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September 29, 2022

Romania’s drama, mirrored by its education system

Ever since its beginnings, more than two decades ago, the Nine O’Clock daily has warned about the complex crisis which threatened to hit the Romanian education sector. At that time, this predictable danger was stimulated by all kind of pretended revolutionists who “saw” the studying of the Romanian Language and especially of the Romanian History as the expression of an “obsolete nationalism.” This was the sae type of “nationalism” which Ana Pauker and its collaborators accused and identified, around year 1950, precisely in the learning of the same school and university disciplines. Eventually, the sad reality at the confluency of the 20th and 21st centuries exceeded both the more recent warnings and the errors of the ‘50s.

Here is just one example among many others: in a manual of Romanian History for the 12th grade, published in 1999, the students were perfidiously asked to believe that their Latin origin is a legend, the grand princes of the past were myths without substance and many of the fundamental truths evinced by the historians of this country during centuries are actually… fictions. These fictions allegedly were thus conceived so to dissimulate so-called errors, lacunas, and inferiority complexes of the Romanian people. By attacking our national sentiment, this false school manual caused the solidarity of the Romanian public against it, with the decisive factors of this solidarity being the teachers of all school disciplines.
The result was an obvious rift between the state of mind of our teachers and that of the rulers, of all political affiliations. This rift permanently widened until today, when the teachers organised the largest and best organised street protests, thus becoming the spearhead of the opposition to artificial politics and national alienation. This opposition is superior to those of a strictly political nature, because the latest protests of education personnel do not reject progress and modernisation, but stimulate them in their substance, not in their strictly formal present configuration. Thus, the protests staged by teachers these weeks are the extension of the traditional Romanian struggle against the “forms without content,” a war waged by illustrious names like Eminescu, Titu Maiorescu, I.L. Caragiale and an entire plethora of grand cultural personalities.
This rift between the substantial state of mind that is characteristic to teachers and the preponderantly shallow attitude of our politicians led to the successive discrimination of the education personnel, as well as of our whole education system. Although this system is considered everywhere as having a strategic importance, in our country its financing oscillates each year around 3 pc of the GDP, compared to an average 11 pc in Europe. Teachers were the first category of employees whose wages were substantially reduced by the former Boc government and the acting president, under the pretext of the economic crisis. After winning a long series of lawsuits, many teachers obtained the respective money in court, but the mistake made by the Boc government has not been completely repaired yet. Among the demands made by teachers these days is also the elimination of all these salary discrepancies.
But the successive acts of discrimination committed against education personnel were accompanied by similar decisions targeting the education sector as a whole. Among their consequences is the crisis of rural education, which generates mass-proportion school abandonment and was provoked by the absence from rural schools of qualified teachers, modern laboratories and libraries. But the crisis was also driven by the poor psycho-social motivation of knowledge, under the impact of high unemployment and of the presence, among Romania’s wealthiest people, of various persons who did not excel in terms of schooling. These causes had as result not only the collapse of the demographic index, but also the reduction of the stimulating character of knowledge, hence the massive school abandonment that forced many rural schools to close.
It is, thus, no surprise that the present protests of teachers have an increased echo, compared to other rallies organised by trade unions. Students’ associations declared their solidarity and, for the time being, declared a Japanese strike. Among others, the respective associations accuse the fact that the youths coming from rural localities represent 1-2 pc of the total number of students in Romania. This percentage is an accusation in itself, as almost half of Romania’s population lives in rural areas. But the figure can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of rural population lives near, or below the poverty threshold, while higher education is no longer free, as it was in the past. The little money which the education system receives from the budget forces university managers to enforce tuition fees, in order to secure the survival of these institutions.
Rural youths cannot sustain these costs, also because many of the former hostels and canteens for students are not in operation anymore. The few rural youths that can afford university education today are compelled – they or their parents – to commute on a weekly basis, in order to procure the food they need. Similar difficulties are encountered even by schoolchildren in rural areas. With many high-schools of these regions having closed doors in the past, the teenagers who want to continue their education after secondary school have to commute to town. The successive analyses that were made about the education system should represent as many warnings for authorities, given the negative developments present in this sector, such as the increasing school abandonment, the closing of school libraries and laboratories, the number of poorly trained substitutes who teach in rural schools.
This led to the education gap between the rural and urban areas, as well as between the quality levels of schools in various counties. This gap is both painful and dangerous for the destiny of Romania. Add to this the ambition of local moguls which militate for administrative decentralisation, and we’ll risk having as many quality levels of school education as counties or regions will exist. The present protesting spirit of teachers cannot ignore these perils. Many such perils were accurately predicted by the personnel of the education system, so the trade unions of this sector unanimously support the idea of organising a referendum among their members in view of starting a general strike and blocking the school year.

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