Value-based Education Baseline Study Report

In February 2017, the Aga Khan Foundation commissioned a study on Value-based Education in Kwale and Mombasa counties in the Kenyan coastal region. It was a mixed methods study with a sample of 800 (survey respondents, focus group discussants and key informants) from 20 purposively selected public primary and secondary schools and youth groups located in  poor rural and urban areas. Though the main purpose of the study was to inform the Foundation’s own internal learning and programming, the insights that it has generated have implications for educational researchers, programmers and practitioners working in the area of Value-based Education.

The study findings are summarised here under four broad themes: (1) Understanding of the meaning of values by the study participants; (2) prioritisation of values; (3) the extent to which values shape attitudes and behaviour of children and young people within the school and community settings; and (4) the approaches currently used to transmit and nurture values.

1. Understanding the meaning of values

Generally, both children and adults in and out of school were found to have some understanding of values though there were differences in the extent and degree to which various stakeholder groups were able to explain the meaning of the concept. For example, learners and community leaders were able to clearly articulate what they understood by values.  However, there appeared to be less clarity among teachers than learners on the meaning of values. This finding was consistent with the experience of researchers during the piloting of the baseline tools, where learners were able to effectively communicate what values meant to them better than the teachers.

Generally, learners and community leaders perceived values as something positive and something worthwhile. Some community leaders, and a few secondary school students, defined positive values as virtues and negative values as vices. Across all research participant categories, values were associated with “good behaviour”. The younger children talked of “good” versus “bad manners” and “good” versus “bad habits”. School club leaders from one primary school explained good behaviour as “behaviour that does not harm” and as “kindness”.

The study found that the conceptualisation of values were increasingly complex with the age of the research participants. In community interviews, values were also perceived as: universal and inter‐religious; indivisible and inter­‐linked; gender neutral; and resilient and inter­‐generational.

2. Prioritisation of values

Survey respondents across all categories most frequently mentioned the values of respect, responsibility and love. Not only learners but also community members perceived respect to be a core, foundational value, upon which others like love, unity and peace were anchored. Research participants selected these values from a list of 14, which for the purposes of the baseline study, were described as “high priority values”.

Learners perceived respect as facilitating future personal success, and smooth running of programmes and institutions. They also justified their prioritisation of love for its importance in “preventing discrimination”, “stopping death and wars”, practicing “tribalism”, and facilitating peaceful, happy relationships where everyone would live in unity as friends in school and in the community.

Success as a key goal of education was emphasized in the value statements as reflected in the schools mottos, visions and missions. However, neither respect nor love were explicitly mentioned in these statements.  The only high priority value that was evident in the value statements was responsibility, which was cited in the vision of some of the secondary schools.

Values barely mentioned or not at all, were diversity, equity, inclusiveness, non-­‐ discrimination and equality by school­‐based study participants. These values were also notably missing from the value statements of schools. In addition, the study found learners as young as six or seven years had already started to acquire gender stereotypes and values of inequality and exclusion.

Review of the value statements of the youth groups revealed an emphasis on empowerment, leadership, capacity development and self‐reliance (independence). Implied were the values of equity, unity and social cohesion. Qualitative interviews however, drew attention to the importance of values of diversity, together with peace and tolerance for countering violent extremism particularly in Changamwe, Mombasa.

3. Shaping attitudes and behaviour

All categories of research participants acknowledged that values shape attitudes and behaviour and that common problems encountered in the school and community could be addressed through the integration of positive values into the education system. Common problems identified in schools included behaviour that verged on criminality such as fighting and stealing, as well as indiscipline (sneaking and tardiness). Teachers and school heads also emphasized noisemaking, dress code violations and violations of school language policies. Respectful and responsible behaviour, in particular, were perceived not only to be beneficial for learners but also for teachers, in the case of the latter, by influencing them to adopt ethical practices. While 80 percent of the learners agreed that teachers adhered to school values, disconnect was evident between the verbal emphasis on positive values of respect and responsibility and the perceived practice of disrespectful and irresponsible behaviour by teachers, negating the practice of academic excellence and hard work as reflected in the school mission and vision statements.

There was general agreement that the integration of values into the education curriculum would bring benefits to the children, teachers and the school as a whole.

  • At the child level, perceived benefits singled out by all categories of respondents were

    • Disciplined, respectful, hardworking, and responsible learners.

    • Academic excellence and good performance.

  • At the school level, head teachers perceived benefits to include teaching and learning environments that were

    • Child friendly and respectful to all

    • Corruption free where cheating would not take place

    • Safe and secure

    • Disciplined, where there would be few if any cases of indiscipline.

  • A more holistic view of values integration into the individual rather than the curriculum emerged strongly from interviews with community informants and education officials.

Among other issues, the link between values and radicalism and violent extremism was also explored. The responses from community members reflected recognition of the complexity of the problem. According to them, the absence of good role models who could inculcate positive values combined with perceived historical injustices, poverty, unemployment, inequality, and land grievances, and the high­‐handed approach of the police made the youth especially vulnerable to recruitment into terrorist groups.

