28 February 2023

Why do we need mountain education? Looking from inside

By: Viorel GLIGOR, Ioan SURDU, Matei DOMNIȚA, Emanuela-Adina COCIȘ, and Alexandru-Sabin NICULA | Tags: mountain education, mountain tourism, mountain trek

Mountains are unique environments that offer a rich array of learning opportunities. From geological formations to cultural traditions, mountains are complex systems that can be studied and appreciated from a variety of angles. However, traditional formal education systems may not always be well-equipped to handle the diverse challenges and opportunities presented by mountain environments.


As mountains cover more than 30% of Romania’s surface, it’s normal for mountain education to represent an interest in the local education landscape. Different approaches to mountain education have emerged, including informal and non-formal approaches, which we will examine in this article. Mountain education can take many forms, and it is essential to consider all forms of mountain education in order to provide people with a deep understanding of mountain ecosystems and their importance. Depending on interests, one may pursue formal education (structured, standardized education within traditional institutions), non-formal education (intentional education outside traditional institutions without recognized qualifications) or informal education (self-directed and incidental learning through experience, observation and exploration in the mountain environment).

Formal education is a structured form of education that is delivered within traditional institutions, such as schools, colleges, and universities. This type of education is standardized and aims to provide students with recognized qualifications, such as degrees and diplomas[1]. Non-formal education, on the other hand, is intentional education that takes place outside of traditional institutions and without recognized qualifications. This type of education can take many forms, such as training courses, workshops, and events dedicated to learning.

Formal mountain higher education

The establishment in 2008 of the Mountain Economy Centre (CE-MONT) Vatra Dornei (within the “Costin C. Kirițescu” National Institute for Economic Research, Romanian Academy) represents a new constructive trajectory in Mountain Science. Through its multidisciplinary dimension, with 3 departments (D1 – Mountain bioeconomy; D2 – Integrated mountain territorial development; D3 – Environment, climate change and mountain legislation) and 12 study and research laboratories, CE-MONT represents an important research and dissemination vector of mountain education in the Central and South-Eastern European area.

Along with the Mountain Economy Centre, institutions from the political[2], academic[3] and non-governmental[4] spheres are brought together under the same interests and objectives, forming an institutional spectrum for research and governance of the Carpathian and Măcin Mountains.

In this hybrid institutional-academic climate, where the central topic is the Mountain, with all its dysfunctions and positive attributes, mountain education plays a crucial role in the process of mountain sustainable development. However, the transgression of the research paradigm of mountain education from the status of a niche to main status in the collective mind is announced as a difficult and sinuous but necessary approach to restore to human nature one of its essential attributes: the right to education.

Despite what their name might imply, most montology research and educational centers are located outside actual mountain areas, exception being the ones headquartered in the town of Vatra Dornei (Dornelor Basin, an inner mountain depression located in the northern part of the Eastern Carpathian range) and the Cristian commune (near Sibiu City), in the Southern Carpathians.

Creating and implementing proper public education policies are two of the strategic objectives of any open, responsible and resilient society, which could insure the necessary social-economic progress, sustainable development and continuous quality of life improvement, through knowledge, innovation, personal and professional development, social inclusion and adaptative management.

The need to develop digital skills and adapt European educational policies to the new paradigm, caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic, ushered the swift implementation of a strategic framework based on the following documents: European Agenda of Sustainable Competitivity Competences, Social Equity and Resilience (2020), Action Plan for Digital Education, dubbed Education and Formation Reset for the Digital Age (2021- 2027) and Achieving a European Education Area by 2025 (Ministry of Education, 2021).

In Romania, the most recent issues in regards to the current situation, the vision and objectives of the educational system are found in the ”Educated Romania” Project, a national strategy under the aegis of the Presidential Administration, between 2016-2021. The project focuses on perfecting public policies and improving educational performance standards in order to cope with current and future challenges (professional expansion, climate change, technological evolution, world crises, demographic risks, global power shifts etc.) and aims to be the starting point for the radical reformation of the educational system (Horizon 2030) [2].

The high number of systemic disfunctions within the educational system (high abandonment rate, high functional illiteracy, low number of university graduates, low scores at national and international testing, for instance Programme for International Student Assessment – PISA etc.) particularly in mountain area, demonstrates the need for a profound reform, based on modern principles, able to reach the standards and expectations of a ”society in process of transformation” [3]. The strategic priorities set to fully reform and develop the Romanian educational system by 2030 are based on three foundations: ”personalization and quality assurance for all students; curricular flexibility adapted to mountain specific (flexible learning paths, change in the formation pattern, specialization / profile diversity etc.) and system adaptability to external change and future shifts” [4].

In the digital age, there is a need to prioritize the consolidation of the social-educational resilience, sustainable competitivity, creativity and integrated functionality of the Romanian educational system. Educators must base the development of key student abilities on ”digital literacy, communication and collaboration, media literacy, digital content creation (including programming), safety (including online and cyber security skills), adherence to intellectual property, problem solving and critical thinking” [5].

