Parent Empowerment for Family Literacy Project
Country Profile: Romania
21.532.000 (2006 estimate)
|Poverty (Population living on less than US$2 per day):|
Romanian (official), Hungarian, German
|Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)|
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)|
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2000-2006)|
|Programme Title||Parent Empowerment for Family Literacy Project|
|Implementing Organization||Club Europa|
|Language of Instruction||Romanian|
|Funding||European-Union (an Inter-governmental Organisation, INGO) through the Grundtvig programme, the Romanian Ministry of Education and local government councils|
Background and Context
Romania's constitution provides legal guarantees for citizens to have access to basic social services, including education which are free and compulsory up to the age of 16. However, because the transition from socialism to a market economy (since 1990) has been marred by major challenges epitomised by restrained economic development, poverty and unemployment remain endemic, particularly among the poor and socially marginalised groups such as the Roma. As a result, socially-disadvantaged groups have limited access to quality education, while some among them fail to attend school at all. Thus, while Romania had achieved a near-universal youth and adult literacy rate (98%) and access to primary school for children aged 15 and below (93%) as of 2006, ethnic, gender and regional literacy disparities remain evidently sharp. Of the 1 083 935 illiterate people, 688 803 were women and 760 432 lived in rural areas. Ethnically, while the level of illiteracy was high among socially-disadvantaged minorities (25.6% and 23.7% for the Roma and Turks respectively), it was significantly low for privileged social groups (e.g. 0.9%, 2.1% and 1.4% for Germans, Romanians and Hungarians respectively). Reports also indicate that about 50 % of the children from the Roma communities are not going to school, many of them because they do not have birth certificates – necessary for school registration – while many more drop out before completing primary or secondary education due to poverty, lack of educational facilities in minority communities and the use of child labour to supplement family income. As a result, it is estimated that 30% of Roma adults (aged 45 years and above) are illiterate and have never attended school. The educational deprivations faced by the Roma are also peculiar to other social groups but especially minorities: a study by the League for the Protection of Human Rights in Ploiesti, for example, revealed that 11% of the rural population does not have a primary education; 29% of the rural population failed to complete secondary education; and 8.2% of children aged between 7 and 14 years do not attend school at all.
Yet, despite Romania’s progressive integration into the knowledge-based European Union social system, illiteracy and lack of access to education and training opportunities create barriers to the socio-economic integration and inclusion of socially-disadvantaged groups into mainstream society. This not only perpetuates their marginalisation but could also stimulate political instability within the country. Recognising the challenges that illiteracy portends to Romania and regionally, Club Europa (CE), a local NGO founded in 1995, initiated the Parent Empowerment for Family Literacy Project (PEFaL).
The PEFaL project – which was led and coordinated by Malta – is an EU-funded transnational family literacy training initiative which has been implemented in Malta, Belgium, Romania, Italy, Lithuania, Spain and UK within the framework of the Grundtvig programme (2001-2004). The primary goal of PEFaL projects is to promote the social inclusion and empowerment of marginalised social groups through the provision of lifelong learning and education opportunities.
The Parent Empowerment for Family Literacy Programme (PEFaL)
Until the initiation of the PEFaL project by Club Europa in 2001, family literacy or the active participation of parents in the schools system was not very common in Romania as the notion and practice of education was exclusively associated with the school context. However, since the initiation of the PEFaL project, family literacy has progressively evolved into a critical instrument of advancing and achieving national educational policies and goals.
The PEFaL project was implemented in collaboration with a number of kindergartens and primary schools, most of which were located in marginalised communities. The programme primarily targeted marginalised and vulnerable families (parents with children in primary school, aged 7 to 11 years) with limited educational training opportunities and therefore the lacking basic skills necessary for active participation in a modern transnational society. It focuses on various theme-based modules including health, citizenship, customs and tourism. The principal aim of the PEFaL project is to empower and promote the social inclusion of disadvantaged families through the provision of quality learning opportunities. More specifically, as an ‘out-of-school’ home and community-based learning project, the PEFaL project has endeavoured to:
- enhance children and parents’ literacy skills and competencies;
- develop and strengthen parents’ literacy and social skills in order to enhance their capacity to effectively support their children’s education as co-educators and thus to complement school-based learning processes;
- create synergies between home and school-based learning;
- enable parents to participate meaningfully in school activities;
- promote inter-generational lifelong learning in Romania; and
- facilitate the development of positive parent-child relationships.
