A better start in life. That was the result for 40 Romanian nursery children after three years in a Danish-inspired nursery in Bucharest, according to their parents, staff and local authorities.
Rodacie, as the nursery is called, is a pilot project developed by VIA Faculty of Education & Social Studies in cooperation with Sector 1 in Bucharest. The project is financed by the Danish VILLUM Foundation. The aim was to help design the inside and outside of a nursery for socially disadvantaged children aged 0-4 as well as to train management and staff in Danish pedagogy.
The project was completed on June 5, 2015.
Parents’ stories heard
On this day, parents, staff, social services leaders, the mayor and representatives from VIA and their partner university, University of Bucharest, met to celebrate the success – with massive Romanian TV presence.
Participants from VIA included Dean of VIA Education & Social Studies, Erik Hygum, who was thrilled to talk to the Romanian parents.
"It was great to hear their stories. The father of a premature boy told me that the child always had difficulties with basic things, like being in contact with others. But shortly after starting in Rodacie, the boy was doing well socially. I think this is an expression of Danish pedagogy’s focus on the individual child," says Erik Hygum.
From a medical to a social focus
Traditionally, most Romanian children are cared for at home. The nurseries that do exist are focused on children's physical health, proper nutrition and the absence of injury. Staff is typically educated in health and nutrition.
Increasingly, however, parents are aware of their children's social and personal development. And here is where they believe the Danish approach to children is superior. And the waiting list for getting a child into the Danish-inspired nursery is growing - also among middle class parents.
Nervous to let children sleep outside
At the reception in June parents told Romanian TV that they were initially shocked to learn that their children would sleep outside. They also were not thrilled with the outdoor playground, which offers plenty of opportunities to climb – and fall.
"I was nervous. But my daughter thinks it's fun to be here. And today, I am really happy for it," said a father, adding:
"I know that Danish children are among the happiest in the world."
Another parent was equally enthusiastic.
"In Romanian nurseries children have to learn good manners. In Rodacie they learn to explore and play with other children. And that is more important," he said.
Education and training
Faculty from VIA in regularly taught staff and management.
The pedagogical teachings included outdoor education, art and movement.
VIAs teachers are enthusiastic
Birgit Hangaard Tanderup, lecturer of social education at VIA in Holstebro, was in Bucharest three times to teach staff how to use of art in working with children. She called it an experience of a lifetime.
"The engaged Romanian staff that really wanted to learn left a huge impression on me. It is something I will never forget. I have no hesitation of getting involved in similar projects in the future," says Birgit Hangaard Tanderup.
Danish pedagogy must be adapted
VIA's training of staff in Bucharest has not been a copy of the Danish bachelor degree programme in pedagogy. In stead, training has been adapted for Romanian culture in cooperation with the University of Bucharest. The two institutions already cooperate on student and staff exchange and developing a double degree in education.
Dean Lucian Ciolan says that Danish pedagogy enjoys a high status in Romania and is recognised for a strong focus on children's wellbeing.
"Research shows that children who thrive are better learners. Therefore the education of our nursery staff plays a vital role if Romanian children are to perform better in school and throughout the educational system," says Lucian Ciolan.
According to the Dean, Romania has not traditionally seen children as individuals needing support to develop. The approach has been medical and focused on children's physical health.
The long term is important
According to Erik Hygum, Danish pedagogy can make a difference in Romania. But he stresses that it is important to adapt Danish methods for Romanian conditions.
"VIA's goal is for a project like Rodacie to be sustainable in the long term: it has to make sense for Romanian staff and management. Otherwise, the new tools and methods will soon be forgotten when a project ends," he says.
Authorities will spread Danish pedagogy
For this reason, it is important to cooperate with authorities in regards to possibly changing local regulations. This was needed in order to equip the playground at Rodacie with toys that presented a risk for getting hurt.
The authorities in Bucharest are interested in extending Danish pedagogy to more nurseries as well as kindergartens and preschools. And other projects are under way for VIA.
Commitment to solving societal challenges
According to Erik Hygum, VIA's work in Romania and other countries provides great value. It strengthens faculty, staff and students' knowledge of child development seen from a universal perspective. And it opens their eyes to how Danish educational values and methods can make a difference around the world.
"In addition, projects like Rodacie develops our teachers' and students' international skills," says Erik Hygum.
As such, helping socially vulnerable children is a good example of how VIA has made a commitment to helping solve societal challenges i- in Denmark and internationally.
For more information, please contact:
Erik Hygum, Dean
VIA Faculty of Education & Social Studies
T: +45 8755 3525
Claus Beyer Iversen, Associate Professor and Senior International Adviser
VIA Faculty of Education & Social Studies
T: +45 8755 3434
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