School dropout, the new silent emergency – a priority for UNICEF Romania
by Luminiţa Costache & Raluca Zaharia, Education Officers – UNICEF Romania
The rarely debated issue of school dropout in the Romanian education system requires immediate action. It is a phenomenon so widespread and serious that it should be a priority for all those involved in education: decision-makers, community stakeholders, families, teachers and students.
According to the National Report on the State of the Education System in Romania (2008) – MoERY, in 2006/2007 the cohort dropout rate for primary education was 9.8% and for lower secondary education 12.4%. Moreover, there are huge disparities in the dropout rates when comparing urban and rural communities. The Roma Inclusion Barometer (OSF, 2007) indicates that 23% of Roma respondents have no education whatsoever, 27% attended primary school and 33% graduated from secondary school without going further – as opposed to 2%, 11% and 24% respectively among other ethnic groups taken as a whole. Furthermore, 95% of Roma have no high school education, compared to 60% among the other respondents.
According to Eurostat, in Romania in 2007 19.2% of people aged 18-24 had successfully completed only eight grades. This means that roughly one out of five young people has no qualification. Several recent studies have flagged up some errors in the registration of out-of-school children and by some estimates 300,000-400,000 children of school age are not in the education system.
UNICEF and its NGO partners have investigated the causes of school dropout and identified influencing factors at three levels: family, community and school.
In school, dropout may be caused by the frequent repeating of grades, insufficient pupil integration or poor relationships with teachers and classmates.
Realising the gravity of the situation UNICEF launched the School Attendance campaign in 2010. The goal of the campaign is to prevent and reduce school dropout and to increase school attendance, with a focus on the most disadvantaged children.
The campaign addresses the school dropout phenomenon by focusing primarily on the communities with the worst dropout problems. Interventions will be made by the family, school and community level.
Families will be involved in school affairs and will be made aware of the importance of education. They will also be trained to develop their parenting skills and to know how to promote their child’s best interests.
At school level the aim is to make school a more welcoming place for children. Special attention will be paid to working closely with teachers to ensure that:
The project will also improve the school resources of the poorest schools through appropriate supplies and equipment.
At community level, the project will try to create or revive (where it already exists) a community stakeholders network for bringing children to school (Local Council, School Inspectorates, General Directorate for Child Protection, Private sector). School mediators will play a very important role, as a link between families, school and the community. Their role is mainly to monitor children of preschool and school age who are not enrolled and help families to get them into school or kindergarten.
For the implementation of the School Attendance campaign, UNICEF has partnered with the Ministry of Education, the Institute of Educational Sciences, and Center Education 2000+ for interventions at school level and with the Roma Civic Alliance for interventions at community and family level.
The campaign will cover 70 communities in 30 counties over two years. The communities have been selected based on their high dropout rate. In the first year (school year 2010-2011), the campaign will target the 15 counties with the highest rates of school abandonment: Arad, Bacău, Braşov, Botoşani, Caraş-Severin, Călăraşi, Constanţa, Covasna, Dolj, Giurgiu, Mehedinţi, Sibiu, Tulcea, Vâlcea, and Vrancea.
In these counties, the Institute of Educational Sciences and Center Education 2000+ will replicate the Education Priority Areas approach; the Ministry of Education will train Roma school mediators and school principals and the Roma Civic Alliance will run a mobilisation campaign at family and community level. After the first year, the school attendance rate in the targeted locations is expected to have improved considerably and the communities, families and schools will be mobilised to find solutions to address school dropout locally and to prevent it in the longer term.