As the 2011-2012 school year kicked off, the Romanian public “re-discovered” in the Education system the quintessence of the most serious contradictions existing in our present-day society. Violence is widespread among pupils of both genders, classrooms turn into scenes for fights with fists and – even worse – with knives wielded by combatants under the age of 15. Add to this the wide use of ethnobotanical drugs and increasing school absenteeism, and one can easily understand why some teachers are no longer willing to grant the attention and dedication prerequisite to any successful activity. Many schools were closed, as they fell victim to the chaotic administrative decentralisation, forcing pupils to walk 4, 7, even 10 km to school in neighbouring villages, because school minibuses are put to personal use by the almighty mayors elected in uninominal ballots. The principle so dear to these new potentates is that “it is alright to go to school, but really smart people can do without, just like I succeeded in life.” With such mentality among ruling factors, is there any surprise that school abandonment reaches 20 pc today?
Probably this high rate of school abandonment is also the reason why teachers are so disdained by our rulers, although such an attitude only encourages school abandonment. The chaotic administrative decentralisation, exclusively conceived to the benefit of local authorities, enriches many people that do not have much education. After signing contracts with the state during sumptuous events, they begin the construction of new kindergartens, classrooms or gyms. But these “urgent” works are seldom completed, because the money get… stolen meanwhile. Following this chaotic administrative decentralisation, the Romanian education system lost its national character, while the professional prestige of teachers now depends on the good will of local authorities. Thus, the positions available in the system will no longer be occupied by those who win a national contest of competence, but by those who have good connections in high places.
In such conditions, it is no wonder that teachers’ salaries are the smallest in the EU: 10 (ten) times smaller than in Denmark and even under those paid in Bulgaria. Regardless of how well trained he is, a Romanian teacher will jump from a salary of EUR 200 to EUR 350 only after the age of 40. It is no surprise that the very busy schedule of Romanian courts is also a consequence of the numerous lawsuits initiated by the teachers that seek in court the salary increases granted by law, but blocked by authorities. Even when they win in court, teachers still cannot get their money, because the same authorities indefinitely postpone payments.
In such conditions, it is no surprise that an increasing number of mayors frequently infringe the law and do not pay teachers even the commuting expenses, as provided by the acting legislation. Many teachers are forced to commute, because they are not issued service dwellings in the localities where they teach and sometimes they are not paid even the modest sum provided by law for the bibliography required by their work. The imperative of updating professional competencies is dictated by the fact that the volume of human knowledge doubles at ever shorter intervals. The profit source of social action, in general, thus rapidly moves from the sphere of acquiring social assets into that of knowledge output. Teachers are meant to be the main promoters of the growth of this intellectual capital.
With these imperatives (frequently ignored by rulers) in mind, it is easy to understand why teachers started a fresh wave of protests. A general strike in Education or Health is more dangerous than in any other sector. In order to avoid this outcome, authorities must satisfy to the letter the demands of teachers, especially as they are backed by court orders. But, to make their voice heard and see their rights observed, teachers must remove the incongruence still present in the activity of their trade unions. Unfortunately, the four trade union federations of the Education system rarely reach a common platform of demands. They are often sapped by parallel, sometimes even opposite conceptions. Like authorities, Education trade unions too are entangled in labile and limited visions. Too often, they make their demands only in order to throw a feeler at the opposite camp, and come with illogically high requests so they can drop some and still remain with what they initially wanted.
This is the source of widespread uncertainty and confusion among trade unionists and, as a consequence, it kills some protests before they even started. Teachers’ demands are certainly justified, but they cannot be satisfied without large-scale programmatic trade union interventions. For instance, we never heard about Education unions urging authorities to enforce comprehensive measures against school abandonment and the decline of learning in Romania. How comes that no trade union from the Education sector openly protested against the decentralisation of the system, which negates the very national character of Education? The national character of the Education system is a must, so trade unions should propose – in support of their demands – new quality indicators for the activities aimed at the training and professional improvement of teachers.
Let’s hope that quality, dignity and value will lay at the basis of the dialogue between trade unions and authorities, in order to avoid the promised general strike in the Education system.