In the past 2 years, only 44% of the high-school graduates managed to pass the Baccalaureate exam on a first trial. In international tests such as PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS, we get the lowest scores among the OECD countries. In the rural areas, school abandonment due to poverty is rising.
Unemployment is highest among young people aged 16-24 (22% in 2011). Since 1990 we have suffered a massive brain drain as the elite is leaving Romania and rarely returns.
There are several solutions and they are dependent on political will. The most important measure is the allocation of at least 6% of GDP to education, as a critically under-financed system cannot perform. Even if all major parties have agreed in principle to allocate 6% of the GDP to education, last year education only got 3.64%.
It is not only about money (we already know that corruption and lack of professionalism can drain any resource) but it is about a message that our that our Government would convey to the public, and this message is that the education IS important and we have to commit our money and our full interest in it. The money we spend in education is an investment, not sunk costs.
Follow the North
In parallel with a better financing for the schools, we have to focus our attention on teachers. We know that the quality of an educational system is directly correlated to the quality of the teachers. Their selection, their continuous professional development, their motivation, their degree of autonomy in class, this are the factors that contribute to the improvement of the system.
The success of the Finnish system is mainly due to the quality of its teachers: only the best 10% of the graduates have the chance to become teachers. It is a highly demanded and reputable profession. Last but not least, the whole system has to be re-thought in order to give students more choices: they have to be able to choose their own specialties starting with high-school and must be involved in decisions regarding their future.
We need strong state support for education (better financing) which could be seen as a left wing measure; in the meantime, studies show that the best performing institutions are the ones that enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The problem is that schools do not feel accountable to parents and students because they are not financially dependent on them.
When we talk about responsibility I think that it is shared between the ministry, parents, students, unions and the civil society. The Ministry of Education can drive the education reform and can partner with the civil society and private sectors in order to make change happen. We all have the same interest in education and we can work together to improve the education for our children - it is not something that we "outsource" to an institution alone.
Prepared for the future
The competitiveness of the Romanian economy will improve if our education system will be able to prepare generations of highly skilled graduates who are able to think for themselves and find creative solutions to new problems, who are able to work well in teams, who are digitally literate and have good communication skills. We need competent people who choose their own professional paths and are able to change careers easily as we are living in a dynamic context.
We do need strong professional schools in close connection and communication with businesses that might absorb the graduates - but this is not happening right now.
Presently, only approx. 34'000 students are enrolled in private schools (primary, gymnasium and high-school). This represents only ~ 1.13 % of the total student population.
We can draw the conclusion that we don't have a strong private system that could represent a real alternative yet.
The majority of Romanian parents cannot afford the tuition fees on one hand, and on the other hand many of them don't trust the private system, despite the fact that the latest statistics show that children enrolled in private schools have better graduation rates (most of the private schools in Bucharest for example declared 100% success rate at the national Baccalaureate exam).
In this context, we need a strong public system because the majority of Romanian families cannot afford private education. We also need investors willing to put their money or their expertise in growing a powerful private system to put pressure on the public one by creating an alternative model affordable for more parents.
A potential solution could be a public-private partnership system, where the state comes with the resources (land, buildings, funds) and the private institutions (NGOs or companies) provide the management of schools. Unfortunately, talking about private management of public schools is still tabu in the Romanian society.