Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Romanian Education System (1)

I have three major things I want to say about the Romanian education system, of which this post is the first. Up until this year I have been only partially aware of some of the problems that exist within the system, because until this year my daughter Bogi was in the first 4 grades. You see there are 3 major and clearly separate bits in the system. Grades 1-4, which are essentially the equivalent to primary school in the UK, where you basically have one teacher (or in some cases, Bogi's included, a team of 2) for more or less every subject with one or two exceptions. Then grades 5-8, in which you start doing more subjects and having specialised teachers. Finally there's grades 9-12, in which you are studying towards your school leaving exams and so on, and preparing (in some cases) for university. [Switching schools at either one - or both - of the two milestone points above is fairly normal, and often unavoidable]

Now, there might be a few problems in grades 1-4, but like primary school it's sort of not desperately important in the grand scheme of things. School at this age, in a sense, is about learning how to read and write and to be part of a class, and a few other basic skills. It seems to work pretty well in my experience.

But now Bogi is in Grade 5, some of the real problems with the Romanian education system have become increasingly apparent. The first of these is this:

Pretty much everything you do in these 4 years garners you a grade. This is a score out of 10. All these marks get tallied up and they count towards the final grade that you end up with at the end of the 8th grade. This grade is extremely important as it basically selects which high school you end up going to. Good grade -> good high school, Low grade -> not such a good high school. There is an exam at the end of the 8th grade which goes towards this too, but the whole system is terrible.
  1. It means that kids are under constant pressure from the age of 11 onwards. Pressure comes from teachers, parents, and of course the students themselves. They are constantly being reminded about how important these grades are. Getting a 7 one day, for example, is seen as a disaster
  2. The (effective) streaming of kids at the age of 15, is counter to everything I believe about good education practice
  3. The whole thing makes school about competition. There are a limited number of places available in the "best" high schools, so not only are you striving to get one of those places, but you are also on some level trying to squeeze out your classmates. (Not consciously I am sure, however)
  4. It means that everything is geared towards grades and marks, and not necessarily towards learning stuff
  5. All the evidence is pointing towards the idea that grading and testing does not aid learning (in general), and certainly not in the case where everything is graded
Just to add another layer of idiocy to this, not only do you get these marks in the academic subjects but you even get them in things like "gym" (or what we used to call PE). Now, I am fully in favour of kids doing PE and that being part of the curriculum, but grading them on it? It's absolutely mental.

Just to be clear, when I say that these are failings of the Romanian education system, I am not comparing this with other education systems. To my knowledge the UK education system also has major problems these days with an obsession with grades, and standardised tests, and for all I know has a very similar system. I'm just saying that this (as the first of my major complaints) is a huge problem in Romania. [I'm pretty sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen in Finland - the gold standard of global education systems[1]]

I want to be able to tell my daughter that if she gets a bad mark it doesn't matter. I want her to learn from the experience of turning in something that doesn't meet her own standards (as opposed to the state's). I want her to learn stuff at school, and to be aware that this is the purpose of it. And I want her to have fun, and enjoy her childhood. But the system is telling her something different. The system is making her beat herself up, and cry when she doesn't get a 10, and ask to stay up until 10pm or beyond, or ask me to wake her up at 6 so she can do more homework before she goes to school. And while we try and protect her from the system, and make sure she understands that it is not the most important thing in the world, and while she is bright and pretty good at all her school subjects, so it's not like she's being penalised in terms of her future by the system, I do feel like it is a really really bad way of educating kids.

Footnote (I know, look at me and my mad & fancy HTML skillz)
Some links for stuff on Finland's education system 1 2 3


A.T. said...

Finnish system has own issues and I wouldn't be that quickly jumping to conclusions calling them golden standard -- they are just better in comparative studies and much better financed. Normally you see degeneration in education only after few years of under-financing and much of neglect had been already committed. Just let crisis to bite into financing of Finnish schools and see king getting down from throne.

Andy H said...

Thanks A.T. - regardless of what might happen in the future, at present it seems fairly universally accepted that the Finnish system is doing something right (and as you say it is better in comparative studies). I'm quite sure it could be better, and i'm sure that given a few years of underfunding (as you point out) it will slip back. However at present following the Finnish model would certainly seem to be a way forward for pretty much everyone else.