Can Europe Make It?

The tragedy of education in rural Romania

Rural education in Romania is in a dismal state, lagging far behind its urban counterpart, and having among the worst standards in the European Union.

Raluca Besliu
9 June 2014
A class in a Romanian high school. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A class in a Romanian high school. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Although a member of the European Union, Romania is allowing its children living in rural areas to study in meagre conditions, as schools lack adequate standards and facilities as well as qualified teachers. These conditions have generated significant discrepancies between rural and urban education in the east European country. In the 2005-6 school year alone, around 13.5 percent of rural children between the ages of 7 and 14 were not enrolled in school, while only 3.9 percent of their urban peers were in the same situation. The proportion of children attending high-school was 7 percent lower in rural areas compared to urban ones. A 2012 World Vision Romania report on the wellbeing of rural children revealed that only 40 percent out of 1340 children who had finished seventh grade were able to read a simple 60-word text, with 4 percent not understanding what they had just read. The consequences of the inadequate support given to rural education resulted in the fact that, during the 2012 Baccalaureate exam at the end of high-school, many Romanian villages had a zero pass-rate. 

The conditions offered in Romanian rural schools are appalling. In many villages, schools completely lack health permits or are barely entitled to possess them, as they are only partially finished, lack running water or have external washrooms. At the same time, rural children are often forced to sit in classrooms with broken desks and chairs and no heating during winter, while rarely having access to the technically free state-provided school materials. Around 23 percent of rural children spend more than one hour each day commuting to school, either because they have to go there on foot, or because the bus transporting them there has to make numerous stops before reaching their destination. As a result of this lengthy commute, rural Romanian parents prefer to keep their children out of school, thus encouraging illiteracy, which is the highest in Europe at the moment.

Continuing post-compulsory education is extremely difficult for many rural students. High-schools can be over 20 km away, which would require them to move to cities. This is often impossible to accomplish, because parents generally lack the financial possibilities to support their children’s pursuit of higher education. At the same time, while many adults have a positive attitude towards the benefits of attending school, many of them believe that interpersonal relations are more important in landing a job than education.

Most children also have to help out with their parents’ household work, usually taking up around two hours each day, which could be spent studying or relaxing. World Vision Romania’s report suggests that around one quarter of the over 1,340 students they examined claimed that they were fatigued by having to both work and study, while 12 percent said they sometimes skip school, because of work.

There is also a chronic shortage of teachers in villages, as they often refuse placements in rural schools. They are obliged to secure, by themselves, accommodation in the village and sort out their transportation there, which often results in significant expenses for an already meagre salary. Transportation expenses can sometimes cost teachers half their salary. Rural students end up being taught by unqualified teachers or retired teachers paid by the hour, who often have to teach multiple school subjects, some of which they barely have knowledge about themselves.

There are several reasons for the dismal studying conditions in rural areas. One of them resulted from the reforms within the national education system in 2007-2010, which led to a decrease in the number of schools by 642, representing a 7.8 percent reduction. Moreover, an acute lack of financing has meant not only a lack of improvement in Romanian schools’ conditions, but continued lack of support and incentives for teachers to go to rural areas and teach.

Local authorities often refuse to give funding to schools, claiming that their budget is limited. At the national level, although the National Education Law stipulates that education should receive 6 percent of the GDP, only slightly over 3 percent is actually provided. The budget for education is usually being cut, instead of augmented. The 2010 budget was 40 percent lower than the 2008 one. In 2014, the education budget will be raised to 3.4 percent of GDP, making it the largest sum allocated to this field since 2009. Still, this is a far cry from the 6 percent required by Romanian legislation and compared to the 5 percent of GDP allocated on average by EU Member States.

The education problem in Romania is systemic, given that, following the collapse of communism, Romania entered an on-going education crisis, with the minister of education being changed 19 times. Each minister brought new reforms, which often seemed experiments aimed at replacing their predecessor’s vision on the obligatory curriculum and the national examinations.

Due to the derisory education conditions in rural areas, children are lagging behind their urban counterparts and their European ones as well. They barely have a chance to successfully attend and complete high-school, with university being out of the question for most. The lack of quality education makes rural children significantly less competitive on the job market and capable of contributing to Romania’s development, raising questions about the eastern European country’s future. At the same time, many lack an incentive to study, given that there is a penury of employment opportunities in the rural area. For 85 percent of the compulsory education graduates, who do not choose to pursue high-school, unremunerated work in their parents’ household is the only option.

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