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Values education

  • Introduction
  • Activity 1
  • Activity 2
  • Activity 3
  • Reflection


The values and attitudes we live by affect how we relate to other people and to all our activities in the environment, and so are a major influence on our prospects for achieving a sustainable future.

Although they cannot be separated from cognitive understanding, values and attitudes relate to the affective (or emotional) dimension of human behaviour. While values and attitudes are similar in this regard, they differ in several important ways.

  • Values are generally long-term standards or principles that are used to judge the worth of an idea or action. They provide the criteria by which we decide whether something is good or bad, right or wrong.
  • Attitudes predispose us to respond in particular ways to people and events. They are not so deeply felt as values and quite often change as a result of experience.

This module provides an opportunity to consider the importance of human values and attitudes in shaping the future. It also provides ideas and examples for two categories of strategies for exploring values in the classroom – values clarification and values analysis.


  • To develop an understanding of values education strategies;
  • To consider the relation between values and personal behaviour affecting the achievement of sustainable futures;
  • To reflect on your futures awareness, commitment and actions; and
  • To develop skills for using values clarification and values analysis in teaching.


  1. The Elephant Dilemma
  2. Towards an ethic of sustainability
  3. Values education strategies
  4. Reflection


Gardner, R., Cairns, J. and Lawton, D. (2003) Education for values: morals, ethics and citizenship in contemporary teaching, Routledge.

Halstead, J.M. and Pike, M.A. (2006) Citizenship and moral education: values in action, Routledge.

IUCN, WWF and UNEP (1991) Caring for the Earth, WWF, IUCN, WWF and UNEP, Gland.

Kelly, T.E. (1986) Discussing controversial issues: Four perspectives on the teacher’s role, Theory and Research in Social Education, XIV(2), pp. 113-138.

Noddings, N. (1992) The Challenge To Care In Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, New York.

Orr, D. (1992) Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World, State University of New York Press, Albany

Reich, B and Pivovarov, V. (eds) (1994) International Practical Guide on the Implementation of the Recommendation Concerning Education for International Understanding (*.pdf download), UNESCO, Paris.

UNESCO (1998) Learning to Live Together in Peace and Harmony, UNESCO – APNIEVE Sourcebook for Teacher Education and Tertiary Zone Educators, UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok.

UNESCO (2000) The Practice of Citizenship, Associated Schools Project, UNESCO, Paris.

Wringe, C. (2006) Moral education: beyond the teaching of right and wrong, Springer.


This module was written for UNESCO by Bernard Cox, Margaret Calder and John Fien using materials and activities developed by Angelina Galang, Jose Camagun, Edith de la Cruz, Saras Reddy and Debbie Heck in Learning for a Sustainable Environment (UNESCO – ACIED).

The Elephant Dilemma

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

The module commences with an opportunity to review a range of different values about animal conservation through a case study of The Elephant Dilemma in Africa.

In 1979, there was over 1.3 million elephants in Africa. By 1995 this had shrunk to between 300,000 and 600,000 with 80% of the elephants in eastern Africa lost. Increases in human numbers, and the expansion of their activities into the elephant’s range were key factors in this. However, the age-old problem of elephant poaching to meet the worldwide demand for ivory, has been the major cause of this disastrous decline in elephant numbers.

Alarmed by the rate of elephant poaching, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned all trade in ivory and other elephant products in 1990.

However, the conservation of the African elephant is a complex wildlife management issue. With better anti-poaching measures and strict trade bans in place, elephant numbers grew rapidly in some areas. However, the area of land available to them remained restricted. This has had a major effect on the biodiversity of local ecosystems and a range of new management strategies introduced, such as culling elephant numbers and removing some to other territories.

Culling is a controversial management practice. Some say that it is cruel to kill such a beautiful and majestic animal. However, others are concerned about the deteriorating condition of ecosystems where there are too many elephants and by the damage to farm crops that is increasingly becoming a problem.

And what should governments do with the stockpile of ivory from elephants that are culled? Many of these countries have low levels of national income and have argued that it is unfair to stop them from earning money from exporting their legally gathered ivory stores.

