education in the Philippines

[OPINION] Education for life: Weaving ethics in all subject areas

Raimiel S. Dionido

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[OPINION] Education for life: Weaving ethics in all subject areas
By making ethical reflection a cornerstone of our educational system, we foster a generation capable not only of doing things well, but of doing the right thing

Education has been made synonymous with acquiring skills – to read and write, to count, and to acquire knowledge from different domains. In the Philippines, many would argue that we teach too many subjects that end up not being used later on in students’ careers. But I would like to pause there: Why are we preparing students for their careers and not their lives as a whole?

Skills are important for productivity and industry, but they only equip us to perform tasks, not guide us on how to live our lives. Medical doctors learn how to cure diseases and save lives through their training in medical school, but how they treat their patients with fairness, justice, and compassion is learned primarily outside of the formal education system.

Ethics deals with the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, and how we should live our lives. As a formal institution that aims to hone the youth into productive citizens, the classroom stands as an authority in persuading and forming beliefs surrounding these concepts. Yet, without an explicit focus on ethics, we risk creating individuals highly skilled in their domains but ill-equipped to navigate the moral complexities of everyday life.

Paulo Freire, the founding figure for critical pedagogy, emphasizes the need to shift away from a model of education that treats students merely as vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, to a model that encourages students to pose problems and questions. Through dialogue with their teachers, students become agents capable of producing knowledge.

In the Philippines, ethics is taught as a single and separate domain – that is, values education in basic education and philosophy in the tertiary level). Here’s my proposal: Pose ethical questions as part of every knowledge domain. This doesn’t mean turning every class into a philosophy seminar, but rather finding creative ways to integrate ethical considerations into existing subjects.

Practical examples

For example, in a chemistry class, we can incorporate ethical questions on the environmental impact of specific chemicals and the responsibility scientists have in developing sustainable solutions. When teaching algebra, we can raise concerns about the ethical use of algorithms in the modern world, exploring issues of bias and how they might perpetuate social inequalities. In geometry lessons, we could discuss how geometrical principles might shape urban planning, leading to discussions on equitable infrastructure design and responsible land use.

Let’s extend this to other domains. History lessons could touch upon the ethics of historical representation, encouraging students to grapple with different perspectives and narratives. Literature classes could delve into the ethical dilemmas faced by characters, fostering empathy and understanding of complex human motivations. Even physical education could introduce discussions on sportsmanship, teamwork, and the ethics of competition.

Of course, it’s not enough to just pose the questions. We need to equip students with the thinking tools to tackle these ethical dilemmas. This could involve introducing them to different ethical frameworks (like utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics), encouraging them to consider various perspectives, and fostering a culture of respectful debate and dialogue in the classroom. The goal is not to provide easy answers, but to cultivate a habit of mindful deliberation about the moral choices that technology, science, mathematics, and the very act of learning inevitably raise.

Developing skills for discernment

Some might argue that incorporating ethics into already packed curricula is unrealistic. However, I believe that ethical considerations can be woven seamlessly into existing lessons without sacrificing essential content knowledge. Moreover, by fostering critical thinking and ethical awareness, we’re ultimately preparing students for success in all areas of life, not just their careers.

Others might worry that discussions of ethics will become overly subjective or lead to indoctrination. This concern is valid, but it highlights the importance of teacher training and careful lesson planning. By grounding ethical discussions in well-established frameworks, fostering respectful dialogue, and emphasizing the importance of reasoned argumentation, we can create a learning environment that encourages thoughtful reflection without imposing a single viewpoint.

By weaving ethics seamlessly into existing curricula, we make it an integral part of the learning process, rather than an abstract add-on. This approach can help students develop a sense of ethical responsibility alongside technical proficiency, empowering them to become critical thinkers and engaged citizens.

Certainly, there are potential challenges. Teachers will need the resources and training, and there’s a risk of politicization. Careful planning, thoughtful facilitation, and a focus on civil discourse will be crucial.

Ultimately, this change will constitute a paradigm shift – one that is crucial if we are to save ourselves from the growing injustices of the world we live in. Education should not be just about preparing students for the workforce, but for life itself. By making ethical reflection a cornerstone of our educational system, we foster a generation capable not only of doing things well, but of doing the right thing. –

Raimiel Dionido has years of experience in the development sector and a strong passion for quality education. He served in the Philippine government’s Commission on Higher Education for seven years and is currently in the environment sector. With a background in organizational psychology, he firmly believes in the transformative power of institutions in creating positive change.

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