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BRIO drafted a comprehensive report on functional illiteracy in Romania
Functional illiteracy has become a widespread topic in Romania in recent years. At first, the existence of this global phenomenon was regarded with skepticism in our country, although international PISA, PILS and TIMSS testing indicated that as much as 42% of Romanian pupils under 15 could not read, had difficulty understanding written texts and also had major shortcomings in assimilating scientific information. Gradually, the public and government institutions started growing more aware of functional illiteracy. Today, after two years of online schooling, which has amplified educational gaps, the problem can no longer be avoided. A recent study conducted by the BRIO digital testing platform was analyzed by the Education Ministry in order to streamline testing mechanisms across public schools. The report on literacy confirmed that over 40% of pupils had trouble assimilating various information and skills taught in schools. The pupils were tested online by means of 40,000 free tests provided by BRIO. University lecturer Dragoș Iliescu, the creator of this platform and an expert in psychology and teaching, explains how pupils were tested.
"They were each rated with a score from 0 to 100. Then we broke down the level of literacy in several categories: the completely illiterate level from 0 to 20, followed by the minimum literacy level and an acceptable literacy level. We picked a sample population of 31 thousand pupils that would give us a fair share of representation for the final results. The final score was 26.9 points. On a scale from 0 to 100, this puts the pupils a little above the completely illiterate threshold".
This means that, on average, pupils' cognitive abilities are on a fine line between literacy and illiteracy. Exactly how this score is translated into school performance we found out from Dragoș Iliescu.
"Right now we're only looking at that percentage of the population that is rated in the functional illiteracy area, which stands at 42% in our study. 47% is the share of those who are in-between functional and dysfunctional. Only 11% are highly functional illiterates. This is a worrying figure, because it shows we have a big percentage below this mark. Besides, the number of people who are rated as dysfunctional illiterates does not differ radically from one age category to the next: 37% at the age of six compared to 41% in 14-year-olds".
Another fact that confirms the findings of the literacy report is the gap between boys and girls, the former being much better trained than the latter in the same age bracket. The only element that has not been fully confirmed is the link between the degree of social and economic development of a region and its degree of functional illiteracy.
"I discovered something unexpected, namely that regions with high poverty rates didn't have a high degree of illiteracy, correlated with their economic performance, contrary to my expectations. Interestingly enough, our data did not confirm this, which makes it a social problem. Another thing which is unreasonable is to expect the ministry to solve this problem. People in Romania always think 'this isn't my problem, it's the education. Whoever's in charge of education, namely the ministry, should deal with it'. It's exactly what's wrong about the way parents approach school, which has been confirmed by many surveys. As a parent, it's unreasonable to expect the school to solve your kid's drawbacks and problems. This will never happen. It's time civil society stepped up".
To this end, we should better understand the root causes behind this phenomenon. Luminița Costache from UNICEF Romania describes it as "learning poverty".
"More often than not, when we speak about the right to education, we tend to think more about access and often overlook participation or the quality of education. These three elements are intertwined - you can't have access to education without a proper participation and a high quality of the education process. This leads to the kind of results the report points to. I would like to introduce a term that has been circulated a lot globally, and which is relatively unknown in Romania - learning poverty. It's an indicator measuring illiteracy in children under 10. Romania doesn't fare well in this respect. Over 20% of children in Romania suffer from learning poverty. 7% of children of primary school level are not enrolled in the system. Why is learning poverty so important? We often speak about poverty, and studies reveal that financial poverty affects children in Romania to a large extent. A recent report drafted by UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank shows the lifelong economic impact on an individual affected by learning poverty. Basically, this drawback extends to the entire lifespan of the person's adult life, and worse, it can be passed on to future generations. While reports often speak about education as the most sustainable road to prosperity, they should also say it's the most sustainable way out of poverty. Eliminating learning poverty leads to financial prosperity".
The report on literacy in Romania was drafted jointly with the Education Ministry, meaning the phenomenon has started to sink in at institutional level as well. Countermeasures are expected to emerge starting next year, by changing the way pupils are tested, which is hopefully but the first stage in a much broader process. (VP)
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