How Can Education Reduce Crime?

A major proposition for solving the crime epidemic has always been a call for more education: however does a more educated society mean a lawful society? Schools as institutions are merely a microcosm of society and as such must inherently reflect the attitudes and behavior of the public, including stealing from each other beating up on each other, dealing in contraband and sexually violating each other. Students flout school regulations and/or national laws. One can now ponder which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Does the deviant student become the criminal? Or does the criminal modeling within society create the deviant student?

Students however are not the only perpetrators of crime in schools. Teachers represent authority figures in the system, and like in wider society, they may abuse their power and break school rules as well.  These unfortunate events again raise questions. What causes a teacher to give unfair advantages to his favorite students?  What causes the politician/policeman to pardon his criminal friend or allow him unfair advantages? What causes authority figures to victimize members of a certain groups?  In the end, we need to view the issues of crime in school and crime in society as interlinked. Viewed in this context, the solution of increased education on its own to mitigate crime, seems less feasible.

A favourable learning environment, coupled with specialized teaching techniques can lower deviance and increase the rule of law. Students are more likely to succeed when they feel connected to the school and the learning process.  This connection reflects students’ belief that school administrations care about them as individuals.

Teachers are central to creating a clear classroom structure. They must build connectedness in the classroom and encourage team-learning exercises to break down social isolation by integrating student teams across gender, academic ability, and ethnicity.  A supportive school administration must not allow a young person to ‘fail’, or students will inadvertently believe in’ winners and losers’.  This assumption sets up a dysfunctional dichotomy: the ‘winners’ or the academically proficient become ‘nerds’ and ‘losers’.

A positive, nurturing school culture with students experiencing connectedness to their school will create a positive, nurturing society with citizens experiencing connectedness to their communities and by extension, their country.  Studies show a high proportion of students positively connected to their school are likely to increase academic performance and school competition rates and decrease incidents of fighting, bullying, vandalism and absenteeism.  There is strong evidence, applicable across racial, ethnic and income groups that students who feel connect to school are les likely to exhibit disruptive behavior.  Implementing civic education, particularly education about the rule of law into school curricula is used in Latin America and Asia as a predominant technique to foster knowledge and attitudes that prevent crime and corruption, protect human rights and enrich and enhance formal democracy.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the education system has consistently separated schools and students into vocation and university tracks and as such, avoided providing all students with the same core curriculum and setting inclusive academic standards.  This form of ‘informed prejudice’ has created, over the past decades, a society of confident and ‘inferior’ citizens, professionals and dropouts, favoured ‘old-boy’ graduates and ‘neglected strugglers.’

Without a significant paradigm shift in the education system, the levels of crime in schools and society will increase or remain constant, students will always steal and teachers will always create as many or more problems than they solve. Higher levels of education do not guarantee less crime in society, but indeed a more effective education system that caters to both the students and teachers mental and psychological health, while fostering a greater understanding and appreciation for civic duty and the rule of law, is key for crime reduction.

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