Read more about WWFs African Elephant Programme including a species action plan.

At the April 2000 Conference of the Parties to CITES, (ie. the countries who have signed the CITES Convention) decisions were made to slightly relax the trade ban on elephants to try to reduce the number of elephants in a controlled way and enable African countries to earn some income from ivory exports.

Q1: Imagine you were a journalist at the April 2000 Conference of the Parties to CITES. Identify three types of persons you would need to interview in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of different viewpoints on the Elephant Dilemma.

Q2: Make a list of (i) three arguments for and (ii) three arguments against relaxing the international ban on trade in ivory and other elephant products.

Q3: What beliefs about (i) animal rights, (ii) economic development, and (iii) social development lie behind these contrasting views?

Towards an ethic of sustainability

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

A sustainable future depends upon people living according to values and principles of sustainability, including:

  • Social Equity and Peace
  • Appropriate Development
  • Conservation
  • Democracy

These values reflect the four dimensions of a sustainable future.

Review the way these four dimensions are integrated into the ethical principles in the Earth Charter.

Ethics and Sustainability

Changing our lifestyles and the way our social institutions operate so that they reflect these values will require the co-ordinated efforts of all of us – and time. The next few decades are crucial in this respect.

Only an ethic of sustainability can change the basic relationships that people have with the Earth and with each other. Lifestyles are a matter of the choices we make and our values. But individuals, groups and societies are often divided over which values to choose. This is especially true when the resources that support life are limited and there are competing demands for them.

Ethics help resolve such conflicts. By pointing out what is right and what is most worthwhile, ethics encourage people to think about the most important issues involved in their choices.

Ethics do not give easy answers to the dilemmas of life, but they can encourage people to choose the options that serve the best interests of others as well as themselves. Ethics can also motivate people to make the sacrifices such choices often require.

In a world of limited resources, conflicting values, and competing individuals and groups, an ethic of sustainability can help the way human beings learn to co-operate with each other and the rest of nature for the mutual well-being of all.

Ethics are, therefore, essential for sustainability. Every society that has treated the land and its citizens well has had a responsible ethic of sustainability. What is unprecedented today with emerging trends towards globalisation is the need for such an ethic to be more widely understood and practised.

A responsible ethic of sustainability provides values or principles that guide our relationships with each other (social justice) and with the Earth (conservation). A sample ethic of sustainability has been suggested by a partnership between the three major conservation groups in the world, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The values in this ethic include:

Social Justice [Click to read more]

  • Basic human needs
  • Intergenerational equity
  • Human rights
  • Democracy

Conservation [Click to read more]

  • Interdependence
  • Biodiversity
  • Living lightly
  • Interspecies equity

Q4: Identify the three values in the suggested ethic of sustainability that are most significant to you.

Q5: Explain why you chose these three.

Q6: List the actions you presently do (or could start doing) to improve the chance of achieving a sustainable future in your community – and the values that are guiding you in this.

Values education strategies

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Many of the social, economic and environmental issues that must be explored when teaching about sustainable futures can be controversial. This is because these issues reflect contrasting values and often cause disputes and controversy in the community. This can sometimes place teachers in a difficult situation.

However, to choose to ignore such issues just because they are controversial would be unprofessional. As David Orr has written:

The crisis of sustainability, the fit between humanity and its habitat, is manifest in varying ways and degrees everywhere on Earth. It is not only a permanent feature on the public agenda; for all practical purposes it is the agenda … Sustainability is about the terms and conditions of human survival, and yet we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed …

Source: Orr, D. (1992) Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World, State University of New York Press, Albany, pp. 83, 145.

Principles for Teaching about Values-Laden Issues

The challenge for teachers is to develop principles for dealing with values-laden issues in a professional and ethical way. Such principles would acknowledge that avoiding values and controversy when teaching about sustainability is neither desirable nor possible. They would also provide guidance for adopting a positive and optimistic approach to teaching controversial issues with an emphasis on the use of critical thinking skills.

Identify the principles that you follow when teaching about value-laden issues, and compare them with the rankings given to these principles by other teachers.

