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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 104-112

Effectiveness of moral development program for high school adolescents in South India: A matched controlled design


1 Infinitheism Spiritual Foundation Private Limited, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Psychiatric Social Work, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission25-Jan-2022
Date of Acceptance03-Oct-2022
Date of Web Publication10-Nov-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr, Aarti Jagannathan
Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru - 560 029, Karnataka
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijoyppp.ijoyppp_16_22

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  Abstract 


Background: Adolescence is a phase where one attempts to gain clarity on strengths, weakness, and resources. This article aims to test the effectiveness of a culturally sensitive moral development program for high school adolescents in South India. Methods: One hundred and twenty English-speaking adolescents, aged 14–17 years, were provided a 3-week program titled “Infini14,” a moral development program. The adolescents were divided into 3 groups of 40 each matched on age, gender, and education: (1) Infini14, (2) growth magazine and videos, and (3) control group. All adolescents were assessed at baseline; at the end of the 3 weeks; and at the end of the 3 months on variables of self-esteem, food habits, coping, and personality. Results: Repeated measures analysis of variance showed a significant improvement in self-esteem, food habits, positive coping, negative coping, and personality over the period of 3 months in the intervention group as compared to the other two groups. Bivariate correlation at baseline depicted that the duration of following a spiritual and/or religious path was significantly positively correlated with self-esteem; the age of the adolescents was negatively correlated and parents' education was positively correlated with their food habits. Conclusions:Infini14” is an effective program for adolescents to develop self-esteem, coping skills, health, and personality.

Keywords: Adolescents, coping, health, moral development, personality, self-esteem


How to cite this article:
Bisani S, Jagannathan A. Effectiveness of moral development program for high school adolescents in South India: A matched controlled design. J Appl Conscious Stud 2022;10:104-12

How to cite this URL:
Bisani S, Jagannathan A. Effectiveness of moral development program for high school adolescents in South India: A matched controlled design. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 8];10:104-12. Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2022/10/2/104/360861




  Introduction Top


Adolescence is considered a period of “stress and stress” (Hashmi, 2013). Research has depicted that the “storm and stress” is experienced in the form of biological challenges, cognitive challenges, and psychological challenges (Cameron, 2004; Compas et al., 1993; Yurgelun-Todd, 2007). According to Eric Erikson, the developmental psychologist, in spite of these developmental challenges, adolescence is a phase where the adolescent attempts to gain clarity on his strengths, weakness, and resources to help reduce role diffusion and identity confusion. The search for personal identity, philosophy, and ideology helps an adolescent develop his/her self-concept (Erikson, 1959) and find answers to questions such as “Who Am I,” and “Where am I going?” (Muuss, 1975). Researchers have discussed about the distinctive qualities of moral life and the influences that shape moral development during adolescence (Hart & Carlo, 2005), a sensitive period when they make great intuitive leaps and exhibit eagerness and intensity to learn (Riciputi et al., 2016).

Moral development can be defined as the process that helps adolescents form a progressive sense of what is right and wrong, proper and improper (Dorough, 2011). Indian culture and philosophy has depicted varied instances in the scriptural texts where moral and value constructs have been used akin to psychotherapeutic constructs for dealing with emotions and for development of a human being (Bhide et al., 2021). In the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred Hindu text), Lord Krishna helps resolve Arjuna's (the warrior) mental conflicts and moral dilemmas through the process akin to a psychological intervention (Bhatia et al., 2013). Karma and reincarnation are two concepts from the Upanishads that allow one to become self-aware (improving one's personality). In terms of emotions, the Rig Veda acknowledges both positive and negative emotions (coping). The Yajur Veda shows the importance of self-esteem and self-worth and allows one to be in a space where he or she is able to be creative, engaged, and happy. A 10-day residential yoga-based personality development program for adolescents in India has shown significant improvements in their emotional intelligence, emotional regulation and anger management, self-efficacy, fine motor coordination, cognition, and personality (Choukse et al., 2018; Das et al., 2016; Patil & Nagendra, 2014).

