• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 1:15am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 5:41am

Corruption in schools must be stopped

Kelly Yang urges parents to stand up and expose corrupt teachers who are damaging the integrity of a meritocratic education system


Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk

Across the border, corruption in education has become so pervasive that, according to recent reports, parents are forced to pay thousands of dollars, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, in "voluntary donations" or outright bribes to get a child into a school. Teachers run for-profit cram schools on the side and ask their own students to enrol.

The situation has become so appalling that, according to the Shanghai Daily, the value of gifts students give to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Day has grown 50 times from a decade ago. Instead of fruit or flowers, Chinese teachers now expect pricey gift cards, designer watches and even cash.

Here in Hong Kong, while the situation is not nearly as bad, corruption in education nevertheless still exists. I have heard countless stories about misconduct - from teachers telling students they don't have to turn in homework if they show up with a box of Godiva, to college counsellors gently suggesting that families should hand over cash if they want more tailored counselling. I personally know of several Chinese teachers who tutor their own students - students whose grades they control - after school for payment. I've also seen e-mails sent by teachers during the Lunar New Year saying they will accept lai see.

I can't imagine any parent being too happy with this. However, I've never known a single parent to lodge a complaint with the school. Why don't these parents say anything? The answer is simple: as parents, we're afraid. As much as we don't like to see corruption, we really don't like retaliation.

We're scared of upsetting the teacher if we tell. We're worried that complaining will not actually put a stop to it. We're concerned about being labelled "the difficult parent" if we "tattle". And, here in Hong Kong, the land of "saving face", many parents are worried about seeming "cheap" or "poor" if they protest against the price of a gift to the teacher. And so they put up with it, year after year.

All these fears allow corruption to thrive and breed. Last month, two Hong Kong parents sued a former Harvard professor for allegedly charging over US$2 million and then failing to get their sons into Harvard. One study showed that 90 per cent of US-university-bound Chinese applicants submitted false recommendation letters.

While corruption is devastating in any industry, in education it is exponentially more destructive. Education is the foundation of our civilisation. If corruption replaces meritocracy in schools, if at the end of the day we can no longer trust grades, test scores or placement results to be legitimate, then what can we, as a society, trust?

The only way we can put a stop to it is to stow our fear and speak out against corruption at each and every instance. We need to do this consistently and systematically - and soon, too, before corruption looms so large among schools in the region that no student applying to a school from Asia will ever be taken seriously again.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

The revelations about gratuity seeking and corruption in China's education system is not so surprising.
Hong Kong's education system has been badly enough damaged over the last 15 years by politically correct stupidity coming before the needs of the children, but corruption is intolerable. Can someone start naming names?
I couldn't disagree more. I don't believe parents are afraid of teachers at all. Debentures may well be a form of legalized corruption, but parents bribing teachers for grades? I find it hard to imagine how any teacher could get away with it, what with the many levels of bureaucratic oversight in education today. I think it's far more likely for parents to complain to the school when their children don't receive the grades they feel they deserve. From my own experience, most parents perceive themselves not as stakeholders but as customers buying a service. Far too often it is the teacher who lives in fear of complaints from parents, whether in the form of a letter to the principal, or worse still, a letter to the press.
corruption is just part of scientific development! praise the party! hong kong will become harmonious like china once we embrace curtailment of freedoms and maximize corruption! all hail mao!
People who are normally upright may be tempted to procure unfair/illegal advantage given their focus on their children and the severe competition for school places and grades. Although there's no proof that gifting a teacher makes any difference in Hong Kong, there's also no downside. The Education Department should make it clear that any parent who attempts to bribe a teacher either directly or indirectly will have his/her child expelled from school and that serious cases will be referred to the ICAC.
we must eliminate the ICAC! it is silly to have these things. we must eliminate free press too. only that way can party control the scientific development process to achieve social harmony. also these things make it hard for party to be corrupt and maximize payments. we need to buy watches and how can we afford this without corruption! it is our birth right as leaders! praise the party!
Since the Shanghai Daily article quoted above was published back in September, I wonder if the inspiration for this column, two months later, might have something to do with the more recent article by the New York Times? It might be nice for the Grey Lady to get some credit. Also, the phrase "voluntary donation" was mentioned in NYT but not Shanghai Daily.. ****www.nytimes.com/2012/11/22/world/asia/in-china-schools-a-culture-of-bribery-spreads.html?pagewanted=all
Kelly, I hope this article receives the attention it deserves, and starts a serious debate.
looking at the big picture, isn't it mo' money mo' education? Can one really pretend to have egalitarian education? Lai see and school fees are just two sides of the same coin. The rich kid will have nicer diplomas than the poor one.
yes! this is called chinese style communism! praise the party!
We have legal corruption (high fees, debentures) and illegal corruption (the point mentioned in the post).


SCMP.com Account