The report of the National Committee on Educational Objectives and Policies (NCEOP) popularly known as the Gachathi Education Commission report of 1976 has been lauded as the first major step towards the formalisation of moral education in Kenya. In fact, what the report did was to call attention to what had all along been a felt need among Kenyan leaders and educators. The report explicitly called for the teaching of moral education as a separate subject in our public schools. Up till then morality had been taught as a part of religious education. The report denounced this state of affairs and pointed out that the teaching of religion could not effectively serve the needs of morality.1 The report therefore recommended the introduction of a new subject whose specific purpose would be to provide young Kenyans with ethical education and training.2 In so doing the NCEOP was taking a definite departure from the earlier Fraser Educational Commission which had advocated the teaching of religion as the only means of moral education.

The English word "ethics" is derived from the Greek "ethos" which means usage, character, custom, disposition, manners. Ethics is thus generally defined as the scientific or systematic study of morals and is concerned with the analysis of such concepts as "ought", "should", "duty", "moral rules", "right", "wrong", "obligation", "responsibility", etc. Ethics may be regarded as the inquiry into the nature of moral actions, while on a more practical level it is the search for the morally good life. This is the conventional meaning of ethics, a meaning, however, which the NCEOP does not seem to have held consistently. Ethics, according to the NCEOP report includes such things as family life education, environmental issues, and national and international understanding.4 These are matters which would not ordinarily be referred to as strictly ethical in nature. They belong not to the domain of moral education but of social studies. In this respect the NCEOP conception of ethics seems to be significantly broader than the usual conception.

The recommendation of the Gachathi commission have now largely been implemented. With the introduction in 1985 of the 8-4-4 educational system, the direct teaching of social ethics became a reality in Kenyan secondary schools. To what extent is the teaching of social ethics in Kenya today non-partisan and to what extent is it or could it become a vehicle for propaganda, for moralising or indoctrination? And what difference does it make whether young Kenyans are conditioned to behave in a desired manner by means of persuasion, coercion, teaching, moralising, or indoctrination? Does or doesn’t the end justify the means in moral education?

The purpose of this article is to draw a distinction between the concepts of moral education and indoctrination, and to evaluate the current teaching of social education and ethics in Kenya in the light of this distinction. The article is accordingly divided into five parts, namely: The distinction between moral education and related concepts, the aims of the course on social education and ethics, the methods of the new course, its contents, and its evaluation.


Moral education must be clearly distinguished from such activities as moral training, indoctrination, moralising, or moral propaganda. Two of the characteristics which distinguish moral education from these activities are: (1) its objectivity and (2) its dedication to moral methodology.5 Moral education is not a matter of training or instruction in this or that set of moral doctrines. Even though it aims at an important prescriptive function, it does not involve teaching specific rules or codes of behaviour. Moral education is based on the idea that the individual, by means of rational reflection can arrive at those actions, values or attitudes which are considered moral.

The method by which teachers set out to "convert" their students or "sell" their ideas to them is completely alien to the field of moral education. This is so because moral education has little to do with factual or descriptive claims, being rather more concerned with the judgement of values and with rational thinking.6 As such, moral education may be said to be concerned less with right and wrong factual answers and more with right dispositions, attitudes and right reason. Indeed, the best that moral education can do is to teach the student how to reason morally in order to make correct moral decisions and to make him want to abide by those decisions. Understood in this way, moral education differs very significantly from moral training.

Perhaps the main distinction between the two has to do with their goals or aims. Training aims at getting the student to behave in a predetermined manner. It concerns the skills and techniques of achieving a carefully spelt-out goal. Training is concerned with the how rather than the why of things. Being characteristically concerned with the mastery of skills and techniques, training has little interest in reasons. It is more of a know-how than a comprehension. Whereas moral education aims at making the student understand the reasons why a given action is said to be moral or immoral, moral training aims at making students carry out the desired action. It may be said that moral training aims at producing moral conformists or individuals who will exhibit a required mode of behaviour. In this connection, the moral trainer is quite happy with the overt or outward observance of what he regards to be moral rules or principles.

