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Weaving Values Into Teaching: The VITAL Approach

It seems to be a widely-shared lament that with the rapid spread of modern education, time-honoured values are quickly disappearing from our personal and collective lives. This may not be a mere coincidence because modern education focuses mainly on the cognitive or intellectual development of children, paying relatively little attention to nurturing their affective or emotional intelligence. VITAL is an initiative that aims at making value education an integral part of a student’s life, with an interesting model for teachers to adopt.

Various efforts have been made in the past to promote value education in schools. The results of these have been mixed. Overall, they have not been able to stem the perceived erosion of values in society. Some schools teach ‘Moral Science’ or ‘Life Skills’ or ‘Civics’, packaged as a separate subject, but, in many cases, neither teachers nor students take the subject very seriously. It is often regarded as an extra frill, a ‘subsidiary’, an add-on, and as simply an unavoidable burden. It languishes at the periphery of the curriculum. Teaching values in this compartmentalised way has been found to be rather ineffective, and sometimes the entire exercise is generally reduced to sanctimonious preaching.

Governmental authorities seem to have woken up to the magnitude and scale of our moral decline, recognizing the role that education can play to help remedy matters in this regard. In October 2012, the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry requested the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to resume moral and value-based education at the elementary school level. In the same month, the Union Human Resource Development Minister announced plans to focus on moral education in order to promote positive values among the country’s youth. In December 2012, provoked by a massive agitation in the wake of a rape of a girl in Delhi, the Prime Minister’s Office directed the Human Resource Development Ministry to give greater stress on promoting value education in schools.

A VITAL workshop for teachers aims at familiarising teachers with how values can be extracted from everyday lessons in the classroom
A VITAL workshop for teachers aims at familiarising teachers with how values can be extracted from everyday lessons in the classroom

Recognising both the lack of effective value education in schools as well as the importance of it, in late 2012 a group of volunteers at Anandashram, a charitable organization based in Kanhangad, Kerala, launched an innovative initiative, called VITAL — which stands for Value-Integrated Teaching and Learning. VITAL seeks to make value education an integral part of the existing school curriculum without requiring it to be treated as a separate subject. Recognizing that the curriculum is already so tightly packed that many schools might not have the time for an additional time-slot for value education, VITAL proposes a simple solution — teachers of various subjects can extrapolate key positive values from their daily classroom lessons and relay to their students a short value-based message to enable the latter to draw lessons from them that are related to their own lives. In this way, students can be inspired, a VITAL volunteer explains, to move from ‘Me to We’, to realise and respect the inter-dependence of all forms of life, including their own.

VITAL sees itself as an experiment in trying to weave into the teaching process the more than 80 positive values that the NCERT has suggested be made a core component of school education. The unique feature of the VITAL approach is that it does not require teaching values as a separate subject. Instead, it seeks to integrate value education into the existing curriculum. This it does by identifying one or the other of the 80 values highlighted by the NCERT in each lesson or chapter in school textbooks, which teachers can convey to their students in the form of a value-based message as part of their regular classroom instruction.

This message is to be crafted in such a way that it resonates with the students’ own lives and experiences. To make sure that this does not interfere with the main teaching work or distract students from ongoing class instruction, conveying and reflecting on the short value-based message is to be limited to just a minute or two. This may not be sufficient for a detailed discussion with students but it is likely that even a short, crisp message of this sort, sent out in every class, will have an indelible positive impact on the students’ minds, attitudes and behaviour. This can go a long way in helping students become more appreciative of their inter-connectedness with all beings, animate as well as inanimate, and kindling, in a non-obtrusive and non-invasive manner, their innate humanity. It can also help make the teachers become more aware of the links they can draw between academics and ethics, between their lectures and key moral values, so that their work can contribute to the emotional, in addition to the intellectual, nurturing of their students, rather than remaining simply an academic exercise.

Identifying Values From Textbooks
Currently, the VITAL team is working on identifying key values and value-based lessons that can be culled out from chapters in textbooks that are recommended by various educational boards. This effort is being supplemented with inputs provided by a number of school teachers and trainee teachers with whom the VITAL team has been interacting over the last several months through discussions and workshops in various places in Karnataka and Kerala.

The VITAL team is interacting with teachers across Karnataka and Kerala to develop and refine its methodology, and integrate it into school curriculum
The VITAL team is interacting with teachers across Karnataka and Kerala to develop and refine its methodology, and integrate it into school curriculum

The VITAL team plans to host the material that it is generating on an Internet portal so that teachers and others across the country can freely access and use it. Of course, the values and value-based messages that the VITAL team has drawn from chapters in various textbooks are not the only ones that can be extracted from the same material. Teachers may be able to derive other values and value-based messages from the same texts, although they are free to use the ideas developed by the VITAL team if they want.

