“I have to find money to give to my teacher, my father cannot understand that I have to pay,” Aziz, a 16-year-old schoolboy, told IRIN in the Alamedin district of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
With students in Kyrgyz secondary schools well into the new academic year, parents are complaining that their children are asking for money to be passed on to teachers. While it is common for students to pay for books and for the upkeep of school premises, demands for “razvesti” - money to resolve problems - is new.
The authorities admit the practice goes on. “Officially there is no practice of bribes in schools. When there are claims that teachers have broken the rules, we punish them. In 2003 we punished six teachers. If teachers take bribes, law-enforcement agencies should deal with it,” Irinia Skosyrskaya, the deputy chair of Bishkek city education department, told IRIN.
Observers put the culture of teachers trying to maximise their incomes down to low wages. “I agree that there are such cases, where teachers demand money from pupils. But the majority of teachers who work in schools are patriots, you have to be - the salary of a senior teacher is about 800 [Kyrgyz] soms [US $18] per month, while for new teachers the salary is about 400 soms [$9],” Tatiyana Mihailovna, the chair of educational affairs of the school in Alamedin district, told IRIN in Bishkek.
Sometimes parents are involved in the system, when one of parents is chosen by a committee to deal directly with teachers to resolve “children’s problems” by collecting money from other parents for the teacher to ensure the student is given good grades.
Some parents see the system as part of an informal parental support network for schools. “It is some kind of help to teachers, because teachers' salaries are very low. I personally want my child to get better knowledge and [learn] good attitudes from teachers,” said stallholder Gulnura, a parent on such a committee.
The problem comes when pupils are told to bring presents to the teacher or else their results will suffer, two sets of parents told IRIN. “Last year, my 13-year-old brother came from school and asked us to buy perfume because his teacher had asked him. I was shocked, but my parents bought it because it is undesirable to quarrel with his teacher, otherwise his grades will be lower,” Culnaz, a housewife, told IRIN.
The education department has sworn to get tough with teachers demanding money from students. “We want to prevent illegal collecting of money by teachers. In March 2003, the Ministry of Education issued an order clearly prohibiting the collection of money by teachers,” added Skosyrskaya.
But investigations by IRIN indicated such orders were not having much impact. “I had to pay today 50 soms [$1.2] to our IT instructor, tomorrow I have to bring him a box of cigarettes,” another school student complained.
Other students welcome the system as a way of getting out of school work. “It is easy to get grades, last month I missed many classes but I have paid the teacher and now everything is fine,” Iliyas, a well-dressed 14-years-old brandishing a cell phone, told IRIN in a cafe where he was clearly playing truant.
Natalia Anatolievna, a mathematics teacher, said the problem was due to a lack of resources, not greed. “Each year our school collects 160 soms [$4.5] from each child to maintain the school. This money is transferred to the district educational department but in the end, the school does not see this money. Today we have to ask parents for basic things like paint and chalks, we beg parents to help us, despite the fact that the government has created this problem.”
“Teachers are very voiceless people, when some local newspapers highlighted corruption in schools, I was ashamed, although I have been working for 20 years. If teachers ask for help from parents, they are guilty, if teachers do nothing we are guilty of letting the students down because there is no money to provide a proper education," Tatiyana Mihailovna, an experienced English teacher, explained.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions