Enforcement and control systems have their place in the anti-corruption toolkit, but social norms and values are also critical in preventing corruption. Unless norms change, anti-corruption laws can have only a limited impact. When corruption is the expected behaviour of the majority, people engage in corrupt acts because they believe that everyone else is doing so too.

This underscores the need for a whole-of-society mobilisation in which citizens understand and uphold their own responsibilities for integrity. Youth are central to this approach. Education for public integrity can help young people develop the values, skills, and knowledge they will need for adult life.

Specific norms differ across societies and communities. But certain ethical values enjoy widespread acceptance, including honesty, fairness, accountability, transparency, and integrity. Schools and universities have a critical role to play in elevating and improving adherence to these values.

Many countries are striving to promote a culture of integrity through their education institutions at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Although evidence on effectiveness is limited, these experiences point to a number of good practices and lessons learned.

Limited evidence on effectiveness

At primary-secondary level, topics related to corruption and public integrity can be introduced within the framework of courses on civics, citizenship, human rights, or peace. There has been little research on the impact of such teaching, but there is some evidence that it can increase young people’s rejection of corruption and diminish their willingness to tolerate or participate in law-breaking activities.

Tertiary education is the final stage prior to entry into the workforce. Various fields of professional education, such as law, teaching, medicine, public administration, and business, incorporate ethics components into their curricula. Some studies show that teaching ethics at tertiary level can improve students’ ethical sensitivity, though a meta-analytic review concluded that the impact of such teaching is minimal or short-lived.

Global good practices

At primary-secondary level, ethics and integrity education can be integrated into the core curriculum, added as an extracurricular component, or conducted as a schoolwide event. Technology can facilitate ethics teaching through apps, interactive games, videos, or online courses. It is difficult to determine which pedagogical approach may be most effective, as there are few comparative and evaluative studies in this area.

An evaluation of civic education programmes in ninth-grade classrooms in the United States found that students who learn in an open classroom environment develop empathy, critical thinking, and the ability to understand the views of others. Transactional and transformative forms of pedagogy that respect student experiences, engage student views, and encourage open dialogue have been found most effective in cultivating active citizenship.

Teachers need to guide students in honest conversations about difficult topics. Successful programmes therefore provide teachers and staff with the opportunity to develop these skills through pre-service and in-service training.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has reviewed existing country practices in integrity and anti-corruption education in schools. Some countries, such as Hungary and Rwanda, mainstream integrity values through the curriculum, integrating modules into existing citizenship, ethics, or values courses. In other countries, schools provide resource guides to teachers with activities about corruption and integrity, which teachers can incorporate as they see fit.

The national anti-corruption body can provide integrity education. In Austria, the Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption conductsanti-corruption training for students. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission against Corruption develops programmes on anti-corruption and integrity for primary and secondary schools in cooperation with school principals and teachers. In Bolivia, the Ministry for Institutional Transparency and the Fight against Corruption helped develop an app called Juega Limpio (Play Fair), which uses games to teach youth about integrity and corruption.

There is no consensus on the goals, methods, or scope of ethics instruction at tertiary level. Efforts to reach such a consensus are ongoing through the Compostela Group of Universities, the World University Consortium, and the World Academy of Art and Science. They have endorsed the Whole-of-University Promotion of Social Capital, Health and Development, known as the Poznan Declaration.

Some universities offer specialised ethics training as part of undergraduate and post-graduate degree programmes. Others use ad hoc training through conferences, guest lectures, and other events.Universities also offer experience-based learning programmes such as internships, clinics, debates, and moot courts. Some universities have developed massive open online courses (MOOCs) on integrity.

There have been efforts to evaluate the most effective pedagogical approaches for teaching integrity at tertiary level. A meta-analysis of business ethics training programmes found the largest effect from courses where trainees participated actively through problem-based learning and debates. Case-based learning was more effective than lectures, and face-to-face training was better than online training. However, it appears that ethics training, regardless of the pedagogy adopted, helps improve moral competence compared to not having any such training at all.

Designing anti-corruption education: Lessons learned

The content of educational curricula can be politically sensitive, so it is important to adopt a participatory approach when proposing and introducing changes to curriculum and to teacher education. The following are some lessons learned from experiences in various countries:

  • Adopt a gradual approach to curriculum design that includes all stakeholders
  • Leverage political will and government commitment to integrate education about public integrity into the school system
  • Take students’ experiences and beliefs into account
  • Utilise a cross-curricular approach
  • Provide effective teacher training
  • Create an open school and classroom environment
  • Promote academic integrity in university policies and practices

Suggestions for development partners and other actors

Bilateral and multilateral development agencies: Donors supporting human rights and citizenship education in schools can advocate the inclusion of ethics, integrity, and anti-corruption principles. They can support monitoring and evaluation systems to build an evidence base on what works in public integrity education.

Education ministries, curriculum development agencies, and higher education councils: These agencies should update primary-secondary curricula to ensure that values and education are taught. At tertiary level, they should ensure that university and college degree programmes include public integrity education in their curricula as a condition for accreditation.

National anti-corruption commissions: They can work with education ministries, schools, and universities to promote public integrity education in the curriculum or through extracurricular activities.

Schools, universities, and colleges: Primary and secondary schools can adapt existing curricula to include integrity training, or offer it as an extracurricular activity. Teacher training, both preservice and in-service, is essential, along with provision of user-friendly teaching materials. At the higher education level, integrity education should be mainstreamed in all courses.

Multilateral institutions: Multilateral institutions can work together to promote the harmonisation of ethical standards and curricula across countries, based on international treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

The private sector: Partnerships with business can help support public integrity education. Because of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, businesses have made efforts to improve ethics and integrity training in their organisations through compliance programmes. The GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal offers tools that can be adapted for university, post-graduate, and professional education.

Civil society organisations and NGOs: Some have initiatives for public integrity education and provide curriculum assessment tools, manuals, and guides. In addition to direct engagement in teaching, these organisations should advocate for the inclusion of integrity topics in school curricula.

Professional associations and regulatory councils: Associations of medical workers, accountants, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals can promote their codes of conduct as educational tools at the tertiary level, and partner with schools in career guidance events where ethics and integrity are emphasised.