Is that apple for a teacher an old custom or a bribe?

2015-10-27 09:27

Corruption is daily in the news and has become so common, that it is no longer startling. It no longer shocks the sense, at least not for the average South African.

To oil the wheels on the ladder to success it has become almost acceptable, if not plausible that some sort of corruption will take place in the process. Unfortunately, the one who can pay the bribe is often a short-cutter, who doesn’t have what it takes to do the job well.

While many parents may be at the forefront of condemning corruption in the government, when it comes to whether their children can get potential special treatment at school, many of them won’t hesitate before deciding on whether to “bribe” teachers at their children's’ school.

During the course of our lives we are all subject to the needs and wishes of other people. This may be particularly true for children, who have less control over their own lives than adults do.

Parents always want the best for their children. And most parents, rightly so, are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that their children are given every opportunity to develop into responsible adults. It’s just that sometimes parents try too hard.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary explains the word involve in the following way: “include, comprise, entangled”. Parents are “entangled” in their children’s lives, even more so in their sporting and school activities.

Does any of the following sound familiar:

- teachers receiving gifts from pupils/parents;

- some parents are overly involved in general school activities and committees solely in an attempt to advance the    interests of their own children;

- parents putting pressure on teachers when sports teams are selected to include their child instead of a child with more talent;

- teachers spending excessive time after hours and on weekends at parents residences;

- a parent secretly funds a teacher’s monthly expenses shortfall;

- parents sponsoring school activities solely to obtain an unfair advantage for their children;

- a school requesting parents to make a monthly or one-off contribution to school funds or sport equipment on  exchange for favourable treatment to their child.

Corruption in education is more damaging than corruption in other sectors of our society because of its long-term effects since it threatens equal access and the quality of education. If children come to believe that success comes through manipulation, favouritism, corruption and bribery, then the very foundations of society are shaken.

At the school level, corruption tends to centre on bribes from parents to ensure access, good grades, leadership positions, a place in the first team and grade progression.

The Code of Professional Conduct of the South African Democratic Teachers Union stipulates minimum standards of professional conduct of teachers. According to its code any member of SADTU, who is alleged to have violated the standards of the profession and the provisions of the Code, may be subject to disciplinary action by the Union. The Code goes further to say that it is an abuse of this professional relationship for the teacher to:

- Enter into improper association with a pupil

- Show undue personal favour or disfavour towards a pupil

- Commit such acts against a child which are illegal; and

- Endeavour to exert an undue influence with regard to personal attitudes, opinion and behaviour, which are in no way connected with the work of the school.

The SADTU Code says further that a teacher shall to the best of their abilities work to promote the qualities of initiative, self-reliance and independence in their pupils.  In so doing they shall recognize the human right to self-determination and strive to endow pupils with the confidence necessary to become agents of their own learning and discovery.

It is interesting to note that the Code of Professional Ethics promulgated in terms of the South African Council of Educators Act 31 of 2000 does not explicitly deal with “undue personal favour or disfavour towards a pupil”.

The influence of parents on teachers is not only a South African problem. Authorities in South Korea for example have launched an aggressive effort to crack down on bribery of teachers, according to the Los Angeles Times. With parents desperate to give their children any sort of edge in the country's cut-throat college-admissions game, bribes to teachers are apparently commonplace in South Korea. Typically, according to the Times, the payoffs—known as chonji—are provided in cash-filled envelops, but they are also often hidden in candy boxes or other benign-looking packages. Parental selfishness and over-ambition are commonly blamed for the teacher-bribery phenomenon in South Korea, but some parents claim that teachers encourage—and have come to expect—the payoffs.

According to an article in the Washington Post, almost everything, from admission to grades to teacher recommendations, is negotiable in Chinese schoolsif you know the right person or have enough cash. As a result, many believe, the education system is worsening in China. The hyper-competitiveness has driven many parents to curry favour in any way possible, delivering organic rice to a teacher worried about food safety, bringing back lavish gifts from abroad. Such gifts, several parents in China explained, “can lead to more attention for a struggling student, extra praise for gifted ones or even a seat closer to the front of the classroom”. One parent quoted in the article stated: “If the teacher is choosing between two kids on equal footing, the effect of a gift may be small, but it could make all the difference.”

