Cleaning up education

Wednesday, 24 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka’s Education Ministry recently took over nine schools hoping to reduce corruption seen when admitting children into the primary level, yet the issue runs much deeper and has far-reaching consequences. Stepping up the fight against corruption in education is necessary not only to keep kids in school and meet literacy and development goals, but also to ensure that the next generation is prepared to say no to corruption. The ‘Global Corruption Report: Education’ details numerous practical steps to prevent the abuse of power, bribery and secret dealings from corroding the educational experience. It calls on governments, international organisations, businesses and civil society to ensure good governance is promoted in education policy all over the world. The message is simple – clean up education to stop corruption for good. Yet it would seem that the message has failed to reach top policymakers locally. Sri Lanka’s education system continues as a corrupt, under-funded, politicised and incompetent sector that is fast losing its best human resources. The real tragedy in all this is that parents who want to see their kids grow up honest are forced to pay bribes to get their children into schools. Education is a basic right and quality education should not have to come at the expense of honesty. But it does. The report points out that one in three people pay bribes to get their children into good schools in developing countries. This is a shocking statistic. The implementation of anti-corruption basics such as access to information on education policy, codes of conduct for educators, parent and student participation in governance, and clear systems of oversight and accountability across the education spectrum would ensure that every dollar, peso or rupee spent on teaching children ends up where it should: building schools, paying teachers and buying textbooks. In Sri Lanka of course things are more complicated. Politicisation of teacher transfers, funding problems, acceptance of children into Grade One, upgrading schools after scholarship exams, salary structures, perks and red tape make for nightmares. Adding even more confusion is the higher education system with its shadowy private universities, trade unions, suppression activities and suspensions. 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 example. The international community, and relevant international organisations, such as the World Bank and UNESCO, should prioritise efforts to assist governments in tackling corruption while access to information laws should cover public education data, and proactive disclosure of information in the public interest must be made mandatory Higher education institutions should have simple, clear and accessible education guidelines in place to allow students and other stakeholders to monitor systems and the role of education in strengthening personal and professional integrity. To prevent corruption from becoming commonplace, promoting integrity among young people is critical to building a better future. Sadly, cleaning house in Sri Lanka’s education sector is a long, arduous and next-to-impossible process. The harder this goal becomes, the less hope the future has.