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The paper will discuss selected findings from an ongoing exploration of corrupt practices in education and the systemic circumstances which may provide education participants with reasons to engage in them. Following the insight that sector-specific solutions can be more effective than measures that are imposed from the “outside” of a sector (Boehm, 2014), the objective of research was to gather insights into how corruption in education can be addressed “from within” schools and universities and their environment, through changes in areas which are within the remit of education practitioners and policy makers, such as assessment of student achievement, teacher policies, admission procedures, etc.
The research presented in this paper was carried out in regular education in five countries (Serbia, Tunisia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) between 2011 and 2018 on behalf of their education authorities and/or civil society, and it covered all segments of the education system. The work was initiated under the name of INTES (Integrity of Education Systems) in the context of the Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the OECD.
The inquiry into corruption and its system-wide context was guided by two questions: whether education participants engage in corrupt practices and if yes, how the conditions in which they have (or deliver) their learning experiences may play a role in that. The focus was on the connections between actions of education participants which qualify as corrupt, and the conditions in which they have their exposure to the education system as teachers, students, administrators, etc.
The research questions were divided in sub-questions and research routines, organized in three interconnected thematic protocols which are held together by a conceptual framework (INTES framework) that draws on rational choice and routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979) and economic models of human behaviour (Becker, 1976), as well as on international anti-corruption standards.
Through the first protocol we identified nine sector-specific practices in each country (integrity violations), which qualify as acts of corrupt conduct against certain criteria, such as prevalence, intent, presence of personal benefit, etc. The other two protocols collected evidence about the education policy environment in which each of these practices or violations typically thrives, and specifically on the ways in which the education policy context may create incentives for corrupt conduct.
Our findings suggest that in all countries covered by the research, specific manifestations of corruption can be unequivocally linked to specific policy problems in the respective education systems that are resolvable through education improvement. Such problems often emerged in situations of profound educational changes, i.e. wide-reaching reforms. The evidence also confirms that the circumstances in which education takes place can indeed influence propensity for problematic conduct, in two major ways – by opening opportunities for the abuse of regular processes in education such as assessment, admission procedures, recruitment, etc. for corrupt purposes, and by providing education participants with incentives to do that.
The findings also confirm that the integrity framework developed for the purposes of research is applicable and holds across countries and education contexts, which opens interesting possibilities for in-depth exploration in specific segments and education priority areas that require change, such as inclusive education.