April 6, 2016
The right to education is a fundamental right and investment in education should be a top priority for every community. We believe that youth is the future and we expect them to generate social change, yet there is little action in developing programs to help them do this. The investment in youth is, in the long term, the most profitable investment, as it ensures the development of human capital essential to economic sustainable development.
Nowadays, most countries are faced with the challenge that vulnerable children are trapped in the poverty cycle and their school performance depends on the socioeconomic background of their families, challenges which have to be addressed in times of economic downturn and budget cuts. Although some countries have implemented projects aiming to offer equal opportunities to all children, there is still a considerable number of children with vulnerable backgrounds who are not able to continue their studies. Moreover, the budget allocations for education are insufficient, especially after budget cuts resulting from the 2008 global economic crisis. The lack of investment in education has a direct impact on business, as companies are always looking for competent and responsible employees who are able to come up with innovative solutions for their businesses. In particular, e-skills education can lead to increased opportunities, especially for people in remote areas who don’t have as many employment opportunities as in urban areas. E-commerce, for example, enables people to create their own e-shops from the comfort of their homes and offers easy access to a wide variety of products that would otherwise be unavailable to them locally. In order to enable full participation in the digital economy, we must start with education.
The Romanian education system is facing the same problems as most of the other education systems in Europe, mainly due to insufficient budget allocations. For the last 26 years, the need for investment in education and the need for reforming the system have been recurring themes in public discourse. And still, in 2016 the budget allocation for education is less than 4% of Romania’s GDP, which comes to less than 1500 EUR per pupil. Also, according to Eurostat, in 2015 Romania ranked 26 out of the 28 Member States when it comes to student drop-out rates and more than 18% of Romanian children are not interested in continuing their studies beyond secondary school. According to the Progress Foundation, the 2015 8th grade national exams resulted in a 32% failure rate (less than 5 out of 10 points), with 40% failing math and 20% failing Romanian language. A decreasing education budget also affects teachers’ salaries. They receive an average of 400 EUR/mo while the Romanian average salary in other fields is 600 EUR/mo. Consequently, more and more talented teachers choose another career path.
Despite all the problems that affect the Romanian education system, there are still teachers who are highly involved in the educational process and the pupils whom they work with have outstanding results when attending international competitions. In 2015, Romanian participants at the International Informatics Olympiad in Kazahstan won 4 medals (1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze), the participants at the International Mathematics Olympiad in Thailand won 6 medals (1 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze ) and the participants at the International Physics Olympiad in India won 5 medals (2 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze ). These outstanding results are a combination of the pupils’ talent and a well-structured training programme designed and conducted by competent and dedicated teachers who are able to bring out the pupils’ talent and to inspire them to master science studies. However, if these teachers are not invested in and supported, they will also leave the education system and consequently the business actors will not be able to benefit from the innovation potential that these pupils have.
Therefore, discussions about education reform should be accompanied by constructive solutions to respond to the above stated challenges related to the lack of investment in education and low salaries for teachers. Acknowledging this situation, we decided to be an ally of Romanian education. Since 2012, we work in two pillars: on one side, we support pupils and teachers who are able to perform in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and on the other side, we help children from vulnerable backgrounds. Two programmes “Aiming for the Olympiad!” and “We Care” have been carefully designed to reach targets in a consistent manner and on a long term basis. Aiming for the Olympiad! is the project through which we support all children and teachers who aim to achieve a higher performance in education. For this purpose, the teachers who are designing and leading the educational process receive both remuneration for their work and also hi-tech equipment for training the pupils. Having all these resources available, the teachers are motivated to keep investing in the talent of these pupils. This support happens through Aiming for the Olympiad! Centres opened for students willing to work at an above-average standard in mathematics, physics and informatics and the training process is conducted by experienced teachers. In 2013, we opened the first Aiming for the Olympiad! Centre and in 2016, over 2000 pupils are benefiting from mathematics, physics and informatics courses in 14 centres in 7 cities (Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara, Constanta, Ploiesti, Brasov) in Romania. By 2020, we aim to expand the Centres’ network and have at least one Centre in 20 cities in Romania.
Our second Programme, We Care, is designed and implemented in order to help vulnerable children and children with fewer opportunities to continue their studies and to have better results at school. Without support, these children tend to drop out of school and they will never be a resource for their community. In order to offer a better future to children from rural areas, we partner up with pro-active communities interested in organizing afterschool programmes and implementing additional educational measures for children at risk. On a long term basis, if children from rural areas will continue their studies, they will be able to act as a vital resource for the communities’ development.
Through these programmes, we are an ally of Romanian schools in supporting dedicated and competent teachers. We strongly believe that there is an emergent need for investing in the existing educational system, a system that is inefficient due to lack of funding. In the 3 years we’ve been working with the schools, the outcomes are excellent: more than 80% of the pupils who took part in the courses at the Aiming for the Olympiad! Centers had outstanding results when joining science competitions and pupils in rural areas where we invested in local projects and initiatives improved their results at school.
Education remains one of the most important duties of any government. But if the governments are not investing enough in education, it is also the responsibility of the business sector to come and support the schools. In the era of corporate social responsibility, the business sector should partner up with the public actors to invest in education. Before speaking about the reforms that could be enacted, we need to create sustainable public-private partnerships in order to improve the existing system. If the business sector is aiming for sustainable development and is interested in acting responsibly on the market, it is high time that the private sector invest in the future development of the human capital. We need to look beyond the return on investment (ROI) and start understanding the importance of social return on investment (SROI) because development starts in school!Daniela Borlea