Essentially therefore, the programme has endeavoured to boost the literacy skills of primary schoolchildren through home-based learning facilitated by trained and competent parents and thus introduce effective inter-generational lifelong learning.
In order to achieve these goals, the PEFaL programme focuses on the following learning modules and activities:
- Discovering Books and Exploring Feelings through Reading. The aim here is to stimulate children’s curiosity about books and interest in reading, as well as to build parents’ skills in identifying and acquiring appealing reading material.
- Playing with Words and Storytelling. This module aims to develop children’s vocabulary and reading comprehension, as well as a reading environment at home, through nursery rhymes, children’s songs, puppet shows and story bags, while doing drama, role-playing and playing games.
- Making My Own Story aims to raise children’s interest in the written word by exploring and making comics, fun puzzles, playing with writing and drawing letters and words.
- Making Family Story Bags. In this module, children and parents assemble and present to the group a family literacy resource for future reading and writing family experiences.
- Visits to the Neighbourhood Library. Children and parents go to the library to register as readers.
Project Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies
Training of Tutors
Club Europa recruits qualified primary schoolteachers (who also teach in the formal system) to facilitate the PEFaL programme. Most such teachers are recommended for recruitment by the participating schools. Despite being qualified, Club Europa provides teachers with module-based professional training in family literacy teaching-learning methods, adult education, management of learning processes involving parents and their children and needs-based family literacy curricula planning. Tutor training is conducted over a period of three months through workshops/seminars, individual (often ICT-based) study and practical teaching practice. Thereafter, the tutors are certified and accredited as family and adult literacy tutors. Additionally, Club Europa also trains parents to be effective child co-educators by building on their previous educational and parental experiences. The programme therefore works in two ways: on the one hand, it empowers schools; and on the other, it promotes community-based family learning.
Teaching-Learning Methods and Approaches
Literacy training under the PEFaL project is undertaken over a period of three months. Learning sessions (each lasting for about one and a half hours and involving between 10 and 12 families) is structured in two parts. The first session introduces parents and children separately to a joint learning activity. This is followed by a joint session of parents and their children in which they reflect on the assigned learning activity. Lastly, learners are given homework which is not only designed to provide the basis of the learning activity in the next session but also to involve other family members in learning through home-based activities.
As indicated above, the programme employs participatory and interactive teaching-learning approaches and strategies such as learn-by-play (games), group discussions, story-telling and simulations / drama (see pictures below). These strategies endeavour to stimulate learning through self-discovery, creativity, reflection and critical thinking. To enhance programme effectiveness, teaching and learning are also rooted in the participants’ educational experiences with a view to building and thus reinforcing their acquired literacy skills. In addition, learners are also actively involved in developing teaching-learning materials (resources) including story bags, role play, games and puzzles. Involving learners in developing teaching-learning aids is instrumental not only in sustaining the learners’ motivation to continue participating in the programme but also facilitates the internalisation of literacy skills by stimulating their creativity.
Programme Impact and Challenges
Impact / Achievements
Programme evaluations have revealed the following key achievements:
- the PEFaL programme benefited 450 families during the first three years of its implementation. 30% of the participating parents, most of whom were barely literate when they joined the programme, enrolled for advanced studies such as English, ICT and vocational training courses.
- the PEFaL family literacy project enables parents and children to become well acquainted with each other and therefore to improve their communication and social relationships. The programme also improved the self-confidence, belief and esteem of adult learners.
- the involvement of learners in the development and production of teaching-learning materials imbued them with satisfaction in their abilities and contribution to the learning process. This provided parents with further motivation to continue participating in the programme as well as in school activities. On the other hand, it improved the behaviour and discipline of schoolchildren as demonstrated by the improved tendency to do homework.
- the programme has also empowered teachers to use diverse teaching methodologies as well as to support effectively learners with different learning needs.
