The EU Assessment of Bulgarian Education: Insufficient Budget and Poor Infrastructure

Society » EDUCATION | September 27, 2019, Friday // 15:44| Views: | Comments: 0
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In Bulgaria, the prestige of the teaching profession is low and the workforce in the teaching sector is aging. Efforts to modernize the education and training system continue, but improving its quality, relevance to the labor market and inclusiveness remains a challenge. These are part of the conclusions of the European Commission's annual report on education in its part for Bulgaria.

Among other findings, demographic trends and the growing skills gap mean that Bulgaria needs to invest more in the skills of its current and future workforce. The need for advanced training and retraining of the adult population is high, but participation in adult training is low.

Steps have been taken to increase the applicability of vocational education and training to the labor market.

 

Teachers

The prestige of the teaching profession is low. Although the rate of teacher training programs is approximately the same as the EU average, only 60% of graduates are actually starting the profession. Low salaries are the main factor that prevents young people from choosing the teaching profession. Other negative factors are unattractive working conditions, which are reflected, for example, in inadequate professional development opportunities or in the worsening of the discipline in the classroom.

The teaching profession is particularly unattractive for men, who make up only 17% of school teachers (EU average: 28%).

Only 17.7% of teachers believe that their profession is valued by the public, and only 57% believe that the benefits of being a teacher outweigh the disadvantages (OECD, 2019).

Almost half of the teachers are over 50 years of age and are likely to reach retirement age within the next 10 years; 10% are already over 60 years old. Shortage is beginning to emerge and it is expected to deepen.

The need for better teacher training in order for them to meet the challenges of the classroom is great.

The report states that since the start of the educational reform in 2016, a number of steps have been taken to make the profession more attractive with the Pre-school and School Education Act. However, it continues to face important challenges.

It is pointed out that in order to avoid a possible crisis due to the high number of retired teachers, plans are being implemented to double the salaries of teachers by 2021 compared to their size from 2017, with salaries reaching 120% of the average for Bulgaria salary.

 

Investments

According to the European Commission, although public spending on education is increasing, the system continues to be underfunded.

In 2017, the total budget expenditures in Bulgaria for education increased by 8% in real terms compared to the previous year, equaling 3.6% of GDP. Despite this improvement, public spending on education is still among the lowest in the EU and well below the EU average of 4.6%.

The educational infrastructure urgently needs modernization. There are significant differences in the quality of educational establishments, with poorer municipalities being particularly disadvantaged (UNICEF, 2018). Schools often lack basic facilities or equipment, and they do not have laboratories or sports facilities. In addition, maintaining adequate heating in winter is a challenge in many schools in poorer municipalities. There are fewer digital and well-equipped schools and affiliated schools than the EU average. The kindergarten and nursery network is also underdeveloped.

 

Early childhood education

Participation in early childhood education and care remains weak, which impedes the early acquisition of cognitive and socio-emotional skills. Since 2014, the participation rate for children from 4 years of age to compulsory school age has been decreasing in Bulgaria. The latest available data show an enrollment level of 83.9%, which is significantly lower than the EU average of 95.4%.

Despite ongoing efforts, early school leaving remains a problem. In 2018, the share of early school leavers (age group 18-24) is 12.7%, which still exceeds Bulgaria's national target of the Europe 2020 Strategy by 11% and the EU average from 10.6%. No significant progress has been made since 2010, with the share varying between 12-14%.

Too early leaving the education system without adequate education and skills is particularly problematic for Roma and rural areas, where poverty is higher and the quality of education is generally lower.

Although a number of measures are being implemented to improve quality and equity in the educational approach, existing data show that there are important gaps in the acquisition of basic and digital skills. The 2015 PISA data indicates that about 40% of adolescents in Bulgaria do not have basic competencies in reading, math or science, with a low score of over 60% among disadvantaged students (OECD, 2016 d). Youth digital skills are low: only 53% of young people aged 16-19 rate their digital skills as basic or above basic compared to the EU average of 83%.

Roma children are less likely to attend kindergarten and are much more likely to drop out of school.

 

Higher education

The number of students continues to decline, while the participation of disadvantaged students is too low.

The number of students enrolled in universities continues to decline, mainly due to demographic trends, but also due to national policies to reduce the number of students in some fields of study. In 2018, enrollment was 20% lower for undergraduate degrees and 15% lower for master's degrees than in 2013/2014. At the same time, the number of doctoral students increased by 7% over the same period. . The number of international students is increasing, but not enough to compensate for the large number of Bulgarians studying abroad.

Completion of higher education among the population aged 30-34 has slightly increased to 33.7% in 2018, but still below Bulgaria's Europe 2020 target (36%) and the EU average of 40.7% . Gender inequality persists, with 40.8% of women in this age group completing higher education compared to 27% of men.

There are measures to increase labor market relevance, but in general higher education is not yet sufficiently tailored to the needs of the labor market.

The profile of university graduates does not match the qualifications sought in the labor market. Available data show that Bulgaria remains one of the countries with the highest number of graduates in the social sciences, business and law, while the number of graduates in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics remains low.

There are some positive trends (a decrease in the number of business administration students and an increase in ICT and medical students). The attractiveness of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields in which labor market demand is high is still too weak.

 

Vocational education and training

Available data show a slight decline in the total enrollment of students in vocational education and training (50.7% in 2017, which is still above the EU average of 47.8%). The employment rate of recent graduates has increased significantly in 2018, reaching 66.4% compared to 59.1% the previous year. However, in 2018 it remains well below the EU average of 79.5%.

 

Adult training

The need for advanced training and retraining of the population is high, the report said. In Bulgaria, 17.4% of the working-age population aged 25-64 (approximately 677,000 people) are low-skilled. Although this percentage is slightly below the EU average (21.9%), it is particularly problematic as it corresponds to double the number of job vacancies requiring an elementary level of skills (357 000).

Only 2.5% of people aged 25-64 in Bulgaria received training in the four weeks preceding the monitoring of the workforce (EU average: 11.1%).

Steps have been taken to increase the employability of disadvantaged groups and to reduce regional disparities in employment rates among the working-age population.

There is no comprehensive training and evaluation system for teachers and adult education training, and the supply is not sufficient.

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