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Preconceptions of Rural Education

Author: Andreea Ciortan

Hi! My name is Andreea, and today I will tell you a bit about my story. To be precise, about the way I changed my own misconceptions, and, by changing my own, I succeeded in changing those of the people around me through my example. I was in middle school when, just like any other child who has grown up in a rural area... I forgot to mention it. I was born and raised in Mătăsari village, Gorj county, in a very nice mining region.

I would study seriously for the 8th grade exam because, like any child who wants to accomplish something or have future, I wanted to be sure I'd have a place in a reputable high school in Târgu Jiu through the grade I would get at that exam. This was typical. However, the day we had to write down our options for the high schools we wanted to go to, my parents decided that it would be best for me, to remain at Mătăsari high school after all. Of course, I was very upset back then. I was a bit disappointed because I felt that all the work I'd put in was in vain. I mean, why did I struggle so much if I was going to stay in Mătăsari?

In the 9th grade, I wasn't able to fit in the group because I felt that all my classmates were unprepared or that they didn't have a future, since they chose to stay in a high school in a rural area on their own, right? However, the turning point for me was an episode where I participated at a meeting with a few teachers from my school. And at that meeting, I heard it many times: What can you do with these kids? Can't you see they don't want to study? They don't want to get involved! Somehow, even though these ideas were in my head until then, too, the moment I heard my teachers say it, it hurt and it started to raise a few question marks. What scared me even more was the carelessness with which they accepted this excuse in order to avoid dealing with the situation. After that meeting, I wanted to look into it, to find out: Is it really like this? Is there no way we can manage with these kids? I was concerned in a way, too, of course. So, I started to get closer to my classmates, and see what perspectives they had, what they wanted to do with their lives, and what their plans were. A staggering percentage didn't consider college to be an option, not because they didn't want to go, but because they didn't think they were capable of passing the graduation exam. Could I blame them? Me? Yes. I was blaming them then, but I later understood that, if the environment you live in every day doesn't encourage you and doesn't praise your results, there's no way you can excel. Of course, later on, I discovered that, in psychology, there's an effect called the Pygmalion effect.

To be precise, this effect demonstrates the existence of a connection between the expectations of the teachers and the performance of the students. It's a double-edged sword because, indeed, the initial effects were: Okay, the teachers have high hopes from the students, and the results are as expected. The flip side was that, if the teachers don't expect anything from their students, the performance of the students will decrease, too. This idea was so well-established in the collective unconscious that it was passed on over many years by teachers, as well as students and parents. I was one of the students who, until 9th grade, would think the same way.

During high school, I discovered volunteering, and, along with volunteering, I discovered the Council of Pupils. I was so enthusiastic about everything I did in the Council, and everything I'd learned at the national conferences where kids from all over the country participated that I couldn't wait to get home, and implement them. Of course, I ended up the president of the Council of Pupils in Gorj County, and people didn't forget that I came from the countryside this time either. And I even took part in many conversations where teachers from famous high schools had conversations such as: Couldn't you vote for a better kid? Out of all of them, you got this girl, from the country? Finally, the truth was completely different. Finally, they found out that even a kid from the countryside could organize many events and projects. Every time I tried to get as many kids from the rural areas involved in the projects we organized at county level, in order to try and show them that we aren't in any way inferior if we come from the countryside, and the kids from reputable high schools aren't in any way superior to us. As long as we have the wish to succeed and we follow our dream diligently, we have equal chances.

A project very dear to me took place in 12th grade, at the end of the year 2015. At the end of 12th grade, sorry. At the Mătăsari Technical High School, until then, there had never been a graduation ceremony. What was pretty obvious for many high schools, a graduation ceremony, seemed to be something very far-fetched to us. So, I organized a meeting with multiple head teachers of 12th grade classes in order to see what steps we should to take in this direction. Of course, no one supported me because: There isn't any money., The students don't want to participate in an event like this anyway.

What ceremony? And that was one of my selfish moments, where I took initiative and said: I want all my classmates to be part of this ceremony! I want to wear the graduation hat and the robe in order to celebrate the fruits of the efforts I've made in these 4 years of high school and, of course, to celebrate the efforts of my classmates, too. Because, believe me, I had classmates who woke up at 4 or 5 in the morning to come to school and I also had classmates who were struggling to commute, due to financial reasons.

Fortunately, my classmates were open to the idea. We managed to organize a graduation ceremony by the book and, from 2015 to this day, all the generations that graduated from Mătăsari Technical High School have enjoyed a graduation ceremony.

What I learned from this story was that, the moment you take a step back and try to assess a situation from an objective point of view, you try to understand the misconceptions you've grown up with and you gain momentum, you take a step forward, and you try to change your misconceptions through your actions or the initiatives you take, you succeed in changing other people's point of view, too. I think that we shouldn't let ourselves be defined by the environment we live in, but that we should define our environment through our own values. Thank you!

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