The Alex Fund supports Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (‘Every Child in Preschool’), Romanian NGO OvidiuRo’s program currently operating in 43 impoverished communities. Fiecare Copil in Gradinita is helping 2400 poor children attend preschool and kindergarten so they will be able to enter primary school with the same skills as other better-off children start school with. OvidiuRo’s methodology encompasses close collaboration with local leaders, teacher training and educational resources, parent involvement and incentives, and educational enrichment such as summer programs.
October 28: President Klaus Iohannis signed the bill that will finance a national program to encourage impoverished parents of 3-5 year old children to send their children to grădiniță every day. Based on OvidiuRo’s highly successful Fiecare Copil in Gradinita model, parents living under the poverty line throughout Romania will receive food coupons worth 11 € per month if their child attends preschool every day.
October 7: The Chamber of Deputies passed a bill promoting every child’s right to participate in preschool and kindergarten: 289 in favor, 1 against and 5 abstentions. The bill finances a national program to encourage 3-5 year old children living in poverty to regularly attend grădiniță. Based on OvidiuRo’s highly successful model, parents living under the poverty line will receive food coupons worth 11 euros PER MONTH if their child attends preschool every day.
March 11: Legislation introduced to establish the legal framework for allocating food coupons linked to preschool attendance for children in poverty.
April: The Economic and Social Council issued a favorable opinion in support of the bill.
April 14: Education Minister Sorin Cimpeanu and Labor Minister Rovana Plumb and OvR’s Maria Gheorghiu signed a new agreement uniting the Ministry of Education & Research, the Ministry of Labor, Family & Social Protection and OvR in the cause of Early Education for All.
With 4.11 million children under age 18 and a dropout rate of 18.5%, over 700,000 Romanian children can be expected to quit school before ninth grade over the next 20 years. Many of these children, especially in rural areas, will not even get past the 4th grade and will be functionally illiterate.
This enormous waste of human capital can be averted by a comprehensive national action that must begin with quality early education – and the FCG has demonstrated that getting impoverished children attending gradinita is neither difficult nor expensive.
Since its inception in 2006, Fiecare Copil in Gradinita has expanded, school by school, until it now supports 2400 children in over 40 communities in 11 counties. FCG’s simply strategy of linking food coupons to the daily attendance of children living in poverty has dramatically increased preschool attendance for these children, starting them on the path to future school success.
But there is a limit to how much private funds and a single NGO can accomplish.
An important step in making the FCG program sustainable was made in February 2014 when the Cluj County Council allocated public funds to cover the cost of conditional food coupons for 100 poor children. In February 2015, the Cluj Council doubled the funding to cover coupons for 200 children in nine low-income communities. The County Social Services and Child Protection Department manages the program, with assistance from OvR and in partnership with the County School Inspectorate. Three other counties, Brasov, Dambovita and Dolj, have also started scaling up. See Case in Point below.
€170 per child per year covers food coupons, school supplies and basic school apparel. Only €20 million per year will allow 120,000 impoverished 3, 4 and 5 year olds to benefit from the national preschool system that is already in place, and all too often, under-utilized in rural areas.
OvidiuRo is committed to seeing the FCG program become an option for communities in all 43 counties – and to overcoming potential snags before they become problems. For example:
|Social Assistance Law 292/2011 does not address the methodology for allocating food coupons.||Passage of a bill (introduced by MP Daniel Constantin and supported by the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Education) to establish the legal framework for allocating public funds for this purpose.|
|Preschool attendance is not mandatory, thus in most rural communities, attendance figures are missing or are inflated.||OvR works with the School Inspectorates to accurately monitor attendance so that it becomes the norm, rather than the exception.|
|Communities that want and need the program often do not have the financial resources to assume fundamental program costs.||Early education is a priority area for EU Structural Funds for 2014-2020 and conditional incentives are under consideration in various EU-funded programs.|
|School inspectorates may lack staff resources to oversee and monitor implementation.||EU funds, Romanian NGOs, and CSR budgets can be tapped for teacher training, program administration, and additional human resources.|