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Our View: Institutionalised corruption must be eliminated from public education

TRANSPARENCY International released a report on corruption in education. The report lists the different forms of corruption that plague education systems all over the world and violate children’s right to quality education. Among the examples it cited in the introduction of its survey was school officials giving orders to the “company with the lowest quality, but highest bribe” and “corrupt administrators keeping non-existent schools on the books in order to receive unwarranted salaries.”

A couple of examples were relevant to Cyprus, which was not included in the survey. It said: “In some cases corruption has already occurred through their (school personnel and teachers) if, for example, they only receive the job as a favour of a relative linked to the school and not on merit.” In Cyprus, unions and political parties, in eliminating favours, have excluded merit from being used as a criterion for the hiring of secondary school teachers.

There is a waiting list and when it is a graduate’s turn, he or she has the right to be appointed regardless of irrelevant trivialities such us merit. The candidates whose names come up are anointed teachers and let loose in the classroom even if they had never taught in their life. It seems to have never occurred to anyone that hiring graduates, who have no merit, as teachers violates children’s right to average – let alone quality – education.

Nobody views the waiting list as a form of corruption in Cyprus. Perversely, it is considered a fair appointment system that ensures against favouritism. This is because state education is run by teaching unions, for which any form of meritocracy is anathema, but nobody dares mention the obvious – more capable and committed teachers are more likely to offer a higher standard of education to children.

Another form of corruption in education highlighted by Transparency International was private tuition, which is a very big industry in Cyprus. “Corruption occurs where the responsibility for transmitting knowledge to children is abused for private gain,” it said, adding that this “affects those who cannot afford to pay for extra lessons.” In fact, there are teachers who may not do their job properly in the classroom, short-changing the poorer students, because this would generate additional income from afternoon lessons.

The late president Tassos Papadopoulos recognised this problem, which was also a violation of a teacher’s terms of employment, and tried to tackle it – there were two arrests of teachers – but such was the outcry from unions and parents, he gave up. And nobody has said anything against this blatantly corrupt practice since then, presumably because parents believe private lessons help their children.

Perhaps now that people have no money to spend on private tuition, the education ministry could focus on improving education standards so all children would benefit. But first it would have to eliminate the institutionalised corruption from public education.

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