Parental Bribery of Educators: A Ugandan Perspective

Over the last three weeks, domestic and international media have focused rapt attention on the recent U.S. federal indictment of dozens of parents who, among other actions, allegedly paid substantial bribes to secure their children’s admission to top-flight universities.   Those who track corruption trends around the world might be forgiven for experiencing some bemusement, given the fact that bribery of educators is a deeply entrenched practice in countries across multiple regions, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

A recent report by Global Press Journal about bribery in Ugandan schools provides a timely perspective on the practice, despite official condemnation.  Government policy is reflected in Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports guidelines, which require “that teachers who favor certain children based on gifts they get receive warnings [and] can even be fired if the problem persists.” At local levels, each school’s head teacher supposedly has responsibility for seeing that teachers are not bribed.

In practice, however,

[c]ash, luxury items and even bags of groceries are now so commonly passed from parents to teachers in Uganda that some teachers now boldly request those items. In exchange, the children of parents who give gifts often sit at the front of the class and receive high marks, whether or not those marks are earned.

While Uganda suffers from widespread corruption in general, one likely reason for public-school teachers’ acceptance of bribes by parents is their low salary range. One teacher stated that “she expects to get at least 200,000 Ugandan shillings [(USh] (about $54) from parents during this season” – the equivalent, for some teachers, of almost one month’s salary.  Another teacher said that she has seen “some parents at her child’s baby class give cash – 10,000 ($2.70), 20,000 ($5.40) and even 50,000 ($13.51) shilling notes – to teachers.”

Ugandan primary school teachers on average earn USh 250,000 (approximately $67) a month, secondary-school teachers have starting salaries of USh 536,000 (approximately $145), and teachers with a degree can be paid approximately USh 600,000 (about $162).  As a point of comparison, entry-level health workers receive approximately USh 313,000 (about $85), and police and prison officers receive between USh 467,000 (approximately $126) and USh 573,000 (approximately $155).

The Global Press Journal article provides a cogent reminder of how deeply corruption can infect and persist in people’s everyday lives, and how difficult it can be to eliminate corruption in the face of significant economic inequalities.

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