In the last decade, a number of measures were taken in Bulgaria to ensure equal access to quality education for every child, student and student in higher education. A comprehensive inclusion policy was built, aimed at creating conditions to support the individuality of each child and student by removing obstacles to learning and creating opportunities for the development and participation of children and students in all aspects of life.
An inclusive, supportive, secure and safe educational environment is provided for conducting an effective educational process, for protecting and strengthening the health of children and students and for their full personal development. The educational system is looking for sustainable and effective solutions for the successful inclusion and permanent inclusion of every child and student, regardless of regional characteristics, the socio-economic status of the family and the mother tongue. In implementation of these policies, completely new strategies and regulations were adopted in the field of pre-school, school and higher education.
The measures to build the supporting environment are related both to the provision of architectural, informational and communication access in schools and universities, as well as to the development of special curricula and educational programs, to the printing of adapted textbooks and teaching aids, to the training of teachers, etc. The inclusive education policy is also being upgraded through the implementation of measures to support all children who have difficulties in learning the educational content, for career guidance in order to prepare for the transition to the next educational level, for motivation to continue education and to participate in the labor market.
In the period from the 2016/2017 academic year to the 2020-2021 academic year, the number of supported children and students with special educational needs increased by over 4 770, and over 19 800 children and students were supported in the 2020/2021 academic year. Support is provided by specialists assigned to kindergartens and schools or regional support centers to the process of inclusive education. The special schools for training and support of school children with sensory disabilities - hard of hearing or visually impaired - have been reformed and modernized.
In 2021, the Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training and Learning in the Republic of Bulgaria (2021 - 2030) was adopted. The strategic framework has been drawn up in sync with current strategic documents at global and European level, which outline a vision for high-quality, inclusive, value-based and lifelong learning, education and training. It sets goals for inclusion at each stage of education:
- Regulation and implementation of inclusive care and education for children up to 3 years old according to the model of inclusive education for children from 3 to 7 years old;
- Application of inclusive care and models for adaptation and smooth transition of the child and the student to the conditions in the kindergarten and the school, as well as the transition between the individual stages and degrees;
- Using educational platforms and sharing effective models to support high-quality and inclusive education and lifelong learning;
- Provision of a system of accessible and quality services for systematic career guidance from early childhood and in school in connection with the successful implementation of the labor market;
- Systematic career guidance and counseling of students at every stage of education to discover their professional interests;
- Creation of an integrated system for career guidance and professional education and training for students and adults.
The main objective of preschool and school education is intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual – moral and physical development and support of every child and every school child in compliance with his age, needs, abilities and interests. The Pre-school and School Education Act regulates the support and guidance of children and students. The support for personal development shall be general and additional. The general supportfor personal development is provided to every child and student who needs it and includes as follows:
- team work between the teachers and the other pedagogic specialists;
- additional training in school subjects under the conditions of this act;
- additional modules for children, who do not speak the Bulgarian language;
- additional consultations in school subjects, which are held outside the regular school lessons;
- consultations in school subjects;
- career orientation for students;
- interest activities;
- library-information service;
- health care;
- provision of hostel;
- encouragement with moral and material awards;
- activities on prevention of violence and overcoming problem behaviour;
- early assessment of needs and prevention of training difficulties;
- speech therapist work.
Additional support for personal development is provided for children and students with special educational needs, in risk, with expressed gifts, with chronic diseases. The additional support for personal development shall be provided by the kindergartens, by schools and support centres for personal development and by the specialized service units. It includes:
- work with a child and student in a concrete case;
- psycho-social rehabilitation, hearing and speech rehabilitation, sight rehabilitation, rehabilitation of communicative disturbances and in physical disabilities;
- provision of accessible architecture general and specialized supportive environment, technical means, specialized equipment, didactic materials, methods and specialists;
- provision of training in the special school subjects for the students with sensory disabilities;
- resource support.
The type and forms of training, as well as the concrete activities for additional support for personal development shall be determined by a support plan for the child or student. For realization of the general and additional support, a psychologist or pedagogic adviser, speech coach, social worker and resource teachers shall work in the kindergartens and schools. The support team for personal development in the kindergarten or in the school identifies the strong sides of the child or student, the difficulties, related to the development, training and behavior, as well as the reasons for their occurrence.
