Making Anticorruption Education Work: The To Do List

In a previous post, I discussed how in Indonesia, entrenched cultural norms make corruption hard to eradicate, and I argued that because of this anticorruption reformers should promote educational curricula–at the elementary, junior high school, and high school levels–as a long-term mechanism to change the corruption culture. While my earlier post focused on Indonesia, many other countries–such as the Philippines, India, China, and others–are also beset by an entrenched culture of corruption. These countries, therefore, should also adopt anticorruption education initiatives to help change this culture.

But what goes into the design of effective anticorruption education programs? What factors must be considered? How can we ensure that anticorruption education is genuinely effective? While the issues are complex and many are country-specific, I want to highlight six important components of a successful anticorruption education program.

  • First, prior to implementing an anticorruption curricula in schools, countries need to establish a legal basis to compel schools to ensure these curricula are effectively implemented. Because implementing new anticorruption curricula would require schools to incur additional cost, time, and energy, many schools will be reluctant to do so absent legal compulsion (for example, a threat to revoke a school’s education license if it has failed to implement the program within a specific period of time).
  • Second, anticorruption education should be embedded in the school’s curricula, not just in the form of a special seminar series or ad hoc trainings. The objective of anticorruption education is to raise a generation of citizens who despise rather than tolerate or embrace corruption, thus reducing the likelihood that corruption will remain embedded in the culture. Because school is a place where children spend most of their time, it serves as an effective medium for social acculturation at the earliest stage. But to be effective, anticorruption messages must be integrated throughout the curriculum, starting from the elementary school level.
  • Third, the government must conduct careful research prior to the implementation of the curricula, drawing on the expertise of education psychologists and other experts, to find out the most effective way to inculcate anticorruption norms. This includes figuring out the best way to target anticorruption education at children in different age groups, so that the material will not be presented in a way that is too early or too late, too fast or too slow. Countries could learn from the Republic of Macedonia’s established programs, teacher’s manuals, and promotional materials to implement anticorruption education for their elementary school students. If necessary, each province or state could tailor its curricula to the circumstances of each area.
  • Fourth, the government also needs to prepare education for schoolteachers in order to ensure their capability in implementing the anticorruption curricula. This step is vital because the success of the program will depend on the ability of teachers to the deliver the curricula to students.
  • Fifth, the government must devote sufficient attention to issues of measurement and evaluation, so it can determine how well the programs are working, and adjust them if they are not effective. The students, for example, should be regularly assessed, using similar tests and techniques employed to gauge student mastery in “regular” subjects like math and history. To monitor the overall impact of the program, the government could also adopt the evaluation models used by Transparency International (TI) in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI), using a combination of surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions within a country. To date, TI’s CPI is the most widely used corruption indicator worldwide. Although some have raised questions and criticisms about its uses, including on this blog, measuring the success of the program is difficult, and countries need to start somewhere. Additionally, in designing assessment and evaluation schemes, countries need to set feasible targets, neither too high nor too low.
  • Sixth, because nothing can more thoroughly undercut the effectiveness of anticorruption messages than corruption within the school–when sends the message that the curriculum is a hypocritical joke–the government should punish the perpetrators of corruption in schools severely, especially if the perpetrators are teachers.

If a solid foundation can be established, then anticorruption education can be one of the most consistent and effective ways to produce a new generation of anticorruption citizens who will demolish the pro-corruption culture.

8 thoughts on “Making Anticorruption Education Work: The To Do List

  1. I’m happy to see you’ve built on your previous post, Shinta, because I think education is a particularly important area for anticorruption initiatives. I got a bit hung up on the first component, though. Creating a legal basis to compel schools to act on anticorruption reform seems like a very big ask. I wonder if the political capital isn’t better spent on holding schools accountable for the more traditional aims of education (such as achieving certain student and teacher performance standards), which are often in need of improvement. Perhaps my hesitation comes from the fact that I live in the U.S., where the relationship between state-level actors – education service providers and policymakers – and their federal-level counterparts – mostly policymakers and enforcement bodies – is fraught with tension. Maybe the controversy over enforcement of standards would not be so great in a unitary state like Indonesia.

    At any rate, one way to overcome this potential obstacle is to develop an integrated curriculum, whereby anticorruption principles are introduced into standard curricular subjects, rather than as a stand-alone topic (for example, instead of having a unit on anticorruption, require students to practice accounting in math or read books about integrity in language arts). I don’t know much about pedagogical models but it seems like, independent of the political feasibility, this approach might be a good one, particularly for younger learners.

