Reforming the reform in the Romanian education system

by Viviana on March 25, 2010



Reflections of a mother and business woman

Yesterday, I read a very interesting interview by Losangelista with Omar Wasow, tech analyst famous for teaching Oprah how to use the Internet. While Liz focused her questions on specific details related to the reform in the US education system and technology applied in the process of learning, the main subject of the interview raised quite a few questions and frustrations in my “sometimes unhappy to be Romanian” mind.

The education reform in Romania is something that every new government pretends to take very seriously but, for sure, (we’ve seen it happen so many times so far after the so called revolution in 1989) they have all failed. However, they make changes that definitely make things even worse then they had been before. In fact, we can call reforming the reform a general rule in Romania.

All newly appointed leaders apply changes for the sake of changes and don’t think of the long or short term consequences. Well, as a dictionary entry, reform means changing things for the better. Little do the Romanian legislators know not only about the meaning of these words, but about what is better for the Romanian population. In order to succeed in bettering something, they would first need to understand the actual situation and identify the actions that trigger improvement. Not just decide that changes have to be made to show that “they care and they are taking action”. Well, to put it in a practical perspective: our leaders do not produce great reform, but great piles of useless documents!

Liz asked me about the budget cuts in our education system. Well, apart from budget cuts, I think at least 4 other issues are worth mentioning: 1. there is no legal framework or incentives for private companies/individuals to get involved into the process of education, 2. nobody is legally responsible for the quality of education in Romania, 3. there is no assessment for the performance of teachers or institutions, and 4. there is no shared responsibility between the state and the community as regards the quality of schools (for the community to have the school they want and deserve).

In Romania the education system is not focused on producing good specialized engineers, doctors, waiters, etc. Under the law, it focuses on teaching the same things in the same way, using the same old routine methods to a large number of future voting citizens, without bothering to test or assess the performance or results of each teacher.

It is mandatory for children to go to kindergarten at 3 years of age, to school at 6 and to highschool at 17 in Romania. Parents have no option and no right to decide. Parents have no negotiating power and there are no other alternatives as there are no private schools (except for the American and British private schools that cost 20,000 Euro +/year while the average salary in Romania is 200-300 Euro/month). Expats and rich Romanians send their children to the above mentioned schools.

Apparently, there are no dropouts in Romanian schools. As education is for  free, and all parents have the obligation by law to force their children to go to school, the statistics are fixed to show almost no dropouts (communist reminiscence). In reality, children of poor people don’t have the chance to at least see the door of a classroom once in their entire life. But hey, who cares if a John Doe from the Romanian countryside (who is sentenced to taking over his father’s sheep from early age anyway) gets any education???

In the US, an entire school staff in Rhode Island got fired due to low student achievement results. That is really interesting. Just imagine, as in Romania the performance of teachers is never assessed, how many of the Romanian teachers are totally incompetent? For the time being, as their wages is so low, they are always on strike and asking for things from the authorities. I can understand that. Everybody can. But who is responsible for the fact that my daughter said that very soon she needed to pin a few days a month in her school calendar under the heading “strike”? And that is not a joke, it is a fact noticed by a 9 year old as a natural recurrence in her life! A fact that makes my daughter think that teachers on strike is a normal state of facts in Romania, and in her life.

Another thing that really kills the education in Romania is the new obsession for offering “alternatives”. This buzz word was born a few years ago when an evil politician decided that we need to offer to our children as many sources of learning as the parents cannot afford!!! So, although there is an “official” schoolbook for every subject, the teachers are forced to recommend 5 other books because the Romanian Ministry of Education cannot decide which one is the right one!!! What is the story behind this enormous amount of manuals that my daughter carries to school? Hmmm…Countless contracts for publishing these manuals, awarded to the same companies, always owned by a politician who assigns his siblings to take care of the matters, so they still have a good public image and they are not involved in business with the Romanian state!!! So this is how you can make easy money in Romania: you have someone you know recommend a new book to be studied in school, and you are awarded the contract to publish it. In about 1,000,000 copies…I’ll let you do the maths.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

otilia 8 years ago at 4:13 pm

This is all very well said. I would add to this that reform is really needed in the Romanian education system, but the sad thing is that even if someone was willing to come up with a really good program concerning this issue, they would quickly be dismissed as one in a long series of politicians who have failed at this, precisely because so many before him/her have ‘tried’ to implement reform with no success.

Viviana 8 years ago at 4:51 pm

I have a story for you, Otilia. On a ride in a taxi, while having a conversation with the taxi driver (45-ish, seemed educated, definitely not a regular cab driver) I mentioned the fact that I do not agree with many Romanian business people who promote and apply the principle of not paying tax to the Romanian state. The guy went literally nuts. He started yelling at me. He said and I quote (cause you never forget something like this): “why don’t you leave this country??? Why are you trying to change things that Romania is accustomed with for centuries? Why not enjoy eluding paying tax? Why have things organized and clear? The pleasure of being Romanian comes mainly from the fact that I can go back home to my wife every night and tell her about my “dealings”: getting favors in exchange of bribes and easing friends’ way into various personal benefits. Why are you trying to get my life pleasures away from me???”. I think that as long as a regular citizen thinks like this, we don’t stand a chance. So, as you are saying, even if you have people who are willing to change things for the better, when a vast majority of citizens do not want any change for the better (best practices in business, transparency, fair play, etc) what can we do? I have stated many times that what I think is the right thing to do is be fair, raise my child in a patriotic spirit, pay tax, never fear and work my ass off.

los angelista 8 years ago at 5:29 am

Very well said, Vivi. It’s so sad when so-called educators/officials keep much needed change from happening, and WOW, that interaction in the taxi! Good grief!

Oh, and that part about the publishing houses – that happens here, too.

Viviana 8 years ago at 11:28 am

@Liz Just imagine the perfect education system. Well paid and responsible teachers, focusing on the future careers of ALL children, support programs and sponsorship from private companies (not to the Ministry of Education, but to specific schools they are interested in!!!). I cannot complain about the schools in Bucharest anymore in terms of tidiness and renovation, cause slowly but surely all the schools have been renovated. As you know, I am objective, so I have to admit that. BUT, what about the schools in the other cities? Or the Romanian countryside? They still have gas stoves in the classrooms and they drink water (from a well) out of a big tank located near the stove. They go to the tank and they take out water with a small metal cup and drink. And they all have a cold. I saw that a while ago on Romanian TV and not only that it made me cry, but it made me proud!!! Cause some of those kids are the next computer specialists working for Microsoft…

danny 8 years ago at 1:28 pm

There are educational problems here in the U.S. than you can’t imagine. While we have had a great system of keeping things balanced, it has always been dependent on those involved. Lately it seems we are losing sight of our goals and that will create more uncertainty with every passing year.

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