Good morning all!
Choosing a country to represent Eastern Europe was not an easy task! Although European, these countries have long been cut off from the Western world for a number of reasons. Some lived in dictatorial regimes, others under communist laws, several had lost their autonomy in favor of the former USSR and did not regain their independence until 1991 … overall, their educational programs are much more of the old Russian model than the European model we expect. In addition, these countries often have a bad press in terms of education, especially when we don’t talk about higher education (several of their universities are excellent, but that’s another matter) and even sometimes, as far as relates to human and children’s rights. There are often reports of dilapidated schools, a shortage of teachers due to miserable wages and astronomical tasks, archaic programs and methods, gross lack of resources, etc.
Their results in PISA studies often relate more to developing countries than to industrialized countries. We therefore tend to think that there is nothing good to learn from their examples and that it is rather they who should be inspired by us. But what if we were wrong? What if they had things to teach us? We sincerely believe that this is the case and that is why our trip will bring us to Romania to discover a semi-traditional, semi-innovative education, in full change!
Let’s start with a little context. For many years, Romania was a dictatorship and lived under the yoke of the communist Ceausescu until the coup d’etat led by the population and which took place on December 22, 1989. The country then started a long process of reconstruction and of reappropriation which continues today. Like all of the country’s other institutions, Romanian education system has undergone significant reforms over the past 30 years. Profound transformations which continue year after year and which aim, among other things, to allow the country to align its program with current international standards and above all, to be independent vis-à-vis politics and ideology, a reality from which they have suffered cruelly for all these years. And the results are felt! Although Romania still ranks below the international average during the PISA study, its statistics have continued to increase since 2006 and its arrival in the European Union in 2007 opened many doors for it to continue this improvement, making it easier to share information and support other European countries.
The place of alternative methods in the educational program
In Romania, education is compulsory from 6 to 16 years old, on the other hand, the majority of Romanian children also attend the crèche (from 1 year to 3 years old) and kindergarten (from 3 to 6 years old). Public kindergartens are free, but the quality of education offered there varies a lot depending on the establishment, which means that parents who have the financial means to do so, turn to private nursery schools which use often innovative learning methods, have better equipment and provide meals and snacks. A priori, one would be inclined to deplore this fact, but in a system where everything is to be built and everything is in motion, and where the vast majority of children will go to public school at primary and secondary level, these alternative methods seem have a real impact on educational programs which, over the course of the reforms (approximately one per year) integrate more and more of these methods, which have proved their worth, into the government program. Moreover, one of the extremely interesting points of their function is the fact that the children of the primary grades (which lasts 4 years) stay in the same class, with the same teacher and the same classmates during all these years. This great stability allows teachers to really know their students and the way they learn, therefore, to adapt their program according to each student and thus genuinely promote learning, even for pupils in difficulty. This is, moreover, one of the points that we will examine during our visit to Romania.
The situation of Roma children
Another extremely interesting dossier in Romania is the situation of Roma children. The Roma people designate the Gypsies established in Eastern Europe and almost everywhere in Europe. It is estimated that more than 3 million Roma live in Romania, where they come from elsewhere. More than 40% of them live below the poverty line, a very large number of them are not declared, therefore do not have access to education or various government services, and by their conditions of life, they are victims of discrimination in general, all over Europe. Going to school for a Roma child is therefore quite a challenge. Especially that even within their community, a person who chooses to pursue post-secondary studies will be perceived as having denied their culture and belonging to the Roma people, which will push 80% of them to move to other country.
Several obstacles make it difficult to integrate Roma children into the school system. After the fact that a large part of the children are undocumented, the geographical instability of the Roma families, of which more than 300,000 are in commuter migration between Romania and other European countries, is the other main reason making it difficult to schooling of children. The extreme poverty of many also often forces parents not to send children to school, so that the older children can take care of the younger ones while the parents are working. The approximate statistics (the number of Roma children in Romania being only an assumption) are as follows:
- 52% of Roma children are not enrolled in kindergarten (3 to 6 years old)
- 30% do not go to primary (6 to 10 years old)
- 53% do not go to high school Among those registered, attendance is very irregular, which means that once adults, more than 64% of them are illiterate.
Inspiring solutions and programs
Although the situation seems catastrophic, you will no doubt understand that if we are looking into the matter, it is because there are inspiring solutions and programs that are implemented in Romania, in order to help children. Rom. Several of these are being tested in Cluj, a city in the Transylvania region, which is located in the center-west of Romania, where we plan to go. The European College Foundation, created by Professor Vigil Ciomos, has, among other things, implemented several projects with a basic objective, which also represents a very great challenge: to educate children from an early age in order to avoid that ”They do not lag and lag when they get to primary school.”
Although the foundation seems to have disappeared from the landscape last July, with the retirement of Professor Ciomos, his works continue and several other organizations have been created in the sector in order to put his shoulder to the wheel. Catch-up lessons are offered to Roma children in difficulty or who have missed out on lessons too much. Support was also offered to them on a daily basis. In a school located in the recycling center, at the entrance to the city, we even pushed the idea even further, deciding to improve the daily life of the 250 or so Roma children attending school by offering them hot meals every noon and giving them and their families access to showers, changing rooms and washing machines so that their lifestyle does not attract them from school or the mockery of their peers . Every month, a number of children are also given new clothes and shoes. Even their parents have access to literacy courses, which in the medium term should help them to find more interesting jobs and above all, to have a better salary, thereby improving their quality of life. This is only the beginning, the fight against social inequality and prejudice is far from over, but it is a huge step forward for this country which still has to face the horrors it has discovered. in orphanages of terror during the collapse of the communist system (which housed several Roma children), and an example to follow in improving the living conditions of the Roma people in Europe.
You have understand that those files will be more difficult than others that we have presented to you until then, but it is also that to learn differently: to advance in spite of the difficulties of the past and to fight to give a chance to all! We are convinced that we will be able to learn from it great lessons of courage and will!