From Malaysia to America: Community-Based Character Education for Children and Youth

By Haslip, Meishi Lim; Haslip, Michael J. | Childhood Education, September-October 2013 | Go to article overview
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From Malaysia to America: Community-Based Character Education for Children and Youth

Haslip, Meishi Lim, Haslip, Michael J., Childhood Education

This article shares lessons learned from the implementation of a community-based character education program in Malaysia. The program at Jenjarom Learning Center is directed toward the transformation and empowerment of local children and youth through moral and character education. The stated purpose of the program has been to awaken the brilliance and dignity inherent in every child through increased awareness of self-worth, concern for fairness and harmony, and commitment to service-learning. The authors describe the program's work to develop positive character traits, eloquence, and knowledge among junior youth to become active agents of social change, and discuss how its components may be adapted according to sociocultural contexts. The article emphasizes the implications of character education in building an enlightened civilization in the middle of sweeping changes brought about by expanding internationalization.



In 1997, six children were organized in a weekly class in the small town of Jenjarom, Malaysia (pop. 30,000), taught by the first author and located in parents' living rooms. Gradually, more classes were created, consecutive grades were added, curricula were adopted, and a recognizable program for the transformation of children and youth was established. By 2006, the program's primary administrator had received the Outstanding Young Malaysian Award for leadership of a moral or religious nature. By 2010, a new building, the Jenjarom Learning Center, was opened for the community with classrooms, offices, and meeting halls. The program currently serves approximately 200 students from early childhood through adolescence, using materials developed by the Ruhi Institute, a nonprofit educational institute.

The mission of the program is individual and community transformation through moral and character education and empowerment, implemented through songs, stories, games, discussion, and service projects. The first author and her family started the initial children's classes, later adding a youth empowerment program, and learned first-hand about the difficulties and successes involved in organizing and expanding a community-based education system. As children progressed through the program on a weekly basis, parents began to see a change in their behavior at home, as well as improved study skills and academic success at school. This article describes the character education program in Malaysia, and adapts the lessons learned into strategies for implementation elsewhere (PK-8).

Purpose of Character Development in Malaysia

Character is defined as a "moral force" and as the "combination of traits and qualities distinguishing the individual nature of a person" (Collins English Dictionary, 2009). It is actively expressed through service, founded on a decision to promote the interests of the other. By acting beyond self-interest, people discover higher expressions of their nobility in meeting the needs of others. Character has numerous expressions, each of which takes the name of a certain virtue, attribute, or trait. Trustworthiness, courtesy, and fairness easily come to mind. A wide literature describes various virtues commonly associated with character education (Lickona, 2004).

The purpose of the character development program in Malaysia is to awaken the inherent nobility and dignity of every child, by exposing them to their own capacity to be excellent and to act in service to others. Exposure to one's own goodness is true happiness, because of the inherent satisfaction that accompanies purposeful, helpful living. Children learn that genuine happiness lies in a helpful and cooperative spirit, while fostering their natural concern for fairness and harmony. Through character education programs, personal choices become more clear, purposeful, and helpful to society and oneself. Such character growth is a lifelong process of perfecting and expressing one's nobility.

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From Malaysia to America: Community-Based Character Education for Children and Youth


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