By Scherto R. Gill presented at International Symposium on Ethics Education (22-23 November 2021)
What is ethics education?
Throughout this symposium, global young people, leaders of international organisations, religious leaders, and educators have all highlighted the importance of values oriented education, including our shared and common values as the basis of our right attitudes, right relations and right actions. Dignity, respect, kindness, empathy, and generosity, are amongst the values mentioned, as fundamental for our learning to living together in harmony.
Another aspect of ethics education emphasised in this symposium is the critical importance of appreciating human differences, for example, differences in our history, belief, cultural norm, and practice. Recognising our diversity can provide rich opportunities for children to learn from each other’s culture, religion and indigenous wisdom, enriching our common lives in inclusive and cohesive societies.
Relational imperative of ethics education
In terms of pedagogical practices, we have heard that ethics education tends to involve intercultural and interreligious education, values-based education, and citizenship education.
What is emergent from these two days’ dialogue is that at the core everyday teaching and learning, especially in formal education, is the imperative of generative relational processes and relational practices to underpin ethics education. It suggests that learning through congenial relationships and myriad ways of relating can deepen our awareness of human fraternity.
Through a relational approach, children learn to acquire intercultural and interreligious competences, and transcend identities, labels, categories and boundaries. In adopting a relational lens, they can be more open to embrace each other’s lived realities, and extend our unconditional hospitality and care to everyone, including care for all things in nature. By partaking in relational processes, they can practise the arts of listening and dialogue, and the arts of caring.
The imperative of relational ethic reminds us that ethics education must be integral to all aspects of our teaching and learning rather than as a mere curriculum subject. That is to say ethics education is not about studying values and virtues from outside of them, but instead, ethics education is about living the values, embodying virtues in the lives of our school community and beyond.
How we work out a maths puzzle with classmates, listening to a friend in distress, going about environment education, or even deciding on what to eat, and how we come to school … all these can be the fruit of ethics education. Having a values-based ethical compass is a key to our learning to live together, and here we stress the living together, actively and proactively living out human values and virtues in and through relational processes.
Relational process at the core of children’s holistic well-being
Relational processes are already constituted in our holistic well-being. Broadly, well-being can be conceived as being well, living well and becoming well. It is an active process rather than a mere emotional state.
This year, with Arigatou International and other partners of this Symposium, we launched a global listening initiative and invited young people to reflect on what is most important to build forward through educational transformation. They pointed out that education must contribute to children’s holistic well-being.
Our young people suggested they must be partners and co-creators of an ethical environment where their well-being can unfold. In fact, young people told us that for education to nurture their well-being, these relational processes, and their agency through these processes matter significantly to their well-being.
If ethics education is the foundation of all teaching and learning, if relational processes are featured in pedagogical approaches, if the arts of relating are to be practiced by everyone in the school, not just the children, then these must guide the way we re-conceptualise knowledge, and evaluation.
Relational approach to evaluation of ethics education
Conventionally, knowledge belongs to those in authority, such as university scholars, scientists, and experts. When words such as data analysis, findings, measurements, are mentioned, how disempowered children, practitioners, and communities can feel? They can only rely on those in the position of authority and power to come and assess their experiences of ethics education.
Ethics education’s emphasis on relational process which is in turn an aspect of our well-being suggests that knowledge cannot be developed from outside the community. Instead, educational evaluation must be carried relationally in collaboration with children and young people, teachers and other people in the community. This might be regarded as a decolonial approach to evaluation.
What constitutes meaningfulness, what counts as impact, and what comprises progress must be developed in listening to and dialogue amongst all the stakeholders.
In this relational vision, evaluation of ethics education becomes a process of collective meaning-making. It
highlights that it is within the process of relating that the world comes to be what it is for us. We draw from this process our understandings of the world, of ourselves and our experiences within it, and of what is meaningful and good. Both learning and well-being are thus the fruits of the relational process, and hence evaluation of ethics education must spontaneously enrich our well-being.
A relational orientation to educational evaluation contains two primary features:
The first is a focus on valuing and co-inquiring, where all stakeholders in education engage in continuous deliberation on the meaningfulness and values in ethics education. So values of equality, inclusion, respect and dignity are already lived in this co-inquiry.
The second is an emphasis on adding values to ethics education, by fostering learning, enhancing student’s participation in learning, engendering sustained engagement, and enriching the relational process itself.
Such practices can be embedded within the ongoing learning processes, especially through listening, dialogue and collaboration among co-learners.
In addition, children learn the language, and the empathetic moves in the listening, dialogue and co-creating, they also learn to appreciate ethics education. Co-inquiry and co-creation of meaning can be a generative process in which mutual valuing is prominent.
So instead of relinquishing meaning-making and knowledge to outside authority, relational approach to evaluating ethics education invites scholars and researchers into the school communities, and join in the process of co-inquiry, and participatory and collaborative meaning-making.
For instance, questioning and critical competence is a key to evaluative inquiry. Children and teachers can work with scholars and researchers in crafting good questions that invite everyone into the dialogue, and encourage multiple voices and reinforce the sense of we-ness.
Similarly, evaluative co-inquiry involves deep listening, which is a form of respect, mutual affection and care. Listening recognises multiple values and perspectives. It invites humility and openness to the diversity of experiences and realities within the classroom, and beyond. Listening can nurture children’s voices, and encourage their active agency.
Appreciative co-inquiry seeks the values in our experiences of ethics education, and is therefore an integral part of strengths-based and values-based practices, where caring critique, constructive feedback, and meaningful comment serve as a reminder that all ideas, thoughts and opinions are mere by-products of cultural practices and social traditions. Only in dialogue, can we relate better.
So evaluation of ethics education must be rooted in ethics as embracing our communities lived realities.
Ethics education: a pathway to a shared global future
Recently, at the end of COP26 in Glasgow, we came to realise that for the first time in our history, humanity is coming ever so close to the possibility of collective peril.
At the same time, owing to the strengths of our collective intention, and our audacity to love and to care, for the first time in human history, we are coming ever so close to the possibility of being well, living well and becoming well together as global humanity, including all beings in nature.
So ethics education is an important pathway this global future. This is because through ethics education, we can better appreciate common values as the promise of mutual belonging, recognise community as the commitment to our deep relatedness, perceive our being human together as an experience of transcendence through immanence, regard our hospitality as expanding unconditional good will to all persons, and to all other beings on the planet.
So long as there is such an ethical foundation in the society, there will be peace.