A number of life skills programs have been developed and conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, for adolescents and children in difficult circumstances (Bharath & Kumar, 2008; Vranda & Rao, 2011) with the goal to develop psychosocial competence of the adolescents. Life skills program has also been observed to improve the dietary behavior in adolescents (Anand et al., 2015). In the past decade, building the innate strengths of the adolescents has gained focus in the field of school psychology (Jimerson et al., 2004). Character strength is seen to contribute to positive classroom behavior, in turn enhancing school achievement (Wagner & Ruch, 2015). Research depicts a strong association between character strengths, subjective well-being, and middle school adjustment among adolescents (Shoshani & Slone, 2013). Changes in interpersonal and intrapersonal strengths have been observed post participation in the 4-H mentoring program for youth with below-average school performance, poor social skills, and/or weak family bonds (Higginbotham et al., 2010). Further, strength-based school counseling programs are observed to help improve school climate, student social functioning, and academic motivation and achievement (Akos & Galassi, 2008; Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008; Dixon & Tucker, 2008; Waters, 2011).

The above review shows that there are no studies that have focused on testing the feasibility or effectiveness of a moral development program for school or adolescents' children. Most of the studies have focused on strengths interventions, life skills, or yoga intervention to develop psychosocial competencies. The importance of developing a culturally sensitive moral development intervention (with anecdotes from Indian folklore and history) for adolescents, is to help them develop psychosocial competencies such as positive self-concept, face challenges, and imbibe appropriate values through the process of development. In response to the above need, “Infini14” a culturally adapted moral development program was developed by Infinitheism – a path that inspires breakthroughs and fosters the holistic development of children, adolescents, and adults in all spheres of human endeavor – spiritual, emotional, and material (www.infinitheism.com). The program content was conceptualized by the founder of the path – Mahatria Ra and developed by a team of professionals working in the field of adolescent development. The team tested the feasibility of this intervention in four to five groups of adolescents (n = 32 in each group) to modify and finalize the program. An iterative process of program development was adopted where changes were made in the length of sessions and methodology based on the feedback obtained from the adolescent's post each of the initial sessions. The final program comprised a framework with moral and value constructs from Indian culture and philosophy and was developed in English language. The content of the program alluded to stories from different cultures without any religious underpinnings, thus catering to the multicultural and multireligious backgrounds of the adolescents. It helped adolescents reflect on the “right and/or wrong ways to feel like a hero,” be mindful and discuss values to develop one's self-image, self-belief, and positive relationships. The program consisted of nine sessions [delivered on 3 days a week for 3 weeks; [Table 1]], each session lasting of 3 h each. The trainers of this program were provided prior training in the content and delivery methodologies and supervised by senior trainers via mock training sessions and observations in real-time sessions. The current study tests the effectiveness of this culturally adapted moral development program in a sample of English-speaking urban high school adolescents in South India. In this study, “moral development” is operationally defined as the ability to inculcate an understanding of “right and wrong” in thinking, behavior through Indian fables, stories from famous Indian personalities, etc., to bring out desired psychosocial outcomes in adolescents.
Table 1: Infini14 intervention program

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  Methods Top


The research protocol was reviewed and approved for Ethical Standards (Human Subjects Approval) independently by the Educational Committees of both the schools (NSN Group of Schools Education Committee and SCS Educational Trust). The study was also approved and registered under the Indian Council of Medical Research Clinical Trials Registry of India (Trial Registry No.: REF/2017/04/014083). Written informed assent was obtained from all individual participants and informed consent was obtained from parents/school authorities included in the study. The authors did not have any potential conflict of interest in conducting this study that may be affected by the publication of the article. Lee and Barth Group Care Reporting Standards (Lee & Barth, 2011) was followed in writing this manuscript.

Participants

Sample size calculation using G*Power for the primary outcome variable of self-esteem estimated a sample of 36 with 80% power to detect this difference with an alpha of 0.05 (effect size of 0.75) for a between-group analysis. To account for a dropout of about 10%, a sample of 40 adolescents in each group was decided. Hence, it was decided to recruit a total of 120 healthy adolescents for the study. The Transparent Reporting of Evaluations with Nonrandomized Designs flowchart of the participants is provided in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: The Transparent Reporting of Evaluations with Nonrandomized Designs diagram of flow of participants through each stage of the trial

