Almost all countries with which Romania compares itself aspirationally (UK, France, Germany, USA, etc.) have standardized assessment systems, which are sometimes used for high impact (e.g. Baccalaureate) or low impact (e.g. current classroom assessment) decisions. International comparative tests in education, e.g. PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS, ICCS, ICILS, etc., use standardized tests. The major university admission tests are standardized tests. So we can conclude that standardized testing is widely used by all those systems that want to ensure fairness in assessment and control the assessment errors typical of what we call “classical assessment”.
However, in Romania we often hear phrases that label children: “He’s an A student” or “He’s an F student”. This begs the question: what should really matter, grades or knowledge? In Romanian education culture, grades are the pinnacle of a pupil’s progress in school and proof of a teacher’s success. But can we really talk about “progress” and “success” in an educational system where the standard of evaluation is rather subjective, not uniformly applied and differs from school to school, from urban to rural? The answer is that the assessment of pupils must be done objectively, through uniform grading standards, the only way we can have actionable data at both the individual (child) and macro level (classrooms, schools, counties, etc.).
Moreover, the recent pandemic has also shown us the need for digital tools in absolutely all areas. The field of education has been one in which online methods have been used, in a long line of firsts for pupils and parents as well as for educators, to replace physical classes. For a variety of reasons, not all of these have been successful, and repeated changes and approaches have generated a rather adversarial attitude from the general public based also on a major lack of functional digital skills.
Thus, the standardized testing by digital tool that Brio® is performing came on a “no men’s land” of the Romanian collective mind. In general, for Romanians, new things about which little is known generate rumors, dividing society in two: those for and those against.
In short, this is how the Brio® journey began, opening up a new market and building a new product category: standardized and digital educational tests.
Even though Brio® was a virtually unknown platform in the Spring of 2020, with only 12,000 users, it had all the ingredients to succeed: a smart & modern product, the way to get the right people to invest in it and develop it, founders that are expert in education field, who think outside the box, forward-thinking early adopting teachers and a school population with devices at their fingertips.
According to a Eurostat report on the digital skills of young people in Europe (16-24 years old), those in Romania rank last in the EU.
56% of them have basic digital skills, compared to the EU average of 80%. Romania ranks last in the general population, only 10% of Romanians have superior digital skills (vs. 33% EU average), while 43% have low skills (vs. 28% EU average).
Despite the low level of digital skills, in compulsory education Romania has the highest number of hours allocated to digital competence as a separate compulsory subject in upper secondary education. At the same time, Romania has the best results in the Connectivity dimension, due to the high use of very high-speed broadband and the wide availability of very high-capacity fixed networks, especially in urban areas. The lack of digital literacy in Romania could, thus, be said that is not determined by the lack of access to information or tools, but by the low interest and poor training among all actors involved in the educational process.
Moreover, the PISA results, which show the results of the education system and “what the child learns”, do not look good for Romania: 44% language illiteracy, 44% numeracy illiteracy, 45% scientific illiteracy, the last place in Europe for basic general digital skills among young people. This is the reality in which students learn and the need for rapid intervention to correct the main areas of testing: the ability to understand and operate with texts and numbers.
The BIG and bold idea was to introduce the benefits of digital standardized evaluation to Romania.
The communication campaign was primarily intended for students in grades I-XII, parents, educators, schools and other institutions involved in the educational process in Romania. This universe consists in 3 million students, 210 thousand teachers, 7 thousand principals. The institutions involved in the educational act, targeted by this campaign are: the Ministry of Education and Research and the School Inspectorates.
Investors were our secondary target in order to secure financial support for the extensive needs generated by the development efforts.
Channels: Media: print, online, radio, podcasts, TV; Own channels: website & social media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube); Endorsers’ channels: social media, blogs; Direct meetings with authorities’ representatives; Investors channels: business media, equity crowdfunding platforms, investors events.
According to Anthony Kennada, the 3 ingredients that you need for creating a new product category are: a crazy marketing leader, a ton of money and fearless tenacity and consistency.
Brio® has managed to make a cocktail of these 3. It started with a management team that publicly pushed forward two daring personalities, an expert – Prof. Dragos Iliescu, PhD, one of the most important contemporary names in educational testing worldwide -, and an experienced marketer passionate about education – Gabi Bartic. They were the “crazy” leaders. With them at the wheel, the execution campaign was ready to unfold.
