The Bulgaria 2012 Review: Education
If 2011 was a year of stagnation and gradually continuing deterioration for education in Bulgaria, then 2012 only confirmed that trend.
Reforms either failed to be implemented, or when implemented were of a controversial nature. The already shrunken 2012 state budget for education was only marginally increased for 2013.
Bulgaria’s center-right GERB cabinet showed no increased sensitivity for the urgent need to do something about research and education at all levels in the country. Even new President Rosen Plevneliev, who pointed out innovations as a key priority in his campaign, has failed to formulate a program or any initiatives in the field.
The saga with the heavily curtailed budget of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences continued through the year, with the end of 2012 marked by the announcement that the Academy’s Rozhen Observatory – the largest in South East Europe – might be forced to shut down over insufficient funds.
The way Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov handled the case by commissioning the observatory to service projects for the Ministry of Agriculture speaks much about the ad hoc approach of Bulgarian politicians towards what are otherwise systematic problems. What is more, Minister of Finance Simeon Djankov has continued the disrespectful rhetoric towards Bulgaria’s most productive research institution that he has become notorious with.
Amendments to Bulgaria’s Law on Pre-School and School Education, set as a top priority for Minister of Education Sergey Ignatov were heard in Parliament only in December and the legislation is yet to be passed. However, two among the amendments have proven to be controversial, to say the least. First, the new law provides for state financing of private schools in a situation in which the government allows only scarce funds for its own institutions. Second, kindergarten will be now compulsory for kids over 5, something that provoked the protests of parents who felt that they need to be left the choice to decide.
Another of Minister Ignatov’s ambitions, a new Law on Higher Education, saw little progress over the year, and it is improbable that it will be realized in any sensible manner before the expiration of the GERB cabinet’s term in office in the summer of 2013. A diplomatic scandal of sorts erupted with neighboring Turkey, whose Ministry of Education for some time stated it will stop recognizing college diplomas issued in Bulgaria over alleged administrative mishandling in the country’s institutions of higher learning.
As part of marginal increases in social spending ahead of general elections in 2013, the cabinet opted for upping school teacher’s salaries, but the 12% promised by FinMin Djankov turned out to cover only junior teachers, all others receiving 7% on top of their meager remunerations.
Against that backdrop, news reports continued to flood regarding the continuing loss of prestige of the teaching profession and of constantly dropping rates of functional literacy among students. The news that ubiquitous Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov has been entered in some history textbooks can only raise wry smiles.
The only good news in Bulgarian education over 2012 seem to be the medals once again won by Bulgarian high school students in top international competitions in computer science, mathematics and chemistry. As things stand now however, few of those bright kids are likely to stay in Bulgaria for college and a career. What is more, with the gradual decay of school education in the country, it is unfortunately likely that such news will be heard less and less in years to come.
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