Moldova: No Retirement in Sight

no retirement in sightVOLOVITA, Moldova | Nadejda Cotaga, the principal of a gymnasium in the northern village of Volovita, spent the last days of the summer desperately trying to recruit recent pedagogy graduates to her small rural school. By her count, the school, which has around 250 pupils, lacks at least six teachers. And most of its current staff are nearing or are already of retirement age.

Cotaga, 65, is pessimistic about the prospect of hiring any young teachers. “They don’t come to the countryside to teach for a salary of 750 lei a month ($65),” she complained.

The Volovita gymnasium is not a unique case. According to data from the Ministry of Education, Moldova’s schools have lacked about 1,700 to 2,000 teachers every year over the past five years. Over that period of time, the number of newly minted teachers graduating from pedagogy faculties exceeded the deficit by several hundred each year, but only about one third ended up going to work as educators. More than one quarter of the country’s 41,000 teachers are pensioners, while more than half are approaching retirement age. The situation is especially dire in the countryside, where almost 60 percent of the Moldovan population is concentrated.

Cotaga, herself a pensioner, says she will be forced to keep her fellow aging colleagues on for at least another year. “Once again I’m asking them to stay because I don’t have any other options,” she said. Not a single younger teacher who has come to the Volovita school during the last five years has lingered for more than a year.

One teacher left the very next day after receiving a disappointing first month’s salary. The director says that many of her relatively younger teachers frequently threaten to quit and find more lucrative jobs abroad.

As Cotaga put it, “The pensioners come back and they do it for the same reason every time” – that is, to supplement their meager pensions of 300 lei ($25) per month.

Dire Shortages

Agnesa Iftodi, a senior adviser at the education ministry, describes the situation as “quite worrying”. However, she pointed out that the ministry is acutely aware of the problem and has launched a series of initiatives aimed at increasing the number of younger teachers in rural areas, as well as raising education standards.

But many school directors, independent experts, and even ministry officials say the results of those initiatives are rather disappointing so far. A contributing factor is the high rate of turnover in the education ministry, they believe. “A reform cannot succeed if the head of the ministry changes every two years,” says Valentin Crudu, a former deputy minister, who left the post in 2008 after serving for two years. Crudu has twenty years’ experience in the Moldovan education system, beginning as a village schoolteacher.

“Futile Incentives”

Vitalie Crudu (no relation to the former deputy minister), 24, is one of around 1,200 university graduates who have gone through a government program launched in 2006 to provide young teachers who choose to teach in the countryside with a 30,000 lei bonus (about $2,700).

Crudu says that choice had, in fact, little to do with it. “While in university, I and my colleagues who received state-paid stipends were asked to sign an agreement, committing ourselves to compulsory state employment, or we could face expulsion,” Crudu explained. Students whose tuition is paid for by the state must accept state-assigned jobs for a period of three years upon graduation, or reimburse the costs associated with their higher education.

That is how, in 2006, Crudu ended up as a teacher at the Cateleni village school in central Moldova. “I started as a geography teacher, which is my primary specialization, with a salary of 750 lei per month,” he said. “But, due to the acute shortage of personnel at the school, I soon found myself teaching chemistry and other natural sciences, as well as English and civic education.”

Crudu applied for the 30,000 lei state bonus but has only received a bit more than half, because the amount is distributed in three parts to encourage teachers to stay the full three years: 7,000 for the first year, 10,000 for the second, and 13,000 for the third year. Crudu received his payment only for his first and second years of teaching in the village.

Local authorities also failed to follow through with their pledge to cover his accommodation and energy expenses. He decided to quit teaching last year. Now a construction worker, he says he can earn as much as $1,000 in a good month – his entire yearly salary as a teacher.

The only problem is that he quit teaching before his compulsory state employment period ended and he is now facing potentially serious legal consequences. The local prosecutor’s office informed Crudu that a case has been opened against him, to force him not only to reimburse the state for his tuition, but also to pay back the incentive money he received as a rural teacher. “I don’t know how far they got with the case, but I’m not going to pay back anything,” Crudu said. “The money I received hardly covered my cost of living.”

Maria Ciobanu, who leads the Direction for Education, Youth, and Sport (a local representative office of the education ministry) in the Nisporeni district of central Moldova, says the ideal solution would be to increase salaries for young teachers, rather than experiment with such “futile incentives”.

