By Diana Stanculeanu, project co-ordinator, Save the Children Romania
The hard-to-face reality is that exclusion is part of the Romanian education system. Annually, thousands of children are left behind, for various reasons. The system fails them and proves, once again, that hard work is needed so that schools are made for children, not children tailored for schools.
The Romanian education system has several serious challenges, which are demonstrated by low learning outcomes in literacy, mathematics and sciences, and significant inequalities between rural and urban schools.
Tens of thousands of children continue to experience exclusion in education in Romania. Among these, specific vulnerable groups face the highest risk of exclusion: Roma children and children with disabilities. Known as children with “special educational needs”, they either never go to school or change from one school to another, looking for the one that has built a good enough school climate for them to be tolerated at best.
Following these kinds of difficult experiences all parties—children, parents and educational staff—believe that schools as they are now fail to meet all children’s needs. As a result, many children are left outside the system, despite their universal and legal right to education.
Roma children’s enrolment in pre-school is considerably lower than that of non-Roma children living nearby. Poor resources in the family, but also limited pre-school infrastructure and facilities, are challenges for increasing the participation of Roma children at this level of education. Lacking pre-school education, integration in primary education is often a failure.
Although the state provides free access to education at age six, a UNDP Report (2012) asserts that only 3% of six-year-old Roma children are enrolled in primary education and 43% do not attend any kind of educational institution.
Stigma associated with being Roma or having a disability is so strong that it affects the way education and services for these children are designed. Often primary and pre-school teachers, social workers and other professionals lack the skills to fully attend to the needs of children from these groups. Another concern is that Roma parents are often reluctant to register their children to formal schools because they are afraid their kids will face bullying or discrimination.
Children with disabilities are also often moved by their parents from one school to another or labelled as “problem children” in their class. This is even more worrying given the fact that over 69,000 children are registered as being with disabilities, most whom are not included in the main school system.
A combination of these factors puts the educational path of these children at risk. Attention and effort must be put into building inclusive school climates that follow each child’s needs, instead of having schools that demand children fit their institutional needs. Children are being excluded despite international evidence confirming that, for disadvantaged groups, attending pre-school and primary school increases one’s chance of achieving social and economic inclusion later in life.
The Romanian educational system has failed so far in offering solutions for such challenges. Excessively oriented towards academic achievement and passing on information, the schools fail to pay attention to children’s overall wellbeing and development.
Save the Children Romania presents key stakeholders from central level with models of practice that take into account the needs and perspectives of all children. The Save the Children Romania programme, generously supported by IKEA Foundation, aims to contribute to building a culture of inclusion in Romanian schools. We want to make sure all children have access, are welcomed and valued for their diversity and have their needs met in appropriate, flexible teaching and learning environments.
It is Save the Children Romania’s privilege to be able to undertake such a complex initiative and to, step by step, improve the quality of life for so many children. None of it, however, would have been possible without the support and resources that the IKEA Foundation have offered to us and, in the end, to the children.