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December 4, 2021

Kindergartens of yesteryear?

The recent government changes pushed off the spotlight the majority of day-to-day events, except for the most important or serious ones. Such an overlooked issue is the troubles faced by parents trying to find places in kindergartens or nurseries for their small children. This reveals to the highest degree the dramatic paradox of the Romanian education system, confronted by fewer newborns each year, but also by a number of places in preschool institutions that drops even faster than the birth rate.  Because of this involution, the number of children in a kindergarten class sometimes exceeds 30, far above the optimal figure of 20. On the other hand, the daily programme of preschool education and training drops from the ideal 10 hours a day (dinner and rest hours included) to just 4 hours. In these conditions, even those parents lucky enough to find a place in a kindergarten must now give up this “conquest” and keep their child at home. Why? Because parents – those who still have a job – cannot take midday leave to bring their child home at noon, when kindergartens must close their doors now, with their working hours drastically reduced by the underfinancing of the education system. The consequence is that more and more children cannot benefit from a preschool training programme in Romania.This is the source of many contradictions existing in the national education system. Preschool training is very important for the organic character of human society, for its solidarity and spiritual unity. The amount of discrimination existing in preschool education increases through the years, until it undermines all the values of family and society. Why, at maturity, people tend to forget many things of their adult years, but still remember the events of their first years of life? Because it is precisely the preschool years that lay the basis of the future human personality; the early years of education nurture the seed of individual vocation. And the fact that children with very different levels of preschool education must coexist in primary and secondary schools undermines any educational effort of recovery, the contradictions of the education process multiply and become more acute, instead of fading away. Obviously, an important role is played by the talent and professional vocation of teachers, correlated with the commitment of parents. But, as this school-family binomial turns either into a monomial, or is outright negated, any school structure – be it at micro or macro level – degrades, like the whole Romanian society.How did we reach this impossible situation? The answer is so terribly simple that it becomes an accusation! Only few kindergartens were built during the last two decades, while many existing ones disappeared. In the chaos created by the restitution of properties seized by communists, some fake owners obtained the land, even the buildings of kindergartens, with forged documents accepted by corrupt authorities. They either turned these buildings in pubs and gambling dens, or demolished them and sold the land to real estate developers. This explains the paradox of insufficient places in kindergartens, although the birth rate is now 30 pc lower than in 1989.And the collapse is getting worse each day. First, because the system of training preschool educators no longer meets the conditions of quality. This would imply selecting educators based on their pedagogical vocation, instead of individual, fortuitous and monetary options. But such a selection cannot exist anymore in a system infested with political interference and corruption, so the fundamental goal of a homogenous education granted to young generations is largely undermined. And things are made worse by the involution of family, mainly sapped by the chronic poverty that affects over 40 pc of the Romanian population. Poverty forces many parents to emigrate in search of a job, leaving their children to the care of other family members or neighbours, or – even worse – completely alone. This also explains the increase of child criminality that goes in hand with the reduction of children’ access to the education system. Romania thus is the country with many minor delinquents and an increasing illiteracy.Can we stop this collapse of the education sector? Obviously yes! But this will not come by itself, as time goes by, as some politicians believe. This requires urgently committing every resource available. The financing provided to the education system must reflect the importance of this sector. In the EU, the average financing granted to education is around 11 pc of the GDP, while in Romania it does not exceed 3-4 pc of the GDP. Plus, the wages of those who work in the system should stimulate quality, while the chaos that reigns throughout this sector must disappear and the fundamentally unitary character of the education system must be restored. The education provided to young generations must exclusively reflect the strategic national interest, not the personal wishes of local political leaders. All these exigencies make dialogue even more necessary, as the first attribute of a democratic society. However, an authentic dialogue that creates values was absent from the Romanian society so far. Some debates on education are held in a totalitarian climate, with “partners” that seize every opportunity of lashing out at opponents. Each interlocutor – mostly politicians – tries to belittle, even completely negate the “adversary’s” opinions, in a spiral that leaves no place for reason and common sense, so each participant eventually speaks for himself and nobody listens.Such biased “dialogues” make us ask painful questions to our politicians. And, thinking at the ‘snows of yesteryear’ evoked by French poet Francois Villon (Ou sont les neiges d’antan?) we can but sadly ask: ‘Where are the kindergartens of yesteryear?’

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