Corruption and Basic Education

One can make comparisons between countries. With such exercise, one may find correlations. Here is one. Corruption and basic education seem to be strongly correlated. Countries where corruption is perceived to be low tend to have better educational systems.

Transparency International provides on an annual basis a Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a measure of the perceived level of public sector corruption for each country. The 2015 numbers are now available and the following lists the 40 least corrupt countries in the world.

Rank CPI2015 Country
1 91 Denmark
2 90 Finland
3 89 Sweden
4 88 New Zealand
5 87 Netherlands
5 87 Norway
7 86 Switzerland
8 85 Singapore
9 83 Canada
10 81 Germany
10 81 Luxembourg
10 81 United Kingdom
13 79 Australia
13 79 Iceland
15 77 Belgium
16 76 Austria
16 76 The United States Of America
18 75 Hong Kong
18 75 Ireland
18 75 Japan
21 74 Uruguay
22 71 Qatar
23 70 Chile
23 70 Estonia
23 70 France
23 70 United Arab Emirates
27 65 Bhutan
28 63 Botswana
28 63 Portugal
30 62 Poland
30 62 Taiwan
32 61 Cyprus
32 61 Israel
32 61 Lithuania
35 60 Slovenia
36 58 Spain
37 56 Czech Republic
37 56 Korea (South)
37 56 Malta
40 55 Cape Verde
40 55 Costa Rica
40 55 Latvia
40 55 Seychelles
Above data from Transparency International

In the above table, there are countries listed in red, while a few are in black. Countries in red are those found in the top 40 in another ranking scheme. This other ranking comes from the World Economic Forum - Human Capital Report - 2015. The Human Capital Index measures both learning and employment outcomes. This index is therefore quite useful in gauging educational systems. The countries listed in red in the above table are those that rank high likewise in the Human Capital Index. This therefore shows a strong correlation between corruption and human capital. Less corrupt countries perform better in both learning and employment outcomes.

Using results from international standardized exams also provides a route for gauging educational systems around the globe. Scores from exams like PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS can be used with literacy and graduation rates. Countries shown in red in the following map rank high in terms of cognitive skills and educational attainment. One should be able to see that countries that are colored red in this map are likewise those countries that are perceived to be less corrupt. 

Above copied from The Learning Curve

Seeing this correlation makes one wonder if measures of educational outcomes can in fact serve as a measure for corruption since poor learning seems to be strongly associated with corrupt governments.  The Philippines stands poorly when it comes to international standardized exams. Does it follow that the Philippine government is more corrupt than other governments? In the latest CPI, the Philippines does not compare favorably with some of its closest neighbors in Southeast Asia:

30 62 Taiwan
54 50 Malaysia
76 38 Thailand
88 36 Indonesia
95 35 Philippines

The correlation between corruption and a poor educational system should not be a surprise for one reason. Education requires resources. And when the government is corrupt, these much needed resources do not reach the schools. These do not reach the students and teachers who are in greater need. In the Philippines, where pork abounds, legislators seem to dictate their whims on when and where classrooms are going to be built. There appears to be no mechanism by which needs are taken into account so that resources can be channeled to where these are most needed. Decisions therefore appear to be made solely on political patronage. There is likewise corruption that is simply stealing public funds. Of course, this practice reduces how much is available to support public education.

With such a strong correlation between corruption and basic education, one can actually gauge how good a government is by simply looking at how classrooms are performing.