The View From Here - Romania - Classroom chaos brings back bad memories
Of all the former Iron Curtain states to fall in the upheaval of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the only one to do so amid bloody violence was Romania, where the deposed president, Nicolae Ceausescu, was executed with his wife Elena in December 1989.
Now a fully fledged member of the European Union, those days of tumult have long receded in Romania's collective memory, though other problems have arisen, unforeseen when the guns were blazing more than two decades ago. The street battles may be history in Romania, but violence has entered its classrooms and caused deep soul-searching in the corridors of power and the media.
According to research carried out by Dr Felicia Iuroaia, associate professor at Petre Andrei University in the north-eastern city of Iasi, the surge in unruly behaviour in Romanian schools has its roots in the very fall of communism. Her findings suggest that a market economy has led to unequal incomes and a rise in self-interest over social values among pupils, as well as indifference towards the long-term benefits of education in favour of instant gratification.
Dr Iuroaia's report addressed the behaviour at school of a group of children aged between 11 and 18 and found that at least 24 per cent had experienced a conflict situation with their teachers and 45 per cent with their peers. Government figures released at around the same time as her report reveal that 4,131 incidents of miscreant conduct in schools were recorded between March and May this year. These involved fighting, drinking alcohol and theft.
The pressures of the relatively new economic order, coupled with the recession in Europe, are responsible for the breakdown in order, Dr Iuroaia told TES. "Unemployment (in Romania) is very high and a number of parents have been forced to go and work abroad, essentially abandoning their children," she said. "Others have been forced to accept employment that is below their level of training, meaning their incomes are low and they have to spend more time earning. They have less time for their children as a result."
Studies such as Dr Iuroaia's have led the government to launch a national plan to combat the disorder in the nation's schools. The Romanian media has been awash with reports of a classroom "crisis", heightening calls for a solution to the problem.
"Teachers are developing the view that young people no longer want to be educated according to social principles," Dr Iuroaia said. "Romania is now an unstable society and one consequence of this is the negative behaviour of the young."
One proposal the Bucharest government has promoted has been the reintroduction of school uniforms, which will allow for the increased discrepancies in families' incomes to be papered over. This has raised suspicions that practices reminiscent of the communist era are to be brought back into force. Then, all pupils lined up in class dressed the same. Few in Romania want that historical image revived, but neither do they want the current disarray to continue.