Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

3 Aug, 2012

Spotlight on Corruption in Education in Asia-Pacific: UNESCO Interview

By Panya Laongthong and Rojana Manowalailao, UNESCO Bangkok

Bangkok, 26.07.2012 — Corruption in the education sector has been a severe problem, which has hindered quality and effectiveness of education all over the world. Muriel Poisson, Programme Specialist at the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO), has been the task manager of a project on ‘Ethics and Corruption in Education’ under which research and training activities are conducted on topics such as academic fraud, teacher codes of conduct, and public expenditure tracking surveys. Ms. Poisson recently visited UNESCO Bangkok to talk about promoting integrity in teacher management and behavior.

How can codes of conduct change teacher management and behavior?

Ms. Poisson: “It’s very clear that there are a number of misbehaviors that happen because of dysfunction in the management of teachers. This is why we pay attention not only to issues of teacher behavior but also to teacher management. The objective is to improve transparency, equity, standards, efficiency, and management of the teaching profession.

“Codes of conduct were also recently discussed in Lao PDR [at the Consultation Meeting for the Development of a Teacher Code of Conduct, organized by UNESCO Bangkok and the Ministry of Education and Sports, Lao PDR]. A code of conduct can be seen as a means of constraining teachers’ misbehaviors, but it can also be considered, in some cases, as an instrument which protects teachers’ rights. If you look at the code, for instance, that was adopted in Hong Kong and also in other countries, it includes a number of commitments and obligations which are expected of teachers, but also lists a number of rights teachers have as employees.

“Moreover, as was discussed in Laos, it’s useful to add specific sub sections to teachers’ codes of conduct, on the rights of the teacher and also on how to protect teachers from a number of pressures. This task should not be the responsibility of the teachers to co-implement but it should be the responsibility of the whole community and society.”

In your programme, can you address this issue with other education personnel such as school administrators or people working at a managerial level? And how can we build necessary capacities to counter corruption in decentralized systems?

Ms. Poisson: “One of the conclusions of our work is that if you really want to improve transparency in the management not only of the teaching force but of the entire education sector, a single strategy is not sufficient. Rather, we can suggest a model of integrated strategies with three major tracks: to develop clear norms, standards and procedure; to develop capacities to strengthen management within the system; and to promote ownership at different levels of the system, including at school level – this is the issue of access to information.

 “Decentralization also makes it more difficult to solve issues and correct malpractices because they happen at many different levels.” 

“Decentralization has been a focus in this [Ethics and Corruption in Education] project conducted in 30 different countries. In many countries, what people tell you is that decentralization has caused a lot of damage, because of corruption. Through the decentralization of management processes down to the level of schools, room has been open for various malpractices, in particular because local administrations and schools do not have the capacity to handle management processes. Decentralization also makes it more difficult to solve issues and correct malpractices because they happen at many different levels.”

What type of corruption was found to be the most prevalent in Asia-Pacific?  

Ms. Poisson: “There are some key, burning issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The first one is of illegal fees that are collected in schools, by head teachers for instance. In most cases this problem is linked to underfunding of the system. Schools may need to collect additional financial resources to be able to operate. Since there is no clear regulation and control mechanisms for how such resources are collected and how they are used, this opens up space for a number of misbehaviors including cases where this money is used for private gain.

“Fees are sometimes collected when parents are told that they have to pay for their children to get admitted to school, even when access to the school is supposed to be free of charge. If parents don’t pay the fees, their children risk not being admitted. There can also be specific fees collected for exams; parents are told that if they don’t pay a fee for the first term exam, their child is not going to be able to sit for it. Some studies show that there are more than twenty-five different fees that can be collected in some systems. The solution is not necessarily to ban fees because this is not going to work and schools need funds to operate. However, fees need to be handled in a more transparent way.”

“Private tutoring itself is not necessarily a problem – it can even be a solution. The problem is how it is provided.”

“A second issue is private tutoring, which concerns all countries throughout the world. There are a number of surveys that have been conducted which indicate that, even at the primary level, the percentage of students receiving private tutoring is extremely high. Private tutoring itself is not necessarily a problem – it can even be a solution. The problem is how it is provided. There are a number of cases where teachers provide private tutoring to their own students by putting pressure on them: if they do not accept and pay for private tutoring, they will not get good marks and they will not be promoted to the next grade. This issue needs to be properly regulated and investigated.

“There is also a problem of fake degrees in that students pretend to have a diploma they never actually obtained.”

“A third issue is academic fraud. In this region, acquiring diplomas is perhaps considered as more important than in other regions of the world. Receiving a diploma is regarded as a gateway to a good salary and access to a good job. So there is pressure on all students to gain the ‘best’ diplomas. Because of such pressure, a number of other issues arise that relate to the selection of students for entrance into education institutions. There is also a problem of fake degrees in that students pretend to have a diploma they never actually obtained.”

These problems have been happening for a long time. Do you believe the issues can be solved? What are the most urgent actions that need to be taken?

Ms. Poisson: “Clearly, these issues are not going to be solved rapidly. I do believe they can be solved, but it takes time. During the last decade, a lot of improvements have been made in terms of identifying what the problems are, and quantifying the range of the phenomenon. Now we have some specific tools like the ‘public expenditure tracking survey’ and the ‘quantitative service delivery survey’ that can allow us to gather and analyze data. Once you have the figures on the table, you can create a discussion among public officials, including within ministries of education.”

“No country has solved the issue of corruption in the education sector. Many countries from developed parts of the world also have to face corruption within their education sectors. This problem is prevalent around the world, but there are some countries that have succeeded in improving the way their teaching forces are managed. In our project, we put the focus on these successful stories to share with other countries.”

Could you give us examples of such successful stories?

Ms. Poisson: “In Lao PDR, an initial step was taken with support from the UNESCO Bangkok office, in the organization of a consultation meeting on the development of a teacher code of conduct. There have been a lot of discussions about how the code could be developed within a one-year timeframe, what the content should be, and how it could be enforced. In Viet Nam, the Ministry of Education and Training also adopted a teacher code of conduct in 2008. In Canada, the Ontario Teacher College, has been developing  a code of conduct, while in Australia a new control mechanism is being developed to deal with this issue.”


The UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) has been running a comprehensive programme on Ethics and Corruption in Education since 2001, with three objectives: to produce new knowledge; strengthen national capacities; and promote policy dialogue, through research, training, and technical assistance.

As a code of conduct has been regarded as an effective tool for reducing corruption in the education sector, in 2009, IIEP-UNESCO also developed guidelines for the design and effective use of teacher codes of conduct, based on surveys and case studies. Developed in collaboration with the International Federation of Teachers’ Unions, these guidelines aim to help countries successfully design teacher codes of conduct, identify major steps involved in the development of codes and adapt training modules. In addition, because corruption in education is a worldwide problem, IIEP-UNESCO has been requested by many countries to support them in developing their own teacher codes of conduct.

More than 50 countries have adopted teacher codes of conduct, and recently a Consultation Meeting for the Development of a Teacher Code of Conduct was organized in Lao PDR by the Ministry of Education and Sports, with the support of UNESCO Bangkok. Various issues were raised during this meeting such as existing codes of conduct in different countries, what could be in the content of the code, and how to upgrade the teaching profession in Lao PDR.