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University of Basel

Key values for school children

One child helps another get up after falling off his bike.
“To help others” is at the top of primary school children's list of values that are important to them. (Illustration: Andrea Blauensteiner)

The values that matter most to primary school children are safety and the well-being of others. Teachers, meanwhile, also want to cultivate self-direction – in the same way that the Swiss curriculum aims to do. These are the initial findings of an extensive study conducted by the Institute for Educational Sciences to explore how values are taught in schools.

18 October 2022 | Yvonne Vahlensieck

One child helps another get up after falling off his bike.
“To help others” is at the top of primary school children's list of values that are important to them. (Illustration: Andrea Blauensteiner)

Our values shape every aspect of our lives. “They affect our relationships, happiness, well-being and, not lastly, how we go about our everyday lives,” says Professor Dr. Elena Makarova, Director of the Institute for Educational Sciences at the University of Basel. In addition to their lives at home with their parents, the school plays a key role in how children develop their own values.

Still, quite little is known about whether and how values are taught in the classroom. A long-term study conducted under the leadership of Dr. Makarova aims to close this knowledge gap. Now that the researchers have completed the main task of collecting data, they have presented their initial findings. They have shown which values are most important to primary school children in Switzerland and which value-related educational goals teachers want to cultivate.

Well-being of others at the top of the list

For the project, doctoral students Ricarda Scholz-Kuhn and Thomas Oeschger visited 97 school classes in 59 primary schools in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. With the help of other students, they asked more than 1,200 children several times over the course of two years what values mattered most to them. To illustrate abstract concepts, the children were shown drawings. “Conformity”, for instance, was illustrated by a picture of a child waiting at a crossing for the light to change; “achievement” was depicted with a cheering athlete standing on a podium. According to Scholz-Kuhn, this method, which was developed by other researchers, was quite effective. “”The use of pictures enable children to understand the value pictures, which is important at this young age due to the heterogenous level of reading skills.”

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