Challenging Education:

Uncovering the Issues Faced by Garcini school no. 5

June 29, 2015  |  By Andrew Hoskins, United States

Challenging Education:

Reclined behind a large, glossed table that served as the centerpiece of the teachers’ lounge, it actually seemed to me that the kids, teachers and staff of School no. 5 in Garcini (near Brasov, Romania) were well-equipped enough to provide a relatively high-quality education to the local Roma children who attend.

I was accompanied by two teachers, both smartly dressed, who spoke excellent English and exuded a similar degree of professionalism that one would find at a typical American elementary school. To my right sat a SmartBoard, a piece of classroom hardware I never would have expected to find in a Roma village, and if I craned my neck far enough the same direction, a desktop computer slept on a table.

As we spoke, however, I noticed the two women writing in large, paper spreadsheets. After my inquiry, I discovered that – assuming I understood correctly – they were entering students’ grade by hand. Had I not already strolled the grounds and seen the physical condition of the rest of the school, this would have been one of the first indications that this school needs help beyond the resources that are available to it.

As the conversation progressed, the three of us began to delve deeper and deeper into the many issues faced by the school. One of the first of these we discussed was the school’s high dropout rate. I had already been somewhat informed of this problem by my Projects Abroad colleagues, Beth and Becky, who are volunteering as English teachers at the school, but the teachers painted a clearer picture.

“Of course the dropout rate is very big,” said the first teacher, a woman named Ada of about 26. 

“And they don’t value education,” the second, perhaps slightly younger and named Sabina, chimed in.

One of the largest reasons for student dropouts at School no. 5 comes from a cultural disparity: when a young woman in Roma cultures is “married” -- which often occurs in her early teen years -- she simply moves in with her husband, sans any kind of traditional or official wedding ceremony. Once she does so, even if very happy in the marriage, it is often difficult to continue coming to school because of the chastisement she may receive from her classmates. Also, I presume, once she is married, her life seems more set in stone and school begins to seem obsolete.

Related to the issue of young marriages, naturally, is the issue of engagement in sexual activity at an early age. Many of these young women begin having children while they are are school age, and -- again presumably -- find that the responsibilities of motherhood and school do not mix.  

The school tried to establish sex-ed courses for the children in order to promote safer sexual practices, but this attempt was recently met with backlash from the local community. Many find sex-ed to be offensive and shameful, and attempt to stymie or censor their children’s exposure to it.

Another aspect of the typical Western education system that the School no. 5 lacks in abundance is one-on-one time with its students. Right now, certain staff members will spend face-time with the school’s more troubled students, but the teachers expressed interested in increasing one-on-one time with the remainder of the school’s student body. Ada suggested starting school one hour earlier, in order to increase facetime and effectively utilize the time that several students spend there before school, as many arrive early anyway. 

In terms of after-school activities, the staff do offer a few, including dancing, painting and choir. These activities, however, are typically attended by the most well-behaved students, leaving a certain percentage to return to their homes to be potentially exposed to some of their community’s more negative aspects. 

One of these aspects that has permeated the student body is violence. A teacher -- or a staff member, I can’t remember -- told me there is about 1 fight per day at the school, and many of the students’ knee-jerk reactions when faced with a playground confrontation is physical violence.

Scuffles are so common that they are generally “handled on the spot,” with no serious disciplinary action. More serious issues, which I didn’t ask for a definition of, are dealt with by calls home and essay-writing.

During our talk, Sabina mentioned an idea she had that may redirect their energy: after-school martial arts or boxing classes. Her thought seemed to be if the students had an outlet for their aggressive tendencies, they might begin to calm down at school. Ada, on the other hand, brought up the fact that exposing and encouraging fighting in a class could simply make the violence worse, particularly after the students had been better trained to fight. It is an experiment the school has yet to conduct, but both seemed in favor of at least giving it a try. 

At this point, I remembered to ask about something I had developed curiosity about on the bus ride to the school: college. How would these kids pay for it? What would happen if a well-behaved student made it all the way through high school, then wanted to college? Ada and Sabina almost scoffed at the question of college.

“So few of them go to college,” Ada said.

“Zero point zero-two percent,” Sabina added jokingly, then immediately chimed in again with an even lower number -- again with a twack of sarcasm.

College is not expensive for those who want to go, and Ada said there are special places for Roma get assistance with their higher education, but it seems that most of these kids just don’t want to go. Ada said a high school graduation is enough of a rarity among the students to warrant a serious celebration. 

When it comes right down to it, what the school really needs is money. Money will help the teachers and staff of School no. 5 to experiment with solutions to the problems they have, help them provide supplies and classroom technology to their students. If you would like to donate to School no. 5 in Garcini, please contact Teach for Romania at office@teachforromania.ro, or visit their website here (right click, translate to English).

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