30 Aug 2016

Moral Education for Sustainable Futures

Samira Saleh Usman

Moral education will be on the class schedule of students in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) starting 2016-2017 academic year. The rational to introduce moral education is that it can help build character and resilience required by youth to deal with modern day challenges. It also reinforces values that contribute to individual and social growth, key to the UAE’s successful development. Under the direct orders of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces, moral education curriculum will be composed of five elements: ethics, personal and community development, culture and heritage, civic education and rights and responsibilities.

Schools are a great ground when it comes to teaching good behavior and they provide an ideal platform for cultivating key qualities of productive future citizen’s ethical and moral values. The pursuit of moral education is viewed as a process rather than an outcome, and requires teachers to act as facilitators. Schools, directly and indirectly teach character traits such as respect, honesty, responsibility, citizenship, self-discipline, perseverance, compassion, fairness, and trustworthiness alongside arithmetic, reading and writing. For many, moral education poses questions about religious overtones while the word character speaks to good habits and the social virtues, which hold a community together and allow diverse groups to live together in harmony. In the context of the UAE, the introduction of moral education curriculum refers to the concepts embedded in the latter.

Moral education offers a plethora of benefits to youth. It empowers them to deal with modern challenges affecting communities today. Moral education provides students with tools that involve moral reasoning and critical thinking skills and enables them to make responsible decisions in the face of so many modern challenges. The first and most important challenge facing the UAE and the region is the recent political changes and the growing presence of extremist’s ideologies. Secondly, we are dealing with technological innovations, which force and facilitate rapid social change. Furthermore, the preservation of culture and heritage, is increasingly being viewed as another key challenge to be addressed by instituting moral education in schools.

The five elements of moral education being proposed will contribute to the threats posed by extremist groups that societies face today.  The UAE leadership is calling for a curriculum that keeps Emiratis away from sectarianism, intolerance and destructive ideas, and drives the young citizens to contribute to the UAE’s successful development process. This intention was set out by HH Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development stressed the importance of initiating such a program:

“These values are a strong catalyst that encourages creativity and achievement, keeps away Emiratis from sectarianism, intolerance and destructive ideas, and drives them to contribute to the UAE’s successful development process … .”

Moral education provides a framework for educating about the importance of tolerance, refuting sectarian ideas and allows for the students to debate and research how best to foster tolerance, understanding and cohesion.

Moral values, such as respecting and accepting others, leads to unified communities that is why teaching young students how to make informed decisions and solve problems using critical thinking skills is important in this equation. Good-hearted citizens lacking effective education are susceptible to manipulation by propaganda and extremist ideology. Therefore, moral judgment reinforces a student’s use of critical thinking and decision-making to avoid naivety. The emphasis on virtues such as: intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual good faith or integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual fair-mindedness, and belief in reason all create a nurturing atmosphere for building and developing critical thinking, moral integrity, and responsible citizenship. The emphasis on `critical thinking’ in moral education could help develop a better balance between morality, culture and politics and serve to prevent various political ideologies and cultural traditions from improperly interfering in moral judgements. For example, religion has been abused and became an instrument of manipulation, deceit and exploitation, in particular among the youth.   The outcomes from moral education cultivate in students the ability to think critically, reflect and communicate rationally.  These are life skills students will learn and practice what which eventually will contribute to the student’s development and social the well-being in the UAE in general.

The second reason why moral education is useful in the UAE relates to society as a whole. Social well-being is important, and when present reduces conflicts and differences. At home, school or in other social settings, moral education helps youth develop an understanding of others and the benefit of exchanging ideas, accepting intellectual differences, and confronting challenges through the use of higher critical thinking skills. These can be called into action when conflicts and tension arise.  Moral education works to support an appreciation of difference, through thinking critically, brain storming and debating in order to find solutions to conflict and tensions. A multicultural society like the UAE presents an abundance of opportunity to forge common ties and build communities focused on what unites them versus what divides them.  Such opportunities will support the development of youth as well as contribute to the overall society.

Another area of opportunity and concern is social media and the widespread use of technology.  These developments have created new avenues where youth are offered endless opportunities as to learn, expand their knowledge and talents. However, the virtual world can lead to pitfalls, too. Networking including social media offers opportunities to engage many cultures, as well countercultures, which can influence one’s own values, blurring the boundaries of permissible and impermissible. The use of social-media might present problems of ethical and moral nature such as the choice of age appropriate content or exposure to misleading religious or extremist views. Youth are susceptible to manipulation and the influences of extremist ideology online that are destructive in nature.  Moral education benefits students and provides them with guiding skills and criteria supporting their interaction with, and choices made, in the use of social media and technology.  Moral education provides young users with beneficial tools when surfing the net or communicating using social media. Teaching moral values to young students’ gives them personal leadership skills like understanding the importance of their role in their community, how to use reasoning skills to help them avoid being politically victimized or unduly influenced to abandon their cultural norms. This gives them the power over their own life and a meaningful understanding that the decisions they make have an on impact their families, friends and society.

Moral education offers students’ values like caring, empathy, ethical responsibility and accountability and these all create a commitment at a young age to bring positive change and touch other’s lives. Moral education prepares youth to display the forms of social conduct expected, yet understand that they are accountable for what conduct they choose to peruse. Moral education will surely empower young people at an early age to display moral and critical judgement and at the same time build on their own commitments to global and local issues like environmental awareness and stewardship, which will contribute to the UAE’s continued successful development.

Lastly, moral education, will help students build strong ties and appreciate their own identity and heritage.  The UAE Vision 2021, is centred on creating responsible Emirati citizens who are grounded in their own heritage, and actively engaged in an evolving socio-economic environment. The Vision sees youth participating in building strong families and communities, promoting moderate Islamic values, and presenting deep-rooted heritage to build a vibrant and close-knit society. Moral education will help build a bridge between the values ingrained in socio-cultural practices and rapid development, wealth and social changes. Thus, it directly supports Vision 2021, as it will help students understand values of their heritage in building the nation and establishing the wealth and stability for future generations. With a steady rise in greed, delinquency, and disrespect among children, a better understanding of their own heritage is an opportunity for the younger generation to see themselves more accurately and thus appreciate the resources passed to them. A moral education will encourage youth to assume an active role in preserving and developing the country and embracing collective notions of success and development. An active role of young people in building and creating sustainable economy is a key to prosperity and growth, and can be strengthened with moral education. Students will learn that they are partners in sustaining the achievements and current wealth without becoming overly affected by western society and using critical thinking skills to define their own constructive role in our society.  Grounded with moral teaching, pride in their own identity and knowledge of culture values, will empower students to represent their values in national and global environment to the benefit of all.

In conclusion, moral education has historically been an important part of education systems around the world and it contributes to the continuing development of the UAE. Moral education will help students develop critical thinking skills and character traits that help sustain the development of the UAE and confront problems linked to rapid changes in the UAE’s social, political and cultural environments. Moral education promotes resilience among socially responsible citizens and it will contribute to peace and security by denouncing extremist ideologies and fostering contributing citizens, who combine intelligence, academic excellence and the moral conscience as future leaders in our societies.

Ultimately, moral education offers a platform that safeguards our communities and it is an investment in future generation as it will empower young people to navigate effectively through complex issues that will be faced in our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic societies.

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