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The PCR viewed education as the primary vehicle for transforming society, instilling socialist behavior standards and values, and thereby creating the new socialist man. The provision of free and universal public education extended social opportunity to a broad segment of the population and became a paramount factor in the regime's legitimacy. At the same time, education provided the state with an adequate labor force for continued economic development. These basic objectives--societal transformation, legitimacy, and economic development--continued to be the most influential factors in setting education policy.
In 1989 the PCR continued to set education policy and initiate changes in the system. Education was centrally controlled through the Ministry of Education and Training, which carried out party mandates and was responsible for the general organization, management, and supervision of education. Although in theory all educational activities were subject to the authority of this central ministry, many of the specific duties were delegated to support organizations, and lower party organs were involved in running the system at all levels. The degree of central state involvement varied. Higher education, because of its vital role in research and economic development, was the most directly administered. On the other hand, at the lower levels, there was a fair amount of parental and popular participation in school affairs.
Political Education and Socialization
Education was a political socialization process from preschool through university and beyond. In kindergarten ideological training aimed to instill love of country, the PCR, and President Ceausescu. In addition, children were introduced to the Marxist concept of work, largely through imitation of the everyday work world. Instruction stressed equality between the sexes in the working environment and the equal importance of physical and intellectual work. Much of the ideological training was dedicated to socialist morality, which emphasized obedience to discipline and commitment to building socialism over the welfare and advancement of the individual, as well as honesty and politeness.
Although ideological training in preschools was indirect, as children progressed through the system, it began to resemble other academic subjects. Students were increasingly obligated to participate actively in ideological training. The emphasis was placed on conformity and anti-individualism. Violations of the dress code, which dictated dress, hairstyle, and general appearance, were viewed as ideologically incorrect behavior. The primary source of teaching materials for political instruction were party newspapers, and typical topics for discussion were Ceausescu's speeches, decrees by the Central Committee, and the role of industry in the country's economic development. At the high school and university level, students read classical texts of Marxism-Leninism and studied the Romanian interpretation of them.
In addition to the ideological training accomplished within the education system, political training was supplemented by extracurricular activities arranged for young people through the national youth organizations--the Pioneers and the Uniunea Tineretului Comunist (UTC), or Union of Communist Youth --which were closely affiliated with schools but controlled by the PCR. Students in the fifth to eighth grades were members of the Pioneers, and students at the high school or university level were UTC members. Membership in these organizations, which supervised almost all extracurricular activities, was mandatory. In the 1980s, however, the youth organizations were battered by criticism because of the younger generation's political apathy and infatuation with Western values, music, and dress. The UTC was castigated for the antisocialist nature and "narrow individualism and careerism" of young people and many of its traditional responsibilities were transferred to educational and cultural organs.
Ideological profiles were kept on each student throughout his or her academic career, and failure to exhibit correct ideological behavior was noted. Upward mobility within the education system, and hence, upward social mobility, depended on getting passing marks in discipline and ideological studies as well as in academic studies. University students who demonstrated political activism, perhaps by serving as UTC officers, often were invited to join the PCR.
Education and Legitimacy of the Regime
Along with the aim of political socialization, a chief goal of the communists from when they first held power was the "democratization" of education, which meant compulsory primary education for all members of society and implied greater access to higher education for peasants and workers. Democratization of education was to serve as the wellspring of upward social mobility and an important source of legitimacy for the regime. Large investments were made in education, and illiteracy was all but eradicated by 1966, an important achievement considering that in 1945 some 27 percent of the population was unable to read or write.
At the same time there was a massive expansion of enrollment in elementary education, and universal ten-year basic schooling was achieved by 1975. In that year 100 percent of those eligible to attend elementary school were enrolled; the corresponding figure for secondary education was 49 percent, and for higher education 10 percent. By 1970 the number of teachers at the primary and secondary level was three times the pre-1945 figure, and by 1975 the student-to-teacher ratio fell to 20 to 1. The university teaching staff also expanded dramatically--from approximately 2,000 teachers in the 1938-39 academic year to more than 13,000 by 1969. Teaching, especially at the university level, had long been a prestigious profession. Teachers were required to be qualified in two specialties and were trained in guidance and counseling.
Throughout the 1970s, efforts were made to link more closely the education system to the requirements of the economy and the industrial development of the nation. This had a dramatic impact at all levels of the educational structure, as the desire for close ties between the school and real-life situations meant greater emphasis on technical and vocational education, whereas the humanities and liberal arts suffered. This polytechnic approach favored basic education with more courses in mathematics and natural and physical sciences, factory and farm work during school hours, and special courses aimed at instilling love and respect for manual labor and eliminating bias in favor of academic work. As a result, the education system of the 1980s openly discouraged higher academic education and favored training that would produce workers and managers as quickly as possible.
