Orienting pre-school and school education towards a competency-based model
The State Budget Act of the Republic of Bulgaria for 2023, adopted by the 49th National Assembly on 28 July 2023, also adopts the Budget for 2023 and an updated budget forecast for the period 2024 - 2025 in programme format of the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES).
The Budget of the MoES in the programme format also validates the policy activities oriented towards personal development of children and students, promotion of innovation, qualification of pedagogical specialists, modernization of educational institutions, digitalization of education. Policies are implemented to identify and meet the diverse needs of children and students, enabling all, regardless of socio-economic status, to develop their potential through lifelong learning.
The main activities are focused on orienting pre-school and school education towards a competency-based model, innovative learning methods and the development of skills and talents. Priority is also given to measures aiming to reduce inequalities and promote social inclusion, motivate children and pupils for education and the acquisition of key competences.
The MoES investment budgets under the National Recovery and Sustainability Plan (NRSP) are under implementation:
The Investment Budget "STEM Centers and Innovation in Education" aims to increase digital literacy and motivation for learning, foster students' interest and develop their skills in science and engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics, IT, innovation and entrepreneurship for their practical application.
The Investment Budget "Modernisation of Educational Infrastructure" aims to create facilities that guarantee healthy and quality learning conditions and to achieve a comprehensive renewal of educational institutions, supported by investments in the construction of a safe, environmentally friendly, attractive and healthy environment for learning, development, education and socialisation.
Priorities in the field of education focus on:
- Providing high quality early childhood education and care (including compulsory pre-school education from age 4) - increasing participation in pre-school education and improving its quality;
- Increase school enrolment and successfully engage every child and student in education, including e-learning;
- Increase the quality of education with a focus on acquiring analytical skills and developing creative thinking;
- Full participation in the educational process and the acquisition of key competencies, increasing the motivation for learning of every child and student;
- Supporting the personal development of children and students, discovering and developing skills and talents in science, arts, technology and sport;
- Enhancing the skills of the working age population with a focus on the effective provision of lifelong learning (LLL) opportunities;
- Raising the social status, attractiveness and prestige of the teaching profession and the quality of basic training and further qualification of teaching professionals;
- Improving educational infrastructure and modernising facilities in kindergartens and schools;
- Enhancing the attractiveness and quality of vocational education and training and its link to the labour market;
- Enhancing digital skills for the widespread use of ICT and ICT-based services and achieving digital growth.
The Ordinance on the financing of institutions in the pre-school and school education system has been amended in relation to changes in the financing of kindergartens, as their transition to fully delegated by the state activity. Thus, it is achieved compliance with the current legal framework, greater efficiency in the financing with funds from the state budget of private schools and kindergartens included in the system of state financing and in the improvement and refinement of the adopted model of financing of the system of pre-school and school education as a factor for efficient resource management in the conditions of financial decentralization and autonomy of educational institutions.
Regulation No. 11 on the assessment of students' learning outcomes has been amended following the 2023 amendments to the Pre-School and School Education Act, providing an opportunity for validation of competences under the supplementary state matriculation examinations. The range of possible subjects for validation of competences under the supplementary examinations is expanded by adding informatics, entrepreneurship, music, fine arts, and allowing a student who has studied a subject but not as a specialised subject to take an examination at that level. This is another step towards a smooth transition between secondary and tertiary education.
Ordinance No. 4 on labour standards and remuneration was amended in order to address the priority of raising the social status, attractiveness and prestige of the teaching profession and the quality of basic training and further qualification of pedagogical specialists. The minimum monthly basic salaries of teaching professionals have been increased by 15 per cent compared to their 2022 level.
The Council of Ministers has adopted a list of Innovative Schools in the Republic of Bulgaria for the school year 2023/2024, which includes 548 schools from 28 districts, 131 municipalities and 192 localities in the Republic of Bulgaria. This is in implementation of the policy aimed at: improving the quality of education by providing conditions and support for the creation and implementation of innovations in all areas of school life in all schools, including the establishment of professional communities within schools and between schools, support for the development of a culture of innovation in schools in the country, for creative thinking, innovations for the benefit of the development and achievement of students, as well as creating conditions for the up skilling of pedagogical specialists and the implementation of good practices.
