Values literacy

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Marvin A. Tort


Values literacy

What caught my eye recently was a news item in this paper regarding financial literacy, particularly the present efforts of the government and the financial sector to introduce or incorporate it in the K-12 curriculum in public and private schools. The effort, according to the report, also includes producing learning materials and teaching guides for schools.

There is also an outreach program — through a partnership of Bangko Sentral, Visa, Teach for the Philippines, and Tanghalang Pilipino — to educate students and teachers on how to spend money wisely. In a statement, Stuart Tomlinson, Visa Country Manager for the Philippines and Guam, says the program aim “is to reach out to more students through theater production, and also empower teachers to introduce financial literacy into their teaching curriculum.”

I commend these programs and support them. I believe these efforts can help provide a good foundation for future generation with respect to understanding money matters, investments, and perhaps the use of credit and even the importance of insurance. And, of course, we cannot overemphasize the importance of savings.

Spending wisely, I believe, is an important element to promoting the productive and efficient use of money. Money is a tool, a means to an end. Those who use it wisely can achieve significant results, whether or not for personal gain. However, spending wisely is dependent not only on financial literacy. More important than this, in my opinion, is values literacy.

Finance and its importance can be taught, in one way or the other, even to young children. Indeed, we should start them young. We should give them leeway to “handle” money and to understand its importance and value; to transact and to count what is paid and whatever is returned as change; and, to prioritize spending and to save.

My son’s school started with the use of “play” money as early as Grade 1, and then gradually moved to students counting real coins and familiarizing themselves with bills. Part of the Math subject every year involves money and its counting. They are made to add and subtract bills, and taught how to make change.

As an aside, the present K-12 curriculum is far more “complicated” than what I grew up with. Concepts are repeatedly taught each year, like in Mathematics, but progressively. The basic concepts for addition, for example, are started in Kinder and then progressively become more complex over the years.

In the case of my son, very basic addition was taught in Kinder, which progressed to three- to four-digit addition by Grade 2. By Grade 3, children are adding or subtracting up to the ten-thousands. Fractions are also taken up as early as Grade 1, then some basic concepts of geometry like area and perimeter — and how to compute them — are already taken up in Grade 2.

Multiplication and Division — also taught as repeated addition or repeated subtraction, also start early. Thus, by Grade 3, children can multiply three- to four-digit numbers. In my case, multiplication didn’t start until Grade 5, while Geometry was taught in High School. And, I don’t recall ever studying anything about money in elementary school.


I can only presume that given the standardized curriculum, the public schools also follow this same track. This is crucial considering that for the academic year 2017–2018, some published data indicate that about 83% of K–12 students nationwide attended public schools, and only about 17% either attended private schools or were home-schooled. I don’t have 2018-2019 data on hand.

But, going beyond the K-12 curriculum, and financial literacy, I also believe that “values literacy” plays an even more important role in educating our young and preparing them for the future. And by this, I refer to what experts call “social and emotional capacities.” Most people make decisions on everyday things, make judgments, not mainly on what or how they think, but on what and how they feel and believe.

“’Values literacy’ is about understanding a wide spectrum of values and being able to choose and apply appropriate values within different contexts in real-life situations. We can learn to use values to think, make choices and behave in ways that help us to live authentically and so enrich our own lives and contribute to the happiness and wellbeing of all living things and the long-term health and beauty of our planet,” notes Rosemary Dewan, Chief Executive of the Human Values Foundation.

What some of us may have encountered as “values formation” in the past is referred to as “values literacy” nowadays. Perhaps it was an attempt to be politically correct, given the negative connotation associated with “formation” or the need to be “reformed.” But, whatever you call it, I believe that introducing the concept of values in school particularly to children is important.

And by values to be taught in school I don’t mean values that are necessarily based on religion or a belief system, but should be seen as something universal like the concepts of respect, courtesy, and discipline, among others. Children should be made to realize that they live in a big and complex world, and they are not in the center of it.

Recall how one regime in the past focused primarily on “discipline?” It promoted the national tagline, “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.” In my opinion, however, it goes beyond self-discipline. What I perceive to be severely lacking now is a strong “sense of others.” Many of us have simply become inconsiderate, as we opt to think mainly only of ourselves, with little care as to how our actions or decisions affect others.

The world is big, and we are only 100 million out of billions on the planet. In the same line, Metro Manila residents are only about 15 million out of 100 million Filipinos in the country. In our own respective communities, we still have to learn to live with other people and to go beyond thinking only of ourselves and attending to our needs.

We need greater effort to go beyond knowledge and learning and to emphasize also values in school and at home, particularly promoting the importance of a strong “sense of others” in our everyday lives. It is great that many can be generous to others during calamities and in times of need. But, “sense of others” goes way beyond this.

We need to start thinking more about other people, and how our decisions and actions in everyday life impact on them. We don’t need too many laws or rules to govern our lives. But we do need strong values to help us “think, make choices, and behave” in ways that will always also benefit other people and not just ourselves.


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of Businessworld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council