Education System Misguided Nine O’Clock 2006-08-29
by Mihai Iordanescu
Inconsistency has been the dominant feature of all Romanian governments over the past 16 years. It has marked all social-economic and cultural fields. With one exception: education. The Romanian education has been subject to the same disinterest and indeed disregard coming from all governments. It is the main field disregarded by one government after the other with amazing consistency. Above and beyond all alleged doctrine differences between Romanian governments, they joined forces with blameworthy persistence towards the increasing depreciation of the Romanian school system. This is why, overburdened by failures, the beginning of each academic year loses its traditional festive nature.
The nearing 2006-2007 academic year is no exception. Just like in past years, preparations for the start of the school year are deplorable. In the very capital of Romania, several thousand pre-schoolers could not find a place in kindergartens.
Entire neighbourhoods of sumptuous villas and state-of-the-art blocks of flats have been built in Bucharest, but kindergartens have not only been forgotten, but even alienated. At a national level, things are even worse. Of the 23,303 schools and kindergartens, only 13,257 have been authorised to operate by hygiene authorities. And they are generally located in the urban environment, because in villages the situation is utterly disastrous. Over 8,300 pre-school, primary school and secondary school units are not connected to water supply networks, 6,765 do not have adequate bathroom fixtures, while in 1,948 schools the heating system needs immediate replacing. The schools and kindergartens affected by such problems will look like construction sites long after September 15. Naturally, if local authorities intend to step in and change things. Because otherwise all these education units will continue to “operate” with their already traditional flaws. The likelihood of this negative prospect is rather high, given that 70 per cent of the money allotted this May for school repair and upgrade are still not spent.
And even if they concluded in the coming three-four weeks, upgrade works would be unable to solve all the problems facing the education units. We should not overlook that 40 per cent of the school buildings are built in line with earthquake resistance norms. Many buildings are already over one hundred years old, and they are beyond upgrade. As many as 44 per cent of the school buildings, particularly in the rural environment, are built with plywood panels, with another 7 per cent of the school buildings having their walls made up of adobe and wood. To talk about the speedy upgrade of such buildings is non-sense. They must be fully replaced, and new, modern, hygienic, functional schools must be built on their place: schools with large, bright classrooms, with labs and libraries, with medical facilities and bathroom fixtures in line with current European requirements. Unfortunately, for about one quarter of a century the number of new schools being built has decreased from one year to the next, to become an extremely rare occurrence at present. Primarily in the rural environment, many schools turned into ruins and were closed down, under the pretext of the general birth rate decrease. All governments over the past fifteen years masked their organisation incapacity by putting forth the negative birth rate index. Children in many such localities are therefore forced to commute to neighbouring villages where schools are still operational. The much-publicised procurement of school buses intended to take children to nearby schools, fishy deals were made to the benefit of local barons.
So the 2006-2007 academic year begins in Romania under the sign of a painful education divide between the urban and rural environments. The increasingly threatening reality of the two Romanias, the rural and the urban one, opposing each other to mutual exclusion, is evident precisely in the school education field. Abominable discrimination thus emerges precisely in the sector claiming equal development chances for all children. For this reason, although about half of Romania’s population lives in rural communities, only about 15 per cent of the rural youth get to further their education in high schools, and only one-two per cent of the student population comes from this underprivileged social background. And this serious discrimination phenomenon occurs precisely when Romania strives to join the EU, to become a competitive country and therefore to have equal development chances with other states. And the success of this battle crucially depends on the workforce quality; implicitly, on the quality of the entire Romanian education system.
All Romanian politicians acknowledge this priority. And all find an excuse for their organisation incapacity in the …lack of resources. This is not the truth. Even when budgets are increased, the money is wasted pointlessly. And the main cause of this waste is the fact that schools, in rural communities primarily, are no longer under national authority and left in the hands of local officials. Decentralisation in this respect has shamefully failed. Why? Because local barons are, as a rule, the kind of people for whom it is not knowledge which brings wealth, easy money and arrogant power. What matters for them is the so-called “school of life,” often seen as acting against the law. Rehabilitation of the education system in Romania needs a national strategy, rather than irresponsible improvisation whose only effect is to misguide schools.