What is values education?
The importance of values education in today's society
We want to create a more sustainable world, with stable economies and more just and inclusive societies. A difficult but not unattainable target if we can count on the involvement of governments, institutions, businesses, and, above all, a responsible and committed public.
An exemplary citizen is made, not born. Just as we learn mathematics and languages, we should also become specialists in those lessons that are fundamental to living in harmony and social progress such as respect, empathy, equality, solidarity and critical thinking. Without these and other ethical principles that define us as human beings, it will be difficult for us to build a better world.
The aims of values education
This concept is about the educational process that instils moral standards to create more civil and democratic societies. Values education therefore promotes tolerance and understanding above and beyond our political, cultural and religious differences, putting special emphasis on the defence of human rights, the protection of ethnic minorities and the most vulnerable groups, and the conservation of the environment.
Values education is the responsibility of us all and not just of schools. The family, universities, businesses and sport, for example, are all ideal contexts to teach those ethical principles. Even so, for a number of years now, countries like Australia and the UK have actually been contemplating including values education as part of compulsory education.
Traditional education v. Values education
Both traditional education and values education are essential for personal development and they help us to define our objectives in life. But whilst the former teaches us about social, scientific and humanistic knowledge, the latter trains us to be good citizens. As opposed to traditional education, in values education there is no distinction between what happens inside and outside the classroom.
The importance of values education has driven European schools to introduce subjects such as Education for Citizenship. By 2017 was already part of the national curriculum in all the EU countries analysed by Eurydice, either as a cross-curricular or separate subject, or as part of other programs. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also undertakes a global assessment — as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — of the level of implementation of Global Citizenship Education (GCED) in national education policies, training plans and programmes, teacher training and student assessment.
Principal educational values
Values education covers various topics related to citizenship and ethics, including:
By putting ourselves in other people's shoes both cognitively and emotionally, we improve our ability to resolve conflicts and understand others' opinions.
The principle that we are all equal is one of the pillars of democracy, and moreover it fosters social inclusion and community life.
Respect for the environment
Values education makes us aware of the consequences of our actions on the planet and instils in us a respect for nature.
Care for health
We need to minimise health risks by encouraging the right attitudes and tackling health education from a dynamic, personal and collective point of view.
This way of thinking makes us more analytical and observant, teaches us to recognise quality information and helps us to solve problems.
Values education methodologies
There are currently two distinct theories about the nature of values. Traditional teaching covers objective and universal ethical standards that may be acquired through learning and ongoing practice. But a more innovative approach maintains that morals are relative and depend on the individual, so it is very difficult to teach at the pedagogical level.
The most common strategies in values education include the following:
The rejection of discrimination, enlivening debate on moral matters and promoting collaborative leadership.
Denouncing harmful attitudes for society as a whole without stigmatising individuals.
Stressing the idea that we can all change and that we deserve a second chance.