“The graduates come, stay for one or two years, receive some state allowance and then they leave to illegally work abroad,” she said. “We can’t blame these young people. Many are dedicated professionals, but with the salaries they get as young specialists, they can’t even buy books or a computer, let alone start a family and a new life after graduation.”

Part-time Teachers, Part-time Farmers

Last year, the Nisporeni district asked the authorities for 59 teachers, but received only 18. Already two of them have left the job. The severe shortage of teachers means that, as in Vitalie Crudu’s case, many are teaching subjects they know little about, and more and more elderly teachers are postponing their retirement.

“In some schools in the Nisporeni district we even have 80-year-old teachers,” said Ciobanu. “What pupil will listen to somebody who falls asleep while teaching? I, myself, would not even attend such a lesson.”

According to Nadejda Cotaga, the gymnasium principal in Volovita, the age of the teacher has a direct impact on the quality of instruction. In her opinion, not only is a young pedagogue more likely to be up-to-date with the latest teaching techniques and methods, he or she is also more likely to inspire and intrigue the younger generation.

Cotaga also pointed to a particularity of the situation of rural teachers in Moldova. “We are peasants as well,” she explained. “We spend our mornings in school and our afternoons working our land or breeding our pigs.” After 40 years of working in schools, she and her husband still can’t afford a modern TV set or a newspaper subscription, the roof of their house is leaking, and they say they have not been on a proper holiday for 20 years. Moreover, they can scarcely afford their prescription medicine.

“I would like a salary of 500 euros per month for my colleagues and myself, so I can focus only on the education of our pupils, but that is not the case, so far,” she lamented.

Lagging Behind Benchmarks

The government spends 19 percent of Moldova’s public budget on education. According to Valentin Crudu, the former deputy education minister, around 75 percent goes toward expenses such as salaries and school maintenance, while only 10 percent is used for developing educational resources, such as new textbooks and better Internet access.

Aside from that, the annual expenses per pupil vary widely from one region to another – in some cases, the difference can be as large as seven times. According to the World Bank, the average expense per pupil per year varies from 3,000 lei in some districts to 20,000 lei in others.

That striking data, which was revealed by a World Bank audit, led to a joint initiative with the Moldovan government, the “Quality of Education in Rural Areas” project, which began in 2006 with a budget of $10 million. Designed to improve cost management, in particular, the program also aimed to reduce the shortage of teachers in rural areas and improve the technological equipment of countryside schools.

The project also required the Moldovan authorities to strengthen the financial autonomy of schools, as well as close down rural gymnasiums with less then 115 pupils. Under the proposed reform, students from the closed schools would be transported by bus to larger schools as close as possible to their homes. The saved money would be used to better equip the remaining schools and to increase teachers’ salaries. Similar World Bank-assisted projects were successful in the Baltic States, where a number of small and under-equipped schools were closed down and replaced by bigger, more modern, regional schools.

But the project was virtually suspended in 2008 due to fears from the governing Communist Party that school closures would harm the party’s position ahead of the 2009 general elections. “Only half of the World Bank money was received and spent, mostly for preparatory work, and the government will lose the remaining amount if it does not restart the program by the end of this year,” Crudu said.

However, education ministry officials claim the project was never fully stopped. Agnesa Iftodi, the senior ministry adviser, insists that a pilot project to close down smaller rural schools and move children to larger schools with more and better resources will be launched next January in two districts, Causeni and Riscani.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

For now, officials are focused on another incentive to support the migration of young pedagogy graduates to villages. Under this policy, the government would buy or build homes for young professionals and their families who take jobs in rural schools and hospitals. According to the education ministry, recipients would eventually claim ownership, provided that they stay in a village for at least five years; however, many see this as an implicit assumption that the recipients would stay there permanently.

Only nine young couples have benefited so far, with another 16 waiting to be accommodated and 161 pending applications. It took about five years for the initiative to take shape. Meanwhile, house prices have more than doubled because of the increasing number of Moldovans that have found more lucrative employment abroad and have started buying property back home. That means that the project’s implementation is now more expensive than originally anticipated.

In response, officials hope that the housing prices will decrease due to the current global financial crisis, which had a big impact on Moldova’s economy. According to the government, the budgetary deficit for the first seven months of the year was four times bigger than the forecasted deficit for the entire year.

Alina Moldoveanu also contributed to this article.




More Posts in Classroom


Share this Post