In a relatively short time over the past decade, the strategic thinking about the role of education in numerous countries in Eurasia has shifted from a narrative about transitioning away from a Soviet legacy, to a vision for education that is more global and borrows from a pool of international ideas, commitments, trends, and narratives. In this sense, the sector is seen as instrumental in the fulfilment of broad and complex priorities for national development, such as competitiveness, innovation and technological advancement, beneficial participation in the global economy, but also inclusiveness and sustainability. Today, the ambitions associated with these narratives has triggered a new generation of education reforms in the majority of countries in Eurasia, which put education systems under renewed pressure to change and deliver to new and complex expectations. More and more families and students see education as a path of hope for a better future in an otherwise uncertain environment of prolonged transition, while their governments treat it as a default insurance against economic and political risks and tend to showcase it as a sector keen on reforms, often in response to pressing donor priorities and lobbying by private vendors of high-end technological solutions, such as machine-led teaching and/or real time collection of data on learning.
In most countries, the new set of reforms are wide-reaching as they target key policy areas in education, such as teachers and school leadership, funding, governance, curricula, quality assurance, provider network planning, etc. In some ways, the intended changes are driven by commendable intentions which underscore the importance of education for national development. However, our research shows that such changes, especially those involving innovation and technological advancements, may also reinforce the vulnerability of education to corruption as their novelty could create environments in which there is a lack of common understanding about the purpose of reform, which in turn may lead to divergent expectations and to practices and procedures burdened by tensions and dilemmas.
In such environments, the process of change can become disruptive and disrupted at the same time: disruptive for educators and education systems by disturbing their established ways and challenging their convictions, and disrupted by them as teachers, schools, and even education authorities and parents resist the required changes in a multitude of ways that can hinder or even block the process of change and lead to unintended and harmful consequences. Countries where the changes are advanced enough to have such a tangible impact on participants in education may be a fertile ground for illicit or illegal conduct, especially where their expectations are being disappointed. In such situations, education participants might resort to problematic practices as a remedy, including practices that contradict the commitments of their countries to values, principles, and norms in education and thus put the integrity of the education system at risk.
The purpose of our panel is to explore whether the process of change in key domains of education policy can lead to disruptions that invite such conduct, as well as to describe some of the typical mechanisms of how this can happen. Specifically, the panel will invite a discussion by presenting results of research into the integrity of human and financial resources in education in four countries from East and Central Asia (Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan), the Caucasus (Georgia) and Eastern Europe (Moldova). The research was carried out by civil society organisations from these countries in cooperation with a research organization and a policy network (Center for Applied Policy and Integrity and Network of Education Policy Centres).
The research is part of a larger, ongoing interdisciplinary work on integrity of education systems (INTES), which was initiated in the framework of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2010 with the purpose of describing how education environments may create opportunities and demand for corruption. The analytical activities have delivered cross-country insights into how integrity matters in the context of evolving education policies, as well as a conceptual framework of integrity that can be mobilised to reassess the implementation and effects of disruptive reforms in education. The intention of the research contributions in this panel is to frame a discussion about the relationship between integrity, corruption, education improvement and day-to-day operation, and the use and abuse of human and financial resources invested in education as the backbone of education providers and systems more broadly. To that end, the first contribution will present findings and analysis of integrity violations and vulnerabilities in the area of teacher policies in Georgia, the second one will discuss routine misappropriation of parental donations to schools in Kyrgyzstan and the systemic and personal context in which these violations happen, while the third contribution will offer a synthesis of findings from all four countries, with a specific focus on vulnerabilities in high priority education policy areas which are at the forefront of educational modernisation and reform.