Ringing the Bell

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | September 14, 2004, Tuesday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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Ringing the Bell Some 65,000 pupils crossed schools' thresholds for the first time in Bulgaria last year, but now their number will be down by some 8,000. Photo by Yuliana Nikolova (novinite.com)

By Milena Hristova

Gone is the time when the first day of school was a cause for pure joy and excitement only.

With memories of bloody Beslan still raw and threats of terror attacks to hit more European schools hanging, Bulgaria will see the start of the new school year, September 15, with boosted security measures and the authorities' promise that this will be a safe start.

The Ministry of Education, in their turn, promised to do better than last year, when it awarded itself a modest B grade.

They will definitely have a lot on their hands - renewed concerns over shortages of both children and teachers at the class rooms, preparation of tests to assess the work of those in the classrooms, imminent protests over low pay in October and the gigantic task of bring children back to the class rooms.

Fewer children will cross the schools' thresholds for the first time this year than ever before. Years of sagging birth rates in the country are already taking their toll on the number of first-grade pupils, now totalling no more than 64,000. The number has shrunk twice over the past decade and by some 8,000 in comparison with the previous year, statistics show.

Data of the Ministry of Education alarms that a total of 21,000 children have fled the class rooms never to come back unless quality of training is improved.

Not that anyone has been taken aback by the figures, except perhaps the teachers, whose fears of lay-offs are more than justified.

Yet shortages of teachers remain one of the biggest challenges that the country should handle. Officials would not cite figures but admit shortage of foreign language teachers to be among the gravest issues.

More than fifteen years after the English entered the curriculum and became the language of choice for Bulgarian students, school heads still can't recruit well trained teachers and make up for lost English lessons.

Fellow teachers, on the other hand, have one choice - to make do.

Mariana K. has graduated biology and pedagogics, but shortage of English language teachers forces her attend retraining courses and re-qualify.

"At least now I know that first-day jitters will be the only thing I should worry about", she says with a smile and pictures herself nervously bundled up in a sea of hyped-up teens and parents around her.

The parents will wish to see the kids live up to their academic expectations and measure up.

The kids will have simpler wishes - to make friends, lots of them.

And there will surely be those who would skip the first day of school to make the summer days of pure joy and excitement last longer.
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