VITAL Methodology: Some Examples
As mentioned above, the VITAL team has identified a number of values in various chapters in textbooks used at different levels that can be made the subject of a brief value-based message each time a teacher takes a class. It may appear that while drawing values from textbooks for the social sciences and humanities is not difficult, this may not be the case with textbooks used for subjects like Mathematics and the ‘hard sciences’. But this is not really so. Even in these subjects, it is possible to imaginatively draw out key values and send out positive value-based messages to students.

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Below are some examples to illustrate how lessons in textbooks for every subject provide ample scope for values to be identified and for value-based messages to be developed and conveyed to students.

When a Biology textbook talks of the caterpillar’s struggle, starting from its being wrapped up in a cocoon until it finally turns into a butterfly, one value that the teacher can extrapolate from this and embody in a value-based message is of the need for determined effort for success in life. In a lesson on plant germination, the teacher can identify ‘helpfulness’ as a value, asking her students to reflect on the parallels between the sun, water, soil and the air all helping the seed to turn into a plant and the help rendered by different people to an individual to enable him to develop his latent potential. In a chapter on osmosis, which talks about water passing from a region of high-water concentration through a semi-permeable membrane to a region of low-water concentration, the teacher can identify ‘empathy’ as a value and suggest that the rich can share some of their wealth or other possessions with the poor.

When a Physics book discusses how magnets attract iron filings, the teacher can identify ‘attraction’ as a positive value in human affairs, and ask her students to reflect on the similarities between a magnet and a person with positive qualities to whom others are instinctively drawn. In a lesson that deals with capacitators that store electric charge and release it when necessary, the teacher can identify ‘planning for the future’ as a value and say a few sentences about a new savings’ scheme to help parents save for their children’s higher education.

When a Chemistry textbook deals with the bonding of chemicals to form a new substance, the teacher could identify ‘bonding’ or ‘cooperation’ as the key value and mention in passing how cooperative team-work among human beings is necessary for their collective welfare.

education, and ensures that value education is seamlessly woven into the learning process, being closely integrated with every subject. Many educators have seen the merit in this.
VITAL approach to value education obviates the necessity of allocating a separate period and teacher for value education, and ensures that value education is seamlessly woven into the learning process, being closely integrated with every subject. Many educators have seen the merit in this.

When a Mathematics lesson discusses parallel lines, the teacher can draw out a value-based lesson by remarking that just as two parallel lines never meet but, yet, run smoothly while facing each other, so, too, in life one comes across people who think very differently from oneself, and one can learn to accept them and to live harmoniously with them. In a lesson on circles, the teacher can point out that just as every point on the circumference of a circle is equidistant from the circle’s centre, so, too, in a democracy everyone is, at least theoretically, equal. Or, she could mention that just as from the centre of the circle one can get a 360 degree view all around, so, too, when considering doing something important it is helpful to have a complete, or 360 degree, perspective on it by properly weighing all the pros and cons of the matter.

In a chapter in an English grammar textbook that relates the story of a monkey cleverly managing to escape from a crocodile by using his presence of mind, the teacher could identify ‘mindfulness’ as a key value and say a few words about how, through mindfulness, one can effectively meet various difficult situations in life. From an essay that describes an army of ants greeting each other by touching each other’s feelers, the teacher could identify ‘courtesy’ and ‘friendliness’ as important values and mention how important it is to acknowledge and greet others, including strangers, even if with just a smile. A story about birds spending much of the day foraging for food can be used as an opportunity by the teacher to raise the importance of perseverance as a value. From a story about a camel trudging through the desert the teacher can raise ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ as key values and reflect on how it is that in challenging situations that we are forced to be brave and bring out the best in us. The desert could also be seen as signifying a positive value, just as the camel can. Deserts, the teacher can say, have their own purpose in Nature’s plan and are beautiful as well as useful in their own way. Likewise, the teacher can add, a manual worker is to be respected in the same way as anyone else, for he, too, plays an important role in society.

Ideally, every lesson in textbooks used for every subject and at every level should be able to generate values and value-based messages such as these. All that needs to be done is for the teacher to identify just one such value from every lesson and construct and send out a single such value-based message in every class she takes. In this way, students will receive a positive value-based message in every period that they attend, throughout the academic year.

Reaching Out
The VITAL team has been closely interacting with a number of schools and teachers’ training colleges in Kerala and Karnataka to develop and further refine its methodology as well as to popularize its approach to value education. For this approach to be actually put into practice in the classroom on a large scale, relevant government ministries, educational boards, the management of educational institutions and the media need to be convinced of its usefulness and efficacy.

The VITAL approach can be freely used and developed by anyone concerned about value education in schools. It does not belong to the VITAL team alone, and so if found useful by others, the VITAL team would be glad if they adopt it.

For more information about VITAL, contact

Yoginder Sikand is a Bangalore-based freelance writer.
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