Saturday, September 10, 2011

'Tis the season to bribe teachers in China

BEIJING: Students cannot hope to score brownie points with the usual flowers, fountain pens or even fruit baskets as China celebrates its annual Teachers' Day today.
By Peh Shing Huei, China Bureau Chief

What's in are more lavish gifts, including jewellery, designer bags, the popular iPhone or iPad, and even travel packages, no thanks to the occasion coinciding with the Mid-Autumn Festival this year.

The double whammy forces parents to raise their game to ensure that their gifts will make an impression on the teacher and that their children will remain favoured over others in class.

Some generous parents have gone as far as to offer a six-day travel package to southern Hainan island worth about 12,000 yuan (S$2,300) and Chanel bags worth 30,000 yuan each.

'The Chinese people place a heavy emphasis on rituals, gifts and personal relations. So when two occasions come together, it is not surprising that the merry-go- round of gift-giving spikes,' said Beijing- based economist Hu Xingdou, who does research on corruption issues.

Campus bribery has been prevalent in China for decades, but growing affluence and a lack of supervision have caused the rot to become more severe in recent years, with parents vying to outdo each other.

Teachers readily accept what their students' parents send their way because China has no laws against this. Giving gifts and its distinction from corruption is often unclear, said Professor Hu.

Parents resort to such bribery so that their children will be taken care of in school, from having better seats to more opportunities to answer questions or become class monitors. The situation is especially bad in primary schools because most good middle schools admit students based on the evaluation report by the primary school teachers.

'The key is that you want the teachers to pay more attention to your child,' a woman who has a 12-year-old daughter told The Straits Times yesterday.

'Everyone is doing it. Can you afford not to?' said the mother, who wants to be identified only as Mrs Hong.

There are two major occasions for bribery - Chinese New Year and Teachers' Day.

While teachers no doubt appreciate the parents' extravagance, their preferred gift is the understated prepaid shopping cards. The prevailing market rate is 500 yuan.

Parents purchase the cards from supermarket giant Carrefour and retailers like Shangtong. The cards can be used at many malls.

A Beijing primary school teacher, who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity, reveals how these cards are usually slipped to teachers.

'The children will usually give me a greeting card. Inside is the prepaid shopping card, which has been lightly glued on,' she said.

'Parents will then make a quick call or send an SMS to confirm the delivery.'

In schools that frown on such practices, parents turn to anonymous express delivery to send the cards.

But not all teachers are created equal. Maths, Chinese and English teachers receive the bulk of the bribes because their subjects are examinable. Those in charge of the arts and sports hardly get anything.

Similarly, not all students can afford expensive gifts. Middle school student Li Qiyong, for example, told the local media in western Chongqing that he gave his teachers some eggs and rice after a long discussion with his parents.

'We can't compete with the rich children who can give expensive gifts. These local products at least show our sincerity. My family could not even bear to eat these eggs; we usually sell them,' he said.

Additional reporting by Carol Feng