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Bribery in the education system from admission to graduation, rampant and encouraged

Choi Song Min  |  2016-10-19 16:39
Although it has only been two weeks since the implementation of the "Kim Young-Ran Act (Improper Solicitation and Graft Act)" in South Korea, which is aimed at eradicating corruption, signs of change are already being seen in many parts of society. The culture of splitting the bill (Dutch pay) for meals and drinks is gaining traction, as well as the trend of choosing cheaper gifts, with the educational field being no exception.

Students (or their parents) in South Korea will not legally be able to offer gifts to their teachers above certain price caps, as the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission has announced that such habits in the educational field should be tightly regulated, considering the essentially public nature of the educational sector.

Parents in South Korea are generally showing a positive response to the law. 'Teacher Yun,' an English education enterprise, conducted a survey of 628 parents over 6 days from September 30. According to the survey results, 66% of the respondents answered that they felt 'positive' about the legal prohibition on offering gifts, snacks, or meals to their childrens teachers. Among the respondents who were in favor of the law, some who chose the answer of "being able to reduce competition between parents" as a reason for positive evaluation, further confided that "the pressure of preparing gifts equivalent to what other parents are giving" was tremendous. 

The passing of the landmark law in South Korea naturally invokes the question of what happens in North Koreas education system. Parents in every country want whats best for their children, and this is no different in North Korea. It may be thought of as natural to provide small gifts to a childs teacher as a token of gratitude. Unfortunately, in North Korea, the act of gift-giving to teachers is part of a well-entrenched system of bribery. The bribery in education is now almost considered to be part of the official process, causing various other social problems.

According to defector testimonies, it is widely understood in North Korea that college entrance exam results as well as good school grades are all guaranteed by bribery, even at Kim Il Sung University - considered the best institution in the country.

Kim Chul Myong (alias, defected in 2008), a former teacher in North Korea said, "To enter Kim Il Sung University, students who graduate from prestigious high schools in Pyongyang need to pay a bribe of 5,000 USD, and students who graduate from local high schools need to pay 3,000 USD," adding that, "During the college entrance examination period, Central Party cadres at the Ministry of Education who administer Kim Il Sung University receive around 5,000 USD in bribes, and other related personnel receive 500 USD per each.

"The intake quota for the university varies every year, but if they were to pick 5 students from the top 10 in North Pyongan Province, this would mean you have a 50 percent chance (if youre in the top 10), Kim said. Due to this kind of competition, the bribes continue to go up. Influential parents also actively participate in school affairs, further stoking competition between families. 

The state Department of Education distributes intake quota for each university according to its region, despite the fact that all students in Pyongyang put Kim Il Sung University as their first priority. Such high competition, in which even the children of cadre cannot be guaranteed entrance, makes rising entrance fees (bribes) inevitable.

The inherent problems within the system become even more evident in ordinary schools. According to testimonies from defectors, from the early 2000s (shortly after the Arduous March, or famine, in the late 1990s), students became nothing more than a 'means of production' for teachers. As the regional education departments were left out in the cold by the Party and ordered to provide for themselves without support, teachers at ordinary schools had no choice but to request bribes.

"Students often work in the marketplace as cart drivers to make money for bribes. They pull carts for customers and buy goods or run errands for them. Sometimes they even sell products by themselves to earn money," Choi Jin Hwa (alias, defected in 2008) told Daily NK, adding that "some older students even drop out of school and engage in prostitution to support their family."

"The preference for getting a job as a homeroom teacher has also increased. Teachers reap the most profit during the school entrance and graduation ceremonies, and those without homerooms have a smaller profit structure. Homeroom teachers normally receive allotted sums from parents and demand more money to line their own pockets. 

"The state does realize that this is problematic, but it has little in the way of solutions. Bribery is rampant in workplaces as well as in the educational field, with workers bribing officials indirectly by discretely giving presents to officials' wives instead," he concluded.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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