Written by: Alis Costescu, Ratiu Democracy Center
Civic education in Romania: Discourse, challenges and opportunities
The results of a study conducted in 2019 by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation highlight the need for formal, non-formal and informal civic education in Romania. The perceptions of the respondents (aged 14–29) on democracy, civil/human rights and freedoms and active civic involvement reveal the following issues of concern:
● 17.1% disagreed or strongly disagreed that “democracy is a good form of government in general”;
● 22.9% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “in certain circumstances, dictatorship is a better form of government than democracy”;
● 28.5% of respondents believed that ethnic minorities in Romania enjoy too many rights, and 22.9% expressed the same opinion about the LGBT community;
● 80.7% of the young people interviewed had never signed a petition or list of demands, and 80.1% had never participated in volunteering activities or civil society mobilization.
It should also be mentioned that only 25% of youth voted during the last parliamentary elections (2020).
The main actors implementing and promoting civic education are educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, media and citizens. The low level of civic involvement and initiatives among youth can be improved through meaningful joint partnerships between civil society and public institutions, with a focus on the increased opportunities for European youth – such as mobility opportunities – and through campaigns for raising awareness of issues and promoting best practices.
Formal civic education overview
At the national level, civic education is part of the common core of disciplines in primary and secondary school (and an optional discipline only for some high schools). Civic education is studied in the third and fourth grades (primary education), while disciplines that pertain to the social education
field are studied in secondary school (since 2017) as follows: critical thinking and children’s rights (fifth grade); intercultural education (sixth grade); education for democratic citizenship (seventh grade); economic-financial education (eighth grade).
The project CRED – Relevant Curriculum, Education Open to All was funded through the Operational Programme Human Capital 2014–2020 with approximately 42 million euro. Through this project, the Ministry of Education aimed to train 55,000 primary and secondary school teachers in order to harmonize the teaching content of the new framework plans. While the trainings started in September 2019 (with a delay of two years after the new content was introduced in the secondary school curricula), only 108 teachers had been trained for the social education discipline at the national level by December 2021 (https://publicatii.romaniacurata.ro/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Policy-brief-cum-formeaza-Romania-competentele-civice-si-sociale-ale-elevilor.pdf).
Furthermore, Rareș Voicu, the president of the Students’ Council, observed in an interview (in 2021) that the topics taught within the civic education discipline are outdated, and the textbooks are very old or delivered to the students with delays (https://www.mediafax.ro/social/educatia-civica-este-predata-in-scoli-dupa-manuale-vechi-de-14-ani-unii-elevi-nu-stiu-ca-romania-este-in-uniunea-europeana-19849075). Although the national education system needs to develop professional, social and civic skills in students, the importance granted to civic competences seems to be rather low. The discipline is graded.
Non-formal and informal civic education
The interest in developing non-formal and informal civic education initiatives increased since Romania became a member state of the European Union. In 2015, only 4% of the total active NGOs in Romania worked in the civic field, while 21% of the total active NGOs were focused on social/charitable activities, followed by sports/hobbies at 19% (https://www.fdsc.ro/library/files/romania2017.the_ngo_sector_(en_summary).pdf).
European and international funds focused on fostering active citizenship, democracy, active participation, education and training (i.e. former Youth in Action, current Erasmus+ programmes, Active Citizens EEA funds, Europe for Citizens funds and others) have facilitated more articulated and engaged civic initiatives. The main challenge for the organizations working in civic education remains the bureaucracy. For example, sometimes a collaboration protocol or partnership between an NGO and a school can be signed without any further approval from the County School Inspectorate, which facilitates the cooperation between the two actors, but most of the time in Romania the process is intentionally dragged out and involves further hierarchic approvals or validations.
National funding is available, and there is also funding from city halls for local NGOs and informal groups. Yet, the budget available at the local level for funding civic initiatives is limited. Moreover, in 2015, 7.9% of NGOs accounted for 82% of the total income in the sector, while national funding (local or central) was the main funding source for only 6.5% of the total active NGOs (http://www.ies.org.ro/library/files/romania-2017.pdf), the majority of them relied on private funding, the 2% mechanism, EU funding, etc.
Organizations do collaborate, though collaboration is often limited to individual projects or grant applications. The general public is not sufficiently informed, and even if the organizations use traditional and new means of communication, the information frequently does not reach the public.