4. Approaches and methods for nurturing values

All categories of school‐based respondents recognised the various curriculum subjects and textbooks to be important carriers of values at both the primary and secondary levels, across counties and school status. The most frequently mentioned subjects for the teaching of values across education levels was Religious Education. It was also singled out as the most effective. Other subjects most mentioned as carrier subjects prioritized at the primary level were Life Skills, History and English/Kiswahili.

At the secondary school level, there was no consensus on whether values were embedded into all subjects, or into all topics in any particular subject, or only in some subjects. In terms of the most useful subject textbooks, there were variations in prioritisation across education levels and counties. Consensus was also missing, both at primary and secondary school levels, on the extent to which the various subjects were used to teach particular values. Respect was mentioned by 12 percent of the learners as a value that was taught across at least 11 curriculum subjects.

The least mentioned values in Religious Education were equity, diversity and inclusiveness. The learners did not mention the teaching of high priority values such as equity, diversity, inclusiveness, integrity and non­‐discrimination, through the curriculum subjects. Similarly, school heads did not identify any subjects through which the values of equity and justice were taught.

Approximately one‐fifth of the secondary school learners prioritised three methods as being effective in teaching and nurturing values in the classroom, namely direct teaching, storytelling and discussions. Teachers singled out storytelling as one of the four methods they used most frequently to teach values in the primary school classrooms. Likewise, a child friendly methodology that was identified by primary school heads as effective in transmitting values across all age groups was use of storytelling and poems.

The majority of survey respondents acknowledged that values were effectively taught through co­‐curricular activities. One in four learners recognised co­‐curricular activities that included music, dance and games, as channels for the transmission of over 20 values. Nevertheless, learners from intervention schools did not perceive these activities to be very effective in transmitting of values such as integrity, diversity, equality and honesty. The transmission of values through co‐curricular activities was altogether absent from mention by their peers in comparison schools.

Teachers in all schools, across counties and school levels asserted that sports and games were the most effective among the co­‐curricular activities in transmitting values, especially through participation in club activities. School heads (primary and secondary) confirmed that games, as well as debates, were effective in nurturing values. Conspicuously missing from values mentioned as being transmitted through the different co‐curricular activities were non­‐discrimination from all schools; justice and freedom from intervention schools and humility and inclusiveness from comparison schools.

All respondents highlighted the use of rewards and punishments to nurture and reinforce positive values. Learners asserted that punishments were frequently used by teachers to instil values of respect and responsibility in both intervention and comparison schools. Teachers maintained that punishments as a method for inculcating values was more effective for all school going age groups (6 – 18). In Mombasa, there was mention of its effectiveness with the pre‐school age group. School heads also confirmed the use of punishment in teaching of values.

Unlike schools, community youth groups tended to be more interactive and used creative methodologies to reach out to their target groups. Families, teachers and religious leaders/institutions were identified as sources of values, both positive and negative. Additionally, the mass media and popular culture were identified also as important sources of values.

Community leaders drew attention to the role of the entire community in bringing up children traditionally. Some informants criticised Government policies that they perceived as being restrictive, like the policies on corporal punishment and children’s rights, disabling them from instilling values of respect, responsibility and discipline in them among others. Starting to nurture values on children when they were still young, and empowering parents and communities to reinforce the values, were two recommendations that emerged from the discussions. A somewhat controversial suggestion was that the policies on child rights in general, and corporal punishment in particular, should be scrapped.


The report concludes that complementarity in targeting is essential for the creation of a nurturing environment, one that is conducive for the teaching and learning of positive values, where desired values are not only “nurtured” in the school or community settings, but the values are continually reinforced through the use of “empowering”, not “oppressive” pedagogies, whether formal, non‐formal or informal. There appeared to be a widespread, albeit mistaken belief that corporal punishment is effective in instilling values of respect and responsibility.

Analysis of the current status of teaching and learning of values in the sampled schools highlights critical gaps in terms of the capacity of adults (school heads, teachers, parents and community members) to understand, communicate, practice and nurture positive values either in themselves or in the children. This suggests an urgent need for building consensus among the key stakeholders on high priority values, developing shared understanding on what the concepts mean, and create awareness on the immediate and long term benefits of “living” values in and out of school. It also underscores the importance of simultaneously developing critical thinking skills, giving space to creativity and initiative not only in learners but in teachers as well.

There was a striking silence on diversity and associated values like non­‐discrimination, inclusiveness, tolerance, equity, equality and justice by teachers, school heads and secondary school learners and the invisibility of these values from the classroom and school processes. From this, one may conclude that currently, public schools in Kwale and Mombasa are not wired to promoting pluralistic ideals embedded in the Kenyan Constitution, policy papers and the reformed curriculum framework. Therefore, in order to achieve the aim of the Aga Khan Foundation’s for project support to the Government of Kenya, which is to facilitate understanding of and promoting the benefits of diversity, it is essential that these values are mainstreamed not only in the intended but also in the taught curriculum and that the gaps between the formal and hidden curriculum are reduced.

Summarised by Jaslika Affiliate Ernest Onguko from the “Value-based Education Baseline Study Report” Commissioned by the Aga Khan Foundation East Africa. Nairobi. December 2017

Related Links:

  1. Presentation by Dr Sheila Wamahiu, Stakeholders Forum in Mombasa on 14 September, 2017.