Public money

Eight million lei provided by the Ecological Fund in Moldova for “textbooks” that are not used

Author: Natalia Porubin, Victoria Dodon
28/10/2015 17879

Half a million books for the optional course "Ecological Education" were published in 2015, while only 22,000 students have chosen to study this subject. Thus, a student accounts for 30 books. Authorities hope that the number of students who want to study ecology will increase, but headmasters say that there is a risk that these books are stored for years in libraries and nobody will ever look through them, especially that the authors have developed them based on the old curriculum.

The set of teaching materials (support for pupils and teachers’ guide) for the optional course "Ecological Education" was published within a project implemented by the Regional Environmental Center (REC Moldova). Actually, the set includes three collections of texts and exercises - one for I-IV, V-IX and X-XII grades, all of them translated into Russian. The set also includes teacher’s guide (in Romanian and Russian).

The materials were released in late April at the Moldova Science Academy. The Academy, through its publishing house "Stiinta" won the contract worth more than 4.6 million lei for editing the books for V to IX grades in Romanian and Russian, but also teacher's guide (gymnasium). Books for primary schools were published at "Arc" Publishing House and the books for the lyceum - at "Cartdidact".

The history of the project

The story of the manuals of ecological education began in 2011, when the Ministry of Environment was managed by Gheorghe Salaru, who was also Chairman of the Administration Board of the National Ecological Fund (FEN). Victor Cotruta, Director of REC-Moldova wrote in the draft proposal addressed to Minister Salaru that after the project implementation, all schools in the country will benefit from a set of teaching materials "that will help to create a unique system of educational ecology in line with national and international environment standards". The decision to award the grant in the amount of 8,327,470 lei was taken based on the request of the expenditures and a letter of guarantee.

Rejected by some people, accepted by others

As like other projects financed by FEN, in the first phase, the project was examined by the employees of the Fund and the Ministry of Environment. At first, the idea was rejected by the responsible of expertise, Nicu Vrednic. He explained that the project can be financed just partially by FEN. Then, the project was endorsed by another official from the Ministry of Environment, Galina Norocea.

The projects financed by the National Ecological Fund are examined based on an application where various aspects are assessed on a scale from 1 to 10. Experts, who are employees of the Ministry, assess to what extent the description of the project meets the priorities of FEN, if the activities of the project are presented in detail or not and whether the sum of money earmarked meets the activities planned within the project.  

Without the endorsement of the Ministry of Education

Initially, the project stipulated the publication of textbooks, a fact proven by the tender announced on May 6, 2014 (Public Procurement Bulletin no. 35, May 6, 2014, no. 778/14). But in the end, there were published some works  which are not textbooks, but teaching aids, approved only by the Ministry of Environment, not by the Ministry of Education.

Sources from the Ministry of Education told the Center for Investigative Journalism that the textbooks were designed based on an old curriculum, from 2009. New curriculum on ecological education was already approved, after materials produced by REC Moldova were published on September 8, 2015.

For this reason, the books do not have the status of textbooks. The Education Code requires that general educational institutions can use textbooks issued based on the National Curriculum, selected on contest- basis and recommended by the Ministry of Education.

Although the textbooks do not have the logo of the Ministry of Education on the cover, the set of teaching support was recommended for use in schools by the current Minister of Education, Corina Fusu. She signed an order on introducing the study of ecological education in schools as of September 1.

Few pupils study „Ecological education”

Despite the minister's order, the record-stock of school books can become ballast for schools. That's because students have more subjects to choose – over 60; in some institutions only pupils in the lyceum study the ecological education and in other schools, this is not taught at all.

Even if all 390.000 pupils in the country choose to study ecological education as an optional subject (from current over 60 subjects), there is an extra of these textbooks.

