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School Attendance Initiative

UNICEF Romania/ Karolina / The School Attendance Campaign takes care of children who have dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out
© UNICEF Romania/ Karolina / The School Attendance Campaign takes care of children who have dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out

Background

In Romania, there are an estimated 300,000-400,000 children of compulsory school age who do not go to school regularly. The EU has estimated that 40% of 15 year olds in Romania are semi-literate. In most cases, these children are from families living in poverty, with parents who themselves did not get much education, and often come from the Roma community. Children who grow up without a decent education, find themselves in a life-long struggle against poverty, social exclusion and marginalisation.

Studies have shown that:

  • 44% of Roma children aged 7-11 are currently not attending school, the figure is 65 % of  Roma children aged 12-16; 
  • At the age of 6, Roma children’s participation in pre-primary education is over 5 times lower than the national average. At the age of 3, it is 12 times lower;
  • Dropout is mainly due to financial reasons (41.8%). Other parents (12.5%) pointed the finger at the education system. Group interviews revealed much of the inequitable and biased treatment Roma parents and/or their children were subject to in school by teachers, and majority children and parents.
  • Most schools and communities lack coherent and efficient dropout prevention strategies.

Action

In mid-2010, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Research, Youth and Sport, and the Institute of Educational Sciences, launched the School Attendance Campaign (later to be called “Initiative”) with the aim of getting children back to school and supporting them to complete the  compulsory years of schooling.
UNICEF’s main partners are the Institute of Educational Sciences; County School Inspectorates; the NGOs Holt, CRIPS, Centre Education 2000+, Impreuna Agency and the Roma Civic Alliance.
 
The project  intervenes in the communities with highdrop-out and absenteeism rates and takes action at 3 levels in the community:

At Family Level parents are involved in school affairs and are made aware of the importance of education. They are trained to develop their parenting skills and to know how to promote their child’s best interests. Specially trained mediators, members of the community, visit households to persuade them to send their children to school.

At School Level the aim is to make the school a more welcoming place for children. Special attention is paid to working closely with teachers to ensure that:
• the right to education of every child is observed without discrimination;
• they can adapt their teaching methods so that they focus more on the acquisition of basic competencies, rather on just delivering information to children;
• they can adapt their methods to each child’s learning capacity, rather than seeing the class as a group.
The project also enhances the resources of the poorest schools through appropriate supplies and equipment.

At Community Level the project involves professionals from different sectors who are able to contribute to the decrease of school dropout and absenteeism such as social workers, health professionals and local authorities. School mediators are selected and trained in each priority community.

UNICEF Romania/ Codruta Hedesiu/ Participating schools commit to creating welcoming classroom environments
© UNICEF Romania/ Codruta Hedesiu/ Participating schools commit to creating welcoming classroom environments

Results:

The first year of the campaign (school year 2010-2011) covered 38 communities with high drop-out rates. Results showed that 60% of the children at risk of dropout remained in school and improved their attendance and that in almost 50% of the schools the dropout rate decreased by 15-40% as compared with the rates registered in the past two years. This degree of success encouraged UNICEF and the Ministry of Education to expand the campaign to cover 100 additional high drop-out communities for the school year 2011-2012.

An evaluation showed that the campaign had an impact on the schools and the community in general, leading to: an increased capacity among school principals to prevent and reduce the school related causes of dropout and absenteeism; strengthened capacity of teachers to adapt their teaching methods to the needs of children at risk; higher capacity of school mediators to apply dropout and absenteeism prevention and reduction methods; increased awareness on the importance of education among parents, and more welcoming and friendlier schools, with proper equipment and teaching materials.

Next Steps:
The next steps will incorporate the following:

  • Expanding the initiative to a further 100 high drop-out communities in 2012-2013. This will cover 10 per cent of the country’s communities and should achieve critical mass leading to expansion nationwide.
  • Using the evidence of success to advocate for government and local authority funding in order to go to scale;
  • Expanding partnerships with sectors other than education in order to gain greater community participation for more sustainable action and results.

 

 
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