A new report says corruption in education systems worldwide disproportionately burdens the poor.
Transparency International said in a survey released on October 1 that almost one in five people worldwide paid bribes to education services last year.
But it says the number rises to one in three in the world's poorest countries, where competition for limited numbers of educational opportunities is fiercest.
"The pressure to access education provides significant leverage for school managements to extort illegal costs from families," says Gareth Sweeney, the chief editor of the report. "So, invariably, poorer families are forced to pay proportionately more for access to education for their children."
But Sweeney says it is not solely teachers and school administrators who are at fault when they demand illegal fees. Such demands are often due to the fact that the teachers or administrators themselves are underpaid because funding for educational systems is embezzled by higher officials before it reaches the schools.
The survey says the educational sector is particularly vulnerable to corruption because in many countries it represents the largest portion of government public-sector expenditures, yet is subject to only weak oversight.
That makes it prey not only to corruption in the form of charging illegal fees but also, on a larger scale, to procurement fraud, nepotism, and even in some countries the construction of "ghost schools" that are built but never operate.
The 2013 "Global Corruption Report: Education" calls for governments to rein in corruption by establishing better systems of accountability and instituting codes of conduct for school teachers and administrators. But it also encourages parents and students to become more involved in monitoring their school systems and reporting abuses.
"Parent participation we would see as crucial, and as a responsibility of parents, in fact, to invest in their children's education by making sure that schools function as they should," Sweeney said.
The release of the report coincides with the return of students to schools in many countries of the world on October 1.