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Can we close prisons by building thoughtful educators?

Education works at the core of any nation’s development. It nurtures the generations, in terms of empowerment, while keeping an eye to foresee the challenges of coming eras. An outstanding education model allows its citizens to emerge as thinkers and leaders. Generally, speaking about OCED top education models and specifically about Singapore, there are so many things to be learned.

Since 1965, Singapore has consistently transformed its education system to meet changing landscapes. The overall objective was to develop a cohesive society and prepare successive generations of young people to thrive and compete in a globalized future. Singapore has suffered badly from ethnic divisions, political instability and problems faced by many third world countries including Pakistan. Being a  former British colony, the education  system was badly suffering from multiple streams of education, low investment in schools infrastructure, outdated and inappropriate British curriculum (today considered as the  elite curriculum in Pakistan!), poorly linked with emerging economic needs and the  worst teacher training infrastructure and low status of teachers. Singapore had faced these all from 1945-1960.
Apart from many exemplary changes, one of the biggest achievements of Singapore was building “Thinking Schools-Learning nation” to gear the education system towards nurturing an innovative society in the new millennium. They provided opportunities for teachers and pupils to engage in creative approaches in teaching and learning, to develop the habit of thinking for them. Furthermore, they provided more diverse paths for students with different talents to develop their knowledge, skills and character.
 Quality teachers, superiority education, status of teaching as a profession increased dramatically since the 1960s. Educational excellence was sustained through recruitment and training of quality teachers and outstanding school leaders. Concept of ‘life-long training’ and re-training for all teachers and principals was a big feather in the cap of Singapore’s education model. Education and lifelong learning became the priority of the nation; thus, it blossomed the whole education system and brought it to the top 5 education models of the world.
Not only this, but a close look at the  crime rate shows that when Singapore started investing in teachers and quality teaching, updating the status of educators and pumping in billions of dollars in education, the crime rate started decreasing. Since 1992, it has fallen to the lowest crime rate in the world.  The annual education budget exceeds 11.6 billion dollars which is about 22% of annual GDP in Singapore. This is not only for the infrastructure, but a huge amount is invested in teachers, where teachers are provided continuous support and are   helped to emerge as high order thinkers. Amazingly, this investment led them to emerge as the   healthiest nation in the world.
With this, Singapore received crowns of honor on different tables, from economic stability to low crime rate. Data shows that this started changing, when this country and the nation decided to groom and support teachers and educators.
Now have a look at our education model. According to UNESCO report titled “Status of Teachers in Pakistan 2013”, public sector schools under the department of education, private schools and madrassas have over the years emerged as the three largest education providers; however, the latter provide space to no more than 2% of the total enrolled. Private sector has a range of schools from profit to non-profit operated by private owners, trusts, NGSs, missionaries, wifaqs/madrassas that have flourished over time to share the burden, for making education accessible to almost 35-40 percent of the children of the country with accountable teaching cadres. The report clearly mentions that teachers belonging to such institutions have their own rights and requirements, which are often overlooked by the policy makers. A more coordinated approach is perhaps required, which takes into account the issues and challenges of these teachers, who are contributing significantly to support various modes of service delivery of education in Pakistan.
According to this report, teaching profession has for long remained poorly treated in Pakistan. Teachers are working in environments characterized by diminishing resources, limited opportunities, low remuneration, marginalization, ill-perceived and at times contradictory, frequently changing policies and mismanagement. The teachers in Pakistan continue to suffer a compromised status in society. Due to a number of factors often backed by evidence, teaching profession is generally regarded as low-paying and a semi-profession in Pakistan. The factors  are: (1) resistance to expanding knowledge and application expectations,  (2) low economic standing,  (3) mixed perceptions about professional and social standing,  (4) lack of standards, corrupt practices and credibility of educational outcomes, (5) association with politicians or people of influence for personal benefits only , and (6) absence of monitoring and support. All of these contribute in putting the teaching profession low on the priority list of career options. The report concludes that the challenges cannot be overcome, unless the teachers achieve the socio-economic status that has been due for long. It further suggests that although some positive improvements have undergone recently; however, there is a need for meeting and upgrading minimum benchmarks and national standards on content, qualifications and licensing/certifications. A proper assessment of the effectiveness of training programs should be made by the independent organizations/committee.
The seriousness of the government for education sector can been gauged by looking at the annual budget for education. In year 2013-14, it is reduced to 8.2 million dollars compared to Singapore which increased to 11.6 billion dollars. On the other hand, the annual budget for police reforms, jails and judiciary exceeds 52.4 billion dollars according to independent sources, while 1.8% budget increase in given to judiciary in Pakistan.
Despite the fact that   a huge amount is spent on police, judiciary and jails, the crime rate has crossed the barrier of 51%  ; the safety index is moderate at daytime and low during night time. Many cases are not reported especially child harassment, sexual abuse and rape.
A closer look at the statistical data shows that although the spending on police, judiciary and jails is very high, but the crime rate is also increasing. No one has the wisdom to relate it with the fact that a nation with a minimum educational budget  which is cut down annually  suffers this and  this is not  something unexpected.
Instead of building high order thinkers and empathetic society, we fabricated a volatile society which is ready to erupt anytime. Instead of spending billions of dollars on jails, courts and security, there is a dire need to invest in teachers. In Pakistan, the teachers are the most underprivileged class among all other top notch professions. There are meager training opportunities both in public and   the private sector and   the trainings are often based on false slogans. Even the big private school chains do not have enough competence to build teacher as high order thinkers and transform the conventional teaching to innovative teaching, rather a habit to hide flaws under the carpet prevails. They focus on fancy terms, plagiarism and picking attractive slogans such as “No Child Left Behind” and resenting in trainings as entirely new idea. Subsequently, the teachers are not benefited, but only collect certificates. Lifelong learning is not a priority, but the grades and scores has ruined the ethics of education, so the shortcuts got introduced.
Low salaries, high stakes, job insecurities in private sector lead teachers to another rat race and that is evening tuitions. This practice ceased critical thinking and innovative teaching. The matters of embarrassment have become matters of pride and the standards took a paradigm shift.


In conclusion, one must understand that if you want to keep your jails empty, fill the minds with thoughts and reasoning skills. If you want to give a rest to your judiciary, build educators as social reformers. According to Physics, total energy of a closed system remains same. If spending more on judiciary and police is not controlling crime rate, try to invest more in quality lifelong learning; you will get the results. Empower the teachers with quality trainings and recognition in terms of social status, and then; keep an eye on crime rate. The countries with the   world’s best education models are the safest countries as well. They have more tolerant citizens ambitious for innovations and empathetic. Examples are there, but a will is required to transform. 
Umair Qureshi
Beacon House, Islamabad 
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