“He who opens a school door closes a prison”
– Victor Hugo
That’s the whole point! The world tends to interpret ‘open new schools’ as ‘build new schools’. Currently in the world, there is on average one school for every one thousand children, with possibly more micro schools. So, that’s 7,000,000 schools for 7 billion people (Quora). These would include Montessori, Primary, Secondary, Higher secondary and Senior schools, each under a different educational board with different aims for the educational fraternity, offering a hundred different disciplines, taught in a million different ways, by teachers from different educational backgrounds, not to mention languages and each with a different style of implementing their lesson plans in a classroom. On the whole, we’re spending from $306.34 per square foot on the building of an elementary school to $303.03 per square foot for a high school according to the School Planning and Management’s 2013 annual school construction report. In India, from where I hail, the price of demolishing an old big building in the city runs into lakhs and is probably equivalent to building a small school in a village.
If education is mandatory and learning a lifelong process, then why can’t we keep the doors of our Institutes open 24/7? Let vacant buildings be used as schools, for students to learn round the clock. One school in a locality can have 10 teachers, 1 principal and a set number of students functioning for 8 hours before the next shift begins. This way we would have 3 shifts of learners and teachers in a day. Now apply this on a large scale and imagine the blaze education will create!
But is it true that prisons will close with the rising numbers of the educated? Let’s question that as well. Some of the most hi-tech organised crimes have been subtly performed by master mind cyber sleuths. These are far-fetched crimes that may or may not affect the ordinary commoner, but what about the crimes that take place in schools? Like a student who lost his hearing because he was violently slapped by schoolmates. Who is to account for these other crimes that take place in highly acclaimed schools behind closed doors? Isn’t moral science taught for a good 45 minutes to an hour as part of the school curriculum? How then can the very ground that founded the morals in its students harbour evil in itself? According to a report by the Urban Institute there were at least 336 gunshots in the vicinity of schools in a single school district of Washington, DC, between 2011-2012.
However, Newton’s third law states “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, surely there couldn’t have been a fire such as this without a spark; which brings us to another level of what could be going on in these centres of learning. Google is full of examples of teachers found in compromising positions with their students. Who is to blame for that? Circumstance? Fate? Bad schooling? It’s a vicious cycle and hard to say whether the school impacts behaviour or behaviour that affects the reputation of a school. In fact it works both ways and is just as bad as trying to guess whether the chick came out first or the egg.
The prison is almost like a vestigial organ in society. It doesn’t matter anymore whether it exists or it doesn’t. There are so many prisoners innocent but waiting in the shadows, under trial. Where was education then? Or is it that the moment an institute imparts education it is done with it its duty? Apart from the family, why don’t the educational institutes come forward and take responsibility for their students behind the bars, and help in the process of rehabilitation? They would probably say they are no longer responsible for the student’s life, once out of school. But then, wouldn’t the school be happy if a student were to bring fame and repute for the school? Then why can’t a school do the same for an unfortunate student behind the bars? Can’t schools come out with innovative solutions for prisoners and balance the social environment? If it can’t, it’s hard to determine whether education is in bondage and behind the bars or the prisoners?
Schools were established to teach students for life. A Chinese proverb states, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. But unfortunately we are being served fish everyday and very few of us have actually learnt to fish. Education seems to have failed in many areas with huge loopholes in the system.
Must we think then that there will never be a crime or a need for prison in the future? Are we talking about a utopian society? Will there ever be one? Let’s also for a moment analyse the kind of behaviour used in the prisons. The inspectors and supervisors are found to use obscene language with the prisoners, despite being educated. Then how different are they from the prisoners? At this juncture it would seem as though the prisoners were bold enough to carry out in society what they felt on in the inside. That isn’t the case with the educated. There is a division between socially accepted behaviour even if they felt evil within. “Don’t eat like a glutton at a party, even if you feel hungry”. There enters hypocrisy within and it is actually hypocrisy that separates the so called officers or ”morally upright” from the prisoners. Behaviour for the educated changes with the presence of CCTV, and promotions, but doesn’t apply to the prisoner. After all, even the prisoners could argue saying they killed because someone hurt them deeply. What would a country say to that when their armed forces kills the people of another country who haven’t hurt them in any way personally? Can wearing or not wearing a government uniform answer for the deeds of the soul? So when all of man sins, how can one be put higher than the other just because of a socially clean criminal record? Who will look into the soul? Look at the CCP Govt in China and their human rights violation. Their prisoners seem far better than the government. To me, the ones who rule over the prisoners are just as bad. Thus, evil cannot correct bad. Does that mean that there ought not to be prisons? Well, actually yes, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Prisons must be changed into reform homes, where building up of character is stressed upon. It is not only enough to torture them, or give them a bail, it’s about ensuring lessons are learnt forever.
There are so many schools in the under developed countries where students are not even taught how to fill a deposit slip or a withdrawal slip at a bank, differentiate between a fake note and a real one and more importantly, not to issue a cheque without an appropriate bank balance. Students taking up economics and accounts, commerce and finance would probably know, but it is not so with the other disciplines. They probably learn from their parents or when they start off on their own.. Napoleon Hill said “Education comes from within; you get it by struggle and effort and thought” and I thoroughly agree! Why learn medicine and not know the best practices of the industry? Likewise, why learn about ‘war’? Have we nothing more practical and non violent to teach? We actually don’t because we’re busy updating our school syllabus with the latest discoveries while trying to squeeze in the past. I don’t see sex education helping either – the problems with sex are only increasing. And then what happens when corrupt ministers open schools to avoid taxes, and housewives open schools only to make a quick earning, neither are really bothered about the quality of education imparted are they? I wouldn’t be surprised if more prisons open in such cases.
In conclusion, I would recommend that the syllabus be based on what is needed to lead life with quality which includes: disciplining the mind, disciplining emotions, learning the principles of hard work, managing time, cooking, parenting, partnership and the principles of responsibility, searching for faith, true service, building character and practicing it with practical scenarios over 12 years of school life. That’s what a universal learner’s syllabus ought to look like, with all the pros and cons included from real life experiences, from history with a clear sense of how one would like to serve God in society. This must be added to a realistic list of what happens when wrong is done and how best to correct it inside out. Then we could have hope that at least 60% of the prisons across the world would close down or as Thomas Mott Osborne, prison warden, said “We could turn prisons from a scrap heap into a repair shop”.