Character building can be practical

Dr. Willy Susilo, S.Pd, MBA. | Friday, 29/05/2015 14:46 WIB

It is understandable that Indonesian universities must take a more serious stance and actions with regard to character education to help overcome the chronic problems with integrity that are prevalent in the country. Aside from the benefits for the general society, better character education in universities will also have a positive direct impact on the institutions themselves.

A recent study in UK by Arthur, Wilson, Godfrey, Gray dan Newton (2009) involving prominent companies (British Telecom and Pricewaterhouse, DTZ and Tesco), professors and students from reputable universities (University of Cambridge, Christ Church University, City University, and University of Essex) confirmed that employers prefer employees who are not only well-informed and competent but also people of integrity, who are trustworthy, responsible, loyal, courageous, committed to lifelong learning and willing to take critiscm without resentment. There is a good deal of evidence that attention to character building improves employability of university graduates.

Despite the significant benefits of character education, educators are often confronted with a seemingly conflicting choice: spending more time on developing competence or on building character. That impression might be caused by the limited amount of time that lecturers have to deliver an extensive amount of contents, especially when they deal with difficult or highly technical subject matters. Despite the pressure, the above mentioned UK study also revealed that such a notion may not be entirely true. Character education in fact has a positive effect on academic performance (Arthur, et al, 2009, p. 11). Building competence and shaping character are not a trade-off but can be mutually reinforcing.

There are several other important research findings that can help universities implement character education:

  1. Most students already have developed predisposition toward certain values and character when they enter universities. However, they can develop their value system further mainly by interacting with various perspectives held by the professors, peers, and other people they meet in the university.
  2. Character can not develop in vacuum. Campbell and Bonds (1982) proposed the following factors that shape someone’s character: heredity, early childhood experience, modelling by important adults and older youth, peer influence, general physical and social environment, communication media, education, or other specific situations.
  3. Lecturing and moralizing are not the most effective methods for character education. The better approach should be more participative, and would include things like encouraging discussions with and among students concerning aspects of school life and how to interact with other people in appropriate manner, developing community service projects to help students develop a sense of responsibility, guiding students in playing role in decision making, involving parents and communities, etc (Antes and Norton, 1994).

Character does not automatically improve toward maturity and virtues as people age. It is developed in levels and stages (Kohlberg, 1984). At the preconvention level, children adopt their parents’ values due to the hierarchy and authorities that parents have over their children. At the convention level, children and young adults become more mature and are able to make some judgments, internalize certain value systems, and demonstrate certain behaviors that are consistent with the value system even in the absence of rewards, punishments, or supervision. At the post-convention level, adults can hold certain moral values very strongly and stand up to their principles even under oppositions from others.

The multistage character and moral development has a very important implication. Even though research shows that students already have a set of values and character when they enter universities, there is still a significant room to help university students further develop their moral competence, possibly to a level where they can withstand the pressure coming from an environment that has a different (or corrupt) value system. That simply means that character education is relevant for all levels of education, from elementary up to tertiary education.

Universities hold the responsibility to become an educator of moral and ethics, as there is no such a neutral education. Not sufficiently teaching moral, character and virtues, may send the message to the students that ‘skills are all that matter and character is not that important’.

Indonesian universities must exert more intentional and comprehensive efforts to develop positive characterin their students. It should be much more than just courses on Professional Ethics, Pancasila, or Civics (Kewarganegaraan). As experienced by Institut Teknologi Harapan Bangsa (ITHB) in Bandung, thoughtful character education that revolves around broad stakeholder involvement (students, lecturers, staff, parents, communities, employers), genuine and caring relationships among lecturers and students, as well as role modeling by staff and lecturers, on top of the mandatory  course on Charater and Core Skills, prove to produce certain qualities in its graduates.

In line with the research findings, several employers indicated that the main reason for the companies to repeatedly come and recruit from ITHB is the distinctive qualities that characterize its alumni. According to them, Harapan Bangsa alumni can work effectively, and often better than average fresh graduates, due to their sufficient qualifications (level of education and professional certification), demonstrated practical competence, and generally better attitudes, interpersonal skills, humility, trustworthiness, responsibility, and passion to learn.


Arthur, J.; Wilson, K.; Godfrey, R.; Gray, B.; and Newton, N. (2009). Values and Character: Higher Education and Employment, Graduates of Character, University of Birmingham.

Campbell, V.; & Bond, R. (1982). Evaluation of a Character Education Curriculum. In D. McClelland (ed.), Education for Values. New York: Irvington Publishers.

Kohlberg, L. (1984). Essays on Moral Development, Vol 2: The Psychology of Moral Development. San Francisco: Harper & Row.