Law No. 248/2015, known as the Fiecare Copil in Grădiniță Law, went into effect in February 2016. It encourages the regular attendance of 3-6-year-old children in grădiniță by granting €11 per month in food coupons (conditional on the child’s daily attendance in preschool) to households where the monthly income is under 284 lei (€63) per family member.
Why the law is needed
The official school dropout rate (18.5%) is the highest in the European Union. In rural areas of Romania the rate of school leaving jumps to 26.6%.
It is estimated that only one in three poor children benefit from any formal early education, whereas over 80% of the total population of children attend at least one year of preschool.
With a third of Romania’s children living in severe deprivation, a lot of children never even see a book until they enter school. This results in the biggest literacy-score-gap in the EU between the poorest children and those in the top quartile and one of the lowest adult literacy rates in Europe.
The Fiecare Copil in Grădiniță Law came about as an important element of Romania’s efforts to meet European Commission objectives of reducing school abandonment, poverty and inequity. It was a major step forward for Romanian education and social equity at the grassroots level. But it was only the first step.
Poor children’s chances to overcome the literacy gap lie in the hands of policies and projects that actively recruit and support the most marginalized children.
Evolution of the “Every Child in Preschool” National Program
In 2010 OvidiuRo launched the Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (FCG) pilot project in partnership with the Romanian Ministry of Education and a $30,000 grant from The Alex Fund. It was common knowledge that rural children living in extreme poverty (predominantly of Roma descent) were registered for preschool and kindergarten far less often than the national average. And nobody really knew how many of the registered children actually attended because attendance records were not routinely kept in gradinita.
Many people blamed “the parents” but we had spent eight years dealing with “the parents” on a daily basis so we knew unequivocally that it was not these parent’s opposition to preschool that kept the children out (with very rare exceptions). It was lack of means and awareness combined with the often unwelcoming attitude of the people responsible for gradinita registration.
Those nine years in the field had also taught us that when poor children did attend preschool and kindergarten, their social skills were more advanced and they performed better academically (and the teachers liked them better!) It had also taught us that “after school” programs were not enough to close this education gap between children from the middle class and those living on the margin of society. So in 2010 OvidiuRo turned its attention to early education of the rural poor.
Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță targeted the very poorest children – those living in overcrowded, inadequate housing in isolated areas without normal access to potable water, heating or health care, and where, in the winter, the unemployment rate was close to 100% due to the reduced need for unskilled labor, the low education level of the adults, and their relative geographic isolation.
We invited mayors and school directors who wanted to get “every child in gradinita“ to apply and between 2010 and 2015 over 6,000 children in 45 rural and semi-rural communities benefited from early education and better nutrition through FCG. Funded primarily by the Romanian corporate sector and The Alex Fund, it was cited as a model by both The Economist and the World Bank.
The success of the FCG Pilot Programs led the Romanian Parliament to pass the “Fiecare Copil în Grădiniță Law” (#248/2015) adopting the central mechanism of OvidiuRo’s FCG Pilot Program: giving poor families* the opportunity to receive €11 per month in food coupons if they bring their 3-to-5-year-old children to grădiniță (preschool and kindergarten) every day.
* households where the monthly income is under 284 lei (€63) per family member.
The “FCG Law”, which passed with the full support of all the major political parties in October 2016, reflected the government’s recognition that early education is crucial for Romania’s most disadvantaged children if they are to have a chance to succeed in school – and thus to work their way out of multi-generational poverty.
In the words of OvidiuRo’s cofounder, Maria Gheorghiu,
“Law 248/2015 establishes the legal framework for inclusive preschool education in Romania, but the program’s success depends on local deployment. It is essential that communities actively recruit and genuinely welcome all children to preschool and then strictly enforce the daily attendance requirement.”
We must give children of largely illiterate parents the tools to stick with school because staying in school is crucial to achieving basic job skills required in today’s world market. Only participation in the job market will give these children a fighting chance to work their way out of poverty and become active contributors to their communities and Romanian society.