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February 1, 2023

Where are the primers of yesteryear?

The elementary teacher and the primer – these are the first seeds of self-conscience that define every child. Us, Romanians, also had, at least during the last two centuries, these spiritual advantages. These advantages appeared out of the wish and effort of evolution, of perfecting oneself, of affirming our spirituality over the historical boundaries imposed mostly by external factors. What about today? Today, as we may notice, arguments supporting a quality education revolve, usually, around economical – social imperatives launched by the European Union. Similarly to other situations, our officials tend to forget that our right to higher education and literacy derives, first of all, from the grand Romanian tradition.

Let us remember, by example, that 150 years ago, on November 25, 1864, under the Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s reign, the Public Instruction Law was adopted in Romania. Based on this law, our country was among the first in the world to introduce the gratuitousness and the compulsoriness of elementary education, the two modern principles that were about to radically change schooling. At the mentioned date, the compulsoriness of attending school was introduced in the legal systems of no more than a few European countries (the Scandinavian countries and Prussia) and two states in the USA (Massachussets and New York). This fact explains to a great extent the sudden and impressive economical, cultural and juridical development of our country, a development that happened before, but also after World War II. In no more than a few dozens of years, our schooled population, in comparison to Romania’s total population, increased three times, despite of devastating historical events.

Once this ample process of culturalization occurred, the centre of the social and cultural stage was overtaken by the ELEMENTARY TEACHER, a character defined by his outstanding moral authority, a figure that became legendary and was rightfully considered as the solid foundation of the Romanian spiritual edifice. Not only the history of education, but also the history of our rural economy, of cooperation, of village monographies, of ethnographic and lingvistic research (B. P. Hasdeu’s famous questionnaire was primarily addressed to elementary teachers), the entire history of our struggle for national unity and social justice owe the Romanian elementary teacher plentiful for all our achievements in the territory of the Carpathians, the Danube and the Black Sea. Sub-lieutenant teachers, highly empathic with Romanian peasants, led the armies that sealed the Great Union with their blood.

Unfortunately, this Romanian tradition was increasingly ignored, so that, a few decades later, we came to reach the sad record of the lowest number of elementary teachers. A statistics issued by the Ministry of Education shows that, in the year 1989, the number of children taught by a teacher in Romania was 25, while an elementary teacher in Western Europe was working with fewer children (from seven in Norway to 23 in Greece).

On its turn, the status of the Primer and of the first elementary textbooks in Romanian is going through a similar evolution in the conscience of the young generations. Let us remember the fascination of mothertongue, discovered in writing by the young Ion Creanga, who was to develop, at the age of maturity, in one of the genuine masters of artistic expression. It was the unequalled fascination of our inner child discovering the wonder of the written word as a projection into the whole world of our barely contoured thoughts, that are delicately glimpsed before luminously rising in the magical letters of the latin alphabet. Without the intimate support of thoughts and images fixated in letters that speak with a personal power, the rich imagination of the child and his capacity to understand the word surrounding him risk getting dark forever.

Today, though, the situation of the Romanian education is regressing. Romania is now going back by over 70 years. Since the school year 1996 – 1997, an official Report regarding the state of the national education had to mention the fact that the preschool education (the one that cannot be missed in the case of a modern and widely democratic education) was way under the level of the year 1975. And after the year 1997, the respective involution grew faster and faster in all stages of preuniversity education. This deficit is noticeable especially at the countryside: there was a decrease in the number of functioning school units and a deficit in the integration of children in the education system. Thus, an educational breakdown appeared, dividing our country in several Romanians, painfully opposing one another as far as the schooling of younger generations is concerned. The differences of logic and actions resulted today in the lack of school books for the first and second elementary year. Not to mention other numerous issues.

The succession of various auctions for printing textbooks leads to multiple and neverending contestations. Therefore, several delays in the publishing of textbooks appeared, most of all, because of the „approximate” procedures applied by the Ministry of Education, as, for them, the principle of alternative textbooks cancelled the unitary, preserved value of Primers.

It is precisely because of these procedures that the Primer for the first year of elementary school and the Reading textbook for the second year were not published and distributed by the beginning of the present school year. And, as all of us may see, they will hardly be published this year. In the meantime, children have to learn based on old schoolbooks, if they have those, at least. Or, they study after the so-called digital schoolbook for the second elementary year, published on the Internet. But how many children have access to the Internet? The discouraging answer reveals, one more, the educational gap that exists today between rural and urban environments, but also between the huge mass of the poor and the thin layer of the people who unexplainably became rich.

Thus, the natural nostalgia of children, parents and teachers appears. Where are the primers of yesteryear, the same for all children of the same age, accessible for anyone, regardless of parents’ wealth or of any other condition. The nostalgia after the quality of oldtime education may even be found in the declarations made by recent Nobel winner Stefan W. Hell, the Schwab born in the city Santana, in Arad County, and migrated in Germany after the first nine years of school attended in Romania. He openly admitted: „When I arrived to the highschool in Ludwigshafen, I discovered that all my knowledge was much advanced, compared to that of my classmates…”.

And, thus, the famous refrain in the ballad by French poet Francois Villon, „Ou sont les neiges d’antan?” („Where are the snows of yesteryear”) becomes today, over five centuries after being launched, the symbol of regret felt by people who are forced to live based on their memories.




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