The Telegraph in the UK also reported recently that teachers in the UK at fee-paying schools are being bribed by parents who hand over expensive end of term gifts including designer handbags, diamond necklaces and even free use of a private jet, it has emerged. The article mentioned that:  "Witnesses reported seeing, “boxes and boxes of Prada and Chanel” outside the head teacher’s office at one west London private school.  To curb the problem of bribery in schools in the UK the Bribery Act 2010 was introduced which identifies categories of offences: Offering, promising or giving a bribe. Requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting a bribe. Failing to prevent bribery. The potential consequences of being convicted in terms of the Bribery Act include criminal penalties for both individuals (up to ten years in prison or an unlimited fine) and for the school an unlimited fine. Most schools in the UK now have Anti-Bribery Policies in place, limiting gifts to teachers to a certain amount.

Undue parental influence on teachers causes favouritism in the classroom, which in return creates a class system where certain pupils are socially grouped and labelled as special or entitled or somehow seen better than others. This causes hurt and confusion, discourages teamwork and creates jealousy among pupils. At its worst, it can also lead to bullying behaviour. It is quite obvious to pupils that when a teacher plays favourites caused by bribery the resulting resentments, dislike, and distrust create an unhappy classroom.

One of the most basic themes in ethics is fairness as stated by Artistotle: "Equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally." Favouritism interfere with fairness because it gives undue advantage to someone who does not necessarily merit this treatment. In the public sphere, favouritism also undermines the common good. When someone is granted a position because of connections, undue influence or bribery rather than because he or she has the best credentials and experience, the service that person renders to the public may be inferior.

Parents have to remind themselves that while the pull as parents may be irresistible, they have to refrain from defining their children before they know who they are. Dreaming up the next rugby star or doctor may be entertaining, but there are more important things in which we should place our hopes and dreams. Rather than focusing on what we want our children to be, we should be focused on how we want them to be.

The world is full of successful people who did not fit into the "favourite" box.

David Karp founded Tumblr and sold the blog-hosting company to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. At the age of 15, Karp dropped out of an elite Bronx High School of Science.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, is an international powerhouse worth more than $4.6 billion. Branson left school at the age of 16 and has spoken out against the university system on his blog. Mike Hudack founded Blip.tv, a hosting platform for creators of digital video content. In 2012, he left his position as CEO to become Facebook's product manager. Hudack dropped out of high school and started working at a small internet security and privacy company in Connecticut at 16.

Casino magnate Kirk Kerkorian opened the original MGM hotel and casino and owns large stakes in numerous other hotels in Vegas. Kerkorian dropped out of school in the 8th grade. His reported net worth is said to be more than $3.3 billion. Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino became widely acclaimed after his first film. Tarantino dropped out at the age of 15 and started working as an usher at an adult film theatre while taking acting classes.

French businessman Francois Pinault is the third-richest man in France with a net worth of $15 billion. Pinault dropped out of high school in 1947.

British businessman Joe Lewis owns one of the fastest-growing communities in the U.S. and has $1 billion worth of art. Lewis dropped out of high school at 15. He is now ranked as the eighth-richest person in Britain, according to Forbes. Bill Gates the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, dropped out of Harvard to focus on building Microsoft.

Larry Ellison dropped out of college twice and was told by his adoptive father that he would never amount to anything but he went on to become a billionaire by building Oracle, the world’s second largest software company. Steve Jobs billionaire co-founder of Apple Inc and Pixar; dropped out of Reed College to start Apple.

Henry Ford was born in abject poverty. He never saw the four walls of school but he went on to build Ford Motor Company and become one of the richest men that ever lived. Walt Disney, regarded as the most influential animator because of his creativity with cartoons. He dropped out of high school at 16 and founded Walt Disney.

Simon Cowell, famous for his involvement in American Idols, he dropped out of school at age 16 and started his own record label “Fanfare” at the age of 23.

The list goes on…….

Don't put your child in a box. Don't dream up skills and force favouritism. Instead, dream and model the unseen, like character, values and respect, cherishing our children, no matter what, so that they grow up as solid independent individuals.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Bertus Preller & Associates Inc. - Cape Town

021 422 2461

Twitter: @bertuspreller

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