By Francesco Checchi
Recently I had the opportunity to work together with colleagues from the OECD Directorate for Education and UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning on a corruption risk assessment in the education sector of an Eastern European country (to be published soon). This activity is part of our programme to develop new strategies, tools and programmes to tackle corruption in the delivery of basic public services.
The social impact of corruption in public services is obvious, especially in developing countries: high-level corruption in the form of the diversion of funds means fewer resources of a lower quality in already over-burdened systems. Low-level (petty) corruption, such as informal payments, means that the poorest and most vulnerable citizens either have to dedicate significant portions of their incomes for services that are supposed to be received free of charge, or are denied those services altogether.
Addressing corruption in sectors like health and education builds upon more generic anti-corruption efforts in the public sector as a whole and complements the work being done in areas like procurement, oversight mechanisms, enhancing transparency and the accountability of the public administration.
In my recent project, we utilized a methodology, developed by the OECD, providing guidance for:
- identifying shortcomings in key areas of the education system which may lead to corruption;
- identifying shortcomings in the preventive framework which would allow actors and stakeholders in education to bypass the anti corruption rules
- formulating policy recommendations on how to close these gaps.
The final report will help the Ministry of Education to design policies and regulations that streamline the administration of schools and universities as well as the system regulating the hiring, promotion and dismissal of teachers and other personnel working in schools.
Key corruption drivers in the education sector
Taking a sectoral approach to corruption allows to hone in on specific drivers and conditions which might be missed in a broader type of assessment.
For instance, in most of the former soviet countries I have visited, education has been and still is an important provider of relatively secure jobs; in a time of crisis and rising unemployment, this security is becoming very important for the teachers and their families as well as for the local economy in rural areas. Decisions regarding the number of classes per school impact the number of jobs; this places great pressure on the decision makers and is a potential catalyst for corruption. It also creates incentives for the falsification of documents in the schools.
A related issue is children with special needs: this category, according to the law of the country in which the assessment was conducted, includes children with disabilities and those having learning or behavioural difficulties. These children are in many cases members of the Roma or other minorities or are children who grew up in poor and disadvantaged conditions. The minimum number of pupils per class can be reduced by two for each child with special needs present in the class. A higher number of children with special needs leads to a higher number of classes per school and consequently to more teachers and personnel employed. Additionally, schools enrolling children with special needs receive additional funds and personnel. The accuracy of the declared number of children with special needs has to be monitored in order to avoid abuses and possible corruption.
Another example involves the management of school premises. Principals can decide to rent school spaces and facilities for private activities, this is important as it allows the organization of extra-school activities for the students such as sporting and cultural events. The utilization of the school’s facilities needs to be monitored in order to avoid misuse of the public spaces and funds.
The Tip of the Iceberg
These are just few examples to describe how the risks of corruption are dependent of the type of services and on the local context in terms of territory, economy, culture and society. Corruption risks can hardly be codified, analyzed and addressed without detailed and sector specific methodologies. UNDP and other organizations have started moving towards a sectoral approach. You can visit our site as well as UNESCO’s site on corruption in education.
The work that has been done so far needs to be complemented with a consistent and well documented application of the methodologies developed, the collection of case studies and a detailed analysis of the results and achievements of reform in the various sectors. This will provide the foundation for the development of the next generation of anti-corruption tools and methodologies.