Romania: the education system on the verge of collapse

The introduction of free market relations in the states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe 20 years ago led to unprecedented social and cultural decline.

This is particularly clear in Romania, a country which, before the introduction of capitalism, had already suffered greatly under the rule of the Stalinist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu and the dictates of Western banks and financial institutions. The rapid and dramatic collapse of the Romanian education system is symptomatic of the decline of all aspects of the country’s social life.

The Romanian education system developed considerably after the Second World War. Although Ceausescu increasingly sought to bring public schools and universities under the control of his party and the state police after taking power in the 1960s, most Romanians had access to a relatively good.

Today, Romania, with a population of 21.5 million, has more than 500,000 illiterates (and many illiterates), 76% of whom come from rural areas. According to a UNICEF report last year, the dropout rate tripled in Romania during the period 2000-2009, with 20% of children dropping out of school. The main reason for dropping out is the high cost of keeping a child in school. Although education in the public system is theoretically free in Romania, parents must provide around €500 per month to keep each child in school and provide the necessary materials for a year of study. Given the low level of wages in the country, this sum is beyond the reach of many families.

In addition, a fifth of Romanian children do not attend kindergarten, a third of secondary school graduates do not pass their final exams and a quarter of pupils are unable to solve basic mathematical problems.

The Romanian education system has undergone a series of reforms largely dictated by the political priorities of the ruling party. No less than 15 major changes to the education system have been implemented by 13 ministers in 20 years. In today’s Romania, school inspectors, school principals and even teachers are hired or fired according to the whims of the majority political party at state or federal level.

Recently, the education sector has been hit by a series of strikes and demonstrations. The longest dispute took place in November 2005, when a general strike lasted three weeks and ended with the government promising to raise teachers’ salaries by around 12%. One-day strikes in 2008 and 2009 were followed by an attempt to initiate further reform of the education system. Eventually, this reform was annulled by the Constitutional Court.

In a series of struggles, mainstream unionists have increasingly come into conflict with union leaderships, which share close ties to the country’s political establishment. Key leaders of the trade union bureaucracies were lured into important official positions in return for their party membership. In 2008, the CNSLR-Confrérie (National Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Romania), one of the main trade union federations in the country, signed a cooperation agreement with the Social Democratic Party, flouting its so-called “independence”. .”

This is not the first time that such an agreement has been reached between union leaders and political parties, to the detriment of the working class. The transition from trade unions to politics is commonplace in Romanian political life.

In 1999, a law decentralizing public establishments was introduced, which means that the administration of school buildings is currently the responsibility of local authorities. The municipality owns the buildings and has an obligation to maintain the school infrastructure. In fact, dilapidated schools are commonplace. With insufficient or no heating at all, students study in cold classrooms and under dim lighting. The government says it can’t do anything, and the municipalities blame the government for not providing funds for basic repairs. In this circle of mutual accusations, it is the pupils and the students who suffer.

Most of the above-mentioned reforms of the education system have not been put into practice, so that there are no properly applied national criteria for the curricula. Children are educated on the basis of vastly outdated and often irrelevant information. This gap between theory and practice diminishes interest in learning.

The decline in the level of education in Romania is reflected in the employment prospects of students. Official unemployment rates indicate youth unemployment of around 20% over the past decade, and this rate has inevitably increased due to the economic and financial crisis, which has forced Romania to apply for huge loans from the Fund international currency.

At the same time, educated people have little incentive to join the teaching profession. The average salary for a teacher is around €400 per month, and many prefer to find other work or go abroad to find a better job.

The education sector has suffered at the hands of all Romanian governments over the past two decades, whether right-wing, conservative or social-democratic.

The current Conservative government led by Prime Minister Emil Boc has issued an emergency ordinance reducing the number of teachers in pre-university education in 2010. The reduction will be in two stages, with the loss of 15,000 jobs by August 31 and a second phase resulting in the loss of 18,000 jobs by December 31.

The current government has waged an election campaign promising teachers higher salaries. The reality after Boc’s election is reduced wages and unemployment for thousands of teachers. The Boc government and the regimes that preceded it bear the responsibility for the decadence of the education system, condemning hundreds of thousands of Romanian children to illiteracy by prioritizing the satisfaction of demands for cuts imposed by the Monetary Fund international and international creditors of Romania.

Helen D. Jessen