To be rich or to be honest? – Teaching Integrity to the Young in South Korea

Guest Blog By Kim Sung-Soo, Executive Director, Transparency International – Korea, which has been a global leader in civil society in educating young people about the curse of corruption and the need for integrity.

This article, which first appeared in The Korea Times on May 5, 2013, is published here with permission from the author.

A significant number of Korean youths (40 percent) are prepared to forgo values of integrity in the pursuit of wealth. Thus, anti-corruption education is vital in schools and educational institutes to reverse this trend.

Through a recent survey conducted by Transparency International-Korea (TI-Korea), I found the following key results: youths in Korea are more likely to relinquish values of integrity in the pursuit of wealth than adults. Of the 1,000 youths surveyed, 40 percent thought being rich is more important than being honest, versus 31 percent of the 1,000 adults.

Likewise, 51 percent of the young people surveyed agreed that people who cheat have more chance of succeeding in life, against 40 percent of adults. It is a shocking result for Korea; hence, if we do nothing to change this corruption-friendly trend of youth, the future of Korea will be dark and gloomy.

TI-Korea’s survey identified three main sources of influence: the educational system/school, the family circle and the media. Based on the survey result, TI-Korea proposes that an ethical education system should be established and implemented. An increase in integrity and anti-corruption education can bring about an increase in integrity and an anti-corruption mindset.

It is distressing to know that numerous young people are willing to forego their integrity for the sake of getting a good job, a high position and more wealth. This puts them in a vulnerable position and at risk of becoming both victims and perpetrators during activities, such as taking exams, interviewing for jobs, getting documents or licenses or evading the police (in terms of fines, etc.).

This thinking (or behavior) can create an uneven playing field among youth and in Korean society as they become leaders in business, politics and communities. They know very well what is right and wrong in theory, but in real life, they say it is very difficult to maintain integrity and honesty.

It is clear from the survey results that there is a need for young people in Korea to be provided with ethical role models, moral standards and an ethical education system to rebalance the views of this young generation. As has already been identified, the education sector is the key field of influence on youth, and is the sector that is highly regarded with respect in terms of integrity, based on this survey.

It is imperative that the government establish anti-corruption and integrity-related education and policies to be implemented at all levels of education in various educational settings, in both public and private institutions, as soon as possible.

An anti-corruption and integrity education system is essential and necessary in the school curriculum and in educational institutes. Without strong and long-term integrity education, it will be very difficult to make a big difference. Integrity education is an essential part of this.

We, the established generation, need to take care of not only the branches of education, but also the root of it ― a fragile, ethical infrastructure.

The writer is executive director of Transparency International-Korea. He can be reached