Education is often seen as end in itself, with achievement measured only by academic criteria; “but the time has come to recognize that education must have a minimum moral content,” declared the director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, PLO Lumumba, at the Global Peace Convention in Nairobi on November 18, 2010. “This means that the dominant objective must be to develop the capacity to do good, even more than to strive for mechanical and technical achievement.”
Addressing delegates from 40 nations during the session “Driving Citizenship, Peacemaking and Community through Character Competency,” key education leaders boldly asserted that formal education has a preeminent objective to inculcate qualities of character in core curricula. “Character is at the heart of human civilization,” Dr. Lumumba said. “Throughout history, discipline, humility, dedication, and other ideals of conduct have been instrumental to human discovery and advancement, but today there is a sense that these values are under constant attack.”
Several important Kenyan educators and government ministers that have partnered with GPF in developing innovative character competency training addressed the Convention on the need for new approaches in education. “The erosion of traditional values that governed social behavior has led to myriad problems of crime and violence, immorality, and environmental degradation,” said Ms. Mary Omondi, Director of Education for Nairobi, at the Convention. “The fundamental question is whether the education system has provided realistic and sufficient training not just in academics but in character formation.”
Dr. Leah Marango, the vice chancellor of African Nazarene University, described her administration’s emphasis on Character, Competency, and Community as central to student life at the university. Part of the program, she said, involves university students mentoring high school students and going to orphanages to teach life skills to disadvantaged children. Mr. S.M. Njoroge, Principal of Moi Forces Academy, stressed that the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of student not be overlooked, and he introduced members of the 1 Percent for Change charitable organization, which encourages students to remember the disadvantaged with small contributions that also foster an ethic of giving.
Professor James Ole Kiyiapi, Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Education, said education plays a critical role in preparing communities for social change and is important for achieving reconciliation, conflict prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction. “The role of education is to prepare men and women who are capable of doing new things, not repeating what other generations have done,” he said.
A key organizer of the Convention, the Global Peace Foundation, founded by Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, promotes character education as an essential component of good citizenship and of sustainable peace building. Notably, following the outbreak of ethnic violence in 2007 and 2008 in Kenya, GPF partnered with educators, government ministries, and faith organizations to bring character competency training to volatile regions in Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces, which have since expanded throughout the country. Each region has unique challenges, which has prompted administrators to tailor teaching materials to address specific core issues affecting different communities–from ethnic conflict, drug abuse, and gang identification to HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy.
In the United States, GPF has partnered with the city of Atlanta, Georgia, with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to advance character training for at-risk youth. Ms. Carlis Williams, the HHS regional Administrator for Children and Families, told the Convention that GPF-partnering youth program in Atlanta made a big impact in the lives of many youth. “We were able to take about 250-300 youth from very different backgrounds, some with a lot of attitude, a lot of needs, and over the course of 4-5 weeks they learned conflict resolution, self esteem, they learned how to talk to one another, how to take control of their lives.”
Following the session, the Convention organized two workshops that addressed social challenges youth face outside of the classroom environment, “Character, Youth Empowerment and. Entrepreneurship,” and promising efforts being make in Kenya schools and elsewhere to engage teachers, school staff, coaches, students, parents, and community leaders to improve the character competency, student achievement, teacher morale and school success, “Transforming School Culture in Creating Citizens of Character.