What Romania can learn from other countries to inform its strategic vision for education

By Caitlyn Guthrie (Policy Analyst) and Anna Vitoria Perico E Santos (Research Assistant)

OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

In 2016, the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, launched a new initiative to address strategic issues facing the country’s education system. The multi-year consultation project, “Educated Romania”, brought together a wide range of stakeholders with the goal of developing a national vision for education that is able to endure political changes. Drawing on conclusions from regional debates and national dialogues, Romania set out a new education strategy for 2018 to 2030 that highlights current educational challenges and identifies potential solutions.

This comes at a critical time for the country’s national development. Despite some improvement, data from PISA 2018 reveal that nearly 41% of Romanian students lack the foundational reading skills required for lifelong learning. These students face a high risk of falling behind in school, especially those living in rural areas or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Improving educational excellence and equity in Romania could help facilitate students’ transition from education to work, improve labour market outcomes and support future economic growth. To that end, “Educated Romania” presents a vision to improve the quality of education for all students.

To make this vision a reality, Romania wanted to learn more about the policies and practices that other countries have used to improve their education systems. The OECD supported this effort by working with the Presidential Administration of Romania and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support (DG REFORM)* to develop a series of policy perspectives that provide international insights to help address some of the main educational challenges that the “Educated Romania” project identified. These policy briefs were presented by OECD Director of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, at an education conference organised by the Romanian Presidential Administration on January 29th 2020. These policy briefs cover four key topics:

The teaching profession

Romania is one of the few countries in the OECD and European Union (EU) that does not have national teaching standards. Our first policy brief shares examples of how clearly defined teacher competency standards can help shape initial teacher education and professional development programmes to focus on pedagogical practices, which are historically weak in Romania, as they are in much of Eastern Europe.

The brief also identifies the advantages and opportunities of restructuring Romania’s current teacher management system to help teachers grow professionally throughout their careers. Today, teacher promotions in Romania are based purely on an academic appraisal process that does not consider other important dimensions of teaching. International evidence suggests that a performance-based career structure, whereby teachers would be appraised by trained professionals and incentivised to engage in ongoing professional development, could help improve teaching in Romania.

Professional leadership in schools

Most school reforms in OECD countries have sought to develop the role of school leaders, but this has received less attention in Romania. As a result, school leaders in Romania primarily see their function as purely administrative, rather than involving responsibilities for shaping the quality of teaching and learning in their schools. Our second policy brief highlights how other education systems, such as Australia and Scotland (UK), have developed effective school leaders by clearly defining professional standards and introducing stronger initial selection and preparation processes. The brief also provides examples of how practical learning experiences in specific areas related to school leaders’ daily work – such as networking, mentorship and guidance programmes – can have a positive impact on the professional development of Romanian school leaders.

Access to quality early education

As in many other countries in the region, early childhood education and care (ECEC) attendance in Romania was considerably high until the early 1990s, when reforms saw much of the public infrastructure dismantled and provision declined. Enrolment rates have increased in recent decades, especially among pre-school age children (88% in 2016), but they remain below national goals and the EU 2020 benchmark of 95%. 

Our third policy brief aims to support Romania’s efforts to improve the access and quality of ECEC services. To do this, Romania will need to increase ECEC expenditure, address participation barriers and offer flexible service provision. When it comes to improving the quality of ECEC services, international evidence shows that continuity in learning and development across the full age range of ECEC curricula – including its alignment with primary education – has a positive impact on children’s development. England (UK), for example, has developed quality assurance mechanisms, such as accreditation, for initial education providers of ECEC staff. This helps ensure that programme content matches national competency requirements, as is the case for initial teacher education in the school system.

Educational equity

Despite improvements in recent years, many students in Romania still progress through school without mastering basic competencies, and a large share leave school before completing upper secondary education. Our fourth policy brief focuses on policies that can support Romania in ensuring that all students participate in and complete education – particularly those from disadvantaged groups.

Considering the variety of ways to address educational equity, this brief specifically focuses on improving functional literacy, reducing early school leaving and helping early school leavers return to education. Evidence from other countries, for example, suggests that Romania could improve educational equity by identifying students at risk of falling behind. Engaging parents and communities, and providing additional resources to struggling students and schools, have proven to be important measures, as well.

International evidence suggests that a performance-based career structure, whereby teachers would be appraised by trained professionals and incentivised to engage in ongoing professional development, could help improve teaching in Romania.

As Romania works toward implementing the “Educated Romania” vision, these briefs can provide valuable insights about the policies and practices other countries have used to address similar challenges. Yet the importance of context cannot be underestimated, and the briefs do not aim to provide models for wholesale replication. Nevertheless, the insights and experiences described here can offer a broad perspective for Romania to reflect on when discussing solutions that make sense within its own political and social environment. Successfully addressing the educational challenges identified in these briefs could help bring about benefits for Romania’s schools, teachers and students.

*These policy briefs were funded by the European Union and implemented in cooperation with the European Commission.  

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