The Egyptian Ministry of Education introduced a new school subject, “Values and Respect for the Other”, taught to third-grade students starting this year. The curriculum was printed in a book.
The introduction of the subject was the result of a presidential directive in response to the proposal of a special-needs child, Muhannad Emad El-Din, to teach the subject at schools and universities, in December 2020, during the “Able to differ” celebration, dedicated to children with special needs.
Teaching values is an important step in Egyptian education. Globally, teaching values has recently evolved, and there have been many curricula for teaching values such as, “teaching values”, “personal education”, “moral education”, “citizenship education”, “civic education”, “ethics”, and “democratic education.”
Although the labels differ, they all seek to build a community value that preserves identity and achieves citizenship at all levels (local, regional, and global). The following is an analytical review of the “Values and Respect for the Other, Together we Build” book. The review also discusses curricula and methods of teaching values, how to assess learning values, and guarantees of achieving the desired objectives of teaching this book.
The book largely meets quality standards in terms of attraction and excitement, as well as the clarity of fonts used, and the distinction between font styles, ideas, and headlines and subheadings. The book paper is characterized by quality and clarity of page numbers.
The book cover is both attractive and exciting; however, the phrase “Together we Build” on the cover does not match the cover drawings, as it shows two children planting, which may raise the question of young students of what they will build together as they grow seeds.
The book contains an introduction by the Minister of Education, that includes general and special messages, but does not include a message to students specifically, or about the content. Regarding the content, the book has six values. Each value has a separate topic, with arranged paragraphs, each of which contains a main idea.
The size of the book fits with the age of the students. Its dimensions are different from those of the same-stage textbooks, as the dimensions of the book are similar to those of the children’s narrative books, which is consistent with their cognitive content. The book contains shapes, pictures, tables. and illustrative maps that have been largely employed in their subject areas.
However, most of the pictures and illustrations represent the upper social class, and few reflect the characteristics of the middle social class, which may affect the achievement of the book’s goals because of the gap between the reality of most students and the picture presented by the book, where the book’s characters have private cars, multiple-storey homes, large kitchens, technological advances such as computers, and private bedrooms. The book’s characters also enjoy some luxury, such as school buses and camping trips, which are not very common in many governmental schools in Egypt’s cities and villages.
Value and cognitive content
The knowledge presented in the book and other curricula themes are integrated, as all curricula to the new education system (2.0) are in themes, starting with the student discovering himself in the “who I am” theme, “the world around me” theme, and “how the world works” theme.
The book of values is divided into two themes: the theme of “who I am”, and the theme of “the world around me”. Each theme has six values, each of which represents a separate topic, such as the value of mercy addressed as a separate lesson from an individual perspective within the theme “who I am”, and then addressed from a collective or community perspective within the theme of “the world around me”.
The six values are reviewed in a storytelling manner, in which specific characters play different roles to reflect the target value. The use of characters reflects the use of knowledge gained about the elements of the story from the Arabic language curriculum in the second grade, thus achieving the progression of knowledge and the integration of subjects.
As for educational activities, the book includes learning activities based on posing questions for assessment and feedback, which motivates students to learn. However, the activities used sometimes reflect practices that are significantly inconsistent with the culture of respecting the other, as it focuses on the importance of accountability and making evaluative judgments.
Moreover, many assessment questions were negatively posed. On page 64, the word “non” was mentioned five times in the question about the consequences of not mastering some practices, which restricts the flow of thoughts, and reinforces passivity.
Learning values is best processed in a positive context by inducing reason and positive thinking. If the degree of values reflects the degree of practicing positive behaviour, the best educational measure for assessing the development of positive behaviour in students is the use of pre-prepared observation cards. Traditional tests measuring the cognitive structure of behaviour are not a suitable tool for assessing behaviour. For example, evaluation questions depending on essay or objective questions do not necessarily express the availability of skills to practice positive behaviour or not.
Points of concern
Educational custom has established that curriculum planners and developers define curriculum teaching personnel, define the time plan for implementation, design a teacher manual, and develop a matrix that incorporates the relative weight of all levels of knowledge from understanding to analysis and application.
Within this framework, the book of values is relatively different, which makes it a point of concern. The Ministry of Education has entrusted the teaching of this curriculum to the teachers of the Arabic language. In addition, the timetable for applying the curriculum has been prepared by the head of the Arabic Language and Religious Education Department at the Centre for the Development of Curricula and Educational Materials.
Ministerial Decree 194/ 2020 sets the quorum for teaching the third-grade curriculum once a week, equivalent to two periods, which are cut off from the quorum specified for the Arabic language periods. This raises a number of questions regarding how to compensate the Arabic language curriculum for the time spent in favour of the values curriculum, especially in light of the reduction of school year days due to the Covid-19 crisis.
From indoctrination to introspection of values
The book “Values and Respect for Others” relies in teaching values on the trait approach. It promotes the teaching of pre-defined traits, and behaviours as absolute values. The only problem is that teaching values according to this approach may enhance students’ tendency to make judgments.
The balance between motivating teachers’ values to become role models and enhancing students’ critical thinking skills is important for teaching values. A more integrated approach to instilling and developing values, or ethical education, means motivating the values of the teachers themselves to be role models, as well as promoting critical thinking skills, by applying teaching strategies that achieve communication, and by increasing student engagement.
The approach to the development of values in education has long been called the hidden approach, based on the role of the teacher as a role model, which is the source of wisdom for the student through the learning process and the practice of school activities automatically for the learner and planned in advance by the teacher.
As knowledge evolves, value learning requires a cognitive developmental approach, by developing critical thinking and creative thinking skills, which enables students to judge objects, topics, and behaviours in a value format that society agrees on for measuring and issuing values. This way, students can consciously discuss how values are determined and the reasons for selecting a value. This approach is dynamic and transformative, where the process of value acquisition and critique is subject to the nature of thinking rather than the value itself.
Applying this cognitive development approach to value education requires that issues or problems be presented in different forms that are open-source and non-definitive, so that all answers and solutions students reach in this approach are correct if they are sufficiently justified.
The success of applying this approach depends on teachers avoiding imposing their own opinions and judging students’ suggestions, by favoring some responses and excluding others. Furthermore, the role play strategy as a teaching method is best for teaching values according to this approach, enabling students to develop insights about themselves and others.
This calls for a review of the assessment questions listed in the book, which were mostly focused on judging practices that reflect the concept of some of the six values listed in it.
The “Values and Respect for the Other” book is a very big step forward. It is hoped that the experience of teaching it for the first time shall develop the curriculum and the book, prepare teachers for teaching it, and fully integrate values and respect for each other into the curricula and activities of students at that stage.