Transdisciplinarity experiments in Romania

1. The school of reform: transdisciplinary experiments of regional resource center Education 2000+

A generous program of sustaining the reform of Romanian education, coordinated and financed by the Center Education 2000+ in Bucharest1, offered us the opportunity to participate at educational programs offers and auctions, in a first stage, and, in a second stage, to involve ourselves efficaciously as an institution of pre-service and in-service teachers training, in experiments and applications with some of the most important concepts of Romanian educational reform, such as new national curriculum, school development, strengthening school-community connections and, mostly, developing cooperation between key-institutions in education.

The outcome was a number of team-projects, promoted by the representatives from Training Departments of universities, Pedagogical College, School Inspectorate and Teaching Staff Center. This was meant to be a School of Reform for a college which prepares future young innovative school-masters and teachers; a college of cutting-edge didactics, active learning and transdisciplinarity. The studies and projects already developed under the coordination of Regional Resource Center Education 2000+2 are an eloquent proof that transdisciplinary methodology has become our second nature at level of school-masters and teachers all-over the Cluj district.

Thus, we have experienced a new kind of education, which refers to the imperative of consciousness raising and to the growth of participation feeling of somebody who builds his/her own destiny. We continuously encourage the elaboration and affirmation of original opinions, the making of rational choices among many other possible options, the problem-solving and responsible debates of ideas. To this entire one may add the social dimension, a valuable team-working, the ability to appreciate different points of view and the recognition of the way in which an assumed experience could influence us in our attitudes and perceptions.

Inside an information out bursting society, where the dimension of changing remains unprecedented during the history, we have chosen the transdisciplinary perspective for education.

This is not a new classroom subject matter, but a natural manner of interaction between fundamental ideas and information in the field of transdisciplinarity and a certain option for a new kind of education, i.e. an education in a transdisciplinary perspective, as understood by UNESCO studies on the future of education in the first century of the 3rd millennium3 as well as by the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research in Paris4, whose President is Basarab Nicolescu.

2. The Education 2000+ Summer Schools

In the context of the above mentioned objectives and actions the Summer Schools 2000-2002 (taken place at Holiday Inn Hotel, Sinaia, benefiting from an extraordinary material basis and logistics), organized for the first time in June 2000, played an important role. They have put to effect the program area Pre-service and in-service training and they focused on student-centered learning, on improving classroom atmosphere, on using new methods and developing support materials as resources for students and teachers. The themes approached were related to what is new in the teaching of Romanian language and literature, in the teaching of History, Mathematics, Sciences and in the teaching process in a transdisciplinary approach in junior and high secondary schools. Main objective was to train a professional corpus of resource teachers in new methods and techniques of teaching, curricular reform implementation and subject didactics. The overall objective of the workshops was to strengthen the teachers’ competencies and skills. Therefore, the workshops highlighted new teaching-learning methods, focusing on those methods and techniques that enhance the chances to meet international standards in education. The presentations and training sessions tackled topics such as international trends in teaching the subject matters, new methods and techniques, interactive teaching and cooperation learning, evaluation of the students’ skills of effective learning, developing teachers’ capacity to anticipate methods of experience acknowledgement. The program of the Summer Schools included various types of activities: presentations, debates, round table talk, projects focused on new trends in teaching-learning-assessment. Each class of the Summer school spanned over 48 hours, distributed over a week. The universities were made up of trainers from our country and from abroad. Their contribution was instrumental not only for the design of the workshops plans, but also through the opportunity they offered to draw a comparative analysis between the Romanian educational environment and the means and ways of improving its characteristics. The evaluation was to be carried out over the first semester of the school year 2001-2002, experimenting in class the practices acquired during the Summer School. And through the follow up that took place between 31 January - 4 February at the Winter Transdisciplinary School. The trainees received a Certificate of Attendance, issued by the Center Education 2000+ and approved by the Ministry of National Education.

3. The Transdisciplinary Classes

Starting from the requirements of the educational reform and from the priorities of the project Education 2000+, the Trans Summer School aimed at outcomes related to increasing in the level of knowledge and information in the transdisciplinary field, practice of specific skills and abilities, building on the trainees’ professional experience, fostering awareness of transdisciplinary issues, heightening motivation to apply new knowledge and skills, improve communication, interpersonal relations at the group level, orient the group on the coordinates of the team that can tack coherently transdisciplinary issues.