On the contrary, the moral educator is more demanding and expects more than mere obedience or conformity to established rules and maxims. Her ultimate aim is to produce an individual who is morally autonomous. The moral educator will not rest until her subject has become a self-propelling, self-directing, self-governing moral agent. Moral education, like all education implies both comprehension and commitment. It is the presence of these characteristics in one and the absence of them in the other which differentiates moral education from moral training.

Another concept which is related to, but not the same as, moral education is that of moralising. People sometime talk of moral education as if it were some kind of moralising, but this is not accurate. Moralising is the art of criticising the society’s moral practices with the intent to change the moral point of view of the members of that society. The moraliser evaluates the existing code of behaviour, adheres to the accepted moral principles and occasionally modifies such behaviour. On the other hand, the moral educator, who in many cases is a moral philosopher, transcends the values and behaviour of particular societies to address himself to the more general and rational study of the nature of moral concepts and problems.

Nor is moral education akin to moral propaganda. The main difference between the two is that the former proceeds by methods which are rational and morally acceptable while the latter often involves emotional appeals, misrepresentation, distortion and outright lies.7 moral propaganda is the attempt to get a certain moral viewpoint accepted at any cost irrespective of its truth value.

Moral education also differs from indoctrination. R.S. Peters has ably drawn the distinction between being educated and being indoctrinated. He presents the educated man as possessing a high degree of understanding, a sense of commitment to his knowledge, and a cognitive perception. The educated man is therefore not just trained or drilled in a given field. He is a man who respects the evidence and who is committed to the discipline of inquiry and self-criticism. The morally educated person is one who is both willing and able to act in a morally justifiable manner. By contrast, the indoctrinated person tends to repeat standard answers to difficult questions, is only half-committed to the ramifications of his knowledge and reserves to himself some areas of his knowledge which is rationally untouchable, immune to argument and logic. The indoctrinated person having been subjected to instructions comes to the conviction that a given proposition is true without however having any evidence for it.8 The indoctrinated person lacks in comprehension, commitment and in cognitive perception.

Having distinguished between moral education and its related concepts, we shall now concentrate on the activity that goes on in our public schools in the name of moral education. What are our schools doing? Are they really educating our youth in morals or are they subjecting them to moral indoctrination, to propaganda? To be able to answer this question we need to examine not only the concepts of moral education and moral indoctrination but also to compare their aims and methods as well as their content.


We have already referred to the NCEOP’s rather broad conception of ethics. It is therefore not surprising that the official title of the new course is "Social education and ethics." It is clear here that two subjects, that is social studies and ethics have been merged into one. Apparently ethics is now being taught via social studies in the same way that it had earlier been taught via religious education. If that is the case, we are here faced with a contradiction. Basically NCEOP advocated the introduction of ethics as a subject in its own right. But what should ethics "per se" consist in?

The answer to this question would seem to take us right back to the old Socratic question "Can virtue be taught?" In the Platonic dialogues the question is raised whether virtue is something we are born with, is something that can be acquired by taking thought, or can be instilled by the kind of instruction that a father gives his son or a master his pupils. Unfortunately, the dialogues do not give a definite answer to the question of the teachability of virtue. As a matter of fact, the teachability of virtue is a problem that continues to be debated up to our own time. Unfortunately, the NCEOP and the Kenya Ministry of Education do not seem to be alive to this problem. They have throughout operated on the assumption that ethics has a content that can be taught in the same manner as religious education, social studies, literature and mathematics. Now, the question of subject content is so central that it must be among the first considerations in planning to introduce a new subject in the school curriculum.

We contend that the ambiguity in the NCEOP’s conception of ethics is responsible for the contradictions in the committee’s recommendations. While the committee repeatedly calls for the teaching of ethics as a separate subject, it also suggests that such a goal would best be achieved by combining ethics with a subject which covers such social matters as family life education, issues on environment, and matters of national and international understanding.9 Now there is no denying that these issues have some sort of connection with ethics. However, the subjects are not themselves the content of ethics and they are very often taught without any reference to their ethical implications. One wonders why the teaching of ethics should be appended to social studies. What makes social studies a better medium of teaching ethics than religious studies? Why is not social studies taught as one subject and social ethics as another?

The justification of teaching social ethics is beyond the scope of this article whose purpose is to take a closer look at the subject as now established in our secondary schools. As stated in the syllabus10 the aims of the ethics course are to:

* develop a harmonious ethical/moral relationship between the pupil and the home, the school, the neighbourhood, Kenya and other nations;

* appreciate the necessity and dignity of moral education in Kenya and other societies;

* base his [sic] decisions on sound ethical principles as an integral part of his personality development;

* develop a rational attitude and outlook towards life;

* acquire, appreciate and commit himself to the universal values and virtues that cement unity and understanding among various ethnic communities in Kenya;

* rationally sort out conflicts arising from the traditional, extraneous and inner-directed moral values;

* understand and appreciate the social fulfilment and moral rewards accruing from cultivating and adopting virtues and values offered by moral/ethical education.

These are the specific goals of the course. The overall aim is to cultivate "sound ethical behaviour of the individual person, whether alone, or with others at home, school … in the neighbourhood or in a foreign country.11


To a large extent the methods of teaching morals will depend on whether we aim at giving moral education, moral training or moral indoctrination. Indoctrination is sometimes equated with a particular method of teaching. Scheffler has argued that teaching requires the teacher to submit his reasons to the students for their critical evaluation.12

The implication here is that no teaching goes on if the teacher simply "tells" it to the student, or worse if she tries to prevent the student from acquiring any support for her belief. In such a case the teacher does not teach, but indoctrinates. If this is what is meant by indoctrination then we must conclude that indoctrination goes on all the time. The teaching of such subjects as mathematics, chemistry, physics and even languages involves a great deal of factual information for which reasons are not always offered. However, most people would not be bothered by this kind of indoctrination.

The situation changes, however, when we come to subjects which treat of religion, politics and morals. Here, indoctrination is considered a major evil. In the case of moral education the matter is further complicated by the fact that there is no body of facts to be mastered. For this reason also there are no such people as moral experts. For all the other established areas of study there are people who are recognised as specialists or experts qualified to teach their chosen subjects. Not so in the field of moral education. Anyone can teach ethics. That, at any rate, seems to be the official stand of the Kenya Ministry of Education. Considering that "Social education and ethics" is a new subject in the secondary school curriculum the government should have taken steps to prepare teachers and to equip them with the skills appropriate to the teaching of moral education. Instead, what has been done is to assign the teaching of ethics to the first available teacher. In some schools the course has been forced on to the teachers of religion. In other cases, the time allocated for this subject is being used for career counselling and other unrelated activities. It would be interesting to conduct a survey of all the methods being employed in the teaching of social education and ethics. In the absence of such information we can only express our fears that the course as now taught is unlikely to ensure the cultivation of the student’s rational faculty, an aspect so crucial to moral education. It is open to serious doubt whether the methods of teaching social education are suitable to the teaching of ethics. It would appear that while these methods are an effective way of teaching about morals they are incapable of instilling virtue in the learner.


Is moral education a matter of teaching a given set of doctrines, a matter of cultivating relevant skills, or is it a combination of both? In this article we conceive moral education to consist in the training of the student to think rationally and correctly about moral matters. The syllabus of the new ethics course hardly contributes to this goal. The best that the syllabus can expect to achieve is to raise the student’s level of awareness in matters relating to their environment, the community and the outside world. But such an awareness can hardly be called ethical, even though it may no doubt include an element of ethics. It is not the same thing as educating for moral consciousness. Nor can the teaching based on the present syllabus produce autonomous moral beings.

But if our schools are unable to provide moral education, could we perhaps settle for moral training as a second best? In that case, we would expect our schools to turn out students who are properly drilled in and truly committed to a given set of values. Even though these students would not be morally autonomous, they would nevertheless be inclined to lead morally commendable lives as a result of their moral training. But do our public schools in fact provide this "second best?" That is doubtful. The country and hence the educational system lacks commitment to a clearly defined set of moral values. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to produce students who are morally committed to any set of moral beliefs.

Lest the point be misunderstood, we note that over the years there have been many proclamations about "the Kenya we want." There is also what appears to be a co-ordinated effort to promote and enhance the spirit and virtues of the social philosophy commonly called "nyayoism". However, no systematic groundwork has been done on this philosophy and in the final analysis it may be true to say that we lack a clearly defined moral code. But to say that our morals are not properly articulated is not to say that such values are non-existent.

The lack of a single, clearly articulated moral code is due partly to the pluralism of our society. Our society, consisting as it does, of persons of many different races and ethnic groups who, moreover, profess many different religions, does not adhere to a single moral code. The moral beliefs of one group may in fact be in conflict with the moral beliefs of another group. To arrive at a single moral code for the country would therefore be a difficult proposition.


As indicated above, the ultimate aim of moral education is to produce an individual who is morally autonomous. For this reason moral education has to do both with the theoretical knowledge and the practical application of morals. True moral education must insist on the comprehension of moral issues as the necessary prerequisite for the meaningful practice of morality. These two aspects, theory and practice, are wholly integrated in the autonomous moral agent. The morally educated person is one who not only has mastered the theory of morals but has also cultivated the desire, the attitude, the craving to abide by what he considers the moral course of any action. The result of moral education is the marriage of theory and practice. This is also a sure test of the success or failure in any moral education programme.

In the light of what we have said so far, how can we evaluate the effects of social ethics teaching in Kenya? We must admit that such an evaluation is very difficult. In the first place, the course has not been taught long enough to produce any observable results. Secondly, since the ultimate objectives of the course are unclear it is hard to evaluate the extent to which these objectives have been realized. Thirdly, a comprehensive and accurate evaluation of the ethics course must cover not only the theoretical or cognitive dimension, but also the practical aspects. This is by no means an easy task.

Effective evaluation of any educational activity depends largely on the availability of appropriate instruments for measuring success or failure. In moral education the practical aspect of morality is just as important as the cognitive one. However, the emphasis in the teaching of social education and ethics seems to be wholly on cognition. Nothing indicates this more clearly than the fact that the subject is examined in exactly the same way as other subjects, in other words, it is measured in strictly academic terms. The successful candidate is the individual who knows the facts about morality. The good students are the ones who can faithfully repeat what they have been taught in an ethics class. The sole criterion of success in social ethics thus appears to be wholly cognitive. But then, as Ruskin reminds us, education consists not in teaching people what they do not know, but in teaching them to behave as they do not.13

Kenya’s so-called moral education completely overlooks the practical aspects of morality. What justification is there then for calling this activity moral education? Whatever else social education and ethics may be doing, it is certainly not turning out morally autonomous individuals. In spite of the lip service paid to this subject and in spite of its high-sounding objectives, social ethics as presently being taught in our schools does no more than a subject like Kiswahili in producing morally responsible citizens.


The course of social education and ethics as currently being taught in Kenya is neither true moral education nor complete indoctrination. However, there is a danger of it developing into the latter and becoming an instrument of moral and ideological propaganda or indoctrination. Happily, this situation can be arrested by taking prompt action now. To put social ethics and education on the true road of moral education it is necessary to overhaul the existing system and revise the aims, methods and content of the course as well as the instruments for assessing its success or failure. Along with these basic changes we must also identify and train special teachers to handle the subject. Unless this is done we are in the very real danger of succumbing (intentionally or otherwise) to taking the easier option, that of moral indoctrination or propaganda.


1. Republic of Kenya. Report of the National Committee on Educational Objectives and Policies. Nairobi: Government Printer, pp. 6-7.

2. Ibid., p. 9.

3. Cf. P.A. Angeles. Dictionary of philosophy, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1982, p. 9.

4. Recommendation 12, p. 9.

5. John Wilson. "Moral education: retrospect and prospect." In Journal of moral education 9 (1) 1979: 3.

6. Not all moral philosophers ascribe to this view. Emotivists and existentialists either ignore or altogether deny the rational features of morality.

7. I.A. Snook. Indoctrination and education. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972, pp. 106-107.

8. A.C. Davey. "Education or indoctrination". In Journal of moral education. 2 (1) 1972: 7.

9. Republic of Kenya. Report of the NCEOP, p. 9.

10. Republic of Kenya. Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. "Social education and ethics syllabus for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education," p. 3.

11. Ibid., p. 1.

12. I. Scheffier. The Language of education. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1960, p. 57.

13. Quoted in R.W. Livingstone. The rainbow-bridge and other essays in education. London: Pallman Press, 1959, p. 151.

Last Revised 09-Feb-09 10:36 AM.