The recent case of the shepherds that were exploiting children and teenagers, subjecting them to forced labor in Galati County and depriving them not only of freedom but also of food and rest, is not an exception in Romania. Child protection is undermined from so many quarters that it finds it increasingly difficult to make itself felt. The blame for this serious state of affairs is usually put on the shoulders of individuals at odds with the law. And that is why the justice system is expected to do its job. Waiting that is often to no avail. Not just because the overwhelmed justice system postpones the trials until the death of the guilty parties, but particularly because the main prerequisite for child protection is school enrollment. And precisely this essential, decisive prerequisite is being questioned in today’s Romania.
The school dropout rate and the illiteracy rate, the latter being the consequence of the former, stand at approximately 20 per cent today. And their growth is picking up speed because of the poverty that chokes over 46 per cent of the population and because of the fact that the education system itself has numerous shortcomings. The children’s unequal access to education is part of those shortcomings, given the fact that, as it is known, the modern education system is strictly conditioned by continuity and amplitude. One can’t have an education system of quality if its stress on values avoids certain age groups and neglects the specific attributes of each educational cycle. Unfortunately, these serious deficiencies are found in our education system from its very first stages. The pre-school educational cycle is a painful example in this sense. As happened in previous years too, a large number of children in the 2-5 years age group were left out of the system of kindergartens this year because of lack of room. Despite the fact that children in the “preparatory grade” were moved to schools, the lack of room in kindergartens has grown worse. If in Bucharest alone there are 6,000 children still waiting for places in kindergartens, what proportions is this phenomenon taking in rural areas where pre-school children are sometimes forced to travel large distances, on foot, to and from kindergarten?Romania’s demographic collapse is not the reason why our pre-school system has been overlooked. Our political class, officials from all parties that care only for themselves and for the interests of their clans, is the main one to blame. The upcoming elections campaign proves that the only candidates are very rich people. People that hire “babysitters” for their underage children, paying them a minimum salary of RON 1,000 while the salary of a young pedagogic high school or even faculty graduate is well below that figure. If it is to be earned at all and the graduate is not unemployed. In these conditions you, a central or local government official, brag for nothing with “approving” the construction of a modern kindergarten if its staff is not qualified. You, former and future minister, brag for naught with the restitution of abusively nationalized properties if most of them are those that were turned into kindergartens. Buildings that once returned to their former owners leave the education system. This is the explanation for the fact that although our “demographic product” is over 30 per cent smaller than that of 1989, the overcrowding of kindergartens is growing worse year by year. Overcrowding causes the classrooms of pre-school children to grow from the optimal figure of 16-20 children to 35-40 children. And their daily schedule drops from the optimal figure of 10 hours to as low as 4 hours sometimes. In these conditions, even some of the lucky parents that managed to enroll their children to kindergarten are now forced to give up and keep their children home. Why? Because parents can’t leave work at noon to go pick up their children from kindergarten. That is why an increasing number of children are not benefiting from the pre-school system, not even in urban areas. This is the source of many of the serious contradictions that the Romanian education system currently faces. The pre-school system has great meaning for the organic character of each class, for its spiritual unity, for its solidarity, especially in Romania where such attributes are increasingly hard to find. The discriminations that appear in the pre-schools system grow in time up to the stage of undermining all family and social values. Why is it that throughout life many events are forgotten but not those from the first years of education? Because the foundations of the future personality are laid during these years of pre-school education. The individual vocation sprouts in these years of basic educational training. And the fact that children with very different pre-school education backgrounds are forced to coexist in the primary and secondary education systems undermines any education effort of rehabilitation. Hence, contradictions multiply and grow deeper within the education system instead of being lessened. Obviously, the quality of the school education, the teachers’ talent and their professional vocation in close correlation with that of the parents matter too. But since the school-family tandem is today frequently transformed into an egocentric monomial or is ruled out from the start, education keeps turning in upon itself, as are things in Romanian society as a whole, where the very system of training educators for the pre-school system no longer meets the quality criteria. The selection of the teaching staff should be based on pedagogical vocation, not on accidental and temporary individual choice. Once this condition is met the salaries of all teaching staff should be hiked proportional to this value. Unfortunately, such imperatives can’t be respected in the current context of ill-fated political involvement and corruption. The fundamental goal of the unitary training of young generations is increasingly undermined. And our national solidarity suffers with it. Also on account of the fact that the family unit itself is suffering severely. First of all because of the chronic poverty that affects over 46 per cent of the population. And, as a result of that, because of the emigration of many parents who leave their children in the care of accidental factors. That is the explanation for the fact that juvenile delinquency, including criminality, is growing in direct proportion to the drop in children’s access to the education system. We are the country with the highest illiteracy rate in the EU and with a lot of underage children at odds with the law. Can we stop this collapse in the education system? Of course, but not through the “simple passing of time” as some political factors deem. There is an urgent need to focus all decisional factors, from grassroots up to the highest level, on solving the most serious problems. The budget of the education system has to represents a minimum of 6 per cent of GDP, to match the strategic importance of this domain. The payment of teachers is calling for a focus on the quality of individual training. Decentralization should be eliminated form the educational domain that is fundamental precisely through its unity and organic character. The teaching of youngsters should bear in mind exclusively the strategic national interest, not the anti-state and anti-Romanian whims of some local leaders. And all these exigencies make dialogue even more necessary, being the first characteristic of a democratic society. Also necessary is to penalize those that undermine dialogue through the use of all kinds of maneuvers, including secessionist ones. The lack of protection for young generations, primarily through the education system, undermines the country’s future and leads to our extinction as a nation.