For children in Romania today, their basic education, the knowledge they acquire school and the environment in which they grow up are crucial for creating their future life options.
The quality of education received before the age of 15 determines children’s life trajectory.
According to PISA’s 2012 international survey, Romanian students are the least motivated of all students of the 65 countries analyzed.
Other recent international studies demonstrate that Romania’s education system ranks towards the bottom of both European and global rankings.
Among students who remain in school through the 12th grade, only 56% passed the national high school graduation exam (Bacalaureat) last year (2013)
The figures above, as well as others published in recent years, demonstrate that Romania suffers from an overall lack of quality education as well as an inequality of access.
The causes of the aforementioned results are complex and varied, but there are three underlying key factors:
The low level of parents’ education and their limited involvement in their children’s schooling generate a vicious circle: children from disadvantaged schools become parents with low education who cannot help their own children succeed and surpass the limits imposed upon them by their environment.
This reality prevents parents from helping and supporting their children with homework and from instilling the value and importance of a good education.
These parents often cannot effectively interact with their children’s teachers. They also find it more difficult to keep their children in school and to forgo the incremental income or household support that come with keeping their children out of school.
Although school in Romania is free, an average family spends approximately €400 per student on school uniforms, materials and other school-related costs. This can make school prohibitively expensive for certain families. Often, children are asked to work alongside their studies in order to contribute to covering household and school costs. This reduces the time available for learning and individual preparation and can ultimately lead to parents removing their children from school.
The teaching profession has become a last option for top Romanian graduates. Teacher salaries in Romania are among the lowest (as a percentage of average income) of all countries participating in the 2012 PISA survey. This reality is confirmed by the fact that more than 50% of those who took the 2013 national teacher certification exam did not achieve a grade above seven, the minimum required for access to permanent teaching positions.
The situation is even more critical in disadvantaged communities as the best teachers tend to avoid the schools in these communities. Of teachers who do end up in such schools, very few demonstrate authentic interest and motivation for student preparation and development. Many are focused instead on trying to relocate to more prestigious schools.
Together these factors lead to a limited interest in working with difficult or challenging children.
Those teachers who end up teaching in vulnerable schools are affected by the lack of adequate training to manage students in such classes and communities. Their training in the psycho-pedagogical module is focused more on providing teachers with methods to address students in general, not students or who face social and family difficulties.
Romanian teachers today rarely serve as role models for their students. As a result, students tend to seek role models outside the classroom (often choosing people who have accumulated wealth without academic excellence). Teacher-student relationships tend to become exclusively formal and are rarely based on trust or on an understanding of the benefits of attaining a good education. Consequently, students become demotivated and fail to understand the role education can play in their personal and professional lives.
Romanian teachers’ expectations of “problem” students are usually low, with a focus on keeping students in the classroom rather than on improving academic performance. Faced with such low expectations, students see no reason to make an effort to study or to even attend classes. They thus face an increased risk of dropping out before finishing their studies.
Discrimination against disadvantaged students (e.g. Roma, rural students) often leads to de facto segregation caused by “white flight,” non-Roma parents removing their children from Roma schools or explicit segregation by creating separate classes for Roma students or assigning them to special education classes. Ultimately, underperforming students come predominantly from families affected by poverty with limited experience with formal education. Rather than counter these problems, the Romanian education system tends to exacerbate them, reinforcing stereotypes and augmenting inequalities.