Non-/informal mountain education

Italian experience

The United Nations General Assembly declared the year 2022 as the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development (IYM2022) to protect and raise awareness about the crucial role of mountain ecosystems. This declaration was proposed by the Kyrgyz Republic Government, and supported by 94 governments. In accordance to this goal and to promote Sustainable Mountain Education, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) through the Mountain Partnership Secretariat began organizing the International Programme on Research and Training on Sustainable Management of Mountain Areas (IPROMO) in 2008. The 2022 IPROMO agenda focused on several aspects, tools and skills that contribute to an integrated understanding of mountain education and proper management of mountain areas. The main topics covered in the program include basic knowledge on sustainable mountain management, mountain forests and ecosystems services, climate change in mountains, mountain governance, sustainable mountain economic development, and agrifood systems in mountains [6].

During this Summer School, attended by 30 officers and experts from 20 countries around the world, lectures on watershed management, climate change, soils, agrifood systems, forestry, innovation and sustainable tourism in mountains [7] were delivered. The participants were divided into working groups, which allowed them to share their knowledge and build a network of experts [6]. The students also visited the Monte Rosa Glacier in the Alps (between Italy and Switzerland) in Aosta Valley (Italy). Many students found the course’s contents beneficial to their work and will be using the new skills they gained in their projects and research.

Figure 2. Field trip in Aosta Valley (Lys Glacier – Monte Rosa Massif). Photo credits: ©IPROMO, 2022
Figure 3. Field trip in Aosta Valley (Lys Glacier – Monte Rosa Massif).
Photo credits: ©IPROMO, 2022

Testimonials from Participants [7]

Emanuela-Adina Cociș, Research scientist III PhD. Eng., Centre of Mountain Economy “CE-MONT”, National Institute for Economic Research “Costin C. Kiriţescu”, Romanian Academy, said, “I am honoured to be a part of the big IPROMO family. It is a great opportunity to learn from UN officers, experts and professors about sustainable mountain development and also a great chance to network with people from all around the world.”

Vaibhav Kumar Singh, District Forest Officer in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand, Indian Forest Service, said, “It has been a very good experience for me learning about sustainable mountain development from some of the best examples in the Italian Alps and other regions. I believe that the outcomes will help me in contributing to the sustainable development of Himalayan mountains in my state of Uttarakhand in India.”

Nomcebo Dlamini, Community Development lecturer and PhD in Human Geography candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa, expressed, “Opportunities such as this are a must for people who care about mountain people, who care about the environment and who care about learning more so that we take what we have learned home to implement.”

Anisa Abibulloeva, Project Coordinator, The Little Earth, Tajikistan, said, “I am very happy to participate in IPROMO 2022 as an environmental activist and learn from the professionals about the best practices in mountain ecosystems. ”I am very excited to be here to learn and take the experience back to my country and encourage more young people to participate in such programmes for sustainable development.”

Santiago Fernández Peña, Development Manager, The Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development, Argentina, “It is a very enriching experience since we come from all parts of the world, especially developing countries, so we are exchanging our communities’ knowledge and all the work we do in mountain environments.”

IPROMO is jointly organized by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, the University of Turin, Italy, and the University of Tuscia, Italy, with the high patronage of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Scientific Directors: Professor Michele Freppaz – Department of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (DISAFA) – Interdepartmental Research Centre on Natural Risks in Mountain and Hilly Environments (NatRisk), University of Turin, Italy; Professor Giuseppe Scarascia Mugnozza – Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-food and Forest Systems (DIBAF), University of Tuscia, Viterbo, Italy. Programme coordinator: Rosalaura Romeo – Mountain Partnership Secretariat, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy. Chair and course managers: Danilo Godone – National Research Council, Research Institute for Hydrogeological Prevention and Protection (CNR – IRPI), Geohazard Monitoring Group, Turin, Italy; Tommaso Chiti – Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-food and Forest Systems (DIBAF), University of Tuscia, Viterbo, Italy [6].

Romanian experience

Specific activities of non/informal mountain education are supported both by the academic component of the educational environment and by NGOs. At the academic level, the Mountain Economy Center (CE-MONT Vatra Dornei) stands out with a series of activities regarding the need to train the mountain population of the Carpathian and Măcin Mountains. Among the most important vectors of training and dissemination of knowledge in relation to the community are [8]:

  • “Viața Munților” (The Life of Mountains) newspaper with the role of disseminating information, research results, specific and useful knowledge in the mountain area;
  • ”Caravana Montană” (The Mountain Scientific Caravan) involves CE-MONT’s researchers and training experts running itineraries and field campaigns through which scientific events, promotional and information actions are carried out in the mountain area;
  • The “Academic School of Montology” aims to bring together under the same informal dome specialists involved in mountain research from the country and abroad with master’s students, doctoral students and young researchers in order to establish an organized framework for information, debates and international cooperation;
  • ”Biblioteca Montană” (Mountain Library) is an informal project that provides access to works dedicated to mountain areas;

