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Book Review

V. Frunzaru, O. Ștefăniță – Dialog social, probleme și soluții în educație. Învățământul online în pandemie [Social dialogue, problems, and solutions in education. Online education in the pandemic], București, Triton Books, 2021.


The work Social dialogue, problems, and solutions in education. Online education in the pandemic, led by Professor Valeriu Frunzaru and Oana Ștefăniță is an important part of the project no. 2019/101974 “Development of tripartite and bipartite dialogue and consultation structures in the education sector”, project implemented by the Federation of Free Trade Unions in Education, in partnership with Skolenes Landsforbund Norway. The results of the study are disseminated in two volumes. This book is the first volume and focuses on teachers’ perception on education in 2020, while the second volume will provide a comparative analysis between 2014 and 2020.

The volume, published in 2021, is coordinated by Valeriu Frunzaru and Oana Ștefăniță, professors at National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, and presents the results of a qualitative research based on semi-structured interviews in which teachers from Romanian pre-university education participated, who expressed opinions on the problems faced by staff and school units, the effectiveness of social dialogue (especially the work of trade unions and joint commissions), the differentiated pay based on performance and issues related to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data collection process was carried out in two stages. The first stage involved conducting 58 interviews in April 2020, a period that overlapped with the state of emergency issued by the Romanian President which involved, among others, the closure of schools. During this period, many problems arose among teachers related to the choice of digital platforms to conduct the online education, the possibility to comply with the curriculum, as well as the most suitable assessment tools to be used when evaluating the students. In the last stage of the research, 11 interviews were conducted between September 28 and October 8, 2020. Since the chosen period aligns with the start of the school year following the three scenarios mentioned in the Order 5487/1494/2020 issued by The Ministry of Education and The Ministry of Health, the results are very relevant to highlight the problems the teaching staff faced during that period.

Structured in five chapters, the book presents the various opinions of teachers on the problems the schools and the teaching staff faced, and the role that social dialogue could and should play in solving these problems. The feedback collected through this study is very pertinent, as the participants are teachers from all educational forms (kindergartens, middle schools, and high schools), with or without management positions at the educational unit or union level, who carry out didactic activity in classical and special education, both in rural and urban areas, from all development regions of Romania.

The first chapter presents the theoretical and methodological framework of the study and provides an introduction to the objectives to be achieved during the research. The social dialogue, finding solutions to increase the degree of teachers’ involvement in union activities and their position towards differentiated payment and the evaluation criteria or the role of the joint committee are just a few aspects that the present study aims to analyse. The perspective on the online education particularities in several stages of the pandemic and in several scenarios of the educational act, outlines some major issues in Romanian educational system, including the financial and logistic needs at schools’ level, the outdated curriculum, the excessive bureaucracy, the politicization of management positions, the relationships with students and parents, as well as the lack of qualified teaching staff.

The second chapter classifies the difficulties teachers have to face in carrying out school activities, and also the most significant problems identified at the school/educational unit level. The range of issues identified is wide, most of them deriving from the lack of funding in the education system. A low allocated budget leads to a lack of endowments, the need of financial support from parents, and implicitly to the increase in the number of enrolled students: the number of students is directly proportional with the job stability and the teachers’ salaries. However, these aspects push the collectives above the acceptable number of students in a classroom and can potentially overload the teachers, particularly when children with special educational requirements are involved.

“(…) the financing of Romanian education in general leads to certain discrepancies in the educational process, generating pronounced disparities in providing equal access to education, such as the endowment with technological equipment, the book fund, the Internet access especially in rural areas (…)” (Frunzaru, V., Ștefăniță, O., 2021, pp. 148 – 149). The above-mentioned problems are corroborated with the incoherence and the lack of continuity reported at the educational policies level, caused by the frequent change of parliamentary majorities and the politicization of education, with a direct impact on the relationship between schools and the mayor’s office and/or inspectorates, which can lead to the schools’ budget approval or on the contrary, to the development of certain forms of abuse. Furthermore, the authors frame a graphical representation of identified problems, each branch representing categories of answers and suggestions received from the teaching staff, and the related recommendations. (Frunzaru, V., Ștefăniță, O., 2021, pp. 150-156).

The third chapter includes the answers of the interviewees to a series of questions regarding the role and viability of social dialogue in Romanian pre-university education and their perception over this method of communication, often manifested through information sharing, negotiation, and consultation. The chapter examines how social dialogue, as the predominant form of communication, has contributed to resolving the issues faced by teaching staff, auxiliary teaching staff, and non-teaching staff. Key objectives within this chapter include identifying methods for developing social dialogue, assessing the level of union members’ involvement, and evaluating communication within the union structure.

The fourth chapter focuses on performance-based pay, presenting arguments both in favour and against this approach, as well as the criteria that should be considered in its implementation. The authors start from the premise that “performance evaluation is crucial in human resource management and its main purpose is to improve employees’ performance. Performance evaluation is not aimed at penalizing those who do not meet expectations (although it may have that effect), but rather understanding the reality in order to find appropriate solutions to enhance the quality of employees’ work.” (Frunzaru, V., Ștefăniță, O., 2021, p. 200).

This goal is based on several theoretical aspects, which according to Van Dijk and Schodl (2015, p.716), rely on three possible mechanisms: “Evaluation results will form the basis of management decisions regarding employee sanctions or rewards, promotions or even dismissal; Furthermore, based on the evaluation, feedback is provided to employees, who can change their behavior to meet the employer’s expectations; And finally, the employee becomes aware that he is being evaluated, which increases his interest in performing according to the expectations.” Based on the consolidated responses, the interviewees emphasize the need to gain a better understanding of the reality to implement policies aimed at enhancing teachers’ performance. To avoid subjective evaluations, indicators need to be established centrally, ensuring clarity, transparency, and consistency throughout the evaluation period. It is also important to consider the diversity of situations in which curricular activities take place, such as the school’s residency environment, student performance trends, class size, and the presence of students with special educational needs, among others.

The final chapter addresses the challenges faced by the pre-university education system during the COVID-19 pandemic. The period of the health crisis was marked by uncertainty in education, which had its first source related to the obligation to teach online. This transition posed stress for teachers, especially those with limited experience in online education, and presented additional difficulties for older teachers who were less familiar with modern tools and technology. Students also faced the challenge of adapting to online learning, as it was a new mode of interaction with their teachers. According to the students, “online education cannot fully replace face-to-face education” (Frunzaru, V., Ștefăniță, O., 2021, p. 236). The sense of artificiality in online education, the additional effort required to find effective communication channels, the lack of necessary technology, and the strong disparities not only between urban and rural schools but also between well-equipped and less-equipped urban schools based on parental contributions, are among the limitations associated with online education.

This research represents a valuable and highly useful working document that the Federation of Free Trade Unions in Education can utilize in dialogues with various partners. It also serves as a resource that the Ministry of Education, as the institution responsible for regulating educational policies, should consider in addressing the deficiencies highlighted by this sociological study (Frunzaru, V., Ștefăniță, O., 2021, p. 10). This book serves as a valuable resource for stakeholders in the education sector, including policymakers, education professionals, unions, and researchers. By addressing the identified problems and proposing relevant solutions, it contributes to the ongoing dialogue on improving the Romanian pre-university education system.


About the Author

Cristina Palcu (Alexa)

ORCID ID: 0009-0007-8327-7492

Faculty of Political Science of the University of Bucharest, Romania







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