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Combating ghost schools and other forms of corruption in education

by By Muriel Poisson
Monday, 30 June 2014 15:41 GMT

In this 2010 file photo, students take their school oath in Manila REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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If corruption in education continues to be difficult to measure, its impact on education systems will continue to be a hard reality for millions of pupils, students, and teachers

By Muriel Poisson, Head of Research and Development, IIEP-UNESCO

Skimping on materials used to construct schools; the registration of “ghost” schools, teachers and pupils; inflated and fake costs for producing and distributing textbooks; massive fraud during national exams, and payment of bribes to be admitted to universities – these are just some of the widespread forms of corruption to be found in the education sector.

Turning a blind eye to such practices, as well as a lack of accurate data, are among the obstacles to tackling corruption in education. While there is no reliable figure on the global hidden cost of education in corruption, it is estimated to be in the millions and to affect both developing and developed countries alike.

Tracking surveys are a concrete step towards stopping corruption, particularly in calculating the percentage of funds that are leaked on their journey from the central ministry of education to the schools. A 2012 survey in Burkina Faso, for example, showed that, in the period 2010–11, nearly a quarter (23.7%) of textbooks never reached the schools. Quantitative service delivery surveys can also prove very useful to calculate the percentage of “ghost” teachers – thus paving the way for “cleaning the list” of teachers, as we have seen in countries such as Uganda. Yet these surveys still fall short of providing an overall figure of the cost of corruption in education.

If corruption in education continues to be difficult to measure, its impact on education systems will continue to be a hard reality for millions of pupils, students, and teachers around the world, denying young people their basic right of access to a good quality education and fuelling the vicious cycle of poverty.

Combatting Corruption – Success stories

Yet corruption in the education sector needn’t be an inevitability, as demonstrated in the Philippines. In the 1990s, education was judged to be one of the most corrupt sectors in the country (together with construction). Corruption was especially high in the textbook industry. The media disclosed multiple forms of  theft in education, including theft of public resources, payment of bribes, delayed and failed distribution of textbooks, ghost deliveries. It was estimated that payoffs ate up 20–65% of textbook funds.

In 2003, a “Textbook Count” was established jointly by an NGO, Government Watch, and the Department of Education, to ensure that “the right quantity and quality of textbooks are delivered to the right recipients at the right time”. In 2003, 37 million textbooks were tracked and in 2004 an additional 13.6 million.

With the help of citizen group volunteers, the Textbook Count was able address a number of corrupt practices through tighter monitoring of service delivery. As a result, prices of textbooks were reduced by 50%; the quality of materials was significantly improved; completion of the procurement process was reduced from 24 to 12 months; and delivery errors were brought down to 5%.

Together with the Philippines, other countries are now beginning to crack down on corruption in education. The UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) has documented  success stories through its project on Ethics and Corruption in Education and its synthesis report Corrupt Schools, Corrupt Universities: What Can Be Done? The Institute has also provided support to countries to equip them with the right tools and to develop strategies to fight corruption in education, through training and technical assistance.

We have just published a book entitled Achieving Transparency in Pro-Poor Education Incentives, which analyses anti-corruption measures aimed at poor communities – such as  conditional cash transfers, scholarships, and free school meals – in seven countries (Brazil, Cambodia, India, Peru, South Africa, the USA, and Viet Nam).

Fighting Back

Breaking the silence over corruption in education is a mammoth ongoing task which needs a global united front in order to ensure that  education goals are met and that children receive the best possible opportunities when learning. Countries also need the right support so that they are able to implement stricter measures.

IIEP’s study found that anti-corruption measures should be included as part of the design of  schemes targeting the poor. The measures include frequent and publicized reports, strong evaluation frameworks, local transparency committees, school display boards, and social audits. They are presented in detail in a book but also on the ETICO portal, which houses the latest cutting-edge research, tracking ethics and corruption in education.

Muriel Poisson is Programme Specialist at the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) in Paris. Since 2002, she has been the task manager of the IIEP’s project on ‘Ethics and Corruption in Education’. She is responsible for research and training activities in this area, on subjects such as academic fraud, teacher codes of conduct, and public expenditure tracking surveys. She has co-authored a number of articles and books, including: ‘Corrupt schools, corrupt universities: What can be done’ (UNESCO Publishing).