Thursday, August 26, 2010

Educational Differences: Bribing Teachers

(PICTURE: The bribe scene from "A Serious Man.")

In the recent Coen Brother's movie, "A Serious Man" there is a storyline about a Korean student who tries to bribe his university professor to give him a passing grade by giving the professor an envelope with a bunch of money inside of it. In the film, the professor was appalled at the attempted bribe as I imagine the majority of professors in America would be. However, after watching the film, it occurred to me that this is actually a cultural difference.

As crazy as this sounds, it is common practice in Vietnam (and I'm assuming other places in Asia) to bribe teachers for better grades. Basically students go to their professor's houses with their whole class and leave behind individual envelopes with money and their name on it. Usually they'll leave the envelope in a box in the front room of the house and then they'll meet with the professor in another room where they'll have tea. The students meet with the professor for a few minutes and then leave the house, often crossing paths with another of the professor's classes which is coming by to drop off some money.

If you talk to most expats -- and many Vietnamese -- they'll complain about the corruption in the country. However, when we usually think of corruption and bribes we associate it with the government or police. The idea of bribing teachers -- which has been told to me by various university students -- shows just how ingrained corruption and bribery is in the society here. By doing some simple math with one of my students, we figured out that professors at their university can make five figures a year just on bribes.

I know what you're asking yourself, "Has anyone ever tried to bribe you, Ben?" Unfortunately extra-curricular English classes aren't deemed bribe worthy...and that's why I'm sending in my resume to every university this week!