First SmartLab in rural Romania opened for 500 students

THE CHALLENGE: More than one study (Cismaru & Corbu, 2019) has found reason for increased concern about the development of the educational system in Romania throughout later years. In Romania, education and school development, especially for public schools which are the majority, depends largely on public financing. According to some of the latest available data, the level of financing that has been provided has been the lowest in all of Europe, until now.

Not only, has this created educational gaps  between Romania and other European countries, but also internally among the Romanian population.  

Internally, the gap manifests itself as both a polarization between social classes, areas of residence and regions . Both a decrease in enrolment and participation of students in schools can be observed, with more than 10 % of age-appropriate children not being enrolled in primary school at all, despite it being compulsory and a necessity for any further education. Long term, this will have detrimental effects on the coming generations, as a proportionately large group of Romanian individuals will lack basic skills and qualifications to participate in work and social life.  

Furthermore, another concerning find is that students in rural and poorer areas of Romania tend to leave school much earlier than in larger cities, only increasing the educational gap even further. To add to this detrimental fact, low levels of motivation among teachers, who are making a very limited monthly income from their profession, is not helping the students nor schools either.  

From a human capital perspective, good education is a substantial source for development of welfare in a society, as well as economically. This relationship exists in a circular motion. Additionally, a lack of education is not only troublesome re. wellbeing and health, good citizenship, and democratic participation in society. It is even further challenged by the increased demands for new digital, specialized, and globalized competencies which cannot be obtained by a large group of the Romanian population.

With the fear of these gaps intensifying and increasing in the future, creating an extremely heterogeneous population living in divided worlds, it is very fortunate that Romania in 2021 created the recovery and resilience plan (PNRR) which gave substantial financial funding to develop the country’s educational system. Here, one of the things focused on is teaching students the necessary digital competencies such as working with computers, robots, VR and 3D, in order to keep up with the increased demand for these skills globally. As part of the PNRR project in Romania, it was decided that numerous educational technology laboratories were to be implemented for the use of teachers and students, especially in less developed areas.

All the equipment will be maintained for a period of three years, and continuous SmartLab teacher trainings will be offered to provide both teachers and students with the best possible experiences and environment to both teach and learn new digital skills.

THE RESULTS: Prior to the implementation of the SmartLab in Bucov, the INACO Association had already created and implemented 6 SmartLabs in educational units in Bucharest, Ilfov, Calarasi and Prahova. Yet, the success and potential of the SmartLab project was quickly recognized and because of that included in the European National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).

According to the plan devised based on the PNRR project, it is expected that 1.175 SmartLabs will be implemented in schools all over Romania, helping thousands if not millions of young students develop the necessary skills to compete with their peers in the future workspace. As the goal of INACO is to provide free access to smart, digital education for all Romanian students, and also make school more attractive for younger children (to combat the decline in enrolment and participation, as well as early leavers), additional funding will be necessary. 

The financial support provided via the PNRR project will suffice for one out of five Romanian schools which is a great beginning. Yet the goals of INACO and all edtech suppliers are much more ambitious, as they wish to help all Romanian students get the best possible chance at receiving an innovative, creative, and digital education beneficial to both the students, their families, and the future of Romanian society. 

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