What does it take to change the education system of an entire country? If you ask EDC’s Jody Spiro, she’ll tell you to start with the teachers. That’s what EDC did in April 1998, when its International Development Division (IDD) joined with the Ministry of Education in Romania to restructure the training that educators receive in that country. Four years later, staff members of the Romania Education Reform Project have provided specialized training to an estimated 240,000 of the nation’s 300,000 teachers.
Spiro says more important than the impressive percentage of teachers reached is the dramatic shift in teachers’ attitudes toward both classroom practice and teacher training. Under the former Communist regime, curriculum and teacher education were tightly controlled by the state. With the fall of Communism, classroom teaching had to move from a system of rote learning to more active and engaging teaching methods. Through the EDC project, teachers have been shown how to incorporate these new ways of learning, such as small group work, role plays, simulations, and using different types of technology. The goal is no longer to deliver the state message, but to encourage students to think for themselves.
“The teachers we met did not see it as their role to create critical thinkers who can evaluate alternatives and make decisions,” says project director Spiro. “The majority of educators did not understand the need for education reform. So to change the mindset of the students required a change in the mindset of the teachers and the education officials.creating this readiness for change is the major accomplishment of the project,” Spiro said.
Through more than 800 EDC workshops, 42,000 educators became regional teacher trainers, learning new methods of engaging students, encouraging critical thinking and active learning. In the words of one educator who participated in the EDC workshops:
“Students have ‘to see, to feel and to understand’ economic phenomena, not only to memorize definitions, new concepts, etc. I will do my best to achieve this goal based on my experience, using applied exercises, various games and simulations.”
In addition to the hundreds of teacher training workshops, the Romania Education Reform Project observed classrooms in schools around the country. An analysis of these classroom observations showed that, without question, teaching practices had changed. To perpetuate these positive changes, the project created a series of six Trainer’s Guides, printing and distributing 8,000 copies to teacher education institutions throughout the country. Twenty-one thousand copies of a compendium of Professional Teaching Standards were distributed to all schools and teacher training centers. The project certified dozens of national trainers, identified hundreds of mentor teachers, and created various sets of training materials and plans.
Those involved in the project believe that the Romanian teacher training efforts will be continued. Reasons for their optimism include the fact that several laws and Ministerial orders have been enacted to support continued teacher training, and a National Center for Teacher Training established to accredit in-service teacher training programs. Spiro calls the creation of that center a milestone.
“Before our work in Romania, there was no position called ‘teacher trainer.’ Every five years teachers were simply ‘reindoctrinated’ by state officials. Our project not only established legally the role of the teacher trainer, we created a national center for teacher training. We’ve actually developed our own cadre of teachers who can fill these trainer positions,” she said.
Spiro has no doubt the changes instituted in the Romania teacher training system will be sustained. “Our project survived a change in national leadership in Romania, and the new Ministry officials are committed to the new system.” In the words of one official who sat in on the EDC workshops: “The workshops helped teachers understand that things can be done differently. There is a spirit favorable to change of mentalities. There has been a change in the mentality of teachers from ‘this cannot be done,’ to ‘this is fun and efficient.’”
According to Spiro, EDC will stay in touch with the new trainers and educators in Romania. “We have now worked with these trainers for more than four years, monitoring their progress, offering feedback, and creating a computer listserv that keeps teachers and trainers in constant communication to offer help and guidance. Questions can be answered and we can continue to share success stories,” said Spiro. Stories such as this one from a Romanian student commenting on the changes he has seen:
“We would come with pleasure to all classes.We do not want teachers to make us memorize by heart. We like that our teacher makes us think and she allows us to say what we believe.”
Originally published on March 31, 2002