Preschool and Kindergarten
The state provided some preschool and child-care institutions, including nurseries for children under three and kindergartens for children between three and six or seven. In 1955 only 18.6 percent of children aged three to six were actually enrolled in kindergarten. That figure increased to 41.9 percent in 1974, but demand still far exceeded the spaces available. By 1981, 75 percent of children between three and four years old and 90 percent of children between five and six were attending kindergarten. For a charge of about two dollars per month, full-day care (including two meals each day) was provided, and the child was intellectually and socially prepared for school. Apparently most parents concurred that the principal role in the care and development of children between the ages of three and six belonged to state institutions and not the family. On the other hand, studies showed that parents were much less willing to use nurseries, because they believed the quality of care was poor, and they considered care of children under three a function of the family.
As of the late 1980s, compulsory education began at age six and concluded at sixteen. Despite considerable differences in quality between rural and urban schools, the first four years were fairly standard for all students and consisted of a general program taught by teachers trained in three-year pedagogical institutes. As part of the de-Sovietization program, compulsory study of Russian had been dropped, and the traditional Soviet five-point marking system had been replaced with a ten-point system. Many students did study foreign languages, however, usually beginning in the fifth grade. English and French were the most popular choices. In grades five through eight, students began to specialize and were encouraged to start learning trades. Teachers for students at this level were primarily university-trained.
Secondary education, of which two years were compulsory, allowed the students three options. The general secondary schools lasted four years and were geared toward preparing students for the university. These schools could concentrate on a specific field of study, such as economics or music or on a particular foreign language. Four- and five-year technological secondary schools trained technicians and industrial managers. Two- and three-year vocational high schools, extolled by the regime, trained skilled workers. Most primary school graduates attended vocational schools.
Education at the secondary level clearly reflected a technical bias. Three years after the 1973 educational reforms, the ratio of general to technical and vocational schools was reversed--from four general to every one specialized school in 1973 to one general to four specialized schools in 1976. During the 1970s, the number of students enrolled in technical studies increased from 53,595 to 124,000. The trend toward vocationalism continued into the 1980s, but general secondary schools continued to carry more status, despite official rhetoric and preferential treatment for vocational and technical schools. To combat popular bias favoring intellectual education, the leadership made a conscious effort to incorporate elements of vocational education into academic schools and vice versa.
In the late 1980s, the regime claimed that more than 40 percent of graduates of specialized schools went on to higher education. But most peasant and worker families sent their children for some sort of vocational training, whereas the social and political elite secured a general secondary education and usually a college degree and a higher social niche for their offspring. This restratification of the education system bred resentment among the working class and was troublesome for the regime's goal of educational democratization.
Another major problem was the growth in credentialism that in turn created a greater demand for more post-secondary education of all types. But the occupations most necessary for economic development were among the least sought, and the gap between the needs of the economy and the aspirations of young people widened. The majority of young Romanians wished to pursue higher education, even as education institutions were channeling students into production as skilled workers with specialized training.
Despite remarkable expansion in education at the primary level and increased numbers of secondary school graduates, the transition to mass higher education did not occur. Competition for entry to universities and other institutions of higher learning was extremely intense, and the procedures for admission were strict and complicated. Despite an impressive network of universities, technical colleges, academies, and conservatories, only 8 percent of those eligible for higher education were permitted to enroll. The central government allocated slots based on predicted demand for given occupations.
Stringent entrance exams eliminated a large number of applicants. Some 90 percent of freshmen entering one university department had private tutoring for eight years before taking the tests. Because the exams were tailored to the course of study, as early as the fifth grade students began planning their specializations, so that they could devote the last four years of elementary school and four years of high school to the subjects in which they would be tested. Both high school teachers and university professors confirmed that it was next to impossible to enter the university without private tutoring.
The cost of a private tutor was prohibitive for many workers and peasant families, and rural-urban differences in education exacerbated their difficulties. A point system that discriminated in the favor of workers and peasants was apparently not enough to compensate for poorer preparation. Such students had less chance of getting into universities and even when admitted were more likely to drop out. Most of the 20 percent of students dropping out after the first year were of peasant or working-class backgrounds.
Although the state provided generous financial support ranging from low-cost housing and meals, free tuition, and book subsidies to monthly stipends, higher education was not free of charge. For those students who received financial aid, the amount depended on factors such as social background and specialization. Some students were sponsored by a particular industrial enterprise, for whom they pledged to work for a certain amount of time after completing their studies.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress