The program supports community foundations in thirteen Romanian cities to create and manage a local fund for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. Its purpose is to encourage innovative ideas that can make sciences more attractive for secondary education students and that can be applied with support from the community.

CONTEXT

There is an increasingly animated debate in Romania about the performance and organizational culture in our schools. Parents, NGOs, companies and other stakeholders are more and more involved and willing to contribute to change. What is missing, though, is a wider framework where everyone concerned could organize their offering and efforts.

On the one hand, schools do not have the necessary mechanisms to use the resources available around them, while small NGOs or initiative groups have limited access to resources. Thus, Community Foundations have an opportunity to focus and organize local resources around education, even more so as, over the past years, they evolved into assuming an important role in the communities they serve and created a national movement animated by a common vision.

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STRATEGY

In 2014, RAF ran a successful pilot project together with the community foundations in four cities (Bucharest, Cluj, Iași and Sibiu), to test the hypothesis that the Community Foundations could be the most suitable “intermediary” to develop a local grant program for small STEM education projects. Starting with January 2016, the program expanded nationally and is now open for all Community Foundations.

Each “Științescu Fund” is designed by each Community Foundation together and in agreement with local partners while grants are awarded to educators, NGOs and students for innovative local initiatives in science education. Each Community Foundation can organize three editions of Științescu Fund.

Community foundations mobilize financial resources from individual donors, companies, NGOs, authorities or other institutions/organizations, mainly locally, while RAF matches these funds 1:1, up to 15,000 USD.

The program has the following strategic objectives:

1
To provide teachers and science aficionados (from formal and informal education backgrounds) with the resources to create projects that make sciences more attractive and interesting for students.
2
To encourage individual philanthropy and coagulate a local community of supporters and active people to focus on a topic of such great importance as education.

Testimonials

In Bucharest, Științescu provided direct funding to middle school teachers, to help them develop projects supporting the student’s enthusiasm for exact sciences. Our plan for the pilot program was to show everybody that you do not need huge sums of money or great effort to put such projects into practice.

The children were no longer passively waiting for things to happen to them, but could come up with ideas and be involved. We were pleasantly surprised by the teachers, though. They saw the project as an opportunity for personal development. For several months, they had to get out of their comfort zone, take on new responsibilities and, very important, cede control of the classroom to their students. The fact that at least three project continue after the funding is over stands proof that the seeds we planted reached a fertile soil.

Alina Kasprovschi
Executive Director, Fundația Comunitară București

The Științescu micro-community feeds the interest and enthusiasm of those who are passionate about STEM and gives them the opportunity to share this passion with those around them. It challenges them to look at sciences in a more creative and integrated way; it brings them together and challenges them to compete for project ideas.

Ciprian Păiuș
Executive Director, Fundația Comunitară Iași

Our main goal was to start a debate in the community about education. Basically, to bring education back in the community, to bring together educators, companies, institutions, students, parents or just people who are passionate about sciences and education. So we launched this challenge: are you a science, engineering, technology or mathematics enthusiast? If yes, share this enthusiasm! Fortunately, we found extraordinary people who responded to this challenge and proved once more that passion is crucial in everything we do.

Ciprian Ciocan
Executive Director, Fundația Comunitară Sibiu

I followed the students’ reactions: they wondered if they could have experiments at all classes. They thought it was a lot of fun! We started with 10 student teams and ended up with 32. They conducted many experiments themselves. I did not coordinate them. I did not explain much, they managed all by themselves. The children have become more confident, played and discovered many phenomena. Through this type of project, they become more inquisitive and ask themselves more questions.

Ancuța Bontaș
teacher of biology, projects called Science Fair and Calypso

I wondered if children would come to extracurricular activities because that meant they would stay in school from 9-10 am to 6 pm. Indeed, they came, and stayed for the activities and for the classes. Children will not learn if you only tell them how things are. They need to touch everything and this is how they remember. It’s a lot easier to learn by doing and by playing than by memorizing texts; in the end, children see everything as play. This is a sort of parallel education.

Ioana Ghimbaș
teacher of physics, Let’s Explore the World Around Us project
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