Education is a basic human right and a driver of personal, social and economic development. It is seen as the key to a better future, providing the essential tools that people need to sustain their livelihoods and live with dignity and contribute to society. Education has the potential to instill hope in our children and encourage a spirit of common and shared responsibility for our planet and for humanity.
The values imparted through education are perhaps its most important product. By striving to help students to internalise values and principles such as dignity, integrity, liberty, equality and non-discrimination, participation, accountability and transparency, education can play a vital role in anti-corruption efforts and the promotion of human rights, and it is, therefore, crucial that they are reflected in curricula, in textbooks and in practice. Human rights education, in particular, is an effective tool to make children aware of their dignity and human rights and to prepare them to guard against corruption and human rights violations within their own societies.
Unfortunately, like many other sectors, the education sector is also prone to corruption. Huge resources are often disbursed through complex administrative layers, inadequately monitored all the way from central government to schools. The high importance placed on education also makes it an attractive target for manipulation. Those who provide education services are in a strong position to extort favours, and are often driven to do so when the corruption-prone higher-up chain leaves them undervalued, or even unpaid. At the same time, parents are driven by a natural desire to provide the best opportunity for their children, and are often unaware of what constitutes an illegal charge.
Transparency International's 'Global Corruption Report: Education' sheds light on the many shapes and forms that corruption in education can take. It shows that in all cases, corruption in education acts as a dangerous barrier to high-quality education and social and economic development. It jeopardises the academic benefits of educational institutions and may even lead to the reputational collapse of a country's entire education system. The report looks at corruption entry points at every stage of education, even before entering the school gates, and right through to doctoral graduation and academic research. In order to assess the way forward, the well-documented Transparency International publication also highlights innovative approaches to combating corruption in education.
The Global Corruption Report: Education consists of more than 70 articles commissioned from experts in the field of corruption and education, from universities, think tanks, businesses, civil society and international organisations. It is divided into five main parts: 1) Framing corruption in education - global trends; 2) Corruption in school education - understanding and scaling the challenge; 3) Transparency and integrity in higher education; 4) Tackling corruption in education - some innovative approaches; and 5) The role of education and research in strengthening personal and professional integrity.
The illicit nature of corruption makes it difficult to measure its cost to education in purely financial terms. It is also often difficult to distinguish between corruption and inefficiency and mismanagement in schools, colleges and universities. The societal cost of corruption is enormous, however. The children and young people are the first victims of corruption in education, and this can affect the integrity and dignity of the person for life, as well as society at large. The social investment in future citizens fails when individuals can succeed dishonestly and without merit, swelling the ranks of incompetent future leaders and professionals. Not only society but even human life can be endangered by fake or untrained teachers, doctors, judges or engineers, or by bogus scientific or social research carried out by corrupt academics. Corruption in education affects mostly the poor and disadvantaged, particularly women and minorities, who are unable to bear the hidden cost of admissions or play by the rules that determine success.
Whether the corrupt classroom thwarts ambition or children are forced to leave education altogether, vulnerable members of society lose the opportunity to realise their full potential, and social inequality is maintained. Corruption in education is particularly harmful in that it normalises and breeds a social acceptance of corruption at the earliest age. As children and young people rarely have the ability to question the rules of the classroom, they can internalise corrupt views of what it takes to succeed, and carry these forward into society. When this becomes a social norm, its cycle begins anew in each generation.
Corruption in schools can include procurement in construction, 'shadow schools', 'ghost teachers' and the diversion of resources intended for textbooks and supplies, bribery in access to education and the buying of grades, nepotism in teacher appointments and fake diplomas, the misuse of educational grants for private gain, absenteeism, and private tutoring in place of formal teaching-learning. The Global Corruption Report: Education also includes such malpractices as sexual exploitation in the classroom as abuses of entrusted power and, therefore, as acts of corruption. Corrupt acts in higher education institutions can mirror those of the school, but there are also distinct forms of corruption. These include illicit payments in recruitment and admissions, nepotism in tenured postings, bribery in on-campus accommodation and grading, political and corporate undue influence in research, plagiarism, 'ghost authorship' and editorial misconduct in academic journals.
Identifying and eliminating corruption in the education sector is essential to ensuring that learning opportunities are not undermined. The articles of the report have demonstrated that combating corruption in education can begin with simple but effective measures, such as posting budgets on the school door, and it can lead to the launch of cross-cutting education networks that benefit from the exchange of knowledge and experience, as has happened in many countries in Europe and Eurasia. One overarching recommendation of the Global Corruption Report: Education is the need to reach a better understanding of education as an essential tool in itself in the fight against corruption. The social role and value of the school and the teacher must be placed at the forefront of education policy and anti-corruption efforts. National policy-makers should understand the teacher as a role model and the school as a microcosm of society, and train teachers to teach by examples.
There is no simple remedy for tackling corruption in the education sector, but all leaders and staff throughout the education system, from the various ministries of education to the local institutions, need to commit themselves to the highest ethical standards and to zero tolerance for corruption.
The writer is an independent researcher.