Vocational training revamp

Kevin Smith

Romania has launched an ambitious programme to revamp vocational education and training (VET) in the country. The 25 million ECU project - one of the largest in the education sector to be financed through the EU's Phare fund - aims to produce 75 modern VET schools throughout Romania by 1998 in order to initiate systematic reform.

A three-year plan is currently being designed by a German state company which won a technical assistance contract tendered by Phare earlier this year.

VET, which enrols two-thirds of the 1,051,000 Romanians in secondary education, was designed to produce specific numbers of students with narrowly-defined skills for large state industries, by specialisation at the age of 14.

According to Camelia Gheorghe, the Phare programme officer for Bucharest, the VET system's 132 specialisations leave young people poorly prepared for the labour market. "Under the old system, even if there was no demand, the graduate was automatically assigned to a position by the state. Officially there was no unemployment, but if there was a surplus in a certain sector or institution, the employees had nothing to do," she said.

The Phare project intends to reduce and consolidate these 132 specialisations into 20 "families" of occupational training, including electronics, transport catering, tourism and industrial chemistry. Curricula will be redesigned to provide a more general education, reflecting the modern demand for multi- skilled graduates, and will incorporate key skills such as communications and numeracy.

The new curricula, developed in 25 pilot schools located in five key regions of the country, will then be passed on to 50 demonstration schools, with September 1996 pencilled in as the start-up date.

Central to the programme is pre- and in-service teacher training. Previously, teaching staff consisted of technical school graduates with little or no pedagogical qualifications. Learning was largely by rote or "chalk and talk" classroom practice.

One constraint, according to Karen Fogg, head of the EU delegation in Bucharest, is the lack of a real partner in business.

"As in most East European transition economies," she says, "the private sector is small and still fragile. The state enterprises are rarely models of modern working practice."

Introduction to the World of Work is a planned topic in the reformed curricula, starting in Grade 9 and including job sampling, job search and work experience.

It is intended that this component will be buttressed with career counselling programmes to help maximise student choice, a neglected concept under the former system. The direct linkage of the module to re-training opportunities provided by the ministry of labour is also under consideration.

One concern is that the ambitious reforms tend to presuppose that young people will stay on till age 18 to complete a four-year VET cycle. The economic pressures to drop out are growing in a country where the average wage is $100 a month and income disparities are accelerating.

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