Q7: When you have finished this interaction answer the following questions:

  • How do your rankings differ from the average of the other teachers?
  • Are the differences of any significance?
  • Do they relate to your personal philosophy of teaching or, perhaps, to the contexts in which you teach?
  • Are there any principles that you might want to ‘push-up’ your ranking as a result of seeing what other teachers think? Which one(s)? Why?

Applying Values Education Principles

Several techniques for teaching about value-laden issues have been developed. Two important ones are values clarification and values analysis. This activity provides practice in these techniques and ideas for using them in your teaching.

Values Clarification

Values guide our decisions as to what is good, true and right. Thus, they depend as much on our feelings as on our thoughts.

Values clarification is a technique for encouraging students to relate their thoughts and their feelings and thus enrich their awareness of their own values.

This activity illustrates one values clarification strategy – a values grid.

A Values Grid

A values grid helps students clarify the degree of commitment they feel to different issues.

Q8: To practise this values clarification technique, begin by making a list of three issues or questions that are of concern to you.

Examples could be:

  • Should the parkland close to the centre of the city be re-developed to house landless people from nearby rural areas?
  • Should girls receive equal educational opportunities to boys?
  • To what extent should governments give financial incentives to overseas companies to encourage them to invest in local industries?

Q9: How strongly are you committed to resolving these issues? Complete the table in your learning journal to describe the extent of your commitment.

Values Analysis

Where values clarification guides reflection on personal moral dilemmas, values analysis is commonly used with social issues that involve many people and viewpoints.

Thus, values analysis is a way of helping students examine other people’s values as well as their own. It requires the use of logical thinking skills to analyse different viewpoints about an issue.

A case study of a proposal to develop a copper mine on a small island in the South Pacific is used to illustrate how values analysis enables students to review the positions held by various stakeholders in a controversial issue.

There are four steps in values analysis:

  1. Analysing the issue
  2. Assessing consequences for stakeholders
  3. Analysing stakeholders’ perspectives
  4. Making a decision

Analysing the Issue

Q10: Read the background information on the proposed Isoman mine and answer the following questions.

  • What are the potential products of the Isoman mine?
  • What were the results of the feasibility study?
  • Identify some of the groups of people interested in, or affected by, the development of the mine.

See a sample list of groups (stakeholders).

Assessing Consequences for Stakeholders

Read a summary of newspaper reports on the responses of some stakeholders to the proposed mine.

Q11: Compare the situations in the Isoman and Taranga mines.

Analysing Stakeholders’ Perspectives

Issues arise when different people have reasoned – but opposing – views about the same matter. It can help the resolution of an issue if a careful analysis is made of stakeholder’s opinions.

Q12a: Summarise the viewpoints of the following three stakeholders:

Q12b: Summarise the views of the remaining groups of stakeholders.

See a summary of stakeholders’ perspectives.

Making a Decision

Imagine you are the Minister for Minerals and Energy, and you have a firm commitment to the values of sustainability: peace and equity, appropriate development, democracy and conservation.

While you need to consider the views of all stakeholders, you should remember that not all of the stakeholders are equally powerful. Which stakeholders are the most influential? Why? Which stakeholders might have difficulty communicating their views to you? Why? What could you do to encourage wide participation in decision making?

Will you allow the mine to be developed or not?

Q13: Write the text of the speech you will make in parliament to announce your decision on the issue.

Make sure that your speech summarises the advantages and disadvantages of the options you are considering and the key reasons for your decision.


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Values education aims to achieve two basic outcomes:

  • Helping students to better understand the values that guide their own daily lives, and
  • Contributing to changes in values held collectively by communities and personally by individuals.

In Education for Sustainable Development, the direction of this change is toward increased understanding, tolerance and fairness toward other humans (through social equity, peace and democracy) and toward sustainability in the use of resources drawn from the natural environment (through appropriate development and conservation).

Q14: Identify eight key values that you believe can contribute to achieving a sustainable future.

Q15: Outline how the Isoman Copper Mine exercise (or a similar issue – perhaps one in your own country) could be adapted to use with a class you teach.