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Procedure

Only adolescents aged 14–17 years, who were English speaking (as the assessment tools were in English), from two private schools located in urban Chennai, the metropolitan capital of South India (as the researchers were based out of Chennai and for ease of logistics), and who were interested in participating in the study for 3 weeks were included. A total of 120 adolescents were recruited for the study and were divided into 3 blocks of 40 adolescents each matched on age, gender, and education level. Sociodemographic details including, age, education, gender, diet, hobbies, parent's education, and parent's occupation were elicited for all the participants at the start of the program [Table 2]. India being a country where spirituality is a part of every religion and the moral ethics of the culture, details about membership in spiritual/religious group were also elicited. The first block of 40 adolescents from NSN School (Central and State Board of Education) was provided the moral development program [Infini14; [Table 1], G1]; the second block of students from NSN School (G2) was provided reading material (distributed in the school) – a growth-related magazine “Infinithoughts,” a monthly magazine published by Infinitheism featuring regular columns on legendary people and their works, achievements of common people, inspirational quotes, stories and articles on personal growth and life, and growth-related posters. All the topics covered under Infini14 program are covered through various articles published in Infinithoughts. However, the methodology used to impart these topics is different: in Infini14 through direct face-to-face activities and in Infinithoughts through stories. The school curriculum also included showing motivational/growth videos developed by Infinitheism to all its students 3 days a week for the 3-week period of the study. The third block of 40 adolescents (G3) from SCS School (State Board of Education) was not provided any intervention and followed their regular academic curriculum (control groups). All three schools admitted students of all religions. The directional hypothesis was that the Infini14 intervention (independent variable, G1) would have better self-esteem [dependent variable (DV1), food habits (DV2), coping (DV3), and personality scores (DV4) as compared to the group that read, “Infinithoughts” (G2) and the control group (G3).
Table 2: Sociodemographic details of adolescents (n=120)

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Instrumentation

The adolescents were assessed by the first author, a psychologist (SB) at the start of the study (baseline), at the end of the 3 weeks of intervention (1st follow-up), and at the end of 3 months (2nd follow-up) on outcome variables such as (1) self-esteem – Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Questionnaire (Rosenberg, 1965); (2) food habits (semi-structured schedule developed by the researcher containing ten questions on a three-point Likert scale on frequency, content, and preferences about food, physical activity, and visual media); (3) Coping (BRIEF COPE) (Carver, 1997); and (4) personality (as measured in Indian philosophy of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas; Vedic Personality Inventory (Das, 1991). The above outcome variables except for food habits were standardized questionnaires and were completed on paper forms. The variables were decided based on the review of literature which states that Indian cultural and philosophical texts have a significant impact on developing an individual's strengths and moral values inclusive of one's self-esteem, personality, and coping (Bhatia et al., 2013).

Data analysis

This study contains original data and the corresponding author (AJ) takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. The data were analyzed using IBM SPSS-24 (IBM, Chicago, Illinois, US). Data of only those participants who completed all the follow-ups were analyzed. Out of the 120 adolescents who participated in the study, 117 of them completed all the follow-ups. Of the three dropouts, two adolescents dropped out of the Infini14 group, due to ill-health and selection in state tournament, respectively, and one dropped out post intervention due to change of school. All students in the “Infinithoughts” group self-reported reading at least four to five articles from the magazine daily in an allotted library time provided by their school 3 days in a week for a period of 3 months of the study.

The sociodemographic data were analyzed using univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) (for continuous variables) and Chi-square test of significance (for categorical data). Data were found to be normally distributed at baseline on Shapiro–Wilk test for self-esteem (statistics: 0.98; P = 0.11), food habits (statistics: 0.98; P = 0.11), and coping (statistics: 0.98; P = 0.17) including negative coping (statistics: 0.99; P = 0.20). For other variables, even after adjusting outliers, the data were not normally distributed for personality (statistics: 0.97; P = 0.02) and positive coping (statistics: 0.98; P = 0.04). However, as the standard deviation (SD) values in both the skewed distribution variables (personality and positive coping) were less than 1/4th of the mean value, the researchers rationalize the use of repeated measures ANOVA (RMANOVA) to find out the interaction effect (time effect X group effect) in data analysis of all outcome variables (normal and skewed data). Further, as baseline differences between the groups were observed in the food habits of adolescents, the data were analyzed using RMANOVA post adjusting for the baseline differences. Subdomain analysis of the data collected using BRIEF COPE was also conducted; i.e., positive coping and negative coping. Pearson's bivariate correlation to understand the association between sociodemographic data and outcome variables at baseline was also conducted to help interpret the results.


