EDUCATION REFORMS SET TO START NEXT AUTUMN
Everybody knows the problems of Bulgarian school - even students who are usually reproached for knowing nothing. However, the Ministry of Education obviously needed an official confirmation to this nation-wide awareness before it started applying the National Program for Development of School Education. Only this can explain why the minister ordered a sociological survey conducted by Alpha Research in April. Whether or not the ministerial officials needed such a service is not important. It is more curious to note that the problems pointed out by the respondents are too different from those the officials put in the basis of the program.
According to the public opinion, the main problems of school education are the low quality of teaching, the difference in the quality of knowledge taught in different parts of the country, the poor material base, the insufficient qualification of the teachers, the bad discipline of the students. Yet, according to the experts from the ministry, the difficulties result from the fact that the system is oriented towards mechanical memorization of the knowledge rather than provoking individual thinking; the large number of drop-outs; the extreme centralisation of the administration of the education system.
Whether there are other differences in the public and the officials' opinion is still to be seen, because after a long delay the program was finally published in the website of the ministry. However, there is not so much time to find out the possible defects - according to the plans, the reforms stipulated by the project must begin in the 2006/2007 school year.
For the children who will enter their fifth class next autumn the introduction of the program will mean
one year of obligatory education less
Primary education will be completed in the end of seventh, instead of eighth, class, and the first stage of the secondary education - in the end of the tenth class. Therefore, students will be able to complete their obligatory education until they are 16 years old, as required by the Constitution, and advance to the labour market. In all schools the entire eighth class is planned to provide intensive foreign language and computer training or a kind of professional qualification.
The 11th and 12th class will be available for those who intend to continue their education in universities. Those who sit for the national school-leaving examination at the end of the last year will be awarded a secondary school diploma and will be allowed to apply for higher education. It remains a subject of discussion whether the matriculation score will be important for entering a university. According to the Minister of Education Daniel Vulchev, all rectors approved this possibility... provided it did not refer to their university.
The program stipulates that
nation-wide introduction of tests
begin from the start of the new school year as a leading form of current control as well as a form of control in the end of each training stage. The ministry officials are convinced that this is the most modern method of rating the level of knowledge. According to sociological inquiries, students and parents approve the idea, too - maybe because most people think the test is a kind of the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire game in which even without knowing the answer you can guess it. According to the plan, obligatory tests must be held in the end of the fourth, seventh, tenth, and twelfth class. The experts from the ministry suggest that the exams in the end of the 7th and 12th class serve in the process of applying for secondary school and university.
As to the matriculation, the program is not so concrete. Minister Vulchev opposed very long to tell when exactly it should be introduced. The draft of the ministry only stipulates that in the end of the 2008/2009 school year all children from the first class that completed its primary education after the seventh year will sit for a national standardized exam (a test). In the end of the 2011/2012 school year, certificates for the completion of the initial secondary school stage will be issued for the first time. In the end of the 2013/2014 school year, the first class educated entirely within the new education structure will sit for its national school-leaving examination. However, this doesn't mean that matriculation will not be introduced before 2014. There are many details that suggest the Ministry of Education dislikes the topic and prefers the matriculation
to start in the mandate of someone else...
Even political partners from the ruling coalition are reserved towards the National Program for Development of School Education. For example, the Movement for Rights and Freedom opposes the sudden and quick measures against merged and small classes since it fears the population in some mixed areas will remain without a school. In turn, teachers mutter against some of the criteria by which the program stipulates their quality of work will be assessed and their remuneration calculated. It is easy to understand why they do not want their salaries to depend on the estimation of their work by students and parents.
Some outside observers note the lack of financial provision for the planned changes. Only by the end of the calendar year 2006, for example, it is planned that every Bulgarian school will have at least one multimedia system and a copying device necessary for multiplying the test forms. However, nobody says a word about how much money will be needed and where it will come from.
In fact, before we talk about implementation of the national program, the National Assembly has to approve it. Yet, the document reached the Parliament discouragingly slowly and for the present there are no clear signs the MPs intend to accelerate its movement...