An assessment of the individual needs of the child or student is made. The support team carry out observation and assessment for development of every concrete case. In kindergartens and schools, the education of children and students with special educational needs is necessarily supported by a resource teacher according to the needs of the child and student.
In addition to kindergartens and schools, the Pre-school and School Education Act provides that support can be provided in centers for support of personal development and specialized service units. The center for support of personal development shall be an institution in the preschool and school education system, in which shall be organized activities, supporting inclusion, training and education of the children and school children as well as activities for development of their interests and abilities. There are support centers for:
- development of interests, abilities, competencies and expression in the area of science, technologies, art and sport;
- career orientation and consultation;
- preventive, diagnosis, rehabilitation, correction and re-socialization work with children and school children;
- resource support for children and school children with special educational needs;
- pedagogical and psychological support;
- applying programmes for support and training for families of disable children and school children
- centers for special educational support
- school boarding houses
- astronomic observatories and planetariums.
The specialized service units are for activities related to the implementation of the state policy to support the process of inclusive education.
At the Regional support centers of the process of inclusive education, regional teams shall be founded for support of personal development of children and students with special educational needs. They include resource teachers, special pedagogues, including from the centers for special educational support, psychologists, speech therapists and other specialists in case of need, as well as representatives of the regional educational offices. Head of the team shall be the representative of the relevant Regional educational office. Informing parents about the possibilities for continuing education or acquiring a professional qualification for students with special educational needs after grades VII and X is also carried out by this team.
Career orientation in the school education shall include complementary activities for information, diagnostics, consultation, intermediation and tracing in view assistance of the students in their independent and conscious choice of education and/or vocation and realization of a connection between the school and the labour market. Parents have the right at least once a year to receive information, support and consultation in the kindergarten or school on issues, related to education, career orientation and personal development of their children.
There are many by-laws that govern access to education, support and guidance.
The main by-law in this area is the Ordinance on Inclusive Education. It determines the terms and conditions for providing general and additional support for the personal development of children and students. The requirements for the structure, conditions and procedure for approving individual study plans and individual study programs for students with special educational needs and for students with expressed gifts are given.
The terms and conditions for admission and the organization of training of students with special educational needs in special schools for education and support of students with sensory disabilities are also regulated. The terms and conditions for the education of children and students in the center for special educational support are determined. Referral of students with special educational needs, who will receive a certificate of completed VII and X grades, to continue their education in professional profiles and specialties is indicated.
Ordinance No. 5 of June 3, 2016 on preschool education determines the possibility for children to be directed to additional support for personal development and to postpone their entry into school if necessary.
Ordinance No. 24 of September 10, 2020 on the physical environment and information and library provision of kindergartens, schools and personal development support centers sets requirements for the necessary physical environment in the specified institutions. It provides for the availability of an accessible architectural environment in accordance with Ordinance No. 4 of 2009 on the design, implementation and maintenance of constructions in accordance with the requirements for an accessible environment for the population, including the children with disabilities. Requirements are set for the allocation of offices or areas related to support for children's personal development. The buildings of the special schools for teaching and supporting children and students with sensory disabilities must also meet the standards specified in the Ordinance.
Ordinance No. 4 of November 30, 2015 on the curriculum determines that the study of special subjects in special schools for students with sensory disabilities depends on the specifics of the school and aims supporting the overall development of the student with hard of hearing or visually impaired. The specific special educational subjects and their distribution by classes, stages and degrees are determined in the school curriculum in accordance with the state educational standard for inclusive education.
Ordinance No. 11 of September 1, 2016 on the evaluation of the results of the students' training allows the extension of the time for written examinations of students with special educational needs.
Ordinance No. 1 of February 19, 2020 on the organization and conduct of examinations for the acquisition of professional qualifications provides the possibility of appointing, if necessary, a teacher-consultant to provide support in the organization and conduct of the examination for students with special educational needs and persons with disabilities who have reached the age of 16. At the discretion of the personal development support team in the school, separate examination rooms may be provided for persons with disabilities over 16 or for students with special educational needs who are taught in an integrated manner.
