Romania was hit by a report on educational standards this week saying there was a steep decline in the math, reading and science levels of 15-year-olds. Amid the alarm, Universul.net takes a look why parents in Romania are increasingly sending their children to expensive private schools.
Critical thinking skills? Preparation for foreign universities? Focus on the child? An international environment? Safety? These are just some of the reasons why thousands of parents in Romania are choosing to send their children to costly private schools.
The National Institute of Statistics says the number of Romanian children enrolled in private schools in the capital, Bucharest, went up from about 1,500 to 8,000 from 2008 to 2018. Nationwide it increased from 4,200 to just under 20,000 in the same period.
While the figures represent just a fraction of the overall number of children who are in the Romanian school system, more and more parents are opting for private education for their children, often at schools that teach in English or French.
We have a look at what private schools in Romania have to offer.
Irvin Dyer, an American businessman, who has lived in Romania since the 1990s, sent three of his children to the American International School of Bucharest (AISB); he was also on the board of directors, a position he left in 2011.
DIFFERENT SKILLS, EXPERIENCES
He enrolled his children in the school as “I wanted them to have the American experience; I felt the American education system was more rounded, rather than purely hitting the boards.” (going after top results).
He said Romanian schools concentrate on math, history and languages, and focus less on the humanities and civic responsibilities. Learning is done by rote, he said, while the Romanian education system does not encourage critical thinking, other parents said.
“Currently and historically, the Romanian state promoted stuffing information into students’ brains,” said Andrei Atanasiu, the admission’s officer at the British School of Bucharest. “We teach through practical skills which make you flexible and adapt to the future…. Skills that make you more likely to succeed in the real world.”
At the British School, students can choose extracurricular activities such as working with charities; a group spent a night with children in an orphanage. In the fall, the school held a Harvest Festival and students donated non-perishable foods. Students are educated about climate change, and the school strives to be plastic free.
Other Romanian parents said that they learned about climate change and global warming from their children who are being taught at one of the private schools in Romania. Climate change is an optional subject in the Romanian education system.
But learning by rote does have benefits. “Romanian children from state schools go into research, they are good at that,” Atanasiu said.
He said the British school ethos focuses on emotional and personal development so students have “self-confidence and trust; they are taught that making a mistake is not the end of the world, and they are taught not to be afraid of hierarchy.”
Calin Husar, a consultant whose son is at the British school, favors the different approach. “The British system encourages and enforces the application of skills,” he said.
The school is in the upscale Pipera district north of Bucharest, housed in a grandiose, modern distinctly un-British looking mansion, at least from the outside.
SAFETY AND DISCIPLINE
In order to foster an atmosphere of discipline, the British school blocks access to social media on campus. Students are allowed to carry mobile phones, but in the classroom they are supposed to be out of sight.
Parents said that private schools tend to be tougher on truancy than the Romanian system and consider the problem a safeguarding issue (a system that protects the child from abuse, harm and neglect), so a student’s whereabouts is important. There is more security provided for students at private schools, parents and teachers say. At Romanian schools, only young children are afforded security.
Husar praises the British system where his son is taking four A levels, British pre-university exams similar to the Romanian Baccalaureate. “There is a good work ethic and truancy is seen as terrible,” he said.
Dyer praised the level of security at the American school. “The school was very safe, while at Romanian schools, attention to security can be lax,” he said.
Moroccan dentist Amal Rabi has a 10 1/2 year-old son at the Anna de Noailles French Lycée north of Bucharest. “The children can’t use mobile phones on campus; you can have it on you, but you have to turn off the phone.”
She said there was less danger of problems such as drug use “because the environment is limited, the community is smaller, and the dangers are less,’’ and we hear from the school or other parents if something is wrong.
APPROACH TO STUDY
Interestingly, private schools give students less homework than at Romanian schools, allowing the children downtime when they are out of school, parents reported.
Dyer said he lappreciated the fact that at the American school and other private schools “you cannot tamper with the grades, while in Romanian schools you can manipulate the grades sometimes.”
Husar was more blunt. “You don’t have to bribe the teachers.”
Rabi chose the French school because “it’s a classical school like the school I went to in Morocco and it’s easier for me to help him,” she said.
“The problem with the Romanian system is that every 2-3 years everything changes, and they put in a new class.” She said the French school cost 500 to 600 euros a month, cheaper than the American and British schools.
Unlike Romanian schools, parents don’t have the teachers’ phone numbers. “We communicate by email,” Rabi said.
Dyer says some Romanian teachers can be aggressive with children while parents whose children are at the American school know “their children will be treated well.”
There’s also the international aspect. “The children are exposed to other cultures,” he said. The school’s website says there are students from about 60 nationalities at the school.
