We are a group of 40 volunteers are sharing our knowledge and literacy skills in schools with children who are at risk of early drop-out. We started out with mathematics, where children’s needs were greatest, but we are eager to expand to other courses and to non-formal educational activities. We now collaborate with 3 schools and about 90 children.
It all started out in 2011 when one I was tutoring two kids in mathematics. I soon discovered that many of my friends were interested in the idea and willing to donate a few hours of their time for improving the educational achievement of underprivileged children, who do not have the option of private tuition. The idea of transforming it it to a project run by volunteers became reality when we met our friends from the Bucharest UNICEF office, who suggested that we introduce this concept of private tuition and mentoring in their program “Let’s Go to School (Hai la Scoala)”, a successful national campaign aimed at reducing the early dropout rate in Romanian Schools. We therefore started in 2012 with one of the Bucharest schools involved in the UNICEF programme. We have now expanded to 3 schools in Bucharest and are planning to expand outside of the capital city next academic year.
The local context
More than 50 % of Romanian students do not pass the 12 th grade national examination. About 20% of Romanian children leave school by the age of 15. Romania is one of the worst performers in Europe when it comes to standardised testing, enrolment in tertiary education, and perhaps not surprisingly public spending on education. It is clear that the formal educational system cannot meet these challenges on its own and that innovative third party projects are need. In this context, what we have set out in achieving through our project is to increase the chances of constant school attendance for children with low academic credentials and modest financial capabilities, and to stimulate their ambition and self confidence.
The starting point
The idea was piloted in one school from Bucharest with about 30 kids and 7 volunteers teaching Math and English. The groups were mixed in size from 4 up to 10 and with children from different socio-economic, ethnic backgrounds. At that stage, we managed to support a number of these children in passing their final annual examinations and passing the grade - all of the children in the project successfully graduated the school year. The parents and the schools were one of main drivers of the process. It was upon their request that the project is still running today.
Of course, there were moments when the work on the project was difficult, when we had to learn to accept small failures and to internalise the thought that you can’t force volunteering on anyone. For instance, some of the schools that we approached were reluctant to work with us, some didn’t trust us and our initiative, some didn’t understand the concept of volunteering. We were faced with suspicion and skepticism about the value and efficiency of such a project. However, we managed to foster two beautiful partnerships (and developing a new one as we speak) with schools who are excited to work with us and eager to continue with the programme the next academic year. The tutoring classes/workshops take place once a week within the schools where the children are studying, and every group of children has a dedicated tutor.
How does it work?
At the moment there are 40 volunteers,each working with a group of maximum 5 kids. Based on the needs of the children the tutoring is being extended to 3 subjects (Math, English, and Romanian language with emphasis on the upcoming national examinations). Usually, the children are assisted with their homework and also with the recovery of unknown knowledge from lower grades - essential notions that the children have either either forgot along the way or have not learnt before. On average, it takes about 5 hours/week for a volunteer to commit to this project. 2 hours for the tutoring session, 1.5 - 2 hours for transportation to and from the school, 1 hour for preparation.
The volunteers have gathered around the idea through goodwill and empathy for the kids struggling with some subjects in school. In order to strengthen the sense of community and build up motivation, volunteers’ efforts are remunerated with trainings in teaching and coaching methods, team building activities, etc. The aim is to strengthen the capacities of both the children and the volunteers. By building a more horizontal relationship between the two groups the tutors are not seen as yet other teachers, but rather play the roles of older brothers or adult friends to those kids! The end result is to support them to pass their exams, but also inspire them to ask more of themselves and strive for more as they grow up. Most of the children are coming from enclosed communities, with fewer opportunities or from difficult social environment (families, neighborhoods).
The biggest personal takeaways from this project is the passion and energy of the children to learn and expand their horizons. These kids with modest results in Math or other subjects are, in our opinion, exceptional. The stay in school for two extra hours a week and do additional homework on a subject they are in an eternal conflict with. They’re doing all this not because they are urged by their the parents or by the school, but because they want to be better and to ultimately explore more options - to be able to choose the high school, the job, the neighborhood, the friends that they want and not vice versa.
Governance and Participation
School principals - approvement of intervention in the school Teachers - are of great help in providing the necessary methodological, logistic support and necessary educational materials; also they assist with the formation of tuition groups. UNICEF office in Bucharest - networking / national contact base Parents - moral support, recognition, expression of demand/request for further engagement Entrepreneurs - support in organizing recreational activities for children, volunteers, assist with teaching materials, etc.
Contribution to the Community
Added value for the community
- more ambitious and better educated children;
- more involved and aware young professionals in the current social issues in their community;
- promotion of volunteering;
Utilization of human resources We left from the idea of empowering underprivileged children through successful adult models. We want to educate the volunteers with regard to the social radiography of their environment, to familiarize them with the real challenges that these children are facing and to accustom them with the idea and practice of volunteering.
Resources First and foremost it’s our volunteers' time. Treats and small incentives for the children, trainings for the volunteers. The tutoring classes take place in the afterhours within the schools where the children are studying at, the rooms being provided for free. The budget of the project is 300 RON (approx. 70 EUR), money which were reimbursed through a fundraising activity. Through the support of entrepreneurs, free tickets to the movies and to an amusement park as remuneration for the children’s hard work and improvement in their school situation.
Explaining the children the role of the grade system in their development/learning. Low awareness about the principles and value of volunteering in society.
Prospects for the future
We are exploring the idea of extending the project to one city outside Bucharest. As members of UNICEF’s platform for NGOs working in education we are getting in touch with interested actors in the project and adapt to the different social context in their city. We are also exploring the idea of writing a guide/toolkit of the project. For the next academic year, we want to consolidate our volunteers’ training programme and to create a stronger community for the people involved in the project.