Last year, the PM approved a plan to include lessons on anti-corruption in education programs and refresher training courses. But how should schools teach student to fight corruption?
The opening ceremony of the new school year at a high school in Hanoi.
VietNamNet: Suppose that schools want students to learn that people shouldn’t give money to doctors when they go to the hospital or to corrupt officials when they need a legal document. How should schools teach these things?
Deputy chief inspector of the Ministry of Education and Training Pham Van Tai:Giving money to doctors or to officials is lending a hand to corruption and that needs to be taught at schools. We are working on a syllabus on anti-corruption suitable for students of different ages.
The concept of preventing and combating corruption will be taught at high schools. They’ll focus on the broad themes of the Law on Combating Corruption and issues like the reasons it occurs, the harmful effects of corruption and what students can do when they confront it.
College and university students will dig deeper. They’ll learn what acts are corrupt, individual responsibility and public measures to combat corruption.
We’ll start by addressing corruption that occurs at schools, acts like bribing teachers to get higher marks or teachers forcing students to sign up for tutoring outside school hours. Schools will teach basic concepts and representative examples; based on that, students will be able to recognize corruption.
The Ministry of Education and Training aims to add lessons on anti-corruption to all schools by the end of 2011. We’re discussing what’s appropriate and what’s not with representative schools now.
Tran Thanh Son, Headmaster of Tran Nhan Tong High School, Hanoi:Everyone understands that corruption is wrong, but it’s not always black and white. If a patient gives money to doctors before an operation and the doctors take it, that’s corruption. However, if the patient gives money to the doctors after a successful surgery, the money is considered a good-hearted gift to show the patient’s gratitude to the doctors. What is the difference between the two cases? People show their gratitude with spiritual and material gifts. If a patient can afford to give a gift, nobody considers it bad.
I still don’t know what the schools will teach students about anti-corruption but certainly we still must educate them about gratitude and respect.
Thai Ha Book Co. Director, Nguyen Manh Hung, a parent: I think schools must teach young people that corruption is bad. Let’s give them good examples, true stories and most important of all, let’s be a good model for them.
VietNamNet: Textbooks currently in use teach students about honesty, self-respect, gratitude, etc. Do you think that these moral lessons are enough?
MoET’s Pham Van Tai: We will add some anti-corruption content to the current syllabus of lessons on morality.
Headmaster TranThanh Son: I think lessons about morality are good enough. However, the lessons will be ineffective if they don’t mirror the reality of our society. This is a problem for schools! As students mature, the more they understand and have their own views about the society. They no longer believe what they are taught at school if they see that society plays by different rules.
Nguyen Manh Hung:The key thing here is motivating the teachers. If the syllabuses are good but teachers are not keen on them, the lessons will be ineffective. If the books are good but the teachers teach one thing and do another, students will not believe either the book or their teachers.
VietNamNet: If teaching about gratitude is necessary, how can we teach it effectively?
Pham Van Tai: That is a different matter though in fact there is a gray area between gratitude and corruption.
When I attended a conference on anti-corruption, one official said “I accept gifts but I will not agree if anybody says that I am corrupt, because I don’t abuse my position. I obey the law while I perform my duties and missions. If some people give gifts to me to show their gratitude and I cannot refuse them, I think it is another matter. I don’t force them to give gifts to me”.
Other officials commented that in our society, sometimes it is better to accept gifts than refuse them. In principle, officials are not allowed to take gifts. If they take them, they’ll concede that they are greedy, but not that they are ‘difficult.’
I have seen a lot of this in my 20 years at work. Once a colleague of mine showed me a leg of pork (this was back in the era of rationing) and said that a woman had left it for me because I had settled her case related to salary. I didn’t accept it and left the gift at the office.
I suppose my behaviour is praiseworthy. Still, some time later I heard that some colleagues commended me for refusing the pork meat but some doubted that I refused her “envelope” (money) as well.
So I think that for some kinds of gifts, it is better to receive than refuse. If someone sincerely wants to show their gratitude or to build up good relations with you but you are too quick to refuse, they may think that they should stay well clear of you. To build up good relations in life, one must behave flexibly.
Tran Thanh Son: Teaching gratitude at school is first of all teaching gratitude to parents, relatives and others who do good things for us. Students certainly understand this; what we need to clarify is how to show such gratitude.
Students must be taught the difference between showing gratitude and buying favors. There are many kinds of corruption – it’s not only giving money to doctors but also taking abuse of position and power for personal benefit. We have to teach young people about honest gratitude and how to leave healthily and honestly.
I believe that if we patiently teach this to students, over time we can make changes — not right now but via the next several generations of students.
Nguyen Manh Hung: Parents must show their own gratitude to their parents and they have to know how to say thank you to their children and anybody who helps them or helps their children. That’s the best way to teach kids about gratitude.
VietNamNet: Many people, both parents and students, think that it is very normal to say thank-you to doctors by giving money to them. Do you agree?
Tai: It is good to show gratitude to doctors after patients have been treated well. I myself thank my doctors after they have cured my diseases. If a doctor asks for something, you should ask them whether, if you don’t bribe them, will they refuse to treat you? That puts the onus on the doctor. You need to look at the reality of the situation – there are some people who are really unjust, and others who are really upright. And then there’s the circumstance where a doctor refuses to take money but the patient keeps insisting on offering it.
Preventing corruption is not only preventing officials from exploiting positions of power but also dissuading ordinary people from creating conditions conducive to corruption. That’s why we want to teach students about corruption: so that they won’t ‘enable’ corruption.
Son: Everyone who goes to the hospital thinks that it is better to give money to doctors before the treatment process. I think some doctors refuse to take money in this phase and they are doctors with good morals. However, if they refuse money, they have to refuse skillfully so that patients understand that with or without money, they will be served well. That’s difficult! It has become an unwritten rule that patients have to give money to doctors!
Hung: It is not bad if doctors treat you well and you thank them. However, you ought not to show your gratitude by handing over an envelope full of money. There are many ways to show it, for example by meaningful gifts or souvenirs.
We should not quibble to say that that’s the way things are done. If all of us stop giving money to doctors, there will no longer be such a trend.