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Global Corruption Report Pakistan's education sector affected by corruption: TI

The new Transparency International Global Corruption Report (GCR) 2013 released from Berlin on Tuesday, which this year deals mainly with education, shows that education is riddled with corruption and suggests how to prevent it and build the next generation of corruption fighters.

The 442-page book has been divided into five sections of analysis and recommendations from over 70 experts in more than 50 countries. Transparency International Pakistan Adviser, Syed Adil Gilani, has in his analysis on ghost schools in Pakistan said that the scope of the problem is uncertain. In 2009 a government body in Sindh estimated the number of ghost schools in that province alone at 6,480. In 2011 the education minister from the province of Balochistan estimated that as many as 5,000 primary schools in his province were not providing services to students. In mid-2012 funding for a federal education programme was called into question following allegations that 8,000 ghost schools were receiving funding through the programme.

Transparency International report shows how 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.

"For schools to educate the corruption fighters of tomorrow they need to be free from corruption themselves. Without a strong dose of integrity, our schools and universities will fail to provide future leaders with the basic tools needed to succeed, and more importantly, to combat graft," said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International. "With nearly a fifth of the world's population between 15 and 24 years old, young people have the potential to` stop corruption both as the citizens of today and as the leaders of tomorrow."

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 our children ends up where it should: building schools, paying teachers and buying textbooks.

However, corruption has undermined the reputation of the education sector in many countries. Almost one in five people world-wide paid bribes to education services last year, according to Transparency International's 2013 Global Corruption Barometer. In the world's poorest countries the number rises to one in three.

The Global Corruption Report: Education sheds light on the many shapes and forms of corrupt practices in education, be they the embezzlement of national education funds, hidden school costs or the buying and selling of fake degrees. It also shows that in all cases corruption in education acts as a dangerous barrier to high-quality learning and social and economic development. It jeopardises the academic benefits of universities and may even lead to the reputation collapse of a country's entire higher education system.

In assessing the way forward, the Global Corruption Report: Education highlights new approaches to arresting corruption in education.

The five sections include:

-- global trends in corruption in education

-- understanding the scale of corruption in school education

-- transparency and integrity in higher education

-- innovative approaches to tackling corruption in education

-- 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. From Chile to Morocco to Thailand, many of Transparency International's chapters have proven that developing wide-ranging programmes that integrate anti-corruption initiatives in school curricula and classroom activities are vital to ending corruption in education.

Adil Gilani in his analysis said that despite decades of interventions by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Unesco and many other international multilateral institutions, corruption in Pakistan has contributed to bringing public sector governance mechanisms close to collapse. The education sector is severely affected by corruption, threatening the quality of the more than 150,000 government-supported schools across the country.

According to the National Corruption Perception survey conducted by TI Pakistan, the education sector in Pakistan was perceived by respondents to be the fourth most corrupt sector in 2010, though it improved relative to other sectors the following year.

Government reports echo these perceptions. The country's 2009 National Education Policy (NEP) notes that governance in the education sector is weak, and highlighted a number of corrupt practices in the sector, including the diversion of educational funds for personal use; political influence and favouritism in the allocation of resources to districts and schools; non-merit-based recruitment and posting of teachers; and corruption in examination and assessment processes. Indeed, the NEP notes that the extent of corruption 'reflects a deeper malaise where the service to the students and learners is not at the forefront of thought and behaviour processes in operating the system.'

Elaborating on ghost schools, Adil Gilani said: amid these forms of corruption, the phenomenon of 'ghost schools' ranks among the most troubling. So-called ghost schools exist on government rosters, but provide no services to students, although the teachers or administrators assigned to these schools continue to receive a salary.

In some cases, public office-holders and tribal leaders extract public funds in the names of teachers' salaries or simply turn school buildings over to other purposes. Media reports cite widespread examples of schools being used as guesthouses while teachers take on other jobs in the community unrelated to education. Reports also suggest that some teachers pay a portion of their salary to education administrators and monitors, who falsify reports on school functioning while the teachers work at other jobs or reside outside the area.