At its inception, the PEFaL programme had only a lukewarmly reception from both the schools and parents, primarily because family literacy was a new concept and approach to education and training. Thus, on the one hand, parents felt ashamed to admit and expose their illiteracy by joining the programme and by learning together with their children. On the other hand, schools (teachers) were also reticent to accept parental involvement in the educational processes because they doubted their capacity to function effectively due to their limited educational skills. Accordingly, parents were viewed as an obstruction to learning rather than as an asset, indicating entrenched perceptions of regarding school and home-based learning as separate endeavours and processes. The teachers also felt that the programme increased their workloads albeit in an area which was ‘completely’ different from the professional work.
In order to ameliorate these challenges, Club Europa adopted the following strategies:
- schools were convinced to participate in the programme by being awarded greater recognition and support to benefit from other EU projects.
- teachers were paid a stipend from the programme. The support of the Ministry of Education also enabled teachers to realise that participation in the programme could lead to promotion and a higher salary.
- concerted sensitisation campaigns were instituted to convince parents of their critical role in the education of their children as well as in the functioning of the schools in their communities.
The long-term sustainability of the PEFaL programme is based on the support received from the EU, Ministry of Education and local councils. For example, in 2005, the Ministry of Education and Club Europa agreed to enhance family literacy programmes and thus home-school linkages by training 200 teachers in family literacy.
These institutions are convinced of the capacity of the programme to promote access to education for disadvantaged people and thus its capacity to empower them in order to break out of the cycle of poverty and social exclusion. Similarly, schools have also realised the programme’s capacity to stimulate children’s interest in learning and parents’ critical role in child education as manifested by the request from four high schools (in 2007) in Braila to be included in a family learning programme tailored to their specific needs (this is already being implemented). The inclusion of secondary schools is noteworthy because it demonstrates the expansion of the PEFaL beyond the initial primary targets (parents and primary schoolchildren).
Furthermore, the project has trained and certified teachers/tutors as well as developed and produced teaching-learning modules and materials which schools and kindergartens could continue to use independently. Parents have also been empowered and will continue to support the education of their children. Additionally, since 2007, Club Europa has initiated other programmes complementary to PEFaL, including the Parent Training Programme, the Child Training Programme and the Teacher Training Course, which have been approved by the National Council for Adult Education and Training. These programmes are also provided to Teacher Training Centres, a process which is empowering future generations of teachers to integrate family literacy into the formal education system.
Since 2006, Club Europa has also collaborated with other institutions and organisations such as Centre Educatia 2000+ in providing family literacy training to isolated communities. Collaboration with other organisations has enabled the PEFaL programme to integrate subjects like eco-civics and entrepreneurship into family literacy training for both parents and primary and secondary school children. This project is now being funded by The Soros Foundation (since 2007).
The following are the key lessons which emerged from programme implementation:
- for family literacy programmes to succeed and to be effective, there is need to create strong synergies, integration and compliance with the national regulations governing school management, in-service teacher training and curricular development.
- parents should not only be well-informed about the programme but should also be actively involved in its development and implementation because this gives them confidence and enhances their interest to support their children’s education.
- joint learning sessions gives all participants the feeling that they have similar challenges and each has something to contribute towards solving group learning problems.
- Camilleri, J ; Spiteri, S. ; Wolfendale, S. : Parent empowerment for family literacy: A European initiative. In Literacy 39 (2005), No. 2.
- Ezechil, L.: A Short Presentation of Adult Education in Romania: A Psychopedagogical Perspective. s.l., 2005.
- Khoo Kim Choo: Evaluation Report, UNICEF’s Family Education Programme, Romania. s.l., 2005.
- Overview of the Romanian educational system and literacy policy and programmes
- Rose, A. ; Atkin, C. Family literacy in Europe: separate agendas? In: Compare 37 (2007), No. 5.
- Wolfendale, S. (2006): Partnerships in learning: in the interests of children, benefiting all. s.l., 2006.
- Socrates Programme, Transnational Cooperation Projects: The PEFaL Project, Final Report. s.l., 2004.
- UNESCO: ROMANIA – National Report on the Development and State of the Art of Adult Learning and Education (ALE). s.l., 2008.