In this context, the themes dealt with were relevant for the transdisciplinary area: class management, theory of multiple intelligences, communication, evaluation, teaching styles, teaching/learning methods, self-awareness, group dynamic, planning, taxonomy of values. Wonderful experiences consider that the training course was an opportunity for self-development, for quick and better learning, for enriching feelings, for professional development, an opportunity to develop personal and professional relations, to meet new people, a challenge of a new perspective/outlook/approach, a starting point for the set up of new projects in schools, a chance for long-term collaborations, an interesting, useful, agreeable experience and also a contribution to accomplishing teachers’ cohesion. As a consequence of the Summer School experience, the trainees decided to make significant changes in their own in-class activity: to introduce new interactive methods and new evaluation methods, to use the information about class management and change the learning environment, to use and build on activities that make students work in teams, to make a wider use of reflection, awareness, self-awareness, self-assessment, to implement new methods to improve interpersonal communication and student-teacher relationships.

The transdisciplinary means responsible, enthusiastic, dynamic, creative teachers. A teacher who believes and wants to reduplicate his/her experience, who wants to keep up the dynamism and innovative spirit, send positive messages, build a real team, able to act as a catalyst for social and educational change. That means also decongesting, achieving flexibility, becoming more humane, customizing, real training and learning needs, contextual approach (link to real-life situations), creative and critical thinking, reflexive and inquiring spirit, problem-solving.

The Summer Courses of Education 2000+ Center have brought clarifications and agreement of all participants on the concept of a transdisciplinary perspective, being an invitation to reflect on what they are heading for:

a) Learning as a destination in a subject centered classroom (giving a series of pre-set and authority approved knowledge, considering a unique intelligence, with a measurable IQ, information centered learning in a decontextualized approach, a rigid, hierarchical, authoritarian structuring of the class interactions, sequencing of teaching materials based on age discrimination, subject taught in isolation at full extent, the teacher passing on information about the outside world often make interior experience inadequate for the school framework, the discouragement of the free expression of opinions, strong preoccupation for standards, education seen as a social necessity for a determined period of time in order to pass on a minimum set of acquired knowledge for a specific role, teacher-delivered knowledge, resulting a one-way street


b) in a learner centered classroom in which every individual is considered to have a mind that works in a specific way, there are many types of intelligence (H. Gardner), the role of education is to develop differently the potential of every student, competencies necessary for the 21st century are developed in the human being, stress is being laid on how to learn, how to ask pointed questions, to be open, to evaluate new concepts, to get access to information, what we know and how we flexible structure, the conviction that there is more than one way to learn something, different opinions are part of the creative process, abstract, theoretical knowledge coupled with experimentation and experiments performed outside the classroom, too, preoccupation for the learning environment, life-long learning encouraged as a prerequisite of contextualized change process, community absorption and control are encouraged, education seen as a life-long process now may change in time, teachers and students are seen as people, they no longer assume roles dissociated from themselves as human beings.

In the 21st century, education finds support beyond people’s memory and individual development finds pre-eminence over traditional education in order to develop fundamental ways of learning in the post-modernist society: learning to know (to acquire vast orientation knowledge to develop understanding instruments, learn how to learn), learning to do (to develop creativity in order to manage different situations), learning to live together (to appreciate interdependence, to come to understand the others, to get to cooperate with them), learning to be (to know thyself, to make decisions on your own, to take responsibilities, to relate with the others respecting all aspects of individual potentiality).

The challenge for the teacher - transdisciplinary attitudes that foster student development (as defined by Nicolescu): rigor, openness, tolerance.

Transdisciplinary rigor is a deeper form of scientific rigor, because it takes into consideration all the facts and data of a specific situation. It concerns not only facts but people as well and the relationship established with one another.

Transdisciplinary openness indicates the appearance of a new type of thinking equally oriented towards questioning and giving answers. Transdisciplinary culture is the one based on permanent doubting, wondering while taking the answers as temporarily accepted.

Transdisciplinary tolerance was defined as the acceptance of all the ideas and truths that might contradict the fundamental principles of transdisciplinarity.

The guest of the Transdisciplinary Schools, Basarab Nicolescu, present, but only through his works5, has launched new topics of discussion such as: Transdisciplinarity as a new vision on the world. Transdisciplinary evolution of education. These topics as well as the study of the Transdisciplinary Chart, adopted at the First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity (Portugal, 1994) have made us reflect on the future of the educator and think about new ways of approaching education for the younger generation of the 21st century.

4. Cluj Regional Resource Center Education 2000+

We intend to present only one of the six school departments that we have implemented in Cluj, at the Regional Resource Center Education 2000+: New Didactics in a Transdisciplinary Perspective.

What was our starting point? At first, there was one opportunity: The programs proposed by the Center Education 2000+ from Bucharest, then a great challenge and a great promise – the Reform of Education, as well as the persistence of an excessively specialized curriculum in Romanian schools.

Who were the participants and what were the admission criteria? Any teacher in the country (pedagogues, teachers, school teachers) had the chance to participate. The admission to this course supposed a selection of projects on personal development in the field of applied didactics. Since the number of places in each class were limited (24), the competition was fierce and the selection of the candidates rigorous, as they had to prove not only well-prepared, but also highly motivated.

