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October 20, 2020

Dropping out of school, a tragedy

An observer with a sense of humor might think the Romanian education system is most prone to manipulation, given education crisis pop up exactly when you expect it least, namely when legislative, government, presidential or other scandals are strong enough to grab public attention. Is it the “manipulation smokescreen we could detect here? No, manipulation is not the issue here. Whether you have a sense of humor or not, you can easily notice that, irrespective of what happens in other fields, the succession of crisis in the education system can neither be predicted, nor could it be diminished.
A recent UNICEF study, too, stands testimony to the fast doubling in school dropout rate for children age 7 through 10. Until now, too, Romania ranked high in the EU with respect to the school dropout rate, yet, at junior high level and not primary school as is the case now.

And this crisis is deepening given that even the access to the prep school shows the number of children being lower than that of the respective class, a fact noticed by the education minister himself, which makes the current school dropout rate of nearly 20 pc come as no surprise really. What is surprising though is the Education Ministry’s pledge to lower this rate to 11 pc by 2020, an that in the context of a rigorous national strategy that has education at its core. Should we understand from it this scourge making Romania into a European source of unskilled, and therefore cheap, labour would stay with us for long, if not ever? If this is so, then, this unstoppable school dropout rate is the most “modern” tragedy Romania has seen, considering the development stage the world, and Europe first and foremost, has entered into since year 2000: the knowledge society. All the features used to characterize the previous stage – modern, post-modern, information etc., now summed up in the knowledge-based society. And this epoch of knowledge, “of education development throughout life for all,” according to an EU Memorandum launched at the start of this millennium. The document’s reasoning is simple as it is precise: Europe is moving toward a knowledge-based society. Furthermore, access to the latest information, along with the abilities to use these resources in an intelligent way become “key” to strengthening education competitiveness in Europe.
The successive ‘shallow’ attempts in this area have meanwhile turned tragic-comic, with many schools closed down in rural areas and children having to engage in commutes as far as 10-15 km-long to neighbour locations. The minibuses supposed to provide children’s transport to school were handled by local mayors, with children having to pay in order to be transported by private buses. While the Ministry of Education pledged to cover transport expenses, it only did it for a period of six months after which payments ceased. This led to children marching on foot through areas populated by vagrant dogs, and, consequently, t a rise in dropout rates. The ill-fated ways of school dropout rates are flaring up over time, with poverty being among its causes. EU statistics show that circa 46-48 pc of Romania’s population lives in poverty, the highest percentage rate EU-wide. And once poverty sets in, so does family disorganization, as the wife, the husband, or both, have to emigrate in order to find work. Meanwhile, the children are given into the car of a third party for whom attending school is not always a priority, which leads to dropout rates and illiteracy growing worse on account of poverty and emigration, too, and that, sine the underage either have to wok alongside their parents, a condition for family survival or are pushed into black labour, with or without parents’ agreement. For these teenagers, drama knows no limits, as they have no legal work alternative. As a result, the black labour performed by illiterate underage often takes the increasingly painful form of forced labour. The Gypsy community has the highest school dropout and illiteracy rates. Despite only making nearly 1 million of Romania’s population (600,000 according to the latest census), they benefit from many incentives aimed at social and professional insertion, which are inefficient nonetheless given most of them don’t attend school. This literacy rejection is mostly due to Roma spiritual leaders, aka “bulibasi”, who see literacy as a “danger” to the identity of their ethnic group. In order to change this traditional mentality, the Education Ministry has also resorted to cooperation with religious non-governmental organizations etc. Yet, given they usually have other gals in mind (religious conversion, ethnic-based autonomy etc.), their interest for instruction and education remains scarce. The quasi-political Roma organizations are the only hope left, as thy might stimulate school attendance by focusing their electoral programs not on demagogical promises (including the passage of amnesty laws), but calls and channelling their efforts toward literacy. Such campaigns should be held on a daily basis since general and free education in Romania is mandatory, and not an individual option.

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