Colombo, Education

Corruption in the Education sector

People don’t realize that there is as much corruption in the private education sector as in the public sector for the corrupt counter party that offers the bribe or corrupt payment is in the private sector.

There is corruption in all its forms- favoritism, nepotism, bribery and influence peddling in the education sector, which is now taking first place in the Corruption Ranking.

Corruption occurs among many groups of actors from policy makers at the government level to providers of education at the school level, such as teachers and principals. Corrupt practices in the educational sphere can include bribes, illegal fees for admissions and examinations, examination frauds, preferential promotions and placements for teachers and charging students for ‘tutoring services’ to cover the curriculum needed to pass mandatory examinations and that should have been taught in the classroom. Illegal practices in textbook procurement, meal provision, and infrastructure contracting and so on are other malpractices.

Educationists point out those students who are educated in corrupt systems may not learn the skills needed to take advantage of available opportunities and to contribute to economic and social development. A third impact could be added to this list: corruption’s impact on core values and ethics during the formative years of young people’s lives. Corruption in education may undermine an entire generation’s core values regarding accountability, personal responsibility, and integrity as seems to have been done since the take-over of denominational schools in the early 1960s. Corruption may also affect learning outcomes. Countries with higher levels of corruption tend to have higher dropout rates. In fact, dropout rates in countries with low corruption and highly efficient government services are 26 percentage points lower than dropout rates in countries with high corruption and low efficiency according to studies carried out by educationists.

But can we be complacent that all is well with our schools. Not if one listens to parents. There have been complaints in the press against our premier girls’ school in Colombo. Teachers in this girls school in Colombo 7 discriminate against the cleverer children because they are influenced by the parents of children who are not so bright but wish to obtain high positions in the class. One such case came to my notice just two weeks ago. The parents protested to the Principal but she has done nothing about it and the parents are now getting ready to remove the child to an International School. Incidentally the girl’s father is a Buddhist. although this was not the cause for the discrimination but rather pure corruption.  Previously a Deputy Prefect was chosen as a result of influence peddling by an old nun who is her aunt. Shame on these nuns. Unlike the foreign nuns who were pressurized to leave by our local nuns, these local nuns have no respect for fair play or even the human rights of their children. No wonder there was so much agitation against Catholic schools. The principals of such Catholic schools are a law unto themselves. They take orders from no one not even from the Bishop. The ancient Romans chose a dictator from their Consuls but made sure that the dictator was  at least capable. Not so our religious orders running the Catholic schools who lack the basic ethical values they take vows to practice.

The way to minimize corruption is to put in place checks & balances to exercising discretion whether by teachers or principals. Transparent decision making, and effective monitoring and evaluation to ensure accountability on the part of every teacher or principal are needed.  Relationships that could result in an unequal power balance between the service provider (the school and its relevant authority) and the beneficiaries must have monitoring mechanisms. In our school structure the principal is all powerful and is either not accountable to any superior or such accountability is weak and not enforced due to the failures on the part of the Superiors.

Poor relationships could be exacerbated by a weak contact between beneficiaries (students and their parents) and the principal and teachers, with the former -the parents having inadequate means to voice concerns where there is gross abuse of power or corruption by teachers or principals. The Christian -non Catholic schools have in place a Board of Governors for each school drawn from parents and past students. This acts as a check on the principal and the teachers who could be held accountable. This is the structure of organization in the corporate sector. Are we still following the traditions of the imperial Roman Empire despite the development of democracy? It is the lack of accountability that contributes to corrupt practices in its various forms.


A Code of Ethics for Teachers is absolutely essential
Such codes of conduct for teachers must set out clear parameters for professional behavior. Teachers must be seen as a crucial factor in promoting quality education. Teachers are the transmitters of knowledge who help ensure that children learn. They are role models to students, and in most rural communities, they must be the most educated and respected personages. They are at the front line of developing pupils’ understanding, attitudes, skills, learning, and core values. Teachers are, therefore, the most important element in producing quality education.

Influence peddling and cheating, such as marking down pupils in order to favor other pupils, allowing influence peddling in the selection of Prefects are pernicious practices which seem to be all too common in our schools. In an influential study, Jacob and Levitt (2003) concluded that cheating occurs in 3 to 5 percent of elementary school classrooms each year in the Chicago Public Schools.  Closer oversight of schools by parents could help curb corrupt practices and is possible in most cases under existing regulations.