The American school was founded in 1962 by the U.S. embassy to serve the children of the embassy and international expat community. Children can start at kindergarten and take the International Baccalaureate in the 12th grade.
The major drawback for private schools in Romania are the high costs in a country where the average net monthly salary is about 630 euros.
There are stories of parents selling property to fund their children’s education and some parents save up and send their children to one of the elite schools in the final years of their education, although places are limited and there is a waiting list, the British school said.
If fees for private school start at about 3,000 euros a year, the American school costs up to 20,000 euros, and the British school charges up to 22,400 euros.
The British and American schools offer scholarships for gifted students and the children of some diplomats get school fees covered by their governments, so not everyone is paying those fees out of their own pockets.
In the British and American schools, classes are a maximum of 20 students, compared to Romanian public schools, where there can be 35 students in a class meaning less individual attention. Romania’s education ministry recommends a maximum of 25 pupils per class.
“My nine-year-old daughter is in a class of 37,” said Ioana Pasca, communications and external relations manager at the British school.
Rabi says there are 25 students in a class in the French school.
WHO GOES THERE?
At the American school, 30% of the intake are Romanian students; the rest are from the U.S. and Canada (16%), Israel, Germany, Turkey and Britain and elsewhere, the website says. About 30% of the students at the British school are Romanian, while the rest are from other countries, children of diplomats or people working at multinationals.
At the French school, half the pupils are Romanian, about 20% are French and 30% are other nationalities, Rabi said. Although she is Moroccan, she counts her son as Romanian.
UNIFORM IN, CHANEL OUT
Students at the British school wear uniform. “We have a uniform policy because it develops a sense of community and (it) stopped bullying; we don’t have one pupil dressed in Burberry, another in Chanel,” said Pasca.
Dyer said one reason he wants to send his youngest daughter to the British school next year is the uniform. “It’s really important, it really eliminates unfair” competition he said.
FOCUS ON THE CHILD
“We have a British curriculum where the child is in the center and we develop all their skills, from design construction to cooking cupcakes,” Pasca said. “Students can develop and could find out what their passions are find a career based on (those) passions.”
“People who put their children in private schools, are following the child’s development,” Rabi said.
“The British school focuses on individuality and creativity much more,” Husar added.
AN EYE ON FOREIGN UNIVERSITIES
Dyer said Romanian parents choose the American or the British School of Bucharest “because they are looking for their children to be educated outside Romania in the future, They learn English, and are almost native speakers.”
Rabi said an advantage of the French school was students study for „an internationally recognized diploma and it’s important to have a known diploma,” when you are looking ahead to further studies.
Husar’s son spent many years at the French school, and then won a scholarship to the British school. He’s hoping to read medicine at a British university. The school helps him “as a human being for his future at a British university,” he said.
BETTER FACILITIES, MORE EXPERIENCES
As would be expected with a fee-paying school, facilities are another draw for parents. “The theater was first-class theater with all the audio-visual aspects. The school invests in high-quality equipment and teaching aids,” Dyer said.
“It is a more rounded curriculum,” Dyer said. He says the international schools offer students international exchanges, which is less common in Romanian schools.
Romanian schools offer grants or trips abroad for students who have performed well.
However, Dyer says later took his three older children out of the AISB and sent them to Romanian state schools to broaden their experience of life and improve their Romanian.
“It was a huge eye-opener; they were quite spoiled and elitist when they got to the Romanian school, my son got into fights and the girls also got into fights,” he said.
BAD NEWS FOR STATE SCHOOLS
An international study that measures 15-year-olds’ ability in math, reading and science around the world uncovered data which caused concern in Romania this week.
Testing showed that math, reading and science learning levels have declined. Functional illiteracy has also increased among 15-year-olds in the last three years from 39% to 44%.
“It’s shocking,” Mircea Miclea, the director of the Center for Applied Cognitive Psychology at Babes-Bolyai University Cluj told edupedu.ro. “The reason is the poor teaching performance of teachers,” he added.
The study carried out by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was released on Dec. 3.
For example, in math, 47% of the students failed to reach level 2 meaning they are unable to complete simple tasks, such as comparing the total distance of two alternative routes or convert prices from Romanian lei to other currencies.
The testing said 41% of Romanian students were unable to reach level 2 in reading, which means that they can read a text but can’t explain or understand what the text is about.
The OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) examines what students know in reading, mathematics and science, and what they can do with what they know.
Overall, 76% of students in the OECD countries reached level 2 in mathematics. Romania was one of three countries, along with Malta and Chinese Taipei where standards declined.
Atanasiu says parents are prepared to pay substantial sums of money on their education to give them confidence and direction. Instead of striving to “improve what you are bad at, you need to find what someone is good at,” he said.
“Then you can make them grow and flourish.”