National programmes for the development of education
The Council of Ministers adopted 21 national programmes for 2023 to support the implementation of the national policy on secondary education. Most of them have been implemented in 2022 with proven effectiveness and successful implementation in previous years. In 2023, continuing to be implemented programs to support innovation and promote good innovation among schools, to ensure the continuity of the educational process in the absence of a pedagogical specialist, to support the personal development of children and students. Continue the implementation of the programmes for the provision of information and communication technologies in the pre-school and school education system, for the optimisation of the internal staff structure, as well as those for the preparation and participation of pupils in Olympiads and competitions and for the conduct of national external assessments. Activities for the continuing training of pedagogical specialists, for the continuing professional development of teachers employed in the pre-school and school education system, and for the support of newly appointed teachers and principals will also be pursued.
In 2023, funding continues to improve the school environment through the creation and/or renovation of classrooms and special interest rooms where students learn key competencies in the areas of humanities, arts and sports, and the creation and/or renovation of reading areas/school libraries. For a consecutive year, a module is also included to finance the construction of playgrounds for training in road safety, activities are proposed to ensure an accessible architectural environment and school security and to assist municipalities in educational desegregation.
Further support to kindergartens for the implementation and promotion of innovative practices aimed at improving the quality of pre-school education. Access to the Information System for the Implementation of the Mechanism (ISRM) will continue to be provided to all 265 municipalities on a permanent basis, through which efforts are made to enrol and retain children and pupils of compulsory pre-school and school age in the education system.
In 2023, activities are also being implemented to continue funding for the development of teaching aids in a foreign language for general education subjects, for the evaluation and approval of teaching aid projects to support learning organised abroad, and also for the development of a teaching aid in Bulgarian as a foreign language for the lower secondary stage for pupils seeking or granted protection and migrants.
Textbooks for all students for free use
Changes to the Preschool and School Education Act are related to provision for free use by all children preschool age and all students from I to XII grades to educational books, textbooks, study sets and electronically readable textbooks for the school subjects of the general educational preparation, the school subjects Mother Tongue, Religion and Choreography and for the special subjects for students with sensory disabilities. This change will be valid from the 2024-2025 school year. Until now the educational books and textbooks are for free for the children in preschool age and students up to seventh grade inclusive. There are also changes in the validation of competences acquired through non-formal education and informal learning.
New rules have been adopted to ensure publicity of regional and municipal strategies for support of personal development of the children and student with publishing on the website of the relevant regional or municipal administration. The pedagogic council at the school adopt a strategy for development of the school for the following 5 years with attached to it action and financing plan. Until that amendment the period was 4 years. The law also provides guidelines for the minimum content and goals that should be included in the strategy.
An action plan until 2024 for the Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training and Learning in the Republic of Bulgaria (2021-2030) was adopted by the Decision of the Council of Ministers of March 22, 2023. The plan foresees the activities that should be carried out in each of the priority areas of the Strategy by the end of the next calendar year. Some of them are:
- Updating the educational content and improving the teaching methods
- Improvement of the process of creation, validation and use of educational resources
- Improvement of the system for measuring the main learning results achieved
- Confirmation of intercultural education through culture, science and sports
- Creating conditions for increasing the scope of children and students in interests classes
- Support for the development of the talents and interests of children, students and young people in the fields of science, technology, arts and sports
- Providing the educational system with the necessary number of pedagogical specialists in places
- Sustainability of the policy to increase teachers' incomes
- Active inclusion in the system of preschool and school education and reduction of the share of children/students who left the education system prematurely
- General and additional support for personal development in preschool and school education
- Increasing the capacity of pedagogical specialists to work in a multicultural environment
- Support for vulnerable groups to access higher education
- Implementation of a whole school approach to create a safe environment and prevent violence and bullying
- Multiplication of successful innovations in all schools and digital transformation of school education
- Construction of a complete renewed image of educational institutions with a focus on sustainable development and the green transition
- Modernization of professional education and training
- Support and development of the dual education system
- Improvement of tools and mechanisms for lifelong learning
- Educational mobility
A number of by-laws have been changed and new ones have been adopted:
Ordinance No. 16 of July 1, 2022 on Conducting Competitions for the Position of "Director" in State and Municipal Institutions in the Preschool and School Education System, issued by the Minister of Education and Science, in agreement with the Minister of Youth and Sports and with the Minister of Culture and Ordinance No. 20 of October 25, 2022 for the Register of Issued Certificates for the Purposes of Iissuing a Long-term Residence Visa (visa type "D") to Citizens of Third Countries Admitted to Study in Bulgarian Higher Education Institutions and Scientific Organizations were adopted.
