Our two Bucharest kindergartens, schools are at a very historic turning point as we are undergoing the process of authorization by the Ministry of Education. Up until this point, the schools functioned only as daycare centers. Technically, daycare centers do not have permission to do any didactic activities with children. As the traditional Romanian state school system was extremely rigid, unpsychological, and based principally on memorization and rote learning in the 1990s when Communism fell, it would have greatly limited our ability to express NHE if the school had to fulfill the Ministry of Education’s requirements at that time. However, in recent years, as educators in Romania have been exposed to progressive European standards and curriculums – the school system has gradually changed. In fact, in this year, the state schools have just received new curriculums that emphasize holistic education and give much scope for creative teaching and planning, which is quite in harmony with NHE.
Due to the fact that we were not authorized as an official kindergarten, our ability to promote NHE to the wider educational community was very limited. Though we had an excellent local reputation in the neighborhoods where we have been functioning for the past 16 years, we were not able to effectively expand recognition for the values of NHE or the inclusive education of children with special needs that the school seeks to model. Our kindergarten has remained only one of three kindergartens in Bucharest that consciously seek to integrate special needs children within a mainstream curriculum.
The process of authorization is very rigorous and thorough, and it took us a year to gather all of the necessary paperwork, including operational plans, strategies, procedures, manuals, and more, resulting in a very thick file. Though tedious, this process has definitely helped us to become much clearer, systematic and well documented and it represents a great leap in quality. It is already helping us to communicate more professionally about our school’s philosophy, methods and results to other educators. It was exciting to start to dialog regularly with the Ministry of Education. In one meeting, I brought along the staff manual I had written, explaining how to apply NHE to different curriculum areas. The Ministry expert counseling us became quite visibly interested in the manual and told us that we should have other schools come and make a roundtable discussion based on the manual and their observations of our school. Our dream is to see NHE expand, beyond the confines of our small school – and touch minds and light inspirations that could help transform mainstream education in all of Romania. When the Ministry sent an evaluation team of three inspectors, the process lasted 12 hours – from 9.30 in the morning until 9.30 in the evening. They did an exhaustive verification of all of our files, procedures, systems etc. In the end they gave us a list of items to rectify – assuring us that though there were hundreds of points on their charts, their list contained only 11 points – so we had done quite well. When one of the inspectors was leafing through a photo album I had prepared – her face lit up and she began showing the other inspectors “Look at this – they will have no problem in applying the new curriculum – they are already doing it here!”
However, we have also been encountering many serious obstacles, and still the process is not quite complete. The Health Inspectors became much more stringent – and we had to make many major investments in our kitchens and bathrooms to meet the new standards. Unfortunately, just when we were about to receive authorization – a new law was passed that requires a full-fledged medical cabinet (ie tiling, a sink, an incineration contract and doctor on staff!!!) in any center that supervises young children, regardless of size. Though we plan to petition the authorities to reconsider this rather impractical law, in the meantime, we cannot afford to delay as it could jeopardize the time, money and hope invested in the MEC authorization, so we are doing our best to satisfy these requirements, as absurd as they may be. We are hoping for donations to cover up the many unbudgeted expenses that have overwhelmed our resources, but a Cosmic force has been guiding the whole process so far, so we are confident that we cannot have come this far without a positive outcome soon in sight..