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March 21, 2023

Ministry’s plan to divide pupils in bright and poor sparks controversy

Teachers and parents, as well as some political voices, argue the measure gives way to discrimination and may wreck lives.

After the disastrous results of the recent baccalaureate exam indicated some students had flunked the exam, even if they had got good marks throughout high school, the Education Ministry proposes that the students should be divided in categories according to their marks (poor results, average and very good results), to prevent teachers from granting undeserved marks. According to the proposed plan, the evaluation should start from the first grade and, should an underachieving pupil get an A, this would be a question mark and the school principal would be able to take measures. The ministry intends to enforce the proposal as of this school year. “(…) Teaching methodology boards will draft a placement test for each school, starting from the existing curriculum. The placement test will be organized for each grade, for the 1st, the 2nd, the 4th grade, for Romanian and Maths and so forth. The results will be assessed at school level. That is to say, there will be an average mark for the school, and classes will be ranked, based on results, in the below average, average or above average category,” the state secretary for pre-university education Oana Badea explained, quoted by Realitatea.net. The latter argued that, by this system, the ministry does not aim at setting up a national or city hierarchy, but merely at assessing the level of students within the respective school. After the level of each class in the school is established, the principal can “become wary” if s/he notices that students in the “below average” classes get very high marks. “This goes against the super-evaluation. You cannot get straight ‘A’s in classes below the average. You cannot because the main reference point is the school curriculum,” Badea added.

The initiative was welcomed by some, but opposed by most. The chairman of the “Spiru Haret” Federation, Marius Nistor, argues that the measure is beneficent, but warns it generates other problems that should be tackled. “If this measure is adopted, we must have a differentiated baccalaureate exam (…) I do not think that the differentiated system should start at primary school level,” Nistor argued.

In the opposing camp, Stefan Vlaston, the chairman of the Education and Research Association (Educer), qualified the proposal as a “very poor” one, which gives way to discrimination. “If you label a child as stupid, this label will stick with him throughout his life and will be a source of frustration,” Vlastin explained, adding that some pupils can be better-fitted for some disciplines and less gifted for others.

The plan is opposed from within the ruling party itself. The Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) deputy Catalin Croitoru, a member of the Chamber of Deputies’ Education Committee, opposed it from the very beginning. “I think we are wasting our time with trifles instead of focusing on the essentials, such as the curriculum, which is catastrophic,” Croitoru argued. The chairman of the Chamber’s education committee, Cristian Dumitrescu (Social Democratic Party – PSD), argues, in turn, pupils “already traumatised and confused” should not be subjected to yet another experiment.

However, the fiercest opponents of the plan are parents. Children are entitled to equal opportunities and anything that denies them this right is tantamount to discrimination. “The Ministry of Education’s approach does not grant children equality of opportunity, and this is a form of discrimination,” Mihaela Guna, the chair of the National Federation of Pre-university Education Parents’ Associations, argued.

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