The communist regime that was freshly instated in 1945 initiated an education reform.
The communist regime that was freshly instated in 1945 initiated the education reform as well as the promotion of the underprivileged, actually the workers who were obedient to the party line. The new education system translated in the dismantling of the old system and its replacement with another one, where the so-called sound social origin had a strong bearing on people’ future career. In fact, the aforementioned concept was a political criterion, doing away with competition and fostering the policy of staff training supporting the new regime.
Engineer Stefan Barlea held high-ranking positions in the party and state hierarchy. Barlea was one of those whom the regime strongly favored and could have access to education. Yet quite unlike other people who made the most of their affiliation to the new regime having no qualities whatsoever, Barlea was a top-performing pupil, graduating from the “Gheorghe Lazar” high school, one of Bucharest’s elite high schools. In 2002, in an interview for Radio Romania’s Oral History Center, Barlea recalled how changes in education had been perceived in the wake of the 1948 education reform:
Stefan Barlea: “A major change occurred, whereby high school students were allowed to graduate a year earlier, in the case of those concerned, and I was one of them. New higher education programs emerged, addressing people who came to class straight from their workplace. Workers’ schools, in two years’ time, trained high-school graduates, being closely linked to faculties. Concurrently, to those who were completing their high-school studies under various programs and also worked on the production line, access was facilitated to faculties, and those people could pursue a university program and do their day job at the same time. Also, there were faculties that signed up graduates of workers’ schools, so that the students’ overall social condition could be improved. Such educational broadmindedness was extremely enticing for the younger generation. And then youth and student organizations started to gain momentum. There was the National Students’ Union at that time, which was growing. These training classes significantly increased youngsters’ access to higher education.”
The 1948 reform of the education system turned the values of traditional education upside down. The high-school graduation exam was no longer compulsory, and admission to faculties was facilitated for those with no high-school studies, on condition that they concurrently complete their high-school studies. With details on that, here is Stefan Barlea once again:
Stefan Barlea: “When I enrolled, I found out there wasn’t a single faculty that didn’t offer preparatory classes for prospective candidates who wanted to enroll, and everyone was free to attend. The classes were offered with the assistance of university professors, teaching assistants, there were a great many youngsters attending: it was there that for the first time in my life I met those who came straight from the workers’ school, I met those who had completed their courses just like we did, so that they could gain admission to university. There were outstanding teachers who would adopt a different method. They would write a problem on the blackboard, a problem that required knowledge of synthetic information. And that was true of various subjects, math, physics and others. And they would ask if anyone in the classroom wanted to solve the problem. One student would go at the blackboard to solve the problem with the help of the teacher, who would give him various useful hints, thus tackling a whole range of mathematical concepts. Afterwards, the teacher would write another problem on the blackboard. If the respective student did not know how to solve it, he would take his seat back in the classroom, and another one would go at the blackboard to solve it.”
The reform was meant to create a new type of student, a new context for students, in which the main priorities had to be the acceptance of poverty and the shaping up of class conscience. Here is Ştefan Bârlea back at the microphone:
Stefan Barlea: “The students from the workers’ school had an advantage. They had a separate examination sheet for the oral examination. I don’t know the procedure for the written exams. All the students from the workers’ school automatically passed the oral exams, so it was crystal-clear who came from that school. Only those who had not studied at all did not pass the oral exams. The system tried to help them, but the situation was difficult. The Mechanics Faculty was transformed and turned into a Faculty for Engineers and Economists. I attended that faculty where I met very many students from the workers’ schools. They urged us to set up the learning groups again, which were officially created for the members of the Union of Young Communists (UTC) and of the youth organizations. As they came from the worker’s school, they knew all about trade unions. We elected them members in the trade union, because they knew how to best represent us.”
Loyalty to the regime was rewarded. And the communist students, the party’s future pillars, accepted the compromise. Ştefan Bârlea has more details:
Stefan Barlea: “There was a system of scholarships for students, which provided them with meals and accommodation, money for personal needs amounting to 30 lei, soap, toothpaste and other stuff. There was a standard scholarship consisting in the aforementioned things. I did not need accommodation, but the meals were useful. I used to eat lunch and dinner at the mess hall. There were also merit scholarships, and I benefited from such a republican scholarship after the first semester. The newly established faculty benefited from such a system of scholarships, the republican ones amounted to 500 lei, as much as a salary, and that was a big incentive for me.”
The 1948 education reform changed the structure of the Romanian education system. However, communist ideology had a negative impact on education, despite the introduction of quality standards in the system in the years that followed the reform.
(translated by: Eugen Nasta, Lacramioara Simion)