After the democrat-liberal coalition has won the elections of 2004, I was expecting some major changes in the government’s politics, as the former social-democrat ruling has kept the education system in a continuous chain of experiments, annual changes and lack of long-term planning. Therefore, I studied the new government’s plan regarding education policies for the next 4 years. (It is available online in PDF format and Romanian language on the Romanian Government’s website.)
And I was not happy.
Firstly, it’s vague — doesn’t name institutions or governmental bodies responsible for each action and there are no specific, measurable targets. Secondly, it sounds too good to be true; it looks as if it is based on a thorough analysis of the current situation by a few reputable research agencies or at least its own research, however it doesn’t name current weaknesses it addresses and the specific measures to repair them. All in all, it’s more of a political statement to improve the image of the governing coalition rather than a thorough analysis, a list of specific targets and a plan of measures.
The programme speaks frequently about rural education and how it should be improved. I can only admit that the education in rural areas often makes one think of an underdeveloped country. Schools are in poor shape and insufficient, unsanitary, without heat or even glass sheets mounted in the windowframes. Even my tiny personal collection of books is more than what those children have access to in the village “library.” The government plans to rebuild these schools, to provide transportation for students in rural areas to and from school (some have to travel a few kilometers to the school in a nearby village) and to provide housing and transportation for professors and educators. All this by allocating 6% of the GDP. Compare it to the current allocation of 2% of the GDP for education, which barely covers the salaries and minimum investments. How will it be financially possible? I don’t think anyone in the government thought that far.
Rural education gets the spotlight, numerous actions are prepared for repairing this deficitary area of the education system. In my humble opinion, this “positive discrimination” is not a good idea. The world has seen the results of positive discrimination in other countries, which have led to a minority obtaining more rights and advantages than a majority. Establishing certain advantages to investments into rural education is good, but not if it affects the higher-quality education in cities and university centres across the country. They may be taking the first step towards patching the rural education, but also undermining the high-performance urban education.
The programme emphasizes continuous education and investing in educators, instructors and professors through better training instead of increasing wages. OK, I’m fine with this, but could they be more specific? Why aren’t these investments in training correlated with establishing higher standards for the quality of education they provide? I’d really like professors to be continuously tested and kicked out of the system if they fail to meet minimum requirements, especially in their field of specialty.
This comes hand in hand with my next problem: the unclear status of the student. So far, the student is the passive receiver of education as the state provides it through schools and universities. The student has no mind of its own and is there to listen, obey and shut up. Hello, people, this is the 21st century, will you dump your middle-age ideas and catch up? The student is the paying customer of an institution which provides training services to him or her! Even that it’s not the student that actually pays for these services but his or her parents through the taxes they have paid for years, it doesn’t matter: the student is the reason these institutions exist, and his or her will is a command to the institution. This is the only way to make education competitive in terms of quality. And the government refuses to place the students to the top level and keeps the old hyerarchy of professors doing as they please.
Here are some other bad ideas. Transferring the university dormitories and canteens from state ownership to private ownership will not make them better and cheaper; instead, the government will only lose control over the management of these facilities and instaurate local private monopolies in terms of housing and board for college and university students. Stating that a nation-wide system of evaluating students’ performances will be created is not enough; who will create it, how, what is the deadline, who will be consulted about the principles governing this system? Computer classes are mandatory in schools now, especially in rural areas; but, the government forgot that most professors are clueless about computers and that many villages don’t have electricity, telephone lines, gas pipes, running water and sewer yet, so a computer lab is really an impossible dream. Not to mention that nothing is being said about public acquisitions of such computer equipment and how will private computer resellers have equal access to winning contracts to supply these computers. Universities are still unable to benefit from the experience of industry professionals by inviting them to sustain lectures to students, which is a big loss to high specialty programmes in economics or computer science, to name just two.