Why moral education is so important

  • 7 February 2017

‘Whatever progress nations achieve, whether technical or scientific, their survivability depends on the extent to which they preserve their noble values and principles on the path toward building their present and glorious future. Science, at its core, is the strengthening and elevation of cultural values and human morals." These golden words were uttered by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, while speaking at the launch of the moral education initiative last year.

The initiative is not only the first of its kind in the Arabian Gulf, but also in the entire Middle East. This endeavour is in line with the country’s common aim of making history in the region via its pioneering projects – activities that have received the admiration and appreciation of many countries. Realising these ambitions has distinguished the UAE as a unique nation with strong leadership. The Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, described the initiative, rightfully, as an extraordinary event and a paradigm shift in national education.

The launch of this initiative is not unusual, considering it was instigated by an exceptional leader who was raised and educated in the school of morals, values and authenticity of the late Sheikh Zayed.

Sheikh Mohammed is well aware that progress must be based on firm morals and values, otherwise it is weak and carries within it the seeds of its own downfall. He also recognises that sustainable development should be supported by two bases: a physical basis represented by scientific, technological and economic advancement and a moral basis represented by values, attitudes and the way we perceive others and ourselves.

Although teaching morals is a common responsibility, schools play the most important role. This is the reason Sheikh Mohammed has focused on school curricula in the moral education initiative. He has also expressed the importance of a patriotic upbringing as it provides students with self-confidence and strength.

For many decades, the Arab world has lacked moral education in school curricula. Schools have failed to teach their students the values of tolerance, initiative and dialogue, and also how to practise such values in everyday life. Furthermore, some school curricula were – and some still are – polluting young minds with extremism, racism and hate ideologies. This has made it easy for the forces of violence to find their way into numerous minds.

It is not uncommon for Arab schools and universities to produce generations of graduates who lack the initiative and the will to compete. These graduates suffer from a confused conception regarding their surroundings, their rights and obligations. They lack a sense of responsibility. This is what the moral education initiative attempts to address. The initiative is based on these key elements: moralities, individual and community development, culture and heritage, civic education and rights and responsibilities.

Adolescents are undoubtedly facing waves of ideas and attitudes. Attempting to control or filter this information, especially in today’s communication revolution, would be futile. What then is the alternative? Should we allow our youth to be influenced by the relentless waves of perspectives and ideas as a result of our inability to control them, or should we endeavour to equip our youth with whatever is necessary to discern right from wrong? As Mahatma Gandhi once said: "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."

This quote embodies the philosophy behind the moral education initiative. While the UAE represents an outstanding example of openness – as well as a model for interaction and coexistence – it is, nevertheless, keen on maintaining the highest moral values, derived from the country’s religion, noble customs and traditions. This empowers young people to become active members of society, while also acting as a defence mechanism against those who seek to corrupt loyalties to the country or mislead people towards destructive paths in the name of religion, sect and race.

The UAE is distinguished for positively combining its values, noble customs and traditions with openness and modernity. This provides a foundation for implementing the Moral Education Initiative and accomplishing its goals.

The initiative was launched less than a month after Sheikha Fatima approved the "National Programme for Values of Emirati Youth". It fosters values such as tolerance, diligence, modesty, loyalty, allegiance, positivity, benevolence and respect that should be essential to Emirati youth in their personal and professional lives.

I am hopeful that this pioneering initiative launched by Sheikh Mohammed will be the beginning of a new general trend throughout the Arab world that increases attention on moral education to prevent security threats to the Arab states. As Ahmed Shawqi, the famous Egyptian poet once wrote: "If a nation is afflicted in its morals, then hold a funeral and mourn for it." A nation without morals is a nation in danger.