The national education system is generally the largest branch of the public sector in Africa, often representing over 20% of the government’s public spending. As a fundamental human right, education is a driver for individual, social and economic development. It is seen as the key to a better future and gives citizens the necessary tools to meet their own needs, live decently and contribute to society.
Corruption in the education system has a long-term negative impact on all members of society, in particular the most vulnerable. The poor and marginalised fringes of the population are unable to bear the cost of corruption and are therefore deprived of the opportunities represented by universal access to high-quality education.
Corruption in the education sector is a major development issue in Africa: According to Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer, an average of 33% of the citizens who had come into contact with the education system said that they had paid a bribe in the context of the education system. In Cameroon, this figure is as high as 36%.
Corruption at school manifests itself in what are essentially predatory behaviours, including requesting excessive or imaginary enrolment fees from poor parents, demanding bribes in exchange for a diploma or even just a school report, selling school equipment that is supposed to be free, sexual exploitation of schoolgirls in exchange for grades, and so on.
Corruption also exists in other forms in the education sector more broadly, including:
- Corruption associated with assigning teachers to desirable posts, organised absenteeism and “ghost” teachers, a phenomenon that puts a strain on the education budget and is used to misappropriate funds.
- Artificially inflated enrolment figures or “ghost schools” invented to attract public funding (based on fixed per-pupil subsidies)
- Procurement processes for school books or defective equipment (for example, contracts whose value is artificially inflated in exchange for kickbacks)
- Awarding a construction contract for a municipal school to a business run by the individual’s own family or friends, or in exchange for kickbacks
- The diploma market: paying teachers to award good marks, buying copies of examination papers that have been awarded a pass, or simply purchasing fake diplomas
A report published by Transparency International in 2010, Africa Education Watch, has already identified and measured the prevalence of such practices in some African countries, including Niger and Madagascar. A specific report on Cameroon, published in 2012, revealed similar problems. The two stories that follow clearly illustrate the problems identified above.