Ecaterina Andronescu was appointed education minister for the fourth time in a Government led by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), in late November 2018. In less than three months in the new position, she has come up with several proposals that would radically change the Romanian education system. Some of the announced measures even change her own decisions from the previous mandates.
The structure of the school year will change again
One of Andronescu's proposals at the beginning of this year was to change the structure of the school year again, starting this autumn. In her opinion, the 3-week winter vacation "is far too long," as the children come back to school for only three weeks, and then they have another one-week holiday between semesters.
That is why the minister proposes either a shorter winter vacation or, if it remains three weeks long, it should represent the end of the first semester.
"We are thinking of reorganizing semesters for I-XII grades a little differently. We should have the summer examinations - the 8th-grade assessment and the baccalaureate exam - a little earlier, to let teachers have a holiday as well. We ask a lot from them, but we don't give them a proper holiday," Ecaterina Andronescu said, according to realitatea.net.
After this reorganization, the first semester will be shorter, and the second one will be longer. "I'm not interested in shortening the winter holidays, but I don't want many vacations within semesters," she added.
She wants to remove the unique textbooks
The single textbooks, edited by the state publishing house, represented one of the most controversial movements of Liviu Pop, one of Ecaterina Andronescu's predecessors, one year ago. Throughout the year, teachers and education experts have discovered a multitude of errors in the state-edited textbooks for almost all subjects.
One of the first measures announced by the current minister after returning to the Ministry of Education was to allow teachers to choose between several textbooks, printed by different publishers. Reintroducing alternative textbooks has been one of the new minister's wishes since taking office.
"The unique manual was not a very inspired decision. The fact that textbooks looked the way they looked (with errors - e.n.) should make us thoughtful. Competition would increase the quality of textbooks," Andronescu said in November.
At the initiative of former minister Liviu Pop, last year was the only one when the ministry did not purchase school textbooks through public auction. Instead, the Didactic and Pedagogical Publishing House, subordinated to the Education Ministry, was given the task to publish all textbooks.
Exam after 10th grade and differentiated baccalaureate
In 2020, Romanian pupils might return to a communist-era practice: an exam at the end of the 10th grade to pass to the 11th one, in high school. In Andronescu's opinion, the 10th-grade evaluation would increase the success of the baccalaureate exam.
"Mandatory education ends after the 10th grade. Theoretically, there we should have an evaluation to complete the mandatory education cycle. The benefits would be that, for the baccalaureate exam, students will no longer learn the subjects they studied in four years, but only those in the past two years. So, the 10th-grade assessment would be a support for those who are going through the baccalaureate exam," Andronescu said, according to local Hotnews.ro.
The minister has also resumed an older idea of introducing a differentiated baccalaureate, depending on the career each student wants to choose. At the end of high school, students would have to choose between a national baccalaureate and a professional or technological degree, for those who do not want to attend a college and want to have an occupation. However, such an initiative would have higher chances of success if Romania still had vocational and crafts schools, but the current education minister abolished them nine years ago.
Japanese evaluation model for teachers
At the beginning of February, Ecaterina Andronescu also proposed that Romania should use the Japanese model for teachers' evaluation. "In Japanese law, we have found something that we will adopt. Once every ten years, the entire teaching staff will undergo evaluation," the minister said, according to realitatea.net.
She added that the teachers would be examined on the content of the subject they are teaching, but also on pedagogy skills. The new measure will be included in future education law.
The decision comes after minister Andronescu stated, at the beginning of the year, that Romania's problems arise from pre-university education, not the university one. "If we do not fix the pre-university education, we risk not having any university education at all," the minister said in January.
EUR 400 mln. for smart blackboards and tablets
In a country where many rural schools still have the toilet in the backyard, the minister of education is thinking of spending EUR 400 million to make Romanian schools intelligent. Ecaterina Andronescu wants all classrooms in Romania equipped with smart blackboards, and each student to have a tablet. The costs will be covered with European money, according to Digi24.ro.
The minister also wants every teacher to have a laptop to use for teaching in the classroom. Andronescu also said that she disagrees with banning mobile phones in schools, saying that smartphones could be used as a learning tool.
EUR 100 schoolbags for every pupil
Another idea of the new minister is introducing a social program that grants each student a schoolbag containing all the educational materials needed, at the beginning of the school year. The bag would include 4-5 textbooks (exam materials), notebooks, a pencil box with writing instruments in it and a ruler. The value of the bag would be around EUR 100, she told local evz.ro.
Currently, there is a school supplies program started in 2013, but the difference in value is very high. Last year, for a pupil in the primary school, the financial allocation was RON 15 lei/pupil (about EUR 3) and RON 24/pupil (about EUR 5) for middle school children. Some city halls and local authorities provided fully equipped schoolbags for poor pupils at costs between RON 65 (EUR 14) and RON 100 (EUR 21).
Pupils with poor results in first grade should repeat school year
One of the most controversial statements of minister Andronescu was suggesting that teachers should let pupils in first, second and third grade repeat the school year if they do not meet the required knowledge level. Thus, in the minister's opinion, problems in education would be solved.
"Unfortunately, the law says you cannot let children in first to third grades repeat the school year. We need to rethink this issue because this is why we are where we are. They get to eighth grade, and they do not know how to write or calculate properly, and a third of them don't pass the 8th-grade exam", Andronescu said recently at local Digi24 news station.
This statement triggered many reactions. Education experts and parents believe that such a measure would estrange children form school and education, and will also set in their mind the idea that they are stupid, which would dramatically lower their self-esteem. The effect would be the opposite, and children would be discouraged to come to school, which would lead to an increase in the illiteracy rate.
Andronescu took the helm of the Education Ministry at the end of November last year (after holding this position three times before, between 2000 and 2012), and has already managed to put several controversial themes on the agenda. It is not sure how many of them will become law. However, it is certain that another wave of changes is coming for the educational system in Romania.
(Photo source: Inquam Photos / Mircea Rosca)
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