Here’s a Christmas present for parents who want a really good model of character education to propose to their school or higher educational authorities: a programme called Alive to the World, which hails from South America and has been adapted and piloted in Britain over the past four years.
Alive to the World, says UK co-ordinator Louise Kirk, is based on four principles:
* Good behaviour can be taught by helping children develop their willpower.
* A PSHE programme has to be seamless, with the same core values taught across the board.
* All children are by nature idealistic and respond to ideals towards which they can strive.
* It is more profitable to look at success than failure, so the core values taught are those which underpin a successful and happy life.
These include respect, trust, perseverance, honesty responsibility, generosity, self-control. It teaches through story-telling. A sex education component is available for parents to use at home with their children. All up it provides a well-tried and successful alternative to current school programmes.
Mrs Kirk has just completed a detailed submission to the British government’s public consultation on the existing Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum for schools.
She points out that although PSHE is relatively recent, there are parts of the programme — like sex education — that have been around for a long time and should be producing better results than the lowest ratings on child wellbeing and the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. The reasons this type of education is not producing better results are basically three, she says:
* Too much emphasis on “social and emotional” aspects of the person and not “enough weight given to the other human faculties of the spirit, the mind and the body.”
* It targets negative behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse, smoking and bullying, and “does little to seize children’s imagination.” It does not cater for children who will take risks out of boredom or indulge in self-destructive behaviour because they are unhappy.
* The “vacuum” at the heart of PSHE is Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). It fails to model sexual relationships correctly and gives no authoritative guidance on values, leading to confusion and unhappiness.
There’s a lot of excellent analysis of problems with the current curriculum in Mrs Kirk’s submission, including a thorough critique of contraceptive education as it stands (and a hair-raising glimpse of what is taught in sex-ed through a brochure called “Pleasure”) but, more importantly, there is a positive model of what can be done under the heading of PSHE in Alive to the World.