Daniel David, professor of clinical cognitive sciences and the rector of Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, talked to the publisher of Clujul Cultural about the state of education in Romania. “[…] 42% of 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate. It is sad, because in three years those who are now 15 years old shall be the ones who vote, they will enter the field of work, they are the ones who start to run the society”, stated the renowned professor. Placing this problem in a larger context, studies have shown that, globally, more than 796 million people have literacy difficulties. As for Europe, one in five 15 year-olds has poor reading skills. Moreover, “it is estimated that around 13 million children under 15 years of age and around 55 million adults between 15 and 65 years of age have literacy difficulties”, according to Literacy in Europe: Facts and figures study. PISA scores (2018) show that Estonia ranks first in Europe, for Reading, Mathematics and Science, the last placed being represented by Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Romanian context and previous official statements
Ecaterina Andronescu, former Minister of Education, has claimed in 2019, in a press inquiry answer, that “there is no definition, indicator or value associated at international level with the notion of functional illiteracy”, thus denying the phenomenon. The document was signed by the Press Office of the Institution. In the same time, another former Minister of Education, Monica Anisie, claimed, regarding PISA tests, that the results should not worry us, because they do not necessarily focus on what students know, but on how they apply the knowledge in their daily life.
Although the representatives of the communist regime boasted that illiteracy was eradicated at that time, they did not consider the emergence of functional illiteracy, caused by school curricula that focused on satisfying political propaganda, and then the effective learning of students.
The functional illiteracy was defined in 1978 by UNESCO: “A person is functionally illiterate who cannot engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.”. The same definition was used by OECD – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1984. Unlike illiteracy, which involves the fact that the person does not know how to read, functional illiteracy takes into account those people who, although they can read, do not understand what they are reading or fail to perform basic mathematical operations.
What do the previous studies show?
According to a recent study issued by the European Commission regarding a statistical overview of Romania’s main education and training indicators, assessments show that over 40% of children have great difficulty performing simple mathematical operations, and their general knowledge about society, people and the universe is very limited.
At the same time, according to a EU Country Report, published in 2020, the education system in Romania continues to face significant challenges in terms of quality and inclusiveness, specifying that it is one of the countries with the highest share of low achievers among 15- year olds in all three areas tested under the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), more specifically 46.6% of 15-year-olds are underachievers in mathematics (EU average: 22.4%), 43.9% in science (EU average: 21.6%) and 40.8% in reading (EU average: 21.7%), which results in an average of 43.7%.
On this occasion, we find out that there exists a Romanian Literature Association whose leader, Liliana Romaniuc, coordinates 2 programs to reduce functional illiteracy in which she works with teachers to improve their teaching method. In a press release she confirmed that Romania is ranking second to last among European countries regarding the area of functional illiteracy, explaining that the main cause for this situation is the method of learning based on memorization and not on understanding the concepts.
In conclusion, according to most recent studies, conducted at European level, Romania remains in the last places when it comes to the ability of 15-year-old students to understand what they read or to solve simple math and science exercises. Therefore, Daniel David`s claim, that 42% of 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate, is true.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Irina Șerban, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania
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