Exposing corruption in schools can be worse than a thankless task
Students prepare "bits" before a high school entrance exam last year in Ho Chi Minh City. High pressure to perform and get admission to a "˜reputed' school is pushing Vietnamese parents and students to engage in cheating and other forms of corruption.
Do Viet Khoa has had enough of fighting corruption and being hated and harassed for it.
He has given notice to the Van Tao High School in Hanoi's Thuong Tin District, where he has taught since 2000.
Khoa, who has been rewarded by authorities for exposing cheating in exams, says he has had to pay a heavy price for blowing the whistle.
"I'm too tired to go ahead. I think it is time for me to step down," Khoa told Thanh Nien Weekly over the telephone.
The 42-year-old teacher had the national spotlight turned on him in 2006 when he videotaped students cheating on their high school graduation exams while other proctors just watched and took no action.
The video tape was broadcast many times on different TV stations, and the then Education Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan had visited Khoa's house to grant him a certificate in recognition of his action. Khoa also appeared on the Nguoi duong thoi (Contemporary People) TV talk show, the Vietnamese version of the Larry King show.
The exposure had resulted in the transfer of the then principal of Van Tao High School. It also prompted the Education Ministry to initiate the "Saying "˜No' to cheating in exams" campaign, which sent high school graduation rates plunging the following year.
Khoa says he has been in murky waters ever since.
"Some locals back in my [Van Hoa] village [in Hanoi's Thuong Tin District] ostracized me. They blamed me for their kids failing the exams [because of stricter exam scrutiny]," said Khoa, a geography teacher.
"They think I am an eccentric or even a crazy man who is thirsting for fame and is pursuing it at the expense of their kids."
Since 2007, Khoa has also sent letters to central and local education officials accusing the new principal of Van Tao High School, Le Xuan Trung, of gross mismanagement.
Ensuing inspections concluded that Trung did flout some regulations, but not as many as Khoa had alleged.
But Khoa said he disagreed with the inspection findings and has continued to send complaints to different agencies. So far he has not received any feedback, he said.
He also accused the principal Trung of coercing his students to attend extra classes opened by the school in 2008.
The new principal Le Xuan Trung was then quoted by the media as saying the extra classes were voluntary.
Paying the price
In November 2008, four people including two guards of Khoa's school came to his house and punched and kicked him, stole his camera and left his wife and children terrified.
Though all the people involved had been punished, either by law or with disciplinary measures, Khoa says the assault had scarred his life and his family.
Khoa's activities have given him a fair share of detractors
Principal Trung has been quoted by the media as saying that Khoa "did not always concentrate on his teaching and follow the school regulations." He used his camera and recorder too much, so people did not feel comfortable talking to him.
Even a supporter of Khoa, his colleague Giang Xuan Dung, said: "I admire what he has done. But I have to say that he often pays too much attention to petty things during the daily activities of his colleagues at school."
"This sometimes pitted him against others," said Dung, who has transferred to another school since last year.
Van Nhu Cuong, headmaster of the Luong The Vinh Private High School had said in 2008 that his school would hire Khoa if he quit.
But Cuong has since changed his mind.
"I don't want to hire him anymore. My staff did not support his action. I think he is somewhat abnormal in the way he behaved," Cuong was quoted as saying by news website VietNamNet last week.
Unlike the Luong The Vinh High School, HCMC's Nong Lam (Agriculture and Forestry) University said it would want its lecturer back, but was not sure if he could afford it.
Lecturer Dang Huu Dung was attacked with acid last August by a disgruntled student who begged the professor to change his mark so it would allow him to re-sit an English exam and graduate.
Dung's refusal to oblige led to the attack, and he has been in poor health since.
Dung's family declined an interview request, saying he was still recovering. A university source who requested anonymity told Thanh Nien Weekly that the school would want him to come back, but was not sure where he is now.
"After the incident, the parents of that student had threatened Dung and asked him not to go further with the case," the source said.
Dr. Bui Tran Phuong, president of Ho Chi Minh City's Hoa Sen University said she was convinced that there are many people like Dung that have continued to fight, albeit silently, against wrongdoing in schools and universities.
"Those people are still there to protect the sacred values of education. The important thing is they must be protected," Phuong said.
Corruption in education
Officials of the Vietnamese government, the Swedish Embassy and international delegates are meeting on May 28 for a biannual dialogue on corruption that will focus on education.
Officials will discuss the impacts of educational corruption on national sustainable development as well as on the improvement of transparency and accountability.
A study released by the Vietnam's Government Inspectorate for the meeting says three of most important corruption-risk factors in the education sector were irregular enrollment, private tutoring, irregular assessments, and fees and payments.
In the May 1-9 study conducted through in-depth interviews and surveys with 605 parents and 236 teachers in Hanoi, Da Nang, and HCMC, 67 percent of the parents said paying extra money to get children into desired schools was okay. Seventy percent said many people they knew were also willing to do so.
As many as 79 percent of parents said they were satisfied with different fees imposed by the schools, though 52 percent were worried about the expenses.
The study noted that schools have "legalized" irregular activities in different forms like extra fees, exploiting the psychological vulnerability of the parents and students. The "grey" behaviors are tolerated or ignored, it said.
Dr. Phuong of the Hoa Sen University agreed with the findings. "From the viewpoint of a professor and a parent, I think that nowadays parents and their kids have no confidence to lose. They take for granted that they have the responsibility to pay those extra fees," Phuong told Thanh Nien Weekly.
"They now consider unusual behavior usual. I think such an attitude would be very detrimental to society, particularly the young minds of students."
Most parents, 81.8 percent, also felt it was normal for schools and teachers to conduct private classes and 72.1 percent agreed formal class education was insufficient. 73.7 percent of the teachers interviewed also said it was good to offer private classes as parents demand so.
Swedish Ambassador Rolf Bergman said: "We know that the transition to knowledge-based economy and middle income country can only be possible if you encourage free thinking and new ideas.
""¦This is not possible if the universities, schools, classrooms are a place where grades, teaching jobs and school admissions can be bought for money."