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.