to help your group of educators DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom!

Get started with The HEART Course here.

Why Leaps of Knowledge?

Leaps of Knowledge invites everyone to be a game changer in education. Through a series of talks, workshops, conferences, and other events, featuring the world’s leading technologists, innovators, and shapers, we aim to inspire a sense of purpose and joy by changing hearts and shaping minds. In 2021, Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series is set to take place in 5 global online events throughout the year, featuring contextual topics in the themes of FrogAsia’s core values: H, E, A, R, and T respectively - Episode H: Here to Make a Difference, Episode E: Enjoy What You Do and Who You Do It With, Episode A: Act With Integrity, Episode R: Reach for Perfection and Episode T: Think Ahead and Out of The Box.

Registration is ALWAYS open!

Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series