The curriculum included the initiation in the theory and practice of active didactics and in the inter/multi and transdisciplinary methods, correlated with the New National Curriculum of Romania and insisting on innovating methods of organizing teaching and study, of stimulating personal creativity, of managing the group, the class and the school, as well as of preventing and solving conflicts. We also insisted on the active collaboration and communication within teaching actors and institutions (students, teachers, parents, local community, informal educational factors, mass media etc.) These schools benefited from the contribution and the experience of education experts from The United States and Europe, as well as from interactive methods of critical thinking, of multiple intelligence and of educational alternatives, frequently evoked and even applied.

The fundamental attribute of these activities resided in their practical-applicative nature, for most of the activities were organized and carried-out as workshops, which supposed exercises of project conception, debates, negotiations, communication – an area where the Romanian teachers in general still have shortcomings (due to their initial formation and their activity during the communist regime) – team work (another deficient area), evaluation and auto-evaluation.

Since at present the Romanian school considers students as partners and co-organizers of their own formation pattern, the teachers attending these courses had to play and assume the role of co-partners (of students) and to evaluate the activities from this perspective as well. The result was dynamic, persuasive activities, with great impact on the projection, the organization and the evaluation of the didactic activities carried-out by the participants within the modular workshops. Each participant had to apply the knowledge acquired at the transdisciplinary workshops of their schools in their daily work, being supervised and requested to present their experiments at the beginning of the new session of the summer or winter schools.

The evaluation questionnaire of these workshops proved that most of the participants not only learned and experienced many new concrete things but, above all, they had the chance to be free and inventive, despite the rigorously determined tasks, as well as the chance of learning to communicate, to know themselves better by knowing the others. They have also discovered the advantage of giving deeper significations to their activities, the pleasure of exercise, of shared work, in groups and in teams, regaining and recovering the enthusiasm of work.

Obviously, the transdisciplinary school doesn’t claim to prepare transdisciplinary experts. This isn’t its aim. The development of transdisciplinary study requires time and hard work. We strongly believe that there are no real standards in developing transdisciplinary study. There are only means, concepts and transdisciplinary vision. That is why we have structured the three–year curriculum in a transdisciplinary perspective, dividing it as follows:

1. First year of study:

- Communication;

- Negotiation and communication;

- Group and class management;

- Prevention and resolution of conflicts in the educational environment;

- Interactive methods;

- Methodology of the projection, organization and evaluation of interactive didactic activities.

2. Second year of study:

- Presentation and auto-evaluation of the tested interactive didactic project;

- Educational partition;

- Introduction in transdisciplinarity:

- Preliminaries;

- Transdisciplinarity: concepts, sense, determinations;

- Transdisciplinarity: institutions and representatives;

- Transdisciplinarity: personalities and fundamental texts;

- Transdisciplinary applications (Hands on, La main à la pâte, La salle de découverte, L’apprentissage par l’action, Les itinéraires de découverte au croisement des disciplines);

- Bibliography;

- Methodology of the projection, organization and evaluation of the educational activities in a transdisciplinary perspective.

3. Third year of study:

- Workshops on the projection, organization and evaluation of educational activities in a transdisciplinary perspective;

- Elaboration of a transdisciplinary project (team work);

- Evaluation and certification.

In Romania, the great advantage of these courses was first of all the fact that it made the participant aware of the need for communication and change. Awareness of the need to change oneself is a transdisciplinary attitude. We propose an example entitled The Impact of Prejudice on Human Communication, one of our multiple researches in a transdisciplinarity field of education which intended to emphasize the influence that prejudices against certain people may have on group communication and decision making. We chose highschool students as our subjects and we divided them into five-member groups. An observer who did not take part in the discussions and decision making was appointed in each group. Each group received the instructions for the test Escape all team members being supposed to agree (unanimously) on the decisions they had to make. The test and the instructions received by each group were as follows:

“Within forty minutes the Earth will be completely destroyed. All the members of your group are safe inside a rocket that can be rescued from the disaster. You are supplied with fuel and food for thirty years. You are traveling in order to find a place to live, but you have no guarantees you’ll find it. There is a little room and no possibility of refuge. Your seats in the rocket are safe and can’t be taken away from you. There are only five remaining places in the rocket which are to be filled with five people chosen out of a list of ten people. You are the only people who will escape world disaster. It is for the best of the entire group’s interest to make an unanimous decision. Here are the ten people: priest - 35, white, war veteran, even-tempered, has the ability to reassure and calm down the others; pregnant woman - 25, seven months pregnant, Pakistani, good cook in Indian dishes, healthy, expecting a normal delivery with no complications, Moslem; pregnant woman’s husband - 26, Pakistani, manages a construction business, qualified in constructions; armed policeman - 38, white, expecting a promotion to police inspector, trained in handling fire guns and electronic transmission, praised for his courage after rescuing two people from a burning car; married, two children; football player - 25, white male, qualified butcher, successful football player, ability to join the members of a team when they seem to be depressed or about to be defeated; hospital attendant - 25, male, qualified in general medicine and psychiatry, homosexual, leaving behind a male partner after a five-year relationship, regular member of the Protestant Church; blond actress - 22, white, used to be a school teacher before becoming a famous TV actress, suffered a nervous breakdown four years ago; geologist – 32, white female, two children from a previous marriage, divorced, working for a mining company, specialised in rock-sample identification, member of a group of sleepwalkers/dreamers; science student - 20, black male, graduated a two-year course in micro-electronics and informatics; parents live in West Indies, regular supporter of the Moslem belief and practice; teenager - 14, white, female, student, interested in science, tendency to depression, that could be explained by her age; her parents arranged that she be weekly counseled by a therapist. All ten people are in good mental and physical condition”.

