Learning the hard way
Truancy, bad sanitation and lacking resources - schools are in bad shape and the Government is driving up spending to plug the deficit
Like many ex-Communist countries, education in Romania has deteriorated since 1989. A lack of cash for maintenance and development of schools and no long-term strategy from central and local Governments are to blame.
Around 10,000 Romanian schools are suffering from such filthy interiors or bad quality toilets that they function without sanitary authorisation from the local authority.
Romania’s target of becoming a knowledge-based economy that champions its IT brainpower may also be a tough call when thousands of schools do not have any computers.
But Minister of Education, Research and Youth, Cristian Adomnitei, tells The Diplomat that local authorities are to blame because, in most cases, the funds the Ministry gives to the regional Governments to rehabilitate school infrastructure are not used.
“Can you imagine that in 2007 we have schools in buildings and on lands which have been given back or risk being returned to the former owners who lost them during the Communist period?” says Adomnitei. “That we have schools where only three students are in a class? That we have mayors who show a lack of any kind of knowledge, professionalism, responsibility or interest in these matters? In this situation, our children are the biggest losers.”
Since last April, when the 32 year-old construction engineer took over this position, Adomnitei has succeeded in increasing the funds allocated to education in the budget for 2008.
For the first time in 18 years, the education system might spend six per cent of GDP (7.4 billion Euro), more than the EU average of around 5.2 per cent, although Parliament can still stop this cash injection by the end of the year. This has been a steady increase since 2005, when education gained 3.5 per cent.
“2007 was the year when education became a national priority, not only in statements, but in facts,” the Minister says. But whether the cash can find sensible use by national and local authorities will remain to be seen.
Payment for workers in education has increased since 2004. For university professors, the wages are 50 per cent higher, while lower university teaching positions, such as lecturers, have doubled their salaries. The average wage for a teacher in the secondary school is around 400 Euro per month, while a university professor can earn around 900 Euro.
But a massive problem for schools is truancy and absenteeism. More than 20 per cent of pupils abandon school before the compulsory age of 16, while the EU average is around ten per cent. Most of these children leave at the end of secondary school, in the eighth grade, when their parents send them to work because they can no longer support them.
To attempt to remedy this, the Ministry is building campuses for schools, where children and teachers will both live. A massive 278 million Euro programme constructing dormitories for 84 theoretical and vocational schools in all counties and Bucharest will be finished by 2009. It is most likely that children from rural areas with no access to education for the 15 to 18 year-old age group will stay in these new boarding schools.
During the Communist period, Romania’s universities were packed with students learning engineering. This was a centrally-planned initiative which partnered the rapid programme of industrialisation. After 1989 no Romanian Government developed a strategy to correlate the needs of the labour market to the subjects chosen by university graduates. The number of students picking engineering as a degree then dropped.
But now there is a boom in demand in the labour market for students qualified for technology-based subjects. Therefore, engineering needs a fresh incentive to attract more students.
At present, a quota of students in each subject receive free education, while the remainder have to pay a tuition fee. Adomnitei intends to subsidise more free places in subjects where the labour market needs qualified personnel – of which engineering is likely to be one.
The Ministry also wants to be open to allow business to partner in the education system. “We give moral support to initiatives like the one of the National Alliance of the Students’ Associations which stipulates that private companies can make partnerships with universities for students to intern in different firms,” Adomnitei adds.
By Ana-Maria Nitoi