(MENAFN- Pajhwok Afghan News) KABUL (Pajhwok): 'Widespread corruption' is alleged in the Ministry of Education's hiring and contract bidding processes besides sexual harassment of female workers, Pajhwok Afghan News has learnt.
The allegations were made in an conducted by the Independent Joint Ant-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) at the request of the former education minister Asadullah Balkhi in 2016.
As part of the audit, MEC held 388 individual interviews and 160 group interviews with teachers, principals, directors, students, parents, members of school councils, private and international organizations in Kabul, Badakhshan, Balkh, Faryab, Ghazni, Herat, Khost, Bamyan, Panjshir and Nangarhar provinces. Twenty-five percent of the interviewees were women.
Corruption threats at Ministry of Education (MoE)
The MEC in its final findings said bribes against school certificates distribution, corruption in construction of during school buildings and distribution of curriculum books were MoE areas hit hard by corruption.
The report highlights some areas where possibility of administrative corruption exists. These areas are 'wrong input' about education budget, wrong specifications in education budget, high level education curriculum, hiring and transfer of teachers, teacher's license, allocation of teachers allowance, selection trainings for teachers, exams, marks, graduation, publications and distribution of books.
The list goes on, school buildings and infrastructure contracts, commissions regarding budget and changes, deviation of central budget, deviation of projects' budgets, deviation of MoE assets, giving bribe to observers, acceptance of high level of absence, giving bribe by teachers for promotion to higher ranks, use of schools for personal purposes, deviation of school budgets.
In addition, higher rates for food and uniform for schools, reconstruction, maintenance contracts, bribe feeding for enrollment, getting marks, seeking access to exam results, school certificates, access to exams questions, …… second chance exam and asking students for money who did not appear at classes and forcing students to take private classes, to work free for teachers, sexual demands of teachers were other areas of possible corruption at the MoE, according to MEC.
All of the people interviewed pointed out at the possibility of corruption at human resources, finance, control, observation, capacity-building and accountability of provinces, administration, schools, teachers, private schools, confirmation of statistics, donors, policy making and dealing with different issues.
Posting of teachers the best area for deals behind the curtains:
One of the most vulnerable area to administrative corruption is the posting of teachers against influences, bribe and relations instead of qualification and talent throughout the country.
Hundreds of persons interviewed said individuals graduating from Teacher Training Institutes had to pay bribe to get teacher post at school.
The applicants were asked to pay $800 to $1,000 in bribe to be hired as teacher. In addition, the presence of unprofessional people as teachers in schools hampered public trust in the education system.
One education officer said: 'The teacher's hiring process is completely corrupt. During the period I served at MoE, the Human Resources Department has not appointed a qualified teacher so far. These people were hired because they have connections with high level government officials. I have no option but to accept corruption and be part of the corrupt system.'
The Education Ministry has been dubbed as the country biggest institution in term of absorbing massive number of human power. The number of MoE workers reaches 262,000, making it 68 percent of the entire government human resources.
The report also said the gender has been ignored in the hiring process in some districts.
One of the parents interviewed said the presence of unprofessional teachers was a greater threat to the future of Afghanistan. They termed unprofessional teachers worse than suicide bombers.
Shocking contrast in statistics
Based on statisticsavailable with the MoE'sInformation Management System (IMS), about 16,000 schools exist in Afghanistan where 9.2 million pupils attendclasses.
However, the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) wrote: 'Confirmation of these figures is unreasonable for some arguments; because some students drop out from schools due to displacement.'
'Meanwhile, changes take place in students' number as they are expelled from schools after being absent for two years. This number (permanent absentees for two years) is estimated to be 20 percent of the total student population.'
It said, 'The MEC findings suggest that currently there is no consistency and uniformity in the information regarding the number of teachers and students at various departments of different provinces.'
As an instance, the survey said, the MoE's IMS has reported the number of registered students in 'a province' as 726,266 in academic year 2015 but the statistics with the Department of Registration and Payment of the MoE put the number at 723,497 students.
Meanwhile, the number of teachers in the same province has been reported as 14,413 by the Department of Registration and Payment, 14,109 by the Finance Department and 14,260 by the Education Department. 'In addition, posts announced for teachers in 2011 are yet to be filled in the said province.'
These controversial figures certainly increase the possibility of 'imaginary' schools and students.
The survey reveals the number of students in schools in Afghanistan has reached eight millions now.
