AS we celebrate another National Children’s Day in November, it is appropriate to reflect on whether we are making progress in terms of providing a balanced education for our children.
We first need to acknowledge that education is a human right, and that development and education of every child, their personality, talents, mental and physical abilities and spiritual qualities to their fullest potential is the right of every child — whether boy or girl.
According to the Bahá’í Writings, “it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts”.
“Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words.”
Education should lead our children in their moral empowerment as well as their intellectual development.
It is not enough to teach them skills and techniques.
We should also train them in the right values and attitudes.
As parents we sacrifice a great deal to send our children to the best possible schools.
We often register them at a school while they are still infants to ensure a good place for their secular education.
Do we plan and follow up on the spiritual education of our children in the same way?
Looking at the current educational systems, we find that in most parts of the world the spiritual and moral development of children is being neglected.
Often religious and moral education is regarded as an optional subject in schools or is totally omitted.
The failure to educate and develop the human spirit and the neglect of character development has, regrettably, contributed to numerous problems in our societies and all over the world.
The Bahá’í Writings speak of three kinds of education: material, human and spiritual.
Material education concerns itself with the progress and development of the body; on how to improve our physical well-being, including better nutrition, hygiene and health.
Human education concerns civilisation and progress – for example, knowledge of commerce, the sciences and arts, and the understanding of institutions and policy.
Spiritual or moral education deals with acquiring the right values and with the shaping of our characters.
It is through spiritual education that we are directed to use the knowledge, tools and means acquired through material and human education, for the advantage of humanity.
According to the Bahá’í Writings children “must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment, so that from their earliest years they will be taught to have high aims, to conduct themselves well, to be chaste, pure, and undefiled, and will learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things”.
The education required to enrich the human mind and spirit should try to develop our essentially moral attributes — including truthfulness, courtesy, generosity, compassion, justice, love and trustworthiness — whose reflection in the everyday lives of human beings can create harmonious, productive families and communities.
“The proper education of children is of vital importance to the progress of mankind, and the heart and essential foundation of all education is spiritual and moral training,” say the Bahá’í Writings.
“Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning.
“A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved — even though he be ignorant — is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the sciences and arts.
“The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned.
“If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light.”
Through acquisition of spiritual virtues combined with intellectual development, the individual and society can be transformed.
The purpose of life for individuals, in the Bahá’í view, is to develop their potential powers and capacities, so that they may contribute their share to and ever-advancing civilisation.
The purpose of education is to guide this process.
Therefore education, besides leading to the discovery and perfection of one’s capabilities, should instil a commitment to serve the best interests of the community and the world as a whole.
A balanced education should not perpetuate prejudice and fanaticism.
“Schools,” according to the Bahá’í Writings, “must first train the children in the principles of religion . . . but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.”
Instead, such education should instil in our children the awareness of the fundamental oneness of humankind and act as means for promoting world peace and unity of humanity.
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