Comment: On Plagiarism, Prime Ministers and education systems
If in America status is defined by money and in England by accent, vocabulary and clothes, in Romania it is education that cuts it, says guest writer Paul Wood, who comments on the most recent plagiarism accusations within the Romanian Government, and compares local education to elsewhere in the world.
When Mr. Ponta formed his administration his first two choices as Minister of Education were forced to with draw after allegations of having in one case embroidered her academic career on her CV and in the second case plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. An Education Minister was finally appointed who seemed not to have lied, but yesterday the Prime Minister himself, the man Adrian Nastase called 'the little Titulescu', was accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. This in a country of intellectual snobs, who are only too well acquainted with crooks and imposters. Oh, my fur and whiskers!
I am very doubtful about Romanian doctorates and also unable to imagine why I did not go for one in my twenties. It is not only Romanian doctorates that do not impress me. In addition to the Englishman with a Ph.D in history who had not heard of Carlyle, I also know a Romanian Columbia graduate who was completing a Ph.D in international Relations, whatever that means, who had not heard of Harry Truman. Read about the plagiarism story around PM Victor Ponta here.
A while ago, I also wrote about plagiarism, when Victor Ponta’s first two nominees for Education Minister had to stand down after the much-maligned Romanian press exposed them. Corina Dumitrescu made several grammar and spelling mistakes in her CV and it came to light very quickly that though she claimed a diploma from Stanford University, in reality she merely attended a two week course there. She also misspelled Stanford on her CV. The second nominee, Ioan Mang, stood down after being accused of having plagiarized (and allegedly misunderstood) a doctoral thesis from the net. Children and students in every country learn from what they see adults do, not what adults say. Perhaps the two scandals will send the right message to the next generation, or perhaps not.
The position of Education Minister matters very much in Romania where, as in most developing countries, education is given supreme importance. If in America status is defined by money and in England by accent, vocabulary and clothes, in Romania it is education that cuts it. And this is not something that can be hidden, because Romanian grammar is astonishingly complicated and everyone is judged on how grammatically slick he or she is.
The grilling of the politician Marian Vanghelie in a chat show on how to decline the verb to be (he couldn't get very far) seemed to me to be almost cruel but made the educated classes here laugh uproariously and, considering how powerful (and allegedly rich) he is, perhaps justly. On another television show, Tourism Minister Elena Udrea encouraged Romanian skepticism about attractive blondes with successful careers (and Romanians are usually very skeptical) by not being aware that Norway was neither a republic nor a member of the E.U. I knew a pretty girl who rejected the advances of the fabulously rich politician and tycoon George Copos, not because he was married or much older than she was or even because he was bald, but because he didn’t have a degree.
Plagiarism, copying and cheating are rife in the educational system here, where teachers often have to be bribed not to mark pupils down. Unfortunately cheating and bribing at school are a mirror of adult life.
Like Japan, Romania is an intensely hierarchical society and teachers, doctors and priests, who in the countryside form the elite, expect a great deal of deference and obedience. Yet for all the defects of the education system here and the problems with poorly paid teachers and the old-fashioned educational methods that reward rote learning -students have told me they were failed because they repeated their professor’s ideas but not in his own words- nevertheless Romanians seem to be (much) more erudite and more informed than Englishmen are. I cannot believe how many English people, whom I asked recently, said they had not heard of Hengist and Horsa, the Jutish chieftains who landed in Kent and are the first Englishmen whom history records. Those who had not heard of them included a retired schoolmistress, a partner in KPMG and an Oxford history graduate of above average intelligence for Oxford (I am not being sarcastic - he was very intelligent). Another Englishman with a Ph.D. in political science drew a blank on Dr. Johnson. Incredible, but true.
In Romania everyone reasonably intelligent knows about Burebista and Decebal, Dacian kings in the pre-Roman period, and the Romanian medieval kings who fought against the Ottoman Turks. They know their poets too and love them. I wonder how many Englishmen and women with degrees know in what order the Kings and Queens of England reigned or even know much about Crecy or Agincourt.
On the other hand, though they know a very great deal, Romanians are maddeningly not taught to think and to question authority. Perhaps the result is that Romanians, who are certainly clever and well-educated, are stuffed with facts like geese being fattened for fois gras and tend, to quote the unkind judgement of a character in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, to be 'ingenious but not creative'. They are often not good people to have an enjoyable argument with, sometimes preferring just to say “no, that doesn't work”. When you press your point they tend to say something like, 'My cousin tried it - it doesn't work.'
Problem solving and team playing may be more valuable to society than people who can recite Eminescu and have read Schopenhauer. Probably Western educational methods are better, but it is a great joy to live in a country, like America but very unlike England, where people are proud of their country’s history, traditions and religion.
Even students for doctorates have to attend classes - including a Russian lady I know who does not understand Romanian but is still required to attend lectures in Romanian, even though her doctoral thesis will be in English. In Russia, she says, as in England, students argue with teachers, but in Romania students are expected to learn what they are taught and repeat it verbatim in examinations. This, she says, shows how passive Romanians are compared to Russians, who she says with pride, "are a race of fighters."
Doctoral students are treated in exams with great suspicion, have to sit apart from each other and are required to empty their pockets to show that they do not have calculators or mobile telephones to enable them to crib the answers. Yet cheating even at doctoral level is very widespread. Treating students like cheats encourages cheating perhaps.
I read of an Albanian taxi driver in London who paid to send his child to Albania to receive a better education than he would get in a London comprehensive. I can imagine Romanian parents in London sending their children here - though I meet do numbers of Romanian parents who are saving to send their children to school in England.
In many ways, I suspect it makes sense to send a child to a state school here rather than a private school. There are problems with either choice and the teachers in the state system are corrupt, but I hear dreadful stories of the bullying and bad behavior of the children of the Romanian rich, who apparently are spoiled, ill bred and who cannot be expelled because the school needs their parents’ money.
By Paul Wood, Guest Writer
Paul Wood is the owner of Apple Search, the executive search company, and is writing a book about Bucharest where he has lived since 1998. His personal blog is here.
The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania Insider.com.