  Results Top


The sociodemographic data of the participants are provided in [Table 2]. It can be observed that the education levels of both the father and the mother were significantly higher (around graduation) in the Infini14 group, as compared to the other two groups (around 12th standard). Further, a significant number of parents in the Infinithoughts group used substances as compared to none of the parents using substances in the other two groups.

Univariate ANOVA and Kruskal–Wallis test of significance depict that there were no group differences at baseline in all except one of the outcome variables. Food habits were observed to be significantly better in the Infini14 group (mean [SD]: 22.9 [2.6]; F = 5.7, P = 0.01), as compared to the Infinithoughts group (mean [SD]: 21.8 [2.7]) and control group (mean [SD]: 21.0 [1.9]).

RMANOVA confirmed the directional hypothesis that there was a significant interaction effect (group*time) in all the outcome variables (self-esteem, food habits, positive coping, negative coping, and personality) over the period of time (3 months), with the Infini14 group showing the most improvement in comparison to the Infinithoughts group and the control group [Table 3].
Table 3: Repeated measures analysis of variance (interaction effect) for all outcome variables – Repeated measures analysis of variance (n=117)

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Bivariate correlation at baseline depicted that duration of following a spiritual and/or religious path (prior to enrollment in the study) was significantly positively correlated with self-esteem scores of the adolescents (r = 0.24, P = 0.01). Further, age of adolescents was significantly negatively correlated with food habits (r = −0.31, P < 0.01) and personality scores (r = −0.29, P < 0.01). The education levels of their father (r = 0.19, P = 0.04) and mother (r = 0.29, P < 0.01) were also significantly positively correlated with the food habits.


  Discussion Top


In keeping with the operational definition of “moral development” in this study, the results depict that the Infini14 program was effective in improving the sense of right and wrong in adolescents, which helped improve their self-esteem, coping and personality of adolescents. The focus of this study was on developing the inner “Gunas” (values of right and wrong) of the adolescents. The significant improvement observed in the outcome variables could be attributed to the methodology and content of the program; being reflective and helping the adolescents to develop their own set of “right” values which in turn helped improve their self-esteem, self-image (by appreciating oneself and others, being unique and original and taking initiative; the importance of healthy eating habits and exercise), coping and problem-solving approaches (facing fears and failures boldly – “the right ways to live like a hero.”). Personality of the adolescents (as per the Indian system of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas Gunas) was enhanced through in-house program and experiential learning by asking them to visit an old-age home/orphanage, expressing their love to their family members, taking responsibility for their life, breaking inhibitions through public speaking and dance exercises, and goal setting. Research has shown that appropriate interventions based on desired results can have significant positive effects on adolescents (Eslami et al., 2016; Hojjat et al., 2015).

The second group which was exposed to reading material, “Infinithoughts” – a growth magazine, as part of their curriculum also showed improvement (though lesser than Infini14) in all the four outcome variables as compared to the control group. As observed in the Infini14 intervention, “Infinithoughts” comprised success stories of people from various walks of life, interviews of accomplished students, and motivating thoughts of great people, which all could have helped improve the self-esteem of the adolescents. The magazine also contained stories from authors who detailed how they took a right decision to cope with situations. Stories on values, right way to holistic health, could have provided useful insights to adolescents to take care of their health and personality. Further, as “Infinithoughts” intervention (of reading a growth magazine) could prove to be more cost-effective than conducting a “Infini14 program;” in schools where the “Infini14” program cannot be conducted due to logistic reasons (nonurban or remote location schools), lack of trained trainers to conduct the program, and vernacular medium schools, the “Infinithoughts” magazine could be distributed among the students.