A product of this kind needs years of research before being ready for the public. This is why, in its first years, Brio® needed as many visionary investors as it could get. At the beginning we launched an extensive campaign in order to explain the market what ed-tech means and raise money.
PHASE 1: INVEST WITH BRIO®
Listing the company on SeedBlink, the largest equity crowdfunding platform in the CEE region, was the way to reach potential investors. In 2020, the company’s market value was 2.7 million euros before the first listing. Almost 50 investors were attracted and 285,000 Euros capital was the final amount attracted. In 2022 the company opened to the market for the second time after almost doubling its initial value to 5.5 million euros (post-money evaluation). The second round was led by businessmen Horia Manda and Valentin Tăbuș, partners in AXXESS Capital, who invested 550,000 euros. The two investors were joined by a new round on SeedBlink, of 250,000 euros.
PHASE 2: LEARN WITH BRIO®
The money was used for product development and for multiple programs that were meant to both support the community and increase familiarity of the target audience with digital standardized testing. BRIO® was launched by offering free training testing for the first exams in the pandemic (Baccalaureate and National Evaluation of 2020) adopted by more than 20,000 students and 400 teachers, continued with putting together a coalition (The Alliance for Remedial Education (AER)) with other companies that offer digital teaching instruments, and offering free remedial education for 4,500 students and free digital education trainings for 2,500 teachers from 5 counties. Furthermore, BRIO® initiated the first digital mathematics Olympics in Romania, Brio Challenge, that had four editions until now enrolling 25,000 participants.
In order to generate these results, we relayed heavily on media relations campaigns mixed with special projects in partnership with different types of media & influencers.
PHASE 3: EDU-DATA BY BRIO®
In order to show the target audiences of the importance and the benefits of standardized testing, BRIO® decided to conduct thorough evaluations of the state of the nation regarding different types of literacy of the Romanian school population.
We decided to partner with other private and NGOs and we signed protocols with UiPath Foundation (for digital literacy) and BRD Groupe Société Générale and their program ALFABETAR (for Romanian language literacy).
PHASE 4: AUTHORITIES RELATIONS
In September 2021, at the Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum, the Minister of Education Sorin Cîmpeanu said that there are still no dedicated and secure platforms to have a proper, quality assessment in online education. This is when Gabi Bartic writes an editorial in which she points out that such platforms do exist and express their disposal for consultations with the ministry in the field of standardized assessment.
We wanted to make the government act and we did not stop with one Facebook post. We participated at as many public consultations as possible, we discussed with representatives of the Ministry of Education at every public event that was held on our topic. Public consultations on the Romanian Laws of Education were held as part of this project, and Gabi Bartic lead the Evaluation Commitee. Furthermore, in order to reach the institutional target, we organized a series of events in partnership with media.
Our efforts culminated when, at the conference announcing the results of the State of the Nation Literacy Report, Minister Cîmpeanu publicly invited Brio to help implement the first pilot standardized testing program in Romania. BRIO joined Ministry of Education and did the Pilot Testing Program in 526 schools from all around Romania at all levels: primary, gymnasium and high schools with a total of 280,237 tests taken.
BRIO used its platform for the Pilot Testing Program and, at the end, issued a report and handed over all data to the experts of the Ministry. Following the Pilot Testing Program, Standardized Testing was introduced in the new Education Laws starting 2024. The Laws will go to Parliament for voting later this year.
- Extensive presence in prime-time TV shows, a large number being inquired by the journalists themselves: Neatza cu Razvan si Dani (Antena 1), Vorbeste lumea (Pro TV), Cu capu-n zori (TVR 1), In fata ta (Digi24), Profit News (Profit TV)
- All the TV news journals took over the stories in their prime-time news
- Public persons expressed their support for Brio®: Tudor Chirila, Vlad Voiculescu, Andi Moisescu, Dacian Ciolos, Catalin Tenita, Cristina Stanciulescu, Dragos Stanca, Vlad Petreanu
- Brio® was recognized by Business Magazine as one of the Most innovative companies in Romania
Opportunities to see