Ordinance No. 10 of 2016 on the Organization of Activities in School Education has been amended in the part on national external assessment and application.
Ordinance No. 1 of February 19, 2020 on the Organization And Conduct of Examinations for the Acquisition of Professional Qualifications has also been amended and supplemented.
In 2022, the policies for comprehensive, accessible and quality school education are ongoing together with the implementation of the Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training and Learning in Bulgaria, adopted in 2021. For creating the conditions contributing to the achievement of the envisaged goals, additional funds have been invested: for maintaining and improving the material and technical facilities of schools and sports grounds; for stimulating the entry of young and qualified teachers into the school education system; for supporting the nutrition of primary school pupils (grades I to IV); for improving the social and healthy lifestyle of pupils; for providing transport for children and pupils, etc.
The policy for increasing the salaries of pedagogical specialists to 25 percent above the average gross salary for the country continues. New minimum monthly basic salary levels for pedagogical specialists have been agreed with the social partners at sectoral level, effective from 01st of April 2022, for which an Annex to the Collective Labour Agreement for the Preschool and School Education System has been signed. Subsequent increases of the minimum monthly basic salaries have been negotiated by a new Annex to the Collective Agreement, signed at sectoral level in July 2022, which come into force on 1st of September 2022. Thus, for the period from the beginning of 2021 to September 2022, the salaries of the teaching staff have increased by 17-18%.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan of Bulgaria, adopted in May 2022, envisages significant reform activities in the school education system. Sector “Education” is one of the components of the first pillar "Innovative Bulgaria". In order to improve the quality of education and its relevance, a comprehensive and multi-aspects education reform is planned to facilitate a better orientation of the education system towards the acquisition of competences and their application in practice, which is also linked to the updating of curricula; contribution to the creation, application and dissemination of innovations, the expansion of the scope of education, distance learning skills, STEM orientation and the development of cognitive skills. With the introduction of compulsory pre-primary education from the age of 4, conditions have been created for the formation of cognitive and socio-emotional skills necessary for school learning.
The created conditions aim to contribute for preventing pupils from dropping out of school and improving their educational performance. At the same time, conditions are created for greater flexibility in the use of innovative methods and technical means for different forms of distance learning in an electronic environment for prevention and application in times of emergency and thus ensuring continuity of the learning process.
By amending the regulations for institutions in the pre-school and school education system, the possibilities for creating innovative schools are expanded, allowing improvement of the quality of education through the development of new tools, methods, activities, organisation and environment. It also creates conditions for expanding opportunities for e-learning, thereby improving access and the quality of education. The changes in the general school preparation allow update of the curriculum of the state matriculation examinations in accordance with the Law on Pre-school and School Education, which are to be held for the first time in 2022, and for the content provision of learning in the individual subjects in line with the phased introduction of the comprehensive education reform and the optimisation of the expected learning outcomes in order to improve the quality of learning, its practical orientation and its focus towards the acquisition of key competences.
The envisaged investments for the modernisation of the education system are in amount to BGN 569 million and BGN 480 million for STEM centres and innovations in education.
