"Without education we have no chance of evolution"

Recorded by Andrei Iacomi
English Section / 19 decembrie 2023

"Without education we have no chance of evolution"

Versiunea în limba română

(Interview with Raluca Jianu, CEO Narada)

"Our mission is to bring to the surface the needs in schools and to mobilize communities to find solutions"

"While the whole world is paying attention to the development of artificial intelligence, in rural Romania we are still talking about schools with toilets in the yard"

"By the end of 2030, we aimed to reach 500 thousand children"

Without education we have no chance of evolution and our future tomorrow depends only on the way our children have access to education today, says Raluca Jianu, CEO of the Narada organization dedicated to education in our country, in an exclusive interview given to the BURSA newspaper.

According to director Narada, the school cannot face all the challenges faced by students in Romania alone, as it needs the support of the communities around them, programs that emphasize the socio-emotional development of students, educational counselors and a number of higher than school psychologists.

"By the end of 2030, we set ourselves the goal of reaching 500 thousand children, 500 thousand children who represent the engine that can generate the transformation in education", says the director of Narada, an organization whose projects HartaEdu.ro and " Together for our school" are intended to mobilize communities to solve problems in schools.

Reporter: What is the purpose of the campaign "Together for our school", launched by Narada?

Raluca Jianu: Any campaign we start ultimately has the same objectives as those described in our mission to bring to the surface the needs in schools and mobilize communities to find solutions. "Together for our school" is a campaign that does just that: it mobilizes communities to solve emergencies in 60 schools in Romania, where 30 thousand children study. What we want in the end is that, in addition to 60 safer schools for these students, who will be able to get all the tools to build a better future, we show teachers, parents and even children how important let's come many together, that #EokSaFacemNoi.

Reporter: How is the campaign going (in what period, which entities are involved, etc.)?

Raluca Jianu: The campaign is a fundraising campaign to solve the alerts of the 60 schools. More specifically, these 60 schools listed their needs on HartaEdu, signed up to the campaign and, for two months, we provide them with a platform to tell their story, but especially through to which they can collect donations. Finally, on the same day and around the same time, on December 18, all these 60 schools organized a fair where they auctioned all kinds of products, the money collected being counted alongside the online donations. Thus, with all the funds raised, we will be able to solve their alerts. What is really spectacular is that both students, parents and teachers come shoulder to shoulder with us, get involved and try to contribute in some way to this campaign.

To give you an idea of the size of the challenge, well, each school has designated a teacher who has assumed the role of project manager, who coordinates three others who are responsible for communication, fundraising and production of objects for the fair. Older students get involved in promoting the campaign on Social Media channels, parents make together with teachers and children the objects that will be auctioned at the fair, and all this action is communicated in the local press. The teachers are also trying to convince local sponsors to donate money and products to the campaign. All money raised can be tracked in real time on each school's account and, as a bonus, the school that collects the most recurring donors will be awarded .

Reporter: What were the results of last year's edition?

Raluca Jianu: Last year's edition was somehow an experiment, from which each of us had a lot to learn. 25 schools and almost 19 thousand students were involved. On the day of the fair, the more than 21 thousand visitors donated approximately 100 thousand euros for the objects made by children, parents and teachers, and the Narada partners completed this amount, thus managing to finish the last construction sites by the end of the summer and to have 25 safer schools for our children today. Also last year, more than 20 public figures, actors, singers, writers, joined our campaign and publicly supported the organization's messages, urging people to go to the fair and donating personal items that were later auctioned.

Reporter: What are the main problems of schools and students in Romania? What do you think are the causes?

Raluca Jianu: I would start with the answer to the second question and say that education has not been a priority for far too long. Maybe that's why we reached the lowest percentage of GDP invested in education at the European level, reforms started and abandoned and, worst of all, our indifference, all of us. We hope that sooner or later, we will all realize that without education we have no chance of evolution and that only the way our children have access to education today depends on our future tomorrow.

For years we pointed the finger and waited for it to happen. Maybe the time has come for us to understand that #EOkSaFacemNoi and contribute where we know how and how we can afford it.

For this reason, schools in Romania still have many challenges. While the whole world is paying attention to the development of artificial intelligence, when we talk about chatbots or virtual assistants for learning, in rural areas in particular, in Romania, we are still talking about schools with toilets in the yard, with crumbling walls, with old electrical installations and dangerous or by schools that do not yet have an Internet connection and do not have the necessary technology to innovate classic teaching methods. Moreover, we see that the cases of bullying in schools have increased, the use of drugs or we see so many children left in the care of grandparents or other relatives, children who get lost on the road comparing what they see on the Internet, in social media networks and the reality I live. The school cannot face these challenges alone, it needs the support of the community around it, it needs programs that emphasize the socio-emotional development of students, educational counselors and as many school psychologists as possible.

