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The education bills are troubling the waters in Romania's ruling coalition
In a country with alarming rates of functional illiteracy and disquieting school drop-out figures, politicians agree that something needs to be changed. The Social Democrats and the Liberals have made the education laws a top priority, but heated debates are expected on the topic within the ruling coalition.
The National Liberal Party and president Klaus Iohannis, a former teacher himself, have put a lot of energy into these bills, which, they say, will create the framework for making education more efficient, more accessible, more flexible, more inclusive and better adjusted to market requirements.
The Liberals insist that certain provisions in the bills must remain as worded in the draft tabled by the current education minister, Ligia Deca. These include tripling the budget for scholarships and increasing the number of beneficiaries, as well as turning the "Hot Meal" Programme into a "Healthy Meal" Programme.
Other stipulations the Liberals feel strongly about include certifications recognised or accepted in the labour market for all specialities, including theoretical ones, a tax-free signing bonus, amounting to 5 gross minimum national wages, paid to teachers at the start of a minimum 5-year period of teaching in underprivileged areas, and expansion of work-based learning to the higher education segment. Under the new bills, the Education Ministry may also organise, jointly with the Foreign Ministry, Romanian schools abroad. Finally, priority education zones are introduced, in order to narrow access, participation and performance gaps for students facing social exclusion risks.
The Liberals' strong attachment to the education bills has gone so far as to affect their political partnership with the Social Democrats. The state secretary with the Education Ministry, Florin Lixandru, a Social Democrat, said his powers were withdrawn under a minister order for what he called a "thought crime." He argues that the Education Laws are much too important and they require thorough discussion, and that there is enough time for analysis, given that the deadline for the education laws in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan is in the 3rd quarter of this year.
According to Lixandru, the Social Democrats' analysis on the bills submitted by the Education Ministry indicates that a number of key elements, critical to the children's future, need correcting. Lixandru says that, with respect to high school admission, the Social Democratic Party will not accept a procedure that drastically reduces children's access to high-quality education. In his opinion, the right of high schools to organise their own admission exams is questionable at best, because it increases the risk of unfair practices like corruption and private tutoring.
As for the baccalaureate, the Social Democratic Party is reluctant to increasing the number of exams, as the bill stipulates. And not least, an education law must include provisions concerning the Romanian children in the diaspora, the Social Democrats argue. (AMP)
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