Ordinance No. 3 of 04/06/2017 on the terms and conditions for admission and training of persons seeking or granted international protection provides for additional training in Bulgarian language and literature as part of the general support for students of compulsory school age.
In recent years, the state requirements for acquiring the professional qualification "teacher" have been updated. The modernized curricula and programs of the higher schools must necessarily include the subject "Inclusive Education". This is provided for in the Ordinance on the state requirements for acquiring the professional qualification "teacher".
Ordinance No. 10 of 19.12.2017 on knowledge books, textbooks and teaching aids provides for the creation of textbooks on special subjects for students with sensory disabilities, which must also be prepared in an electronic version.
Ordinance on the financing of institutions in the system of pre-school and school education also contains a number of provisions related to educational support.
National programs (NP) have been adopted and are being implemented, some of which were developed in accordance with priority area 5 "Effective inclusion, permanent inclusion and educational integration" of the Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training and Learning in the Republic of Bulgaria (2021 - 2030):
NP "Ensuring a modern, safe and accessible educational environment"
NP "It's good in kindergarten"
NP "Motivated teachers and qualification"
NP "Together for every child"
NP "Textbooks, training kits and learning aids"
NP "Supporting Municipalities for Educational Desegregation"
NP "No free hour"
NP "Support for personal development of children and students"
NP "Support of educational mediators and social workers"
Significant efforts are also aimed at inclusion and educational integration in the education system of children and students from vulnerable groups, including Roma and of children and students seeking or granted international protection.
Children and students from vulnerable groups are children and students in basic education who are at risk of dropping out of the pre-school and school education system or whose access to education is put at increased risk due to the low level of education of their parents/guardians and related unfavorable position on the labor market and risk of social exclusion. To support the process of educational integration, the Center for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities was established.
The Operational Program "Science and Education for Smart Growth" includes an investment priority "Socio-economic integration of marginalized communities such as the Roma". The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for the equality, inclusion and participation of the Roma (2021-2030) was adopted. Only half of Roma children receive pre-school training or attend kindergarten, and very few of them continue school after completing compulsory education. The number of Roma who leave school prematurely and do not complete primary, secondary and high school education is significant.
The Center for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities (CSOIDUEM), which is a secondary budget authority to the Ministry of Education and Science, supports the implementation of the policy for educational integration, intercultural education, work with parents and community representatives, including educational mediators. With the adoption of the Pre-school and School Education Act and making the inclusive education a priority policy, the Ministry of Education and Science actively and consistently implements measures to implement a differentiated and individualized approach to children and students.
This is done by compensating for difficulties in learning content, lack of motivation and difficulties in completing a grade, stage or level of education. Measures are also applied to develop the potential of those of them whose mother tongue is different from Bulgarian and who do not speak Bulgarian well. Work is being done to overcome the processes of individualization (segregation and secondary segregation) in kindergartens and schools through educational desegregation measures.
An indispensable part of the process of modernization of the Bulgarian education system is the affirmation of intercultural education. In this way, the cultural identity of children and students with different ethno-cultural characteristics is preserved and developed. Together with the work on the Mechanism for joint work of the institutions on coverage and inclusion in the education system of children and students of compulsory preschool and school age, work with parents from vulnerable groups is carried out as a priority. The aim is to change attitudes to increase the importance of education.
A system of measures to support and guarantee the development of children and students with expressed gifts is foreseen by the Pre-school and School Education Act, by the Ordinance on Inclusive Education, Ordinance on the Conditions and Procedures for the Implementation of the Protection of Children with Expressed Gifts from 2003 and a number of other by-laws.
Every child with outstanding talents in the field of science, art or sports has the right to special protection. The special protection under the Ordinance on the conditions and procedure for implementing the protection of children with expressed gifts is provided with the aim of promoting creative talents, the needs of children, providing opportunities and conditions for admission to sports schools, art schools and financial support, stimulation through scholarships, and specialized educational programs.
The Minister of Culture, after consultation with the Minister of Education and Science and the Minister of Youth and Sports, submits to the Council of Ministers a Program of measures for the protection of gifted children from state, municipal and private schools for the current calendar year by January 31 every year. The program includes the national and international contests, Olympiads and competitions for which protection measures are applied under the regulation through one-time financial support and scholarships.