Romanian Schools: First Semester Report

With number one son today celebrating the last day of his first semester at school, we present – for the benefit of nobody – our first impressions of the Romanian education system (or at least, our impressions of the school our son attends).

As our regular reader – a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales – will probably know, number one son began his formal education back in September at a reasonably bog-standard state school in Bucharest, located half-way between Budapesta and Piata Unirii. (Being in publishing, we don’t have anything like the money we need to send him to a public school, so we had no choice but to try our luck in the state system).

Now, when we say he attends a ‘reasonably bog-standard state school,’ we should add that the school is rated as the second best in Bucharest, and getting a place is not easy if you do not live in the catchment area. Teachers are generally excellent, the head is outstanding, the facilities are OK (and about to be upgraded), and the school has a new gymnasium. Class sizes are manageable: in number one son’s class there are 24 kids.

The first shock for a parent used to school in the western world is the time that school starts in Romania: 08:00. Not being the earliest of birds, that came as a real shock to our system. The school day then ends at a similarly early 11:30. This is compensated for, however, by a ton of homework. At the age of seven we had precisely zero homework, if memory serves. Number one son’s homework keeps him busy much of the afternoon.

Yes, there is much rote learning. Yes, there is far too much emphasis placed on handwriting (ever noticed how all Romanians can write beautifully?) Yes, we could do without the obligatory religious classes, but they are limited to half-an hour a week, and seem to be far more about behaving well, about our place in the world, and about the environment than anything overtly biblical.

Yes, we could do without being asked for money to buy something or other at every teacher-parent meeting (which are held weekly, by the way), and yes, we could do without the kids at the high school next door smoking on their way to and from school.

By and large though, we are happy with the school, and with his progress.

For the education itself is terrific. In maths (a subject Bucharest Life never did really excel in) he is doing what we believe to be some fairly difficult stuff. Not because he or his class are particularly gifted, but simply because such things are par for the course on the Romanian curriculum, and pupils are meant to get on and learn it.

And so, all in all, we still think we made a good decision to send him to this school, and that – here comes the controversial bit of this post – he is better off here than he would be at a bog standard comprehensive in England.

Our reasons for thinking so are related to the fact that in Romania, it is still the brightest in the class who appear to be the bellwethers. That is no longer the case elsewhere. We also have friends with children at the same school who have experienced schools in England. In their experience the level of difficulty appears to be far higher here.

A few years ago, we defended the Romanian education system – the primary part at least: the Romanian secondary and university education systems we are less keen on – in print. We had at that stage yet to test it in the flesh, as it were.

It’s therefore nice that our own experience of it has turned out be as good as we expected. And to any expat who may be worried about sending their children to a Romanian state school, you shouldn’t be. Just make sure you find the right one.

  • Chris Guess Sr.

    You mentioned that the school your son was attending was the #2 school there. Is there somewhere you know that ranks public schools in Bucharest? We will be moving there this summer & I am trying to find a good school for my 3 kids. Thanks!

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  • Marcy

    People bad mouth the US educational system far too often.
    I went to a pretty good US high school. I was given plenty of homework that kept me up until 1 AM, at times.
    I didn’t have difficulty placing in the required college classes.
    But then again, my state is ranked #1 when it comes to high school and college grads.
    As far as Romanian education is concerned, I’m not too fond of it. Rote learning has its advantages, but I think in the end, it’s not advantageous because learning something without understanding it will not last you very long. I did grade 5 in Romania. What’s up with the beatings? Seriously, these teachers need serious disciplinary action.

    • Parmalat

      I don’t bad mouth the US educational system, actually it’s one of the few US-made things that I admire.

      I believe that – as opposed to the Romanian educational system – once you go through the US educational system, you are on your own feet meaning that you know how to do SOMETHING and you can get hired and add value to an organization.

      That’s not the situation in Romania: in 70% of the cases you go through all the levels and you wake up knowing how to do NOTHING.

      For example I graduated the ASE (Academy of Economic Science) and I hold a License degree (similar to Associates + Bachelors, 4 years of study) in business administration. The course of study was conducted in English [which was really wonderful, cause I could just copy/paste whatever project I had to make 😀 ].

      But if you ask me today what have I learn from this entire educational process, I’m gonna be honest with you: I learned shit.

      Today I can earn my living because around 7 years ago, while I was browsing US sites for some sort of “work at home” idea that I could sell to Romanians without breaking the law – I came across one of those forex ads which were a lot fewer back then than they are today.

      So it was all my f*ckin work and the 17 years which I lost in school did not help me at all. If it weren’t for that forex ad, I would be in jail today cause I’m not the type to break my back doing constructions work in Italy.

      Obviously this is not the case with the US educational system. I doubt there exists any university graduate in the US unable to make a decent living.

    • cosmin

      yep craig i think you gave a fair description of things. Regarding math is just like you said. One only has to check this:http://www.imo-official.org/

      Yep Romania founded it and i think on average we won the most until now. So your number one will be crunching numbers and cutting corners when needed with an astonishing ease. Plus a humongous general knowledge package from other classes comes as a bonus.

