What can we do to stop them leaving school?

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.


A network meeting was organized at the Caritas House, in Târgu Mureș, on the 15th of February by the United Networks and the Find Your Way to The World of Work Caritas projects, in cooperation with The General Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection of Mures County (DGASPC). The meeting was attended by the representatives of the Social Service Departments of Mayor’s Offices from Mureș County, the County Inspectorate of Education, teachers from schools in the region and the local police.

The event was welcomed by the Caritas’s Communications team. They referred to the network meeting organized last July on the theme of children whose parents had gone abroad to work. The theme of the February meeting was school drop-outs. It was organized to enable participants to share good practices and find common strategies to reduce and prevent early school leaving.

Márta Bențe
, Chief Inspector of the DGASPC Monitoring Unit, presented statistical data on the phenomenon. She highlighted that the highest dropout rate in 2018 occurred in the central part of the country: 5.2% in rural areas and 3.7% in urban areas. In 2020, the national drop-out rate was higher than 15%, and in villages it exceeded 26% (source: https://www.digi24.ro/stiri/actualitate/educatie/). He said that if a young person wants to change the way they are educated or trained, they can petition the courts at the age of fourteen. He also pointed out the obligations of schools: if teachers notice signs of child abuse in their pupils, they are obliged to report it to the DGASPC. He also mentioned that according to the Penal Code, a parent who obstructs the education of his/her child is liable to a prison sentence of three months to a year or a fine. He went on to outline the causes of school drop-out and his views on prevention.

The next speaker was Adriana Cerghedi, a psychologist of the Center for Resource and Educational Assistance Mureș County (CJRAE), who presented their services. We learned that their team consists of mediators, psycho-educators and sixty-four psychologists. She said that they mostly work with children from rural areas, as they have more difficulties in accessing their services. The Educational Assistance Center has difficulties, because there are about 800 children per psychologist. The number of mediators is also low compared to the demand: only eight at county level. She considers it important to build an intervention plan, referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: as long as basic needs are not met, it is difficult or impossible to move up to the next level. By basic needs she meant safety, food, warmth. Education, in her view, comes only after these. It is difficult for a student to focus on learning if his basic needs are not met, and it is also a challenge for teachers to encourage these young people to learn. She also pointed out that many children come from families where they do not receive any recognition. She said, it is difficult to motivate a young person who sees no aspiration in his or her home environment. In most cases, young people drop out of school because the role models they see at home do not provide the necessary motivation to continue their education. She believes: if schools could work together with the Educational Assistance Center, they could jointly achieve results in preventing early school leaving. The intervention should work at both psychological and social levels, taking into account the cultural background of the community they will be working with.

Professional discussion
After the presentations, Ildikó Illés, Deputy Chief Inspector of Education in Mures County, spoke, referring to the current statistics, and said that in some municipalities 50% of school drop-outs are Roma. She also shed light on the issue from a different angle, highlighting situations where families do not lack basic needs, but their children drop out of school, because they are born into a culture that does not value learning. It is up to us to get them out of this misconception, to encourage them to go to school and to show them that learning will give them more opportunities in life. If we could encourage young people to complete at least ten grades, we would achieve a great result. There are municipalities where financial difficulties are, indeed, the main problem, and the local social departments, often in cooperation with schools and aid organizations, provide hot meals or afternoon education. In her opinion, social assistance is not the solution. It would be more useful to teach them to work. The Chief Education Officer expressed her concern about the decline in interest in learning a trade. She agreed with Adriana Cerghedi that the Educational Assistance Center and the educational institutions should work together. If the services of the Educational Assistance Center were also available in schools, they would help children to choose a profession according to their skills and interests.

We went on to discuss the importance of parents taking into account their children’s abilities and needs to ensure that young people get the right education and work experience. Unfortunately, vocational schools are attended by students who have failed to get into high schools or whose teachers have failed them, rather than by students who are genuinely interested in a trade. These students are unmotivated. And in the absence of real interest, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly unpopular. We should do our best to make students like the crafts they are learning. This could be achieved by teachers setting an example and encouraging young people to believe that work is not a shame but a virtue. Much more emphasis should be placed on practice, example and dedication. The biggest challenge we have faced is what we can do to ensure that young people at home are not ashamed of the work they do abroad without shame. Another problem we identified is that neither parents nor students have a comprehensive picture of further education and careers, but teachers can help.

According to police representatives from the School Safety Department, who attended the meeting, not all teachers are able to deal with the situation of students leaving school. They have experienced that punishment does not lead to results. It was observed that in rural areas, drop-outs are not only a problem in Roma communities, but also in a wider context. In these communities, learning is not seen as important, and more emphasis is placed on work. It is a common phenomenon that young people go to work instead of studying. This is a widespread problem. Theoretical measures sound good, but practical solutions require teamwork.

Solution strategies
The discussion turned to practical steps and good examples. The representatives of the Find Your Way to The World Of Work project highlighted their services that have helped to prevent early school leaving: individual and group sessions, self-awareness training, vocational safaris, company visits, in short, mentoring young people. In one municipality in Harghita County, where they had already worked with disadvantaged communities, they succeeded in re-enrolling several Roma youth in compulsory education. 50% of these young people successfully completed the compulsory ten classes thanks to mentoring and continuous assistance. In the experience of mentors, individual conversations with young people and further support helped them understand the young people’s stumbling blocks. They noticed that schools offer few opportunities for work placements. And those few opportunities are not enough to get students interested in the trades they are learning. The mentoring process includes self-awareness work, career guidance and a closer look at the professions that young people are interested in. The mentors talk to professionals, take young people on company visits and vocational workshops so that they can try out trades in practice.

Monitoring children and their families, reporting cases
Mentoring as a solution strategy was also supported by those prezents, especially by Hajnal Miklea, Director of DGASPC, who added that since their institution unfortunately does not have the financial means to employ mentoring, this service will be sustainable with the help of NGOs. She pointed out that children often do not receive enough attention: neither from schools nor from the community, although everyone sees children in trouble, abused children, for example pregnant girls. A solution would be for the authorities to check the families in their database more often and for those who see abuse to report it to child protection.

Proper environment for learning and working
Positive examples were set by teachers who work with primary classes. They tried to provide an environment for children that was conducive to learning and to experience practical work.

Family visits
The social workers cited family visits and work with families as a good example, which they have carried out on several occasions together with the Caritas team.

More suggestions
Subsequent suggestions included: rethinking vocational schools; setting up regular professional discussions between CJRAE and educational institutions; eliminating unjustified failures (e.g. juggling class sizes); teachers setting an example through volunteer work; setting examples to follow; finding motivation and aspiration in young people from a young age; regular field work by mediators; involving psycho-educators in children’s education.

In addition to the many ideas, the participants agreed that no single solution is applicable to all communities. Local needs and customs must always be taken into account. The discussion concluded with the idea that although efforts may yield small results, it is worth trying, because in the long run they add up and lead to lasting success.

Translated by: Andrea Árkosi

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

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