In 2021 (on 24 February 2021) a new Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training and Learning in the Republic of Bulgaria for the period 2021 - 2030 was adopted. The vision of the Strategy was formed taking into account the qualitatively changed social environment and role of education, training and learning in modern societies, as well as the achievements and challenges facing Bulgarian education. It envisages: in 2030 all Bulgarian young people graduate from school as functionally literate, innovative, socially responsible and active citizens motivated to build on their competences through lifelong learning.
With its implementation in 2030 it is expected:
- Pre-school and school education system (PSES) institutions to offer conditions for a highly secure, healthy, environmentally friendly and supportive environment, combining educational traditions, innovative pedagogical solutions and digital development, where children, students, parents and the local community interact to achieve a common goal - the formation of knowledgeable and capable individuals, able to make responsible choices and realize their goals in a dynamic and competitive social environment;
- Educational professional to be competent, supportive, dialogical, open to innovation, develop personal and professional competencies, be able to motivate and inspire children and students, help them build skills and competencies for their cognitive, creative, personal and emotional development, working in partnership with parents and stakeholders.
- Children and pupils are expected to have the competences and motivation for lifelong personal development and improvement, to have the attitude for successful social and professional fulfilment and to contribute to society.
Nine priority areas have been identified for the development of education and training by 2030:
- Early childhood development
- Competences and talents
- Motivated and creative teachers
- Cohesive school communities and systematic work with parents
- Effective inclusion, sustained inclusion and educational integration
- Educational innovation, digital transformation and sustainable development
- Realization in the professions of the present and the future
- Lifelong learning
- Effective management and participation in networks
Implementation of ongoing strategies and reforms
Increasing the coverage and quality of pre-school education
Despite the challenges and consequences associated with the fight against COVID-19, continue to be implemented the activities that contribute to increasing the coverage of children in pre-primary education, facilitating access to education and successfully enrolling every child in pre-primary education from the age of 4 until entry into Grade 1, including by removing socio-economic barriers and implementing measures to address inequalities.
A regulation on compensation for the costs paid by parents for the raising and education of children not enrolled in State or municipal kindergartens or schools due to lack of available places, has been adopted.
The work of the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) on the Programme for construction, extension and reconstruction of nurseries, kindergartens and schools 2020-2022 is ongoing.
Successful inclusion of children and pupils in the school education system and reduction of early school leaving
Priority is given to ensuring the right of every child to a quality education and to preventing school drop-out, with a focus on children and pupils from vulnerable groups. They are implemented together with measures aimed at increasing the completion rate secondary education and promoting the participation of young people in formal and non-formal education and training.
For the sustained inclusion in distance e-learning of children from low social status families, internet access of the required quality has been ensured - more than 500 high-performance internet access zones have been built to ensure connectivity for pupils and teachers for the sole purpose of the educational process.
Raising the quality of schooling to improve educational outcomes, including reducing the proportion of 15-year-olds performing below the critical threshold in the international PISA survey.
Investments are directed to educational infrastructure and upgrading facilities in kindergartens and schools, helping to make them attractive social environment. Fundamental in this respect is the introduction of the competence approach in schools, which requires a shift in the focus of education from teaching knowledge to mastering key competences and developing problem-solving skills. The focus was also on creating and implementing innovations in all areas of school life in all schools and supporting the implementation of pedagogical innovations. The activities are carried out in a context of commitment and coordination of school actions with parents and other stakeholders.
Raising the level of computer and digital skills and competences in order to increase the use of ICT and ICT-based services and educational innovation.
Implementing the changes in the Law on Pre-school and School Education regulating distance learning in an electronic environment, in order to prevent interruption of the educational process and to counteract the risk of dropping out in a distance learning situation, the Ministry of Education and Science has taken special measures - providing laptops to students and teachers who do not have e-learning devices; providing also alternative ways of delivering learning materials and receiving feedback via involving educational mediators and social workers to support the school-family link.