Attacking corruption in the education system

Nicholas Bennett, Teresa Ogrodzinska, 10th IACC, Workshop report, Human Security, Civil Society

Attacking corruption in education systems: What is it doing to the young?


Chair: Herbert Bergmann, Education, Science and Youth Section, GTZ


Nicholas Bennett, Education Specialist, The World Bank (retired), United Kingdom - Corruption in Education Systems in Developing Countries: What it is Doing to the Young

Teresa Ogrodzinska, Director, Polish Children and Youth Foundation, Poland,[email protected] - The Impact of Corruption in Education in Poland


The educational sector is by far the largest public sector, and it has country-wide reach. It affects pupils, students and parents alike, influencing their way of thinking, and that of future generations. Hardly any or no research has been done on the effect corruption in the educational institutions has on the young. This is why this workshop is also breaking new grounds in terms of trying to map the problem and finding solutions to it.

Nicholas Bennett presented his experience of corruption in the educational system, based on his 40 years working as a development worker in this field, mainly having worked in African and Asian countries. Drawing on concrete examples, Mr. Bennett focused on five typical occurrences of corruption:

- Absenteeism, where teachers, although employed, fail to actually be present at the school and perform their work. As a rule of thumb, he made an estimation of the percentage of teachers not present would be as high as 70 %. This sets a particularly bad example for the children, as they not only do not receive any education, but also are presented with the message that one can get paid without actually working. There have been cases where parents complaining have been rejected by the very officials that should be monitoring the schools to prevent such happenings.

A variation of this type of petty corruption can also be that the teacher uses the children to work his/hers field instead of providing education. Parents in many cases feel cheated by the school system. This makes it an image problem, giving the impression that school is rather an evil than a good thing. Programmes in Thailand and Nepal have offered solutions to this by suggesting to have teachers employed by the local community, rather than by the civil service, which in turn caused for the percentage of "ghost teachers" to be reduced to 10%.

- Privatisation poses a special problem in those countries where this has been done. What often happens is that everything in the school is must be paid for (bribe for), ranging from getting marks to the "selling" of headmasters' posts, the latter often done by high-ranking ministry officials, including the Minister of Education. Parent's associations opposing this system find themselves having to withdraw their children from school as a means of protesting against the conditions. Again, the children suffer from this and lack education.

- The textbook publishing business also offers fertile ground for various types of corruption, causing textbooks to become more expensive than necessary and that their teaching value deteriorates. For instance, ministry officials are put down as the authors of textbooks in order to obtain part of the royalties, and ministry officials have been known to go on "printing press visits" in Europe.

This situation has led to a thriving black market in second-hand textbooks, since most can't afford to buy the authorised versions. In order to prevent this business, governments, with the support of foreign donors, have supported a policy of going from textbooks to workbooks, i.e. books in which the children have to write the answers, thus preventing them from being re-used.

- Construction of educational buildings provides for a convenient source of income for many public officials in the form of kickbacks, with the effect that many contracts are never finished, and the schools are not built.

- Foreign suppliers from developed countries often send only poor quality material, or forget to deliver vital components of expensive materials, causing them never to be able to be used. This costs developing countries hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr. Bennett also pointed to the long-term consequences of the lack of proper educational systems, which destroys the developing countries' self-consciousness and self-esteem. The school system affects 20% of the population, who get the impression that what is supposed to be happening isn't. Most serious is the effect this has on the young.

Children depend on the example set by their teachers, but the corruption within the educational systems undermines the schools original purpose of learning. From being co-operative, children learn to be competitors, using bribing to climb the educational ladder. Children learn that examination marks are more important than learning, and that cheating is the most important lesson. The new hero of the young is the trickster.

Teresa Ogrodzinska saw some similarities between Nicholas Bennett's presentation and the present situation in Poland, concerning the impact of corruption in education in Poland. Her presentation focused on legal, ethical and especially social context aspects, and included survey result material on public opinion on this in Poland.

A major problem has been the fact that teachers in Poland are legally not considered "public persons", which makes it very difficult to prosecute them. Bribing "non-public persons" is not a crime in Poland. Another serious impediment to cleaning out corruption in the educational system is that the ethics are generally low. This does not only apply to the educational sector, other public sectors are also considered prone to corruption. The educational sector is, however, considered the third-most corrupt sector.

The factor which causes the most serious problems appears to be the general social acceptance of giving and accepting bribes, which causes various forms of corruption to be quite common in the educational institutions:

• buying positive grades

• buying entrance examinations to secondary schools and universities

• selling examinations forms

• giving "additional" private lessons

• system of incentives for selecting special text books

The latter poses a new problem in Poland, where a new system was recently implemented as part of an educational reform package: teachers are more independent in selecting their own teaching materials, which causes publishers to bribe teachers in order for them to use their publications. This in turn also causes classes of the same level to use different materials. Also, surveys conducted show that the social acceptance of corruption poses a serious threat to any anti-corruption reform in the educational system. It is perfectly normal for students to give their teachers gifts of a value of more than $100, and providing "private lessons" is a natural source of income for many teachers. Especially alarming is the acceptance of cheating during exams. A teacher trying to crusade this in his own classes was eventually expelled by the community, i.e. the parents!

An optimistic tone was suggested by the fact that some initiatives have taken on various aspects of the corruption in schools in Poland, making it presently a "hot topic". The Polish Children and Youth Foundation offers schools and teachers a special anti-corruption curriculum, focusing on how corruption manifests itself in schools and finding solutions to this problem. Anti-corruption activities have been proposed by the Anti-Corruption Working Group of The World Bank. These focus on performing a social education and information campaign, on introducing standards for student assessments and examinations in all types of schools, and on undertaking legal actions against "buying" examination results and violating dissertation copyrights.



The short discussion focused on how to concretely attack corruption in educational institutions. Some suggestions were made, for instance to re-install values for the students through teaching. Generally, higher attention to education in general would be of advantage, increasing public awareness about the fundamental need for education and for having ethical standards for teachers. Special attention was drawn to the organisation Education International that has put together a code of ethics for teachers.

A major area for action should also be to apply a diversified look at the social and working conditions of the teachers, as they possibly vary to much to be able to apply one solution for all.

A closer look at definitions of the various types of corruption within the education system and institutions is crucial, in order to amend the proper remedy. Possibly the problem of how public procurement within the educational sector is being performed poses a bigger problem than the ethics and values for the teachers, but there were general agreement that both issues needs to be addressed.

A solution much supported by the panellists would be decentralisation. There are indications that seem to suggest that the closer actual management gets to each single school or university (or to a "cluster" group of schools), the closer it gets to the parents, resulting in less corruption.


Main Themes Covered

1. Children suffer from lack of education and decay of ethical standards.

2. "Absenteeism", i.e. teachers not being present or actually teaching

3. Procurement in the educational (predominantly public) sector

4. Ethical standards have deteriorated, in society in general as well as among teachers.Children's new heroes are the trickster/the corrupt.

5. Short term consequences are children suffering, the long term consequences is that society in general will suffers from lack of well educated population.


Main Conclusions

1. Decentralisation offers improved accountability and transparency.

2. A diversified look at social and working conditions of teachers is necessary.

3. The necessity of promoting and setting ethical standards

Attacking corruption in the education system

Brazil 2012

Brazil 2012

IACC Video

IACC Video