Reporter: What do you think the authorities should do to improve the quality of the education system in our country?

Raluca Jianu: The first thing I think about is the prioritization of education, followed by a clear vision, with short, medium and long term objectives. We need to highlight the needs of today's children and be able to implement solutions that do not take political color into account, but deliver progress on objectives. What is encouraging, however, are the PNRR or PNRAS-type investment programs that have started to take place in many schools in Romania, but the needs are so great that the authorities will never be able to solve the problems alone. We are needed too.

Reporter: Two years have passed since you launched the HartaEdu.ro project. What has this project developed by Narada brought to the lives of the students and the communities they belong to?

Raluca Jianu: Before talking about safer, more innovative schools and more involved teachers, I would say that HartaEdu brought confidence and showed that it is possible. Many times, talking to different directors or teachers with whom I interacted during our interventions, I heard the expression: "I didn't think we would succeed!". We have shown that it is possible, especially when many of us come together and we all have the same goal: the good of the children.

Here I will tell you a few stories and I think the conclusion can be drawn by itself. Last year, for example, we managed to purchase a minibus to transport students from the school in Băicoi. Here, a school was closed due to the small number of children and all the remaining ones were then moved to the center school. That meant a daily 5-8 kilometer walk on the way there and the same on the way back, on the side of the national road, heavily trafficked and extremely dangerous for pedestrians. Here we found parents with tears in their eyes who told us that they had to give up work to be available to take their children to and from school.

When they saw the minibus, most of the students were sincerely happy, understanding that their efforts to get to school will decrease considerably, they will no longer walk through the rain, wind, snow, and they will have more time for themselves.

I will then talk to you about the school in the village of Progresu, Călăraşi commune. The fact that I intervened here and rebuilt some classes attracted the attention of the authorities who then invested in a sports field, an IT laboratory and found funds for the transportation of schoolchildren. With these investments, the school was eligible to enter the "School after school" program, thus offering additional training to the children, but also a hot meal, which reduced the percentage of school dropouts.

Reporter: How many alerts were solved in these two years and which were the most difficult?

Raluca Jianu: Today, two years after HartaEdu, we have 1,474 alerts registered on the map, of which almost 350 have been resolved with the support of the organization and our partners. Another 100 were solved by the community after seeing them mapped on the map. Difficult, I wouldn't say it's an alert, everything can be solved as long as we manage to mobilize the communities. What seems difficult to us and is the very objective we are working on is this very mobilization. Our goal is that over time, the number of alerts that are solved by the communities, will be higher than those solved through the organization.

Reporter: How much has been invested so far and in what type of alerts?

Raluca Jianu: The amount from donations from companies and good people, invested in alerts solved on HartaEdu, exceeded one million euros. The type of alerts is diverse, from those related to school infrastructure, to digitalization, innovation and sustainability alerts.

Look, here I would like to tell you a little about a school in Dolj county, Pesceana commune, a country school whose teachers showed us a very important lesson: it doesn't matter who you are and where you come from, it's important to want to evolve and work for it. Thus, in this village, the school today has solar panels to have hot water in the bathroom, so that the students' hands do not freeze when they wash.

Another interesting example is the "Mihai Eminescu" High School in Satu Mare. Here I discovered some absolutely wonderful teachers who offer students all the opportunities to develop, learn about the world, create and innovate. They asked for our support in equipping a robotics laboratory that will be of great help to the students in their preparation for STEM courses and for international competitions where they are already used to winning only gold medals.

And I will also tell you about the School in Sălcioara, where I intervened on infrastructure issues, I completely transformed a school through which the wind and rain were blowing, which endangered the safety of the students, into one that looks like in civilized countries, a school whose every class tells a different story, an environment that inspires creativity, innovation and learning. But more than that, together with our partners, we gave the children the chance to see what is beyond the village borders - which many of them had never crossed - and to want to dream as boldly as possible about their future .

Reporter: What other projects does Narada have? Can you elaborate?

Raluca Jianu: All our projects are related to children and their potential. Every day we meet many children in our communities, children who, if given a helping hand in the right direction, could make a completely different path in life. Thus, we look at how we can support them to reach this potential so that they can build a better future through education, a future that they certainly deserve. By the end of the year 2030, we set ourselves the goal of reaching 500 thousand children, 500 thousand children who represent the engine that can generate the transformation in education. For this we need everyone's help. And how can we help? Through a donation of only five euros per month either on HartaEdu, or on www.narada.ro, or in the "Together for our school" campaign. Every penny will be turned into potential, and in the end we will all know that we have made the best insurance for the future.

Reporter: Thank you!