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  • Parmalat

    Hey, for whoever may be interested, here you can bid for Ion Iliescu’s dagger which he received as a gift from the United Arab Emirates when he was President.
    The auction is organized by http://www.click.ro (the Click newspaper) and the funds that are to be raised will be used for humanitarian purposes.
    More informations:

    http://www.click.ro/din_inima_pentru_copii/ajuta/Cumparati-pumnalul-Ion-Iliescu_0_894510660.html

    If you want to bid you have to register on the forum and place your offer. When the auction ends the administrators will contact you to finalize the transaction and you also receive Ion Iliescu’s autograph 😀

    http://forum.myadevarul.ro/index.php/topic,118.0.html

    • I know a few people who like to stab him with it…

      • Parmalat

        =))

  • Parmalat

    Oh and I forgot to tell you: later on, when your son reaches 4th grade or so he will learn in the religion classes the names of the most important Orthodox saints and the dates when we celebrate them :))
    So don’t tell him that religion is a bag of nonsense because the teacher will create problems for him and his classmates will create problems for him too. You wouldn’t want them to tell your son “you don’t believe in God, you’re a pagan” or so. Kids are rude, they will make him feel bad.
    And also the teachers that teach religion are actually future Orthodox priests, meaning students in the final year at the University of Theology (Seminarul Teologic) so they don’t use the power of reason when talking about God and Orthodoxy.
    I remember that in the 2nd or 3rd grade we learned religion with a real priest who came to classes dressed in black and wore a beard. And also in the religion classes everyone is obliged to say the prayer “Tatal nostru” at the beginning of the class. And Romanian children enjoy religion classes a lot, partly because their Orthodox education which comes from the family and partly because it’s an easy course where everyone gets only grades of 9 and 10.
    So I think you should tell your son to go with the crowd on this one, otherwise he will have some difficulties.

    • Am hopeful that the authorities will see sense and bin religion by then.

      • Geronimo

        They’ll probably replace it with horoscope studies

    • In the Hungarian medium school my daughter goes to the religion class is confusing, partly because of this slightly bizarre thing here where everybody has some kind of defined religion from birth (I’ve never really understood that, since it seems to me that should be left until the individual decides for him or herself). Anyway, Hungarians tend to be equally split between Catholics and “Reform” (Calvinist), so some kids are supposed to have Catholic class, some kids are supposed to have Reform class. Except that the Reform priest here can’t really be bothered to do it and can’t come to the school on the afternoon set aside, so they have an optional one at 6pm on Friday evening at the church (which of course almost none of the kids go to). There’s also one Baptist kid apparently who gets let off altogether.

      They ought really to just bin the whole thing, or if they must have a religion class, turn it into a study of all world religions, which at least might be of some value later in life.

  • Parmalat

    I love this blog, brings back a lot of memories :X

  • Parmalat

    Heeeey, your son attends the school that’s placed next to my former high-school 😀 I’m a Ion Creanga College graduate :X
    There’s a Police station like 20 meters away which is good for the general environment of the two establishments.
    Yes, that used to be a very good school since I knew it, like 10 years ago, you made a good choice. And in the backyard there used to be a hole in the fence which you could use if you wanted to quit classes because the gatekeeper wouldn’t allow you to exit the perimeter. And there’s also the gate that is used by the garbage trucks, when it’s open you can use it to leave the perimeter.
    When I was in high-school I know there was a small boutique in the high-school building which where kids from primary school also used to come and buy chocolate and drinks. Did they set up a boutique in the primary school building too? 😀
    When I was in high-school, 10 years ago we were supposed to pay around 50 RON (500.000 LEI) for each school trimester in order to buy various stuff that we needed like chalk and other items. That amount of money was raised informally and was administered by the ‘head of the class’ (one responsible and honest pupil who took care of the administrative problems of the class).
    In primary school I used to be ‘head of the class’ but later I quit my job and left a girl to do it, girls are more meticulous 😀
    I think that in primary school the need for informally raised money is quite more pregnant than in high school, kids go through a variety of classes, some of them requiring practical skills and so on. I think that when I was in primary and general school they asked for money or other contributions for the gym, for the laboratory of mechanics, for the laboratory of physics etc… and some kids contributed with money, others contributed with money and something else which they could get according to where their parents worked (like balls for the gym, various instruments, raw materials and substances for the chemistry and physics lab etc…).
    And the elementary teacher and later the other teachers used to take care of the kids who helped them and gave them some good marks at the end of the trimester in order to pass the course or get a higher average 🙂

  • I’ve had a similar experience. My step daughter (now in the 4th grade) gets, what I think is a pretty good deal. And she doesn’t even have the rote learning thing as she’s in some kind of parallel system called Step-by-step (introduced to Romania by George Soros, or at least the OSI, I believe). There is a lot of group work, and so on, and it seems to me that it is pretty good all told. (I’m not as convinced as you by the level of maths, but other subjects are well taught for the most part.

    Except that is for Romanian (it’s a Hungarian medium school). Fortunately she’s doing really well, but it’s despite the system rather than because of it. (If you’re really interested you can read my extended comments regarding the teaching of Romanian to those who don’t speak it as a first language on this blog post (not by me, I’m in the comments section) http://mellaniep.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/romanian-and-minorities-languages/

    Just to be pedantic, if your son was in England he wouldn’t be in a bog standard comprehensive since that’s a secondary school.

    • Mind you the constant requests for more money to pay for stuff wears me down a bit. I wonder what the taxes I pay actually go on.

    • I like pedants!

      Thanks for this view. We don’t have the language issue you do, but he does have English classes – with an American, who doesn’t speak much Romanian and calls on my son to translate…

      • Geronimo

        Nothing wrong with English teachers who don’t speak Romanian. I was one myself many moons ago

        • Agree. Certainly preferable to Romanians with thick accents teaching English.

  • Thanks for this – I’m going to be a father soon and am glad to hear it has been positive for you.

  • Who are you and what have you done with the real Craig? It sounds like someone needs a nice long visit to the post office to get their grumpy groove back.

    I guess this isn’t too surprising. I’ve never seen the insides of a primary school, or even a high school, but the Romanians I’ve meet that have gone onto college tend to be really smart. All of them. So exhausting, unimaginative and tedious as rote learning may be, it still appears to work quite well.

    I didn’t have homework at age seven either. But then I went to a US public school. I really didn’t have much homework at 17 come to think of it.