Romanian children face multiple challenges in a highly competitive, academic-oriented and rigid education system. Mainstream Romanian schools are concerned more with children’s grades, classroom hierarchies and social comparison than with attentively observing and caring about each child’s personal path, rhythm of development and wellbeing.
Children coming from disadvantaged communities often struggle to comply with expectations of what constitutes educational achievement. Many children could not attend the entire pre-school cycle for various reasons, which means they lack a firm foundation in early years education. Stigma related to ethnicity, disability, mental health and family abuse make the inclusion of some of the children even more difficult.
In Romania, 80% of the children who never go to school are Roma children. Only 20% of Roma children attend kindergarten classes and 63% are physically abused at home and disciplined with corporal punishment. One in eight abused children develops severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. Over 69,000 children are registered as being with disabilities, of whom only one-third are included in the main school system.
These numbers talk about the realities children live with, on a daily basis, that severely interfere with the quality of their education. Roma children, children with disabilities and child victims of abuse are the most vulnerable groups of children in Romania and face the most discrimination. Stigma associated with being Roma, having a disability or being from a highly disadvantaged family is so strong that it affects the way educational and social services for these children are designed. Often teachers in primary and pre-primary education, social workers and other professionals lack specific professional and communication skills to enable them to fully attend to the needs of children.
The exclusion of children happens despite international evidence that, for disadvantaged groups, attending pre-school and primary school increases one’s chance of achieving socio-economic inclusion later in life. Attention and efforts are needed at all levels—school management, parent involvement, community services and equipping teachers with better teaching practices—to build inclusive school climates that follow each child’s needs.
Following years of piloting inclusive programmes targeting children at highest risk at falling behind, and documenting them as good practice, Save the Children Romania is working with key stakeholders to ensure schools take into account the needs and perspectives of all children. Our programme “Inclusive Education for All—Without Discrimination” contributes to building a culture of inclusion in Romanian schools. This means helping all children have access to education, feel welcomed and valued for their diversity, and have their needs met in appropriate, flexible teaching and learning environments.
None of that effort would be possible without the consistent and valuable support offered by the IKEA Foundation and IKEA colleagues around the world. It’s their input that helps Save the Children Romania fight discrimination in pre-primary and primary education and society by building a culture of inclusive and safe learning in Romanian schools.