However, it adds, 'Though the actual numbers of students may vary or reach several millions but these controversial figures are possibly due to political performance, or generally reported less or more by organisations and the MoE or the final reason could be cited weakness in the education statistics of Afghanistan.'
The number of students establishes the fact that the demand for more schools has increased and that why some sources estimated the number of students at 10.5 million.
'Accurate enrollment data is essential to educational planning. Over the past decade, the MoE by working closely with the World Bank and other development partners (DPs), has been largely successful in setting up a functional EMIS in Afghanistan, still questions remain about the accuracy of the data.' the source said.
The statistics of the survey show that the total number of students including those enrolled in recent years differs from the statistics of the Education Management Information System (EMIS).
According to the survey's statistics, the number of students enrolled between 2013 and 2014 is two percent higher compared to the EMIS data, but two percent lesser in 2015.
The survey shows the students' statistics information (based on accuracy) has improved last year compared to previous years. Average percent by which the EMIS overestimates enrollment is one percent between 2013 and 2016.
This percentage varies in different schools. For example, the number of newly-enrolled students in Khulm Mullah High School in Balkh province is shown 70 percent less in EMIS system and the statistics in Tatar Khana High School in Faryab shown more than a hundred percent in 2016.
When student enrollment statistics in 93 schools were compared with the EMIS data for the four years, the results showedthe EMIS had been accurate.
However, when the data for actual attendance, not enrollment, was used, the result was significantly different.
Now EMIS is seen to be overstating the attendance figures by 23 percent, with no significant variation between 2013 and 2016.
The difference in the number of students in attendance and in EMIS data is high in some cases but less in others.
For example, Guldara Girls School in Kabul records no difference in attendance with EMIS in 2016, but the attendance statistics in Amir Ali SherNawayee Girls School in Herat province is 81 percent less compared to the data of EMIS.
The number of students at Tatar Khana Girls School in Faryab is 72 percent less with EMIS, compared to their number in attendance.
It shows EMIS was accurate in relation to the number of students enrolled, with a difference of two or less percent in statistics between 2013 and 2014.
However, the number of students estimated in EMIS was 23 percent higher compared to the real statistics.
As survey's statistics could not be generalized, the difference of data indicates corruption.
Besides students, parents and families also expressed their annoyance over the selling of school certificates to students living outside of Afghanistan – one dimension of the 'ghost student' phenomenon.
Without providing details, the survey also interviewed people about ghost schools that issued certificates to students. The Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee hasalso received reports about ghost schools.
'These are students who technically appear on a school register, but do not attend classes – allegedly some are not even residing in Afghanistan. In these cases, students (or their families) pay to keep their names on the school register without having to attend classes,' the report says.
There are reports about instances in which students paid money for passing school exams and obtaining certificates, the survey said.
Corruption in procurement and projects
The survey says: 'For more than 15 years, only one printing press namedBahir has been contracted for printing textbooks.
Millions of afghanishave been paid to the company, but the books in many schools remain in short supply. Bahirand its two sub-contractors in India and Malaysia printedhalf of the books required and shared the money for the remaining half between themselves.
The source said major development partners in the procurement of textbooks such as USAID and Danish International Development Agency were able to come up with necessary steps for improving the procurement procedure and reducing corruption in the area. But more problems emerged.
Head of a teacher's training center has said he shared a proposal in a request to the World Bankfor requirements of teacher's training centersand shared it with the organs concerned, but the Provincial Education Department put the cost of an item at 300,000 afghanis, something that did not match the proposal.
'We listed our needful areas and submitted these, so in total the amount reached up to USD 48,000. The Provincial Teacher's Training Centers, Provincial Education Directorates and Provincial Governor's Offices paid AFN 300,000 worth equipment, not cash, and provided equipment that we never listed in our proposal,' he said.
'At the same time, they calculated the cost of each item more than double of the real cost, like a gas balloon which is a available for AFN 500, they charged AFN 3,000; they also provided a motorcycle, the actual cost of which was AFN 48,000, but they claimed AFN 95,000. The rest of this amount goes to the pockets of high level provincial officials.'
In another example, no limitations are defined in the MoE Procurement Department about how many projects can be given to a company at the same time.
For instance, 62 projects in Bamyan province have been executed by a single contractor, which has now failed and will not complete the projects.
There are many other companies that have left their projects incomplete but they still get more project contracts from the MoE's Procurement Department.
