Education challenges in Romania 2022
Written by Réka Gyaraki
The Romanian education system has developed greatly in the past decades, however it still faces many difficulties in providing all people with the right to access to education. According to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, Romania is doing 65% of what it could possibly do with its national income when it comes to ensuring the right to education. Romania ranks at the bottom, of all European countries. This essay explores the main educational issues in Romania, sorted into four main categories: access to education, quality of education, discrimination and violence in education and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on education.
Access to education
Marginalized social groups and minorities face difficulties in exercising their right to education in Romania. In particular, Hungarian and Roma minority children, disabled, rural and poor children, refugees and children who lack birth certificates are the ones who are the most vulnerable and are often left out of education or have less access than the rest of society.
Hungarians are the largest minority group in Romania and even though minority language education is allowed by law for Hungarian students, they often have no access to it due to the shortage of teachers. In addition, classes about Hungarian culture, history and language are in addition to the Romanian curriculum that all students must follow, resulting in higher number of lessons for minority children, bigger workload and thereby lack of equal opportunity.
70% of Roma people live in poverty in Romania according to the World Bank. Poverty limits their access to education as Roma children were found to have lower enrolment rates, higher dropout rates and their illiteracy rate is ten times higher than other students in Romania.
In rural areas, 16% (ages 7-10) and 25% (ages 11-14) of children are not enrolled in primary education while these ratios are significantly lower, 9% and 6% respectively in urban areas. This is mainly caused by the lack of educational institutions in rural areas and inadequate infrastructure to travel to the nearest school.
Disabled children also face difficulties in accessing education in Romania. 40% of children with disabilities are placed in segregated schools or do not participate in education at all, while only 21% of high schools are equipped with access ramps.
In the year between 2019-2020 Romania adopted a new legal framework to enhance the integration of refugees and migrants. However, enrolment for foreign children still remains a challenge as the procedure is regularly delayed and Romanian language education is hardly accessible because of the shortage of staff . Furthermore, migrant children are often enrolled in grades below their age because of their lack of language skills, they experience psychological problems due to leaving their home country and receive no psychological counselling or support.
Roma children in school in Romania
Finally, even though registration at birth is mandatory in Romania, many children still lack these official documents that prevents them from accessing public services such as education, thereby putting them in a disadvantaged position.
Quality of education
Although the general literacy rate of people over 15 years was 99% in Romania in 2021, a national literacy study in 2022 found that 42% of Romanian students in grade 1 to 8 are functional illiterate, meaning that they are able to read words and texts but have difficulties in interpreting the information.
Dropout rates are the highest in Romania between all EU countries with over 15% in 2021. The Romanian Education Ministry developed the National Program to Reduce School Drop-out to reduce this rate by covering educational expenses. The shortcoming of this policy is that it tries to reduce dropout rates by financial tools, thereby disregarding dropouts caused by pregnancy, child marriage, disability, and other social-cultural and health reasons which cannot be tackled by merely financial tools.
Sanitary conditions are alarmingly poor in Romanian schools. Only 72% of schools had basic drinking water and hygiene services in 2021, which was the lowest in Europe. In 2018, thousands of schools lacked sanitary and fire safety authorization. To ensure the quality and success of education and reduce dropout rates, an undisturbed and well-equipped educational environment is essential.
In Romania many schools do not have drinking water and toilets
Romanian students scored on average 50 points below the OECD average on the 2018 PISA test in all 3 categories (reading, mathematics, science). Socio-economic status seemed to be a significant predictor of reading test scores in Romania, as the variation between the top and bottom quarters of economic, social and cultural status is one of the highest of all participating countries. This illustrates the inequality in the quality of education received by different social groups.
In 2022 a new law was made in Romania that ruled sex education can only be taught from grade 8 and with the parents’ written consent. Grade 8 in the Romanian education system corresponds to age 14-15 while in the meantime the proportion of teenage mothers is the highest in Romania from all EU countries. In 2020, 357 children were born to mothers between the age 10 and 14 while this number is well below 120 in all other EU states. Making sex education less accessible leads to and early pregnancy and motherhood which often forces young girls to drop out from school and discontinue their education.
Shortage of qualified teachers, low salaries and low societal appreciation of teachers is an issue in many Eastern-European countries and Romania is no exception. In the academic year 2019-2020, the annual gross starting salary of public-school teachers was around 9000 euros in Romania, one of the lowest in the EU. This means 750 euros per month which is not enough to cover living costs in Romania.
Information Technology (IT) skills and digital literacy are essential in the 21st century. In Romania only 57% of students between 15 and 19 had basic or above basic IT skills, compared to the 82% EU average. This is mostly caused by schools’ lack of adequate equipment and qualified teachers to offer high-quality IT classes. Rural areas are especially lacking digital infrastructure and internet connection.
All these shortcoming of the educational system can be partly explained by the low government spending on education in Romania. In 2020 Romania’s spending on education was the second lowest in the EU with only 3.7% of the country’s GDP compared to the 5% EU average.
Discrimination and violence in education
Roma students experience discrimination in the Romanian education system, just as the minority is often discriminated against in the whole population. Roma children are often put in segregated classrooms despite the 2007 Ministerial Order that banned their segregation which has lacked implementation ever since. Segregated classes have often worse learning environment compared to mixed classes, they lack heating, water and qualified teaching staff more often and therefore have lower academic results and higher dropout rates.
A study showed that 30% of female students experience some form of sexual harassment and abuse throughout their studies while this ratio is 50% for university students. Sexual abuse committed by teachers often remains unreported because of the social status and power of teachers and because of the fear of adverse consequences. Sexual harassment affects children’s physical and mental well-being, increases the chance of depression and can lead to teenage pregnancy, which again, forces girls to drop out from school.
A study from 2022 found that 82% of students have witnessed bullying at school, illustrating the prevalence of the issue. Bullying at school can take various forms such as social exclusion, physical threats and spreading rumours and can have a negative effect on victims’ mental health which in turn affects their academic progress and learning process.
Bullying at school
Effects of Covid-19 on education
In 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and schools around the globe closed and switched to online education to halt the spread of the virus. Online education deepened the gap between urban and rural areas as rural students had significantly less access to internet and digital equipment necessary to participate in classes. In 2021, 87% of urban households had access to internet, while only 73% in rural areas. The Ministry of Education and Research estimated that over 250.000 children had no access to online education during the pandemic because of lack of electricity, equipment or internet. These disadvantaged students from poor areas fell behind with the course materials and without immediate measures, their dropout rates will increase.
Another barrier of online education is the lack of IT skills. 50% of students who did not attend online classes reported that the reason for this was that the teacher did not give classes online. This is mostly caused by teachers’ lack of knowledge on how to teach online and the teachers’ lack of access to internet, equipment, and online educational tools. In addition, 13% of students reported that they did not know how to use online platforms. The pandemic affected the education process of marginalized children more, creating further challenges for them to access education.
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