A sketch of the parent-school relationship in Romania

1.1 Background

Romania is located in Central Europe with the arc of the Carpathian mountains in the middle of the country and the final section of the river Danube before the Black Sea as a natural southern frontier. It has frontiers with Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

This position has, to some extent, defined the history and evolution of the country. Romania has had strong influences both from the West and the East. The discovery of the Latin origin of the Romanian people by the first Romanian students to visit universities in the West, some 300 years ago, marked a turning point in the development of education and culture. To learn and to be educated and culture represented, in the public eye, not only something to be proud of but also a means to an elevated position in society. In this context ‘Normal Schools’ appeared and were developed for preparing individuals to teach at primary and secondary level. These schools contributed to the growth of an important echelon of cultured people. This enabled a radical educational reform to take place at the turn of the century driven by the Minister for Education Spiru Haret. He was a mathematician who studied for his doctorate in Paris. He introduced a modern national education system that held its own side by side with other European countries in the twenties. Strongly influenced by both the French and German education this had a strong organisational structure, a reformed curriculum as well as purpose built schools and halls of residence many of which still house the most prestigious schools in Romania. The best of the teachers who were trained in this system gave birth to an intellectual standard and a pride in schooling among the educational elite, which survived at school level, throughout the years of communism.

After 1947 the educational reform, which was largely a direct import from Russia destroyed much of the good that had been accumulated over the previous decades and changed the scope of education: school and universities were transformed into institutions for ideological propaganda and misinformation. This reform was designed to suppress Western values and Romanian cultural and historical values and transform educational institutions into a vehicle for promoting those who supported the new communist government. The catastrophic consequences of this included an inversion of values, promotion of mediocrity, and promoting obedience and reducing individual responsibility, initiative and free choice.

Nowhere more than in universities people of poor professional quality, were allowed and encouraged to rise to positions of status and power.

The result was that the majority of intellectual people as well as some other sections of society opposed more or less directly the changes underway but for the most part these individuals were eliminated or subdued. In a short period the intellectual elite was annihilated and replaced by people obedient to the new communist social order. The system of indoctrination was very efficient, such that, after a time people began to believe in the claims of the Party and State without engaging in any critical analysis. As the same time the totalitarian system infiltrated all levels of socio-political, civil and private life and the individual became largely dependent ton the wishes of a few privileged individuals within the system.

The destruction of cultural, moral and ethical values was profound. Elements of learning, culture (and implicitly education in the broad sense) dropped in value and importance.

It is no wonder that the changes that took place in Romania after 1989 were slow. Romania needs to redevelop its sense of history as well as moral and ethical values but all of this requires a massive cultural ‘catching up’.

The educational reform initiated by the Romanian Government and Ministry of Education, together with the World Bank after 1989, set out the basis for this change. We can expect this to be slow and to take many years. The principle difficulties arise from the attitudes of the majority of the population and the very broad front that changes need to embrace: administration, organisational systems, resources, the teaching process, the methods of evaluation, and not least developing a spirit of democracy and tolerance.

In this context, the role and contribution of parents is fundamental. Parents represent an enormous source of inertia in the system not least because they make up the majority of the population! They need to go through a shift of attitude at one and the same time with those directly involved in teaching and learning in school. Of course the management teams in schools and teachers also have at least one foot in the past. If the introduction of new values and a new way of thinking in children is challenging, bringing about changes in adults is considerably more difficult. The role of interaction between parents and school is enormous; but up until now not very much has been done to support this. Importantly, however there are already legislative, structural elements in the system which support this relationship. It remains for more action to be taken especially at the local level to promote effective communication representation between parents and school.

2.1 Types of schools

The right to education is laid down in the 1991 Constitution. A Government decision in May 1990 set out some elements of the school system including a structure with eight years of primary and lower secondary school followed by a cycle of four years up to the age of 18. The new Education Act was passed in July 1995. Universities control admission through faculty-specific entrance examinations separate from the school-leaving Baccalaureate exam taken at the end of the four-year cycle in academic and technical lyceu.

Subsequent regulations have added detail regarding, for example, the conditions and career progress of teachers and national tests at the end of the eight years of compulsory schooling. In 1998 a two-semester year was introduced to replace three terms.

There are four primary grades followed by gymnasiu from grades 5 to 8. Approximately 5% of grade-eight graduates leave school. Of the bulk who continue with their schooling, 57% go to general or technical lyceu and 38% go into vocational schools. However, since only 60% of 14 year-olds are still regular school attenders by the end of grade 8 (much less than the pre 1989 level) the actual portions of the age group entering the different schools are 34.2% into four year lyceu and 22.8% into two and three-year vocational schools. (1994-95 figures).

Technical and vocational schooling, sometimes together with academic secondary schooling, are usually offered on a common campus referred to as a grup scolar. Each of these schools specialises in one or two technical areas, such as textiles or industrial chemistry, reflecting local industry. In academic high schools, the whole school may be characterised by a profil (e.g. mathematics or languages), and a particular class may have a profil (e.g. natural sciences, humanities) whereby pupils in the class have additional lessons in some subjects. Two-year practical specialist industrial skills programmes and evening courses for adults are also offered by technical lyceu. A pedagogical school in each region specialises in training future primary school teachers. There are very few private schools although the Waldorf approach has inspired the setting up of some small independent primary schools.

