In Ceausescu's shadow

29th May 1998 at 01:00
ROMANIA. THE despised dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was assassinated in 1989, but his legacy lives on. Suspicion of central authority lingers and attempts at educational reform are hampered by red tape and inertia.

As a result, sweeping changes to the educational system, backed by about $100m (pound;63m) in World Bank loans, remain on the drawing board.

"People cannot get out of their communist way of thinking that they'll get paid whether they work or not," said Viorica Iancu, a secondary school teacher in Constanza. "The mafia rules now and it descends on any free enterprise that looks strong enough to succeed. All this leads to a hopelessness, and that's infecting education too."

One million gypsies - about 8 per cent of the population - speak their own language and do not understand Romanian. The drop-out rate is huge, but attempts to fund special education for them have so far been stymied by prejudice.

Another problem is the legal system. Romania adopted the French legislative model. This means educational reform tends to become snarled up in bureaucratic disputes.

"Our young teachers have boundless enthusiasm for the reforms," said Mrs Iancu. "They want to see the old authoritarian communist style of teaching replaced by a more interactive child-centred approach. But the changes will take a long time."

Every area of learning is in line for changes intended to introduce a Western-style educational system. The World Bank is funding a scheme to standardise teacher training, to end the existing qualification based on academic achievement at university.

Curriculum changes due in the autumn should see continual assessment supplement examinations and old rote-learning textbooks should be replaced by learning programmes requiring students to develop their own ideas and encourage teamwork.

Central control is intended to give way gradually to management by schools, which will be able to choose 30 per cent of curriculum content.

The length of university degree courses is to be cut from five years to three. The British Council is to help universities to access loans.

Scientists have complained that the education ministry is putting too much stress on the humanities and foreign languages to the detriment of technical subjects. But this recent shift in priorities in a country whose people have an impressive talent for languages and who would regard a strengthening of the industrial base as harking back to the dark days is really no surprise, since communism is not something they can easily forget.

The tentacles of Ceausescu's Securitate reached into the lives of every family - virtually every home in Bucharest was bugged and one in four people was an informer - and only now are its files about to be opened. It will be a painful process.

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