Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Teaching Moral Education in Secondary Schools Using Real-Life Dilemmas

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posted on 2021-11-09, 18:48 authored by Balakrishnan, Vishalache

The purpose of this study is to contribute to contemporary debates about alternative ways of teaching Moral Education (ME) in Malaysia by including the voice of students. ME in the Malaysian setting is both complex and compulsory. This study explores alternatives to the current somewhat dated approach. It seeks to discover what young adolescents describe as moral dilemmas, how they approach them and what they find useful in resolving these moral problems. The research is founded on a modified version of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), extended to suit the multicultural, multiethnic Malaysian setting, and here called the Zone of Collaborative Development (ZCD). This study uses qualitative research methodology consisting of a modified framework of participatory action research (PAR) as the methodological framework. Data was gathered for textual analysis through a modified form of participant observation, focus group transcripts, interviews, and student journals. The research trials a process of resolving reallife moral dilemmas in the ME classroom. It critically analyses the types of reallife moral dilemmas that a selected group of secondary students face. It also indicates the moral choices they make and the moral orientations they use. Participants in this study were 22 16-17 year old adolescents from three different types of secondary schools in a Form Four ME classroom in Malaysia. They were from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but within a nonMuslim community of students. ME in Malaysia (MEM) is designed to cater for this group while Muslim students study Islamic Studies. Findings show that students were concerned about moral issues and values not covered in the current ME curriculum. The moral dilemmas that they identified were relational and context dependent. Multiple factors contributed to the problems they described. These factors included national legislation, Malaysian culture, ethnicity, and religion as well as the effects of history, in particular the Japanese occupation. Students named autonomy, self and mutual respect, trust, freedom, and tolerance as main conflicting themes in their reallife moral dilemmas. They found their peers helpful in providing support, advice, and direction. Students also appear to find the process trialled in the research interesting, interactive/collaborative, meaningful, and reflective. The analysis also shows that the respondents' moral choices were influenced by parents, culture, religion, utilitarianism, collaboration, and friendship, within a strong carebased approach. However, moral pluralism was also evident in the findings in cases where participants made decisions based on care and justice interchangeably. The study suggests that including students' voices in MEM in this way might better engage students' interest, whilst at the same time contributing to intercultural tolerance and understanding.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Studies


Cornforth, Sue; Claiborne, Lise