943 pupils study in the Theoretical Lyceum „Olimp” in Sangerei, the biggest institution in this district. Out of this number, only 70, all of them from the lyceum study ecological education, said the director Ludmila Siscanu. So, in current educational year, the lyceum does not need any books issued using the money of the Ecological Fund. „Sets of teacher’s support have not reached the school yet, but as we do not have pupils in primary school and in gymnasium to study ecological education, the textbooks for these grades will be stored in the library. Perhaps, in future there will be enough children to study this subject”, said Ludmila Siscanu.  

Also, the Theoretical Lyceum „Universum” from Sarata Galbena, district Hancesti does not need these textbooks. This year, neither of 576 pupils from this lyceum chose the optional subject ecological education. „Last year, we used to have a young specialist, teacher of geography, who was teaching this subject as well. After he left, pupils did not want to study the ecological education. Perhaps, after we get the textbooks, there will be more requests on behalf of pupils”, said the headmistress of the lyceum Anastasia Pascari.

The same situation is registered all over the country. As there is a very high number of optional subjects, there are little chances that the textbooks estimated at 8 million lei, reach the schools.

20-30 books per pupil

A simple calculation shows that the project is far from being an effective one. For 5278 pupils from primary schools who study ecological education, there were published 176,000 books in all, 33 books per pupil.

In gymnasium groups, 9.690 pupils study the ecological education in current year, but there were published in all 255.000 textbooks– if we divide, we have 26 textbooks per pupil.

The number of textbooks for pupils in the lyceum is exaggerated. Thus, 73.00 textbooks were published for pupils who study ecology in X-XII grades.

They considered the number of pupils 5 years ago

The authors of the project said that they issued too many textbooks because they considered the number of students in the last four to five years. "The idea of this project was first announced by REC Moldova in 2004-2005.  The decision to allocate a grant was taken in 2011 and we consulted the Ministry of Education on the total number of students", said the director of REC Moldova, Victor Cotruta in an official reply addressed to the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

According to Cotruta, the organization he leads has relied on the fact that ecological education will be included in the curriculum as a compulsory subject, not just optional. "Even if it is optional, we hope that in all schools in Moldova, the lesson of ecological education is a reality", said the director of REC Moldova. The authors say that they will distribute educational materials to NGOs and village libraries.

Minister of Environment: „We will propose books for preschoolers” 

In turn, Minister of Environment Valeriu Munteanu, who is also Chairman of the Administration Board of the Ecological Fund, said that he had seen the textbooks and ordered the project to continue. "I had a discussion with the Minister of Education to give these books to preschoolers. At least, this project, unlike most others, has finality", said Munteanu.

Though, they have previously announced that the textbooks will reach the schools at the beginning of the school year, they were not distributed yet.

Currently, the textbooks "ecological education" for pupils and teacher's guide are stored at Mold-Didactica, an enterprise under the subordination of the Ministry of Education, in charge with supplying educational institutions with didactic means, textbooks, methodological and teaching literature, equipment etc.

Officials from the Ministry of Education claim that teaching sets of ecological education will not be included in the scheme of textbooks’ rent, which means that they will be distributed for free.

Expert: „Ecological education must be a compulsory subject ”

Vladimir Garaba, chairman of the Chisinau Territorial Organization of the Environmental Movement says that "ecological education" must be compulsory in schools as an optional subject is insufficient to educate proactive citizens. According to Garaba, this subject would be taught by professors of biology or geography.

"Discussions are held since 2000 and even earlier. In the 90s we achieved a small victory, ecology began to be taught in higher educational institutions and in schools, after which priorities have changed, new subjects were introduced and ecology was less considered. In schools in Europe, ecological education begins in kindergarten. As long as at country-level environmental protection is a "Cinderella" who is not considered, it will be kept in the background at level of Education", said the environmentalist.

In his opinion, textbooks of ecological education are welcome especially for teachers who have a teaching support. "I do not think that the number of textbooks may be exaggerated. They should have a different content. I think the information is too general and relates less to the specific of Moldova", said the ecologist.

This investigation was conducted under the Campaign “Journalists for Transparency in the Public Funds Management”, held by the Center for Investigative Journalism, with the support of the US Embassy in the Republic of Moldova.

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