The interventions (Infini14 as well as Infinithoughts) followed the principles of the moral development and helped adolescents focus on what is right and wrong for them. It also encouraged adolescents to build a positive relationship with themselves, others, and the transcendental force by developing their intellectual, temperance, and interpersonal and transcendental strengths (Hashmi, 2013). This could have been instrumental in helping the adolescents develop a value-based language to life, thereby improving their self-esteem, coping, and personality. The fact that over the period of 3 months, there was a significant improvement in all outcome variables, depicts the strength of the intervention in the long term. Triangulation of the quantitative data with qualitative data from the adolescents post undergoing the intervention, could have added strength to the study.

The study also brought the correlation between adolescents previously following or being a part of a spiritual/religious path and its bearing on his/her self-esteem. Lord Gautama Buddha's famous line, “Sangam Sharanam Gacchami,” elucidates the importance of being part of a positive-minded group which can influence ones thinking and behavior significantly (Mahatria Ra, 2009). An interesting observation in this result is that the pre- and postscores of all the students in all the groups are well above the mid-score and it only gets higher over a period of time. Hence, there is a mild ceiling effect where already the self-esteem scores of students are high at the baseline and only get higher over the follow-up. Researchers have also advocated developing a culture where adolescent peer groups can influence and learn from one another to engage in pro-social, moral, and healthy activities (Maxwell, 2002). Interventions to develop this culture of growth which makes adolescents feel like “a hero in the right ways,” needs to be inculcated in high school curriculum. The results of this study also highlighted that younger ages were better in most of the outcome variables at baseline itself than older age groups of adolescents. Thus, providing appropriate interventions at the onset of adolescent period or in middle childhood, could be an important positive health prevention and promotion strategy for dealing with adolescent and youth problems (Catalano et al., 2004; Choukse et al., 2018; Das et al., 2016; Patil & Nagendra, 2014). The study also brought out a significant correlation between parents' education on the outcome variables indicating that home environment contributes significantly to the development of self-esteem and personality of children and adolescents (Song & Hattie, 1984). The opportunity of working with parents along with their adolescents to improve home environment irrespective of education levels of parents can be considered while expanding the scope of Infini14 program in the future.

According to the latest United Nations report (Das et al., 2014) with 356 million 1024 years old, India has the world's largest youth population despite having a smaller population than China. The New National Education Policy 2020 of India encourages schools to provide holistic and moral development programs which help a student/adolescent to move ahead in his life and career. This program can thus be advocated to be part of the education curriculum in private and government schools to help adolescents develop positive self-concept, face challenges, and imbibe values through the process of development. Future research can focus on the comparative effects of Infini14 program in a multicenter trial (high schools) across India to understand its cultural adaptability.

This study has a number of strengths including having a strong scientific methodology with the intervention reflecting theoretical constructs of the strength's perspective. The assessment tools chosen were appropriate to test the effectiveness of the intervention and were measured by the same rater for all the three groups over the period of the study. The limitation of the study is that it focused on providing intervention to adolescents from two private schools (where the children and their families could be from the middle and higher socioeconomic status); it would be interesting to replicate this study and test its effectiveness in government-run schools, where the sociodemographic characteristics of the adolescents as well as their families would differ significantly from those of adolescents in studying in private schools. Furthermore, there was no method of ensuring that students in G2 read at least four to five articles from Infinithoughts' magazine during the study period. As this was self-report data and the compliance could not be ensured except for the school earmarking a dedicated place (library) and time in the school schedule for reading the magazine, the interpretation of the results from G2 needs to be done with caution. Further, a randomized block design approach to providing the Infini14 intervention, could have provided more robust results.


  Conclusions Top


Infini14 program, a moral development program, is found to be effective for adolescents in improving their self-esteem, food habits, coping, and personality.

Human subject approval statement

The research protocol was reviewed and approved for Ethical Standards (Human Subjects Approval) independently by the Educational Committees of both the schools (NSN Group of Schools Education Committee and SCS Educational Trust). Written informed assent was obtained from all individual participants and informed consent was obtained from parents/school authorities included in the study. The study was registered in the Clinical Trials Registry of India under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) s (REF/2017/04/014083).

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Neddungayil Sankunni Narayanan (NSN) Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai, and Shree Chandrasekharendra Sankara Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School (S.C.S), Chennai, for giving us an opportunity to collect the data from the adolescents. The authors are also grateful to Ms. Vijayalakshmi S from Infinitheism Spiritual Foundation Private Limited (ISFPL) for proof editing the manuscript for English language.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.





 
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