With teacher appointments reportedly made through nepotism or favouritism, it is possible that individuals with little commitment to teaching to pay bribes for placements in rural areas where absenteeism is more likely to go unchecked. Wilful wrongdoing lies behind the existence of many ghost schools - but not all. In some cases, poor management is to blame, as when the failure to undertake an initial needs assessment results in schools being built in areas unreachable by nearby communities due to insecurity, poor road infrastructure or a lack of public transportation.

Ghost schools result in leakages of billions of rupees' worth of losses to the national exchequer and to a traditionally under-funded education budget. They exacerbate the high levels of frustration already experienced by overlooked, neglected and disenfranchised Pakistani youth and represent lost opportunities for progress for millions of children, perpetuating cycles of abject poverty, of child labour and of unemployment. They also compound Pakistan's poor performance in educational indicators: Over a half of Pakistan's children do not have access to education, and the country is projected to have the largest out-of-school population (3.7 million) in south and west Asia by 2015.

Why do ghost schools persist? Weak monitoring systems allow ghost schools to persist, especially in remote parts of the country. One 2010 report found that, despite the use of an education management information system in each province, the information collected through surveys is finalised at school level by the very teachers being evaluated, with no independent evaluation of these reports being undertaken at national level. Reports from local school management committees (SMCs) and NGOs paint a vastly different picture of teacher absenteeism, but such reports are not centrally collected. Even where SMCs do exist as a means for added oversight, however, these bodies can be weak or operated by people with scant desire to improve schools.

Implementing change has proved to be difficult, even for those who seem to be well placed and eager to do so. In April 2011, the Sindh education secretary presented a highly critical report on the state of education in Sindh to the Public Accounts Committee of the Sindh Assembly. The report drew attention to the extent of ghost schools in the province, and asserted that the government paid about Rs 200 million (around US $$2 million) to schools that existed only on paper.

Claiming that some 1,000 non-viable schools in Sindh either existed on paper or had zero enrolment, the education secretary argued for diverting the funds released every year for ghost schools and, instead, improving the services and facilities of operational schools with enrolled students and active teachers.

According to media reports, these statements from the education secretary, and her expressions of frustration at the lack of action within the Education department to improve schools, led the Sindh education minister to transfer the secretary out of the department permanently. Despite her departure, the media attention that followed the Sindh education secretary may have exerted some pressure; in February 2012 the province's Ministry of Education announced plans to close over 1,000 ghost schools that had been turned over for alternative uses.

Pushing for lasting change: Political will is the first prerequisite for change, yet corruption in education is so pervasive that it permeates the highest ranks in the country. In the summer of 2010 an initial review of the educational achievements of parliamentarians found thirty-seven fake educational degrees, compared to 183 real degrees. The response of some parliamentarians demonstrates the extent to which education is valued, with one minister reportedly asserting that 'a degree is a degree, whether it's fake or real'.

While education may not be valued by all at the highest levels of government, across all provinces in Pakistan demand for high-quality education is strong. Giving the children of Pakistan the education they require transforming political will through continued media attention and community involvement. Addressing ghost schools requires a strengthening of accountability. This includes holding school heads to account if payments are found to be going to non-existent teachers. It might entail depositing salaries directly into the banking accounts of teachers, making it easier to verify who is receiving funds. It has likewise been recommended that government auditors visit each school annually and certify the school's physical existence, with verification by independent third parties. Improving accountability can also mean drawing on the resources outside the education sector for collaboration. In 2012 the National Database and Registration Authority proved essential in identifying some 2,000 'ghost' staff, who did not exist. Finally, community-based school monitoring has also been suggested as a method for improving the quality of local schools. In Punjab province, NGOs have helped to establish over 40,000 school councils to alert the government to wrongdoings.

Ghost schools and other means of corruption in the education sector are currently a low-risk, high-return activity, which could be facilitated by a network of corrupt actors positioned in strategic posts. Such practices must be urgently addressed to protect the future of 21 million students in the world's sixth most populous nation. No effort or resource should be spared to give the future generations the opportunity to rise from poverty, fully equipped to face the challenges of tomorrow for a more prosperous Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013


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