Competitions among nations have now revolved around competitions among education systems because the type of education offered determines the type of human beings we shall be and the quality of life we shall lead.  Not surprisingly, education is increasingly becoming the primary determinant of overall development in emerging knowledge economies.  
Our education system, unfortunately, has traditionally been characterized as being numbingly non-stimulating, where education becomes identical to information, where the “educated” person is the one who has got by heart a whole library undigested, and where success is defined as the avoidance of failure. In the fashion of struggling commanders throughout history, successive Ministers have found solace in juggling statistics to highlight, and to own, the artificially-bloated passing rate amidst the smoke of a constantly dwindling standard.  
The breathless counting of unhatched chickens resulted in a solipsistic insistence to devise ways and means to artificially inflate the passing rate, to which previous Ministers were handcuffed. That justified the hurriedly- conducted additional CPE exams within a few days, the main aim being to bulldoze failed students to succeed in subjects they failed only a couple of days earlier after years of study, private tuition notwithstanding. The results thereof are then given wide coverage through glaring reviews and blaring headlines, stopping short of sycophantic drum-beating and fireworks.  
One of the least observed, but most profound, problems is that, generally speaking, standards are hitting rock- bottom.  It is hardly surprising that a sizeable percentage of even our freshly-minted graduates struggle to write a decent, grammatically mistake-free application letter. I can vividly recall my maternal aunt, a std V primary school drop-out in the fifties, to whom we used to turn to as children for our letters of absence in her grammatically-perfect and unique calligraphic handwriting.  How we wish the past were more present in our present education system!
Ours can best be described as an exam clearing race, in which participants, with blinkers on, focus upon clearing exam hurdles at the expense of all other dimensions.  Then, follows a rat race for a secure job (with the right connection, that is) with an eye on all the perks attached thereto.  Then ensues the chanelling of one’s energies upon eventual promotion, being even prepared to brutally step over the bodies of more deserving senior officers, thus gate-crashing the hierarchy. A few blue-eyed ones may even end up bagging a decoration though they may have a hard time justifying their “achievement” in front of the camera.
The merry-go-round inherent in our education system, at the cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, leaves neither the time nor the inclination to inculcate in our children the importance and relevance of EMPATHY, which is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and see the world through their eyes.  In fact, when our children are enabled to broaden their ambit of concern and empathise with the plight of others, whether they are classmates or total strangers, it becomes harder not to act and extend a helpful hand.  That is so because empathy is not just to feel for oneself, but also to feel with and for others.
Such an attitude goes a long way in reducing prejudice, racism, conflicts, bullying as well as the level of carnival of insanity and indecent enthusiasm in school buses. In the same breath, empathy is likely to increase the level of social understanding, emotional competence, pro-social and moral behaviour, and a better appreciation of parents’ sacrifices, especially those with shaky and volatile finances.
The school needs to emphasize teamwork much more than striving to become a lone star because human beings derive more happiness from cooperating with others than from winning alone.  Caring relationships are, in fact, one of the biggest predictors of happiness which kids need to be taught because human beings are designed to naturally empathise with others. Our brains are so wired as to experience the emotions that someone else is feeling: we are more likely to laugh when someone else is laughing and to yawn when someone else is yawning.  Conversely, we wince when someone hits his hand with a hammer.  Thus, intelligence development and emotional development are children of the same womb: they have their intestines intertwined because a child’s emotions affect the way he learns and reacts.
As a nation, the growing empathy deficit among our youngsters should be a matter of greater concern than our budget deficit.  The rise of narcissism among the young, the growing obsession about, and unfettered access to, personal technology and media use in everyday life, a shrinking family size and greater pressure on students to succeed academically and professionally, with its accompanying share of selfishness and self-centeredness, are some of the reasons for the sharp decline of empathic concern.
A question we fail to ask ourselves is why a student behaves atrociously with some teachers but turns out to be well-behaved with others.  In the same vein, why is a student well-behaved generally up to Form II and progressively becomes uncontrollable by the end of secondary schooling. In schools which value inter- personal skills, guidelines and rules are set about student to student, student to staff, staff to student, staff to staff, and school to parent interaction because students learn best when they have positive relationships with those around them.  At the core of the education mission, however, lies the teachers’ ability to empathize with the students, moving beyond the teachers’ perspective to those of the students he or she encounters.
Since the teacher’s influence is boundless, empathy, as a stand-alone module, should be central to the teacher education programme.  That would spare us heart- breaking situations like the letter emanating from a then prominent primary school teachers’ union in the 1970’s requesting its members to refuse serving milk to pupils as it did not figure on their scheme of service… unless they were given an allowance.
Our education system should also instill in us the need to perceive of ourselves, of our families, of our neighbours as being both culture borrowers as well as culture depositors who both draw from and contribute to a global bank of human culture that has been, and continues to be fed by contributions from different geographical regions of the world and in all periods of history.
In other words, teaching humans to be more humane!