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Ombudsperson: Significant percentage of students unable to access online education

Inquam Photos / Octav Ganea
renate weber

Ombudsperson Renate Weber declared on Thursday that an analysis carried out by representatives of this institution and of the Children's Ombudsman has found that a significant percentage of Romanian students are unable to access online education.

"Together with the colleagues from the Children's Ombudsman we took a fairly in-depth look at how online classes have been conducted during the state of emergency and the state of alert so far. From some places in the country we received very comprehensive information, all showing that a significant percentage of children didn't have access to online education, either because they do not have the necessary devices - a tablet or a computer - or because they do not have internet connectivity. (...) So, overall, from what we have seen, there is a significant percentage of children who do not have physical access to online education," Renate Weber told a news conference.

She specified that about 15 counties did not answer the query, so that the Ombudsman sent Education Minister Monica Anisie a letter on Wednesday asking for relevant data.

"As long as you impose such requirements for holding classes, it is normal for you, the state, to provide the masks, the sanitizer and the soap, because we assume the water exists. (...) Last year we did an extensive survey on all the schools with makeshift backyard toilets. What do you do in those situations? How do you ensure the necessary sanitation there?," Weber inquired.

In her view, the hybrid education that combines face-to-face seat time with online learning activities is a "huge challenge" for the teachers.

"I have seen in recent days a sort of tendency to scare parents that they will be held criminally liable if they don't send their children to school. I think we are all already traumatized enough in this pandemic to not come up with other scares. (...) There was also an intention to have parents sign bona fide statements, and there too the parents were shown the frightening perspective of being held criminally accountable. Criminal liability assumes that a criminal act is effectively and deliberately committed, ie a parent does not send his/her child to school in order to harm the child. (...) We live in a situation of force majeure, that's why we have ever extending states of alert; obviously no parent does that, but some parents may say 'I opt for online classes for my child or children'," she explained.

Weber also referred to her repeatedly asking the Education Minister to inform whether the authorities had considered the possibility for the parents and family members to decide what kind of school attendance the student should have.

"Mrs. Minister did not answer my request, but I saw her televised statement that this will be possible, but that the parents will be required to bring a medical certificate showing that contracting the virus would worsen the condition of the children with health issues or the health of the guardians. I hope it's not just the parents, because many children in Romania live in the care of their grandparents. I hope this circle is a little wider," the Ombudsperson said.

Renate Weber also mentioned that she also inquired at the Education Ministry about the way the students will be assessed at the national tests, because as some will take in-person and others online classes, "claiming that everyone gets the same education is slightly superficial, because one asks the questions differently when you interact directly with the teacher and otherwise online," she argued, adding that she hasn't received an answer yet.

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