    • I like your idea, Liz, of integrating anticorruption curriculum into a broad range of subject areas because it normalizes the idea that corruption can rear its head in diverse settings and so develops students’ ability to recognize corruption regardless of the form it takes. M concern would be how to reconcile the idea of an integrated curriculum in which, presumably, all or most teachers would be required to incorporate anticorruption lessons, with the fact that corruption is endemic and (presumably) a good segment of teachers and school administrators may be actors. I think we’d pretty quickly run into the concern Shinta highlights in her 6th point. These tendencies could of course be checked by the monitoring and evaluation program Shinta recommends, but my inclination would be to parachute anticorruption instructors into schools were corruption is rife, both for students and teachers, as a means of first and foremost preserving the integrity of the anticorruption program. Doing so would certainly be more resource intensive, but this could also work to the program’s benefit. If, for example, an incentive system were set up whereby schools would have two years to demonstrate themselves capable of taking over the anticorruption programming, and if they could not they would have to take over funding responsibilities, local teachers and administrators would have a real interest in seeing the program succeed. Once the program is entrenched enough to successfully inculcate anticorruption values, incorporating these lessons into a broad range of subjects is a great idea.

      • I’m also glad to see you build on your ideas, Shinta, since I’ve been wondering what all these calls for anti-corruption education would actually look like in practice. I too am somewhat worried about how effective it’s going to be, though, and, as Liz said, whether the political capital wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere, at least in pure cost-benefit terms for education. Also, if a new legal duty was created, there would have to be additional funding provided, right? I suppose that’s where your third point comes in (as well as the fifth, going forward)–it seems likely to be very difficult to persuade governments to spend money on this (which necessarily requires taking it from somewhere else), so it would be particularly important to make sure whatever measures taken were actually effective.

        I’d also echo Mel’s thoughts that Liz’s ideas about integration seem like a way to at least somewhat overcome the likely requirement of additional resources.

        Maybe this already exists, but a post beginning to do the sort of survey you discuss in your third point would be really great to read–especially since I still remain a little skeptical about how well all of this can work (but would very much hope to be convinced in the other direction!).

      • I’d also like to echo Mel’s point about the importance of fighting corruption within educational institutions themselves, as an essential prerequisite to effective anticorruption education at any level. As I said in my own earlier post on the Poznan Declaration (, I think this deserves to be at the top of the list, rather than the bottom (though I fully recognize that the order of the items on your list was not meant to convey relative importance).

    • I was not nearly as hung up on the first element of Shinta’s outline, in large part because mandating that an anticorruption program be incorporated into elementary and secondary curriculum would be no different than compelling schools to teach math and science; if you can do the latter, you can do the former. I think Shinta is just making the worthwhile point that, for this important anticorruption socialization process to work, we need to obligate schools to embrace this new curriculum; it should not be phrased as an aspirational goal or optional program because schools might then shy away from taking on additional responsibilities and costs.

      I think I lean pretty strongly toward Shinta’s camp that the only effective way to combat a culture of corruption is to teach the next generation while they’re young. But I share some of the broader concerns that placing the responsibility on schools to squeeze this additional program into existing hours/budgets comes at a nonnegligible cost to the schools’ other missions, objectives, and programs. I also agree both Shinta and some of the comments that the real crucial element of this entire endeavor will be in figuring out how to teach anticorruption norms effectively so that they have lasting impact. Fascinating idea that will likely be very difficult in practice.

      • Liz, I really like your idea about the integrated curriculum. However, echoing Melanie, I think in practice it’s going to be much more difficult to reconcile the integrated curriculum. Not only because most countries are (presumably) struggling with endemic corruption within the school system, but also because it means teachers must dissect the already established “normal” subjects to fit the anti-corruption elements. I wonder: what if the anti-corruption curriculum is later proven to be ineffective? Will teachers must once again dissect the integrated curriculum hence hampering and destabilize the learning process of such “normal” curriculum for students? Would it not be more practicable to implement a separated set of anti-corruption curricula, test it, and later modify it if the initial set is not working? But, this is just my immediate reaction. More thorough research is surely needed—education experts may also find out that different areas and circumstances need different models.

        On another note, I honestly believe—especially in developing countries that are rife with corruption—schools will (most likely) not voluntarily implement anti-corruption program unless they are compelled to do so through strict regulation. As Jordan mentioned, if the government can do this with math or history, why not with the anti-corruption program? I agree that it may create tensions and controversy but the first step should be to make the program a reality—by making it an obligation for schools and see how the people/CSOs react to it. In practice, they are the one who can ensure the sustainability of the anti-corruption program.

    • Thanks, this is very helpful. I wonder, though, if this additional point doesn’t raise another difficulty. The kind of interactive education I think you have in mind demands very skilled, committed teachers, different kinds of curricula, etc. At least in the short-to-medium term, it may not be realistic to expect that large, poor countries like Indonesia (or China or India or other countries where we might think anticorruption education is badly needed) will be able to implement such a dramatic curricular innovation on a large scale. Maybe that pessimistic assessment is not right, but suppose it is.

      The question, then, is whether it is better to implement an admittedly imperfect anticorruption curricula (non-interactive, etc.), or whether that is, as you suggest, mostly a waste of time and resources. For some subjects, like math, my instinct is to say that it’s better for it to be taught badly (via lecture and rote memorization) than not at all. But maybe when one is teaching values rather than skills, this is not true — maybe better not to try to implement sweeping anticorruption education curricula until we’ve first built up the capacity to do it the right way? Or maybe we need to introduce in incrementally, starting where the capacity is already there and building out?

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