Higher education is provided through some 60 public universities, polytechnics and institutes as well as an estimated 73 private institutions. Enrolment in higher education increased by 71% between 1989 and 1990 and at an average rate of 18% per year between 1989 and 1994. Estimates are for the total number to level off, at 285,000 by the year 2000.

3.1 The parental role - in legislation

Legislation which impacts on the school-parent relationship includes: the Romanian Constitution, The Education Act 1995, Regulations which augment the Education Act.

Parents are also accustomed to attending ceremonies at the beginning and end of the school year at least throughout the primary cycle and they take great pride if their child is one of the third or so of the class that receives an award of prize. Most parents show great interest in the marks that their child is awarded at the end of a semester and may use punishments or rewards to try to improve these. Parents are also used to paying for additional private lessons in order to help their child catch up and sometimes to maintain a level of performance in subjects in which the pupil is strong or to prepare for entrance examinations.

The members of a school class stay together for all subjects. These groups are reconstituted at the beginning of each cycle and form a strong sense of identity. It is quite usual for reunions of members of a liceu class to be attended by most of the class 20, 30 or 40 years after graduation from secondary school. Diriginte, the teacher responsible for a class gets to know quite well all the teachers who teach the class and has no problem remembering who are the appropriate teachers when discussing school progress with a parent. The parents of different pupils within a class also sometimes form lasting friendships as meetings with the diriginte are the principle point of contact between parents and school.

The diriginte has one lesson each week with the class for social and health education as well as discussing particular problems with pupils. Although before 1990 this time was used for political indoctrination some teachers are enthusiastic about this educational role while others would prefer these lessons to be taught by a specialist. The educational reform has included the development of programmes and textbooks for civic education. A number of non governmental organisations including the Romanian, The Youth for Youth Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development have organised courses for parents in some towns to support family, health and civic education.

Many teachers should be able to find time to increase the amount of work that they do in these areas of education including contact with the family. Although secondary pupils currently have at least 30 hours of lessons each week teachers only have to be in school for 18 lessons of 50 minutes.

4.1 Weaknesses in parental participation

Despite the positive factors mentioned above teachers and parents are often dissatisfied with the relationship between family and school. Parents complain that school is not approachable and that it makes enormous demands on their children, that their children have too much to learn and that it costs them too much to buy the necessary books and equipment. Teachers complain that parents won’t come into school or take any responsibility for supporting the education of their children. Some parents positively encourage the truancy of their children.

One reason for a negative attitude towards school on the part of some parents is that the curriculum continues to be very theoretical and largely about fact learning. Although the programmes of study and textbooks up to the third year of gimnaziu have been changed (1999) some subjects have become even more overloaded. At a time when the cost of living is increasing in Romania parents have to find more money for their child’s school things. For example text books which used to be provided for free have to be purchased by parents and supplementary pupil workbooks represent a new expense since 1990.

At the same time poverty does not help parents to make space and time for their child to work at home and often puts a stress on the family which eclipses concern and interest for the child’s education. Some parents feel that schooling is no longer particularly important because it may not help very much in finding employment. Teachers, on the other hand, are forced to take additional lessons at school or offer private lessons so that they no longer have so much time for extra-curricular activities and contact with parents.

Teachers generally consider the relationship with the family as very important for preventing and ameliorating problems in school as well as important part of providing an education which goes beyond academic subjects. Some have suggested that in a large school there should be a deputy school director responsible for these matters.

With some 2 parents for every 1000 pupils represented on the Administrative Council of the school and little contact between these and other parents, the parental body is not effectively represented. Although there are schools where parents have become involved in a variety of activities for improving the buildings and facilities there are few organised activities which enable parents to take an active part.

Since a large proportion of young people go through the university system teaching practice also represents an opportunity to educate future parents as partners in their child’s schooling. These future parents may learn the importance of reading with their children and encouraging them to pursuit interests.

A broader part of the educational activities of the teacher should be considered to be his or her professional duty and obligation beyond the subject lessons he or she teaches. The pastoral dimension to the interaction between teacher and parent and between the teacher and pupil demands time which the teacher often does not have because he or she has an overloaded timetable or is used to being largely free of school responsibilities outside the delivery of his teaching timetable.

It is clear that a rethinking and restructuring of the whole educational process in all its dimensions, is currently in progress in Romania. It is very difficult, though, to overcome attitudes of people and to address the need to change every component of the education system at once.

Prof Mircea V Rusu


Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to William Lindsay of Strathclyde University, Christopher Clark and teachers on my Physics in-service training course at Casa Corpului Didactic in Bucharest this year (1998-99) who contributed to interesting and illuminating discussion around the subject of this paper.

Bibliography

The Romanian Constitution

Education Act July 1996

The Law and regulations for the organisation and function of lyceu (law 84/1005)

The White Book on Education, ISE, Bucharest, 1995

Pilot project on Regional Corporation in reforming Higher Education (EC/PHARE)

"Secondary Education Systems in Phare Countries: Survey and Project Proposals" OECD/GD (96) 1 Paris 1996