The MEC report said the international community provided huge amount of money to the education sector in the past 15-year. There might not be exact figure of the money provided to the education ministry but only the USAID provided around $1 billion for the education ministry programmes.
Corruption in bidding process:
According to the previous MEC report 80 percent contracts and bidding in the past 13-year were affected by corruption.
The recent interview conducted in the MEC report supported these claims.
Absence and bribery by teachers:
Based on reports, the absence of teachers from classes has been widespread all over the country due to weak, corrupt and ineffective management.
'Every Thursday, most of the teachers send leave applications to schools and instead of attending classes, they do their own private works', said one of the parents.
As per the reports, some of these teachers even send others in their place to teach their classes.
It is also said some teachers took money from students in exchange for revealing exam questions and giving higher grades.
One of the interviewees said:' Corporal punishment is still in practice in schools. Some teachers even ask students to do their house works in return for better marks in exams.'
According to the report, teachers in most of the provinces take 500 – 1000 afs from studentsagainst better marks.
Curriculum and Education Quality:
The interviewees believe the current technical and vocational education system in Afghanistan cannot meet the requirements of 40 percent of work force, who are either unemployed, or have short-term jobs.
A senior official in one of the Development Cooperation Institutions said:' the formal technical and vocational education system has three serious issues: Technical and vocational education targeted groups are not within the system; about 85 percent of the teachers don't possess the required qualification; and finally, misbehavior exists in every aspect of the system.'
However, it is said that lately, the Ministry of Education has taken some steps towards resolving these problems.
According to the report, it is impossible to cover the entire content of the curriculum, considering its large volume and less number of school days, which itself creates several problems to the system.
Corruption and forgery in reporting the coverage of curriculum has also raised many concerns, which is impossible to be handled in the given course of time.
These problems are the reason behind the low level of education.
The report says interviews with sixth grade students reveal teachers choose the contents of the curriculum as per their own will and laterthey make it sure the questions for exams are taken from their chosen subjects.
In this situation, teaching system is at its primary level and less attention is paid to the final yearly exam, which has to be considered main priority.
Mostly, final examinations don't take place based the centre's guidelines and management, which is why it is impossible to monitor the curriculum coverage.
Gender issue and Female Teachers and Students Harassment:
According to the report 'female students in schools and women in literacy centers, female teachers, education directors and girls' schools' principals are still facing a high decreeof sexual harassment.'
It has been also added:' For instance, the monitoring and evaluation committee has encountered several cases where students (in secondary schools and literacy centers) are forced into sexual relations to get higher marks in examinations, in some other cases, female teachers are also forced to sexual abuse in order to get to a better job, in some cases female teachers are even forced to marriage.'
Based on the report, the MEC has recorded several cases of sexual harassment on girls and women at teacher'straining centers of provinces, schools or their workplaces.
It has been written in the report,' Sexual harassment in workplaces in exchange for school certificates or vocational development, etc, is very extensive and it has been considered worse than bribery.'
The committee has also said no clear statistics of gender are available among 215,000 students in the country.
But according to some documents, 20 percent of teachers in Afghanistan are women.
'As a regional comparison, 60 percent of teachers in Iran are women. Even the World Bank's billions of dollars in aid for girls scholarship programs in provinces and women's access to education and employment; there are still remarkable flaws and weaknesses in these scholarship', according to the report.
The committee adds lack of female teachers has denied studying opportunities to a remarkable number of girls in a majority of areas in the country.
Solutions and Suggestions:
Taking the responsibility of teachers' selection from local residents, cooperation of local councils in selecting teachers and creating a clear mechanism for this process alongside a strong support of the Cabinet, shortening the complex formation of the Education Ministry for a better management, selection of teachers through Capacity Building for Results (CBR) and spreading this process, supporting teachers are some of the recommendations of the committee.
The committee also suggested that the authorities must make and apply a new policy against corruption, prioritize fighting corruption and punishment of officials complicit and the donors have to support these actions.
The solutions recommended by the committee are as follow: 'Strengthening the Information Management System, reinforcing the internal audit department of the ministry of education, establishing an independent monitoring reference for quality and performance of education, creating an independent department to monitor transparency in selection of teachers and handling corruption related issues in this ministry by the Attorney General.'
According to the report, the interviewees have also recommended some other solutions as, civil and local monitoring; administrative, organizational and systematic changes, adjustments in rules and guidelines, required actions by international committees and development partners, proper reporting and independent monitoring, free publication of the policies, programs and budgets, handling violations and etc.