“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
1. What is character training and how do you teach character to children?
Character training or education is the systematic framework and method of helping people understand and develop character strengths, such as courage, gratitude, respect and responsibility. Ways to teach character are to live it (implicit teaching) and to teach it (explicit teaching). At JEMS, my education centre providing character education, we follow a 5-step methodology of teaching children character, inspired by Dr. Michele Borba. The first is to ‘Accentuate and Show’ i.e. to highlight which character virtues we will teach. There are many but which ones will our family, classroom or community focus on? The second is to ‘explain meaning and value of the virtue’: to clearly articulate what the words mean and their importance. What does it mean to be respectful and why is it important? The third is to ‘Demonstrate and show’: to show what respect or responsibility or whichever the virtue is and what it looks like. The fourth is to give children the opportunity to use that trait and the fifth is to reflect on how well it was implemented. The process is repeated for different character virtues and for reinforced learning.
2. Why is it important to teach character to children?
I think there are so many reasons – ultimately, character is who we are at our core. It is our character that will determine how we use our skills and as Theodore Roosevelt once said “to educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society” because skills can be used for good or bad. I think secondly that our world is ever changing and we don’t know what our children will need in 30 years time. But, one thing I believe will always be necessary as robots and artificial intelligence take over our world is the need to know how to relate to, understand and communicate with people – and that comes down to character. I think character should be taught to children from a young age because it isn’t something that can be taught overnight. Character is caught more than taught and I think by laying a foundation in character in early years, children will be stronger in the future.
3. This year’s Character Day is on September 13th. What is the story behind Character Day and how did it come to HK?
Character Day was started in the U.S. in 2014 by an organisation called Let-It-Ripple. They created a short film called ‘The Science of Character’ and invited schools, organisations and families to watch it and engage in discussions about character. We found out about it in 2015, so I emailed them to ask if anyone in Hong Kong had participated – they said none! I thought Hong Kong should join this global movement and step out as a city of character so I founded an NGO and created a committee that organised Hong Kong’s first Character Day in 2016. We invited 7 prominent ambassadors to speak for our cause, including Vice Chancellor of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Joseph Sung, and Co-Founder of Green Monday, Mr. David Yeung. We had over 200 schools and organisations join the first Hong Kong Character Day in 2016. We had the support of MTR Corporation, Roadshow, a wide range of media and press support so our campaign got citywide coverage. Our theme in 2016 was ‘Gratitude’ and we wanted to encourage Hong Kong people to grow in their character strength of gratitude to make themselves, others and our city a more grateful, and thereby, happier place.
4. This year’s theme of Character Day is kindness. How would you define kindness?
I think being kind is basically two things: being nice to and/or helping others. And being nice can be something as simple as giving someone a smile when seeing them in the lift, or giving a friend a hug when they are feeling down. Helping can also come in many forms from helping a neighbor to something larger like committing time to helping a charity. Whether big or small acts, kindness can go a long way and the best thing about kindness is that anyone can do it anywhere, anytime. So our slogan this year is ‘Choose Kindness’ because everyone has the ability to make that choice. Someone once said “Cleverness is a gift. Kindness is a choice”. We want to invite Hong Kong to ‘Choose Kindness’ together.
5. What kind of activities will be planned in light of Character Day?
To start our celebration, we will host a Kick-Off event on 13th September 2017 where our ambassadors this year, including Hong Kong Dog Rescue Founder, Sally Andersen, and CEO and Founder of Social Ventures Hong Kong, Francis Ngai, will join. The event will take place at 4 pm at Telford Plaza Central Atrium 2 and we invite everyone to join us! For those who have registered for Character Day Hong Kong 2017 (at our website www.characterday.hk), they can pick up free educational materials and posters at the venue.
6. How can parents teach their children character?
There are many ways to do it but the one that speaks most powerfully is role modeling. As the saying goes, “action speaks louder than words”. We can certainly tell our children what is right or wrong but it’s more powerful to show them what’s right or wrong by what we do. Another thing is to make every moment a teachable one, by allowing successes to be attributed to character and every mistake to be associated with a character lesson. For example, “I think you did really well on your test and I appreciate how persistent you were” or “you didn’t do well this time – how can you improve next time? Do you think perseverance can help?” Hopefully, the answer to the latter will be yes!
7. Can you still teach character to older children (12 years+)?
Absolutely! I think character is a life-long learning process and we should all constantly be growing in our character. Character strengths are like muscles – we all have them but we need to exercise them so that they can grow. So, if we want older children (and adults) to grow in character, we need to give them opportunities to practice using character strengths. For example, giving a teenager chores around the house to develop responsibility, going on family community service trips to cultivate compassion, having family conversation times to cultivate openness and honesty. Giving opportunities to ‘exercise’ these character muscles will help them grow in these areas.
Christine Ma-Lau’s passion for educating children in character and values inspired her to establish the JEMS Learning House, a leading institution that provides Character Education to children up to the age of 12. Christine is the Principal of the JEMS Learning House, Adjunct Professor at the Education University of Hong Kong and Founding Chairperson of Character Education Foundation, an NGO that provides training and resources to schools & organisations in the area of character. As an expert in Character Education, Christine has hosted talks, workshops and trainings for students, teachers and social workers at prestigious institutions including HKU, The Education University of Hong Kong, St. Paul’s Co-Educational College, St. Stephen’s College and International Christian School to name a few.
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