Romanian schools face head teacher crisis as reforms postponed

Romanian schools face head teacher crisis as reforms postponed
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest September 19, 2016

Only a few hundred candidates had submitted applications for 9,000 head and deputy head teacher positions in Romanian schools shortly before the deadline set by the education ministry as part of an attempt to depoliticise schools in the country. 

The performance-based appointments planned by the government of technocrats in schools are a radical change from the system of arbitrary, mostly political, appointments in the public sector over the past decades. Reforming the education system and investing in research could bring more benefits than the state aid given to foreign investors attracted by the low wages paid to manufacturing sector workers or call centre operators.

However, the education ministry's effort to introduce merit-based appointments of heads and deputy heads has already experienced setbacks and the first centrally organised tests have been postponed. 

The reluctance on the part of teachers to put their names forward resulted in only 400 applying for the 6,500 head teacher positions and 2,500 deputy head positions by September 15, one day before the deadline, Revista 22 reported.

Many potential candidates have either left the system, which has been dominated for decades by mediocre politically-connected head teachers, or they fear the government’s eventual failure to change the system could lay them open to political reprisals. This intimidates teachers who would otherwise compete against incumbent head teachers who enjoy political support. 

Mircea Dumitru, head of the University of Bucharest, member of Romanian Academy and minister of education since July 2016, has been pushing for head teachers to be appointed on the basis of merit. 

The introduction of appointments based on merit is eight years overdue, the ministry of education has explained. The ministry wants to coordinate the test centrally and evaluate the heads of regional (county-level) inspectorates for education, who were appointed on political grounds. 

A couple of months before the end of its term, the government of technocrats is also introducing a programme similar to the “private management” programme in state-owned enterprises in all schools and kindergartens. While not receiving much attention from the business media, the move - besides the ongoing efforts to depoliticise academic titles - is of high importance for the reform of the public administration and even for the country’s long-term real convergence.

The government had already published sample tests for heads and deputy heads, with the first round of testing scheduled for October 12.

However, senator and former Minister of Education Ecaterina Andronescu of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) has drafted an amendment to the law on education under which the test for appointing new head teachers has been postponed again until next summer. If Andronescu’s amendments are endorsed by lawmakers, the tests will be postponed until after the current government of technocrats is replaced by a government of politicians after the December 11 elections.

The test has been organised in a hurry and replacing the managers would disrupt their plans, Andronescu argued. In fact, last-minute appointments have been made across the country. 

Dumitru accused the senators who initiated the amendment of perpetuating the politicisation of schools in an interview with Digi 24 on September 18. Some already appear to be attempting to distance themselves from the decision; the deputy-head of the expert committee that endorsed the amendment, Cristian Danut Mihai (National Liberal Party, NPL) denied endorsing the document, according to Adevarul daily  – in spite of documents proving that he had.

Aside from the attempt to block reforms to how head teachers are appointed, the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, is also considering legislation to allow PhD holders to avoid accusations of plagiarism by voluntarily renouncing their titles without any explanation. 

Speaking to Digi 24, Dumitru said the bill, which would help many politicians avoid accusations of plagiarism, was “a shame”. They include former Prime Minister Victor Ponta could lose his membership in the professional body of lawyers after being stripped of his PhD title.

Dumitru also expressed his shock that former Minister of Interior Petre Toba, who is accused of both plagiarism and embezzlement, had been hired as an advisor to the ministry that he resigned from on September 1. The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) has already started an investigation into Toba’s involvement in hiding documents related to embezzlement.  The CNATDCU expert committee still has to decide on Toba’s plagiarism and his PhD title.