The effectiveness of a healthy school system is measured in the ability to hold on to students for as long as possible
The effectiveness of a healthy school system is measured in the ability to hold on to students for as long as possible. The figures of school abandonment are worrying, to the extent that they are almost always distorted. The highest rate of school abandonment in Romania in 2018 was recorded in the central region, the Transylvanian area, 5.2% in rural areas, and 3.7% in the urban environment, according to the national statistics authority. The lowest rate of school abandonment was in the south, with 1.6% in rural areas, and 2.3% in urban areas. In other words, over 109.000 students abandoned high school between 2013 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Education. We are talking about students between 15 and 18 years of age who never finished high school. Romania is the third country in the EU in terms of school abandonment, 16.4%, according to Eurostat, referring to young people between 18 and 24 who do not go to any kind of school. School abandonment generates unemployment, social exclusion, poverty, and health issues.
At the same time, Romanian Minister of Education Sorin Cimpeanu said recently that the risk of school abandonment as a result of ineffective online teaching is high. He pointed out that students are lagging behind in their learning during this period. This risk of school abandonment is even higher as a result. The minister said that we have to focus in order to get the students to catch up on what they have been studying. Cimpeanu added that many teachers in Romania, though well intended, were not prepared to teach online.
Alina Cirja is the principal of the Romanian-Finnish gymnasium in Bucharest. She is a young voice advocating for a better system of education in Romania, including within the family:
“The environment for a child growing up is very important, because the child learns to relate to school and family there. More to the point, the way in which parents support, encourage, send him to school, create a supporting environment, not one of pressure, is what helps a child to develop competencies and abilities. As far as I am concerned, I think that the way in which the family relates to school is important for a child.”
She believes that Romania is at a worrying point in terms of education, which has been moved online for months:
“Right now we are at a worrying point in terms of engagement in school for children. It is urgent that students get back to school with haste. Children have lost their routine in school, of being engaged with peers, relating to them, and I think that in a very short time they will think that they are doing very well online. They will no longer care whether or not they are getting into university, it won't matter what they know, and they will just seek employment simply for money, which will create a bad context on long term.”
The risk of school abandonment does not depend on ethnicity or financial means, Alina Cirja believes, and she relates it with a wish for financial independence:
“Irrespective of ethnicity and financial possibilities, children present risks, if they are not listened to and are not paid attention to. I believe that the risk of school abandonment depends on the year in which they are in school, and their degree of independence, and past tenth grade, when obligatory schooling runs out, the risk is the highest. If they have a hard time in school, especially in the eighth grade, the risk is very high, but if they are quickly engaged in an independent activity which provides them with money, children will be tempted to give up on school, irrespective of where they come from.”
Smaller classes may create the possibility for teachers to establish a closer relationship with students. The triad family- teacher – child is imperative for preventing school abandonment, says Alina Cirja:
“School abandonment can be prevented when the class master establishes an individual relationship with each student. Of course, this means that our classes should be smaller, and the teacher should establish a relationship with the family, with the family being informed of absenteeism, or the family informing the school of inability to attend school. Children go willingly to places where they are loved and appreciated, and the families should be able to create and maintain a link with the school. I think these are the first measures that could be taken to prevent this long term drama of school abandonment.”
Here is how Alina Cirja sees the education system in Romania as it should be:
“If I were the minister of education, I would create a panel of experts in each school, made up of teachers, a social worker, and a psychologist, who should know the details of each family, should visit, have a moment early in the school years where to start a monitoring of children and their families, at least in the first eight years of school. This model should be supported at the level of the city, and be well regulated, in order for parents to be punished financially if they don't let their children go to school. For them there should be support with courses, for families and parents, in which they can be helped to overcome their conditions, and get help for sending their children to school. Of course, we also have to talk about a truly free system of education, with support from the Romanian state for these children in vulnerable groups, with mentoring programs, as well as twinning programs for schools, which would be sustained by local experts in each area.”