Parent Empowerment for Family Literacy Project (PEFaL)

Country Profile: Romania

Population

21.532.000 (2006 estimate)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$2 per day):

13% (1990-2005)

Official Languages

Romanian (official), Hungarian, German

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

93% (2006)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

98% (2000-2006)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2000-2006)

Total: 98%
Male: 98%
Female: 97%

Sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleParent Empowerment for Family Literacy Project (PEFaL)
Implementing OrganizationClub Europa
Language of InstructionRomanian
FundingEuropean-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:

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:

Project Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Training of Tutors

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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.

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Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact / Achievements

Programme evaluations have revealed the following key achievements:

Challenges

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:

Sustainability

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).

Lessons Learned

The following are the key lessons which emerged from programme implementation:

Sources

Contact

Viorica Alexandru
Family Learning Adviser
Viorica.Alexandru (at) cedu.ro ; valexandru (at) cedu.ro