Among the mountain NGOs with constant and impactful implications in relation to the community and which assumed the essential role of mountain education, the Carpathian Mountain Association stands out. According to the last annual report (2021) the association supported the following activities [9]:

  • Organizing mountain education programs for both children and adults. In this sense, between September and December, 2021, the educational project “Mountain is your chance!” took place, during which 100 young people from disadvantaged mountain areas were encouraged to orient themselves towards a career in the mountain field and get involved in development of local communities. The project, which was addressed to young people, mainly high school students, took place in three mountain areas in the country: Sibiu, Brașov and Vrancea, and included theoretical and practical activities supported by mountain specialists. During the activities, the beneficiaries learned from professionals: mountain rescuers, mountain guides and tourist guides, rangers, lodgers, climbing instructors, wildlife photographers, as well as curators and ethnopharmacologists about the advantages, challenges and the route to follow to complete it in order to become, in turn, mountain specialists and to develop a successful career. With the end of the direct activities and as a result of them, the project made available, publicly and free of charge, to all young people interested in a career in the mountain field, the brochure “A small guide to mountain trades”.
  • Collaboration with Salvamont Romania regarding the promotion and support of informative projects and actions regarding mountain education.

Authors affiliation

a Costin C. Kirițescu, National Institute for Economic Research of the Romanian Academy, Centre for Mountain Economy (CE-MONT), Vatra Dornei, Romania.
b Babeș-Bolyai University, Faculty of Geography, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
c Carpathian Mountain Association, Bucharest, Romania
(*Corresponding Author, member of NEMOR: surdu.ioan@gmail.com)


  1. National Institute of Statistics (Tempo-online); Esri, USGS, NOAA.
  2. Report of the “Educated Romania” Project. http://www.romaniaeducata.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Raport-Romania-Educata-14-iulie-2021.pdf (date acc.: Feb. 11, 2023).
  3. Report of the “Educated Romania” Project (Section: Vision and strategy of Educated Romania 2018-2030, p. 8). http://www.romaniaeducata.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viziune-si-strategie-Romania-Educata.pdf (date acc.: Feb. 14, 2023).
  4. Report of the “Educated Romania” Project (Section: Vision and strategy of Educated Romania 2018-2030, pp. 9-10). http://www.romaniaeducata.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viziune-si-strategie-Romania-Educata.pdf (date acc.: Feb. 12, 2023).
  5. Ministry of Education – The Strategy regarding the digitalization of education in Romania (2021, p. 15). https://www.edu.ro/sites/default/files/SMART.Edu%20-%20document%20consultare.pdf (date acc.: Feb. 10, 2023).
  6. FAO (2022). IPROMO 2022 Summer School. https://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/news/news-detail/en/c/1599201/ (date acc.: Feb. 9, 2023).
  7. FAO (2022). IPROMO 2022 Summer School. https://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/news/news-detail/en/c/1599201/ (date acc.: Feb. 9, 2023).
  8. Project Development of the research infrastructure of the National Institute of Economic Research “Costin C. Kirițescu” through the creation and development of a Mountain Economy Center “CE-MONT” (ID 873/SMIS-CSNR 14027): promoting leaflet.
  9. Carpathians Mountain Association (2021). (https://asociatiamontanacarpati.ro/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Raport-anual-AMC-2021.pdf) (date acc.: Feb. 8, 2023).

[1] The education system in Romania presented a multilevel structure, organized on the 8 educational levels, according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). Thus, by relating the specific requirements that ensure the coherence between training and education according to the age and individual characteristics of the pupils/students, these are: early education (ISCED 0), primary education (ISCED 1), lower secondary or gymnasium education (ISCED 2), upper secondary or high school education (ISCED 3), non-university tertiary education (ISCED 4) and short-term higher education (ISCED 5), bachelor (ISCED 6), master (ISCED 7) and doctorate/post doctorate (ISCED 8) (European Commission, 2021: Eurydice network – https://eurydice.eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-education-systems/romania/overview, (date acc. Feb. 8, 2023).

[2] National Agency of the Mountain Zone – subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and with specific attributions of representation on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for the mountain area.

[3] University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca; “Ion Ionescu de la Brad” University of Life Sciences from Iași (IULS); The University of Craiova; “Lucian Blaga” University of Sibiu; “Valahia” University of Târgoviște – all with specializations in Montology at bachelor’s level.

[4] Mountain Forum in Romania; National Association for Mountain Rural Development – ROMONTANA; National Association of Mountain Rescuers from Romania (SALVAMONT); Romanian Alpine Club; Carpathians Mountain Association, etc.).