A questionnaire that passed on afterwards helped us to reach our conclusions. Thus, each participant answered the following questions:

Did you manifest any prejudice against any of the people on the list?

What state of mind did this test generate in your case?

Did you change your opinion and how did they do that?

How do you motivate your choices?

How would you communicate to each person you rejected?

The groups that reached to a decision unanimously chose the five people on the following bases:

The priest, to maintain the faith and the Christian traditions;

The pregnant woman, to ensure the new generation;

The teenager, to represent the young generation;

The geologist, to discover a safe place to live;

The policeman, for the assurance of order and discipline.

The face-to-face debates and the processing of the individual questionnaire led us to the following conclusion: The options would have been different in groups of different social and professional statute. Thus, a group of actors wouldn’t have rejected the actress, they would have chosen her. Some groups were not able to reach unanimous decision, because of the prejudices manifested by certain subjects, although teenagers represented the most unprejudiced social category, compared to adults. The most controversial people were: the blond actress, considered unreliable and shallow, the student, due to racial discrimination, the hospital attendant, because he was homosexual, and the football player, for being uneducated.

All the reasons that were involved represent prejudices against a certain profession, religious belief or sexual orientation.

From humanitarian point of view, every person on the list had the right to be saved on condition that we could liberate ourselves from prejudices. Every person is important and worth, nobody deserves to be judged according to appearances and wrong impressions but according to there deeds, actions and results.

The general tendency in making an option is towards better known, more familiar things, that people have more information on. If we add supplementary data to the list concerning age, concrete actions of the people, their behavior in various situations, options will change. For instance, where we added the fact that the policeman had a violent behavior in front of the rocket pushing women and children to make his way this data determinate his elimination from the chosen group.

The name of the test - Escape - is symbolic, meaning not only salvation from a disaster but, only from the people that the group does not consider fit for the given situation or for the group eliminate and, above all, it is an appeal to free ourselves from prejudices, from preconceived ideas, if we want to accomplish negotiation and communication with all the people involved.

This type of exercises represents an excellent primary preparation for the approach of the educational process in the transdisciplinary perspective, the need to escape routine, to go beyond the rigid disciplinary specialization, to balance the dichotomy between instruction and education, to think, to reason and to build the human as a whole.

The perfect slogan of these schools may be found in the very inspired definition of transdisciplinarity, uttered by Basarab Nicolescu in an interview for the magazine Convorbiri literare (Iasi, Romania): Transdisciplinarity represents the eternal desire of the mankind for re-finding the primary unity of knowledge.

Can the contemporary education system rediscover this desire? This is one of the troublesome questions that the transdisciplinary ways of thinking and acting in Romania intend to answer.

University of Cluj, Cluj, Romania


1 The Center Education 2000+ is a non-governmental organization, founded by the Open Society Foundation. The main objective of the programs initiated by the Center Education 2000+ was to develop models of implementing reform in Education at local level, models that can be then multiplied at national level, thus making easier the visible impact at the level of the whole educational system in Romania. This was the specific objective carried out with the support of the Ministry of National Education within the framework of a cooperation protocol between Education 2000+ Center and the Ministry. The process of implementation started in 1999, at first in 8 centres selected by open contest out of a number of projects drafted by Local School Inspectorates, Teaching Staff Centres (CCDs), Training Departments in local Universities and Pedagogical Colleges. These institutions became partners in the framework of the Program Education 2000+. The program is being implemented in the districts of Cluj, Galati, Iasi, Timis, Constanta and Hunedoara as well as in Bucharest.

2 Bertea, Active Learning, 14-107.

3 Delors, Learning; the Treasure Within.

4 http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret

5 Nicolescu, Nous, la particule et le monde ; La transdisciplinarité, Manifeste ; L’homme et le sens de l’Univers - Essai sur Jakob Boehme.


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Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études Transdisciplinaires n° 18 - Mars 2005

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