Distance learning in a multicultural environment: the change we did not expect

Nearly 300 teachers and principals from all over the country, including Bulgarian schools abroad, university professors, mediators and educational experts took part in the conference “Distance Learning in a Multicultural Environment”, organized by the Amalipe Center and the Department of Continuing Education and Qualification of Teachers (DCEQT) at the University of Veliko Tarnovo “St. St. Cyril and Methodius ”, with the support of the Trust for Social Alternative on July 30. It was held online through the Zoom platform. The symbolic host of the event was the University of Veliko Tarnovo “St. St. Cyril and Methodius”. The Minister of Education Krasimir Valchev, the heads of the system projects of the Ministry of Education and Science Greta Gancheva, Evgenia Kostadinova, Natalia Mihalevska, Penka Ivanova and other representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science also took part in the forum.

            11.00 – 12.30 Plenary session

           “I welcome the forum on behalf of the Rector of the University of Veliko Tarnovo” St. St. Cyril and Methodius “Prof. Hristo Bondjolov”, said in his welcoming words the Vice-Rector Assoc. Prof. Dr. Dimitar Simeonov. “There is no doubt about the importance of ethnocultural socialization of students. Our university has long been committed to the qualification of various pedagogical specialists. Working in a multicultural environment is an important part of the qualification we offer, and our university is proud of its graduates in this regard. ”

“Digital education is the future, but we cannot do without the offline education,” said Ognyan Isayev, director of the Educational Opportunities and Achievements Program of the Trust for Social Achievement. “In 1 out of 4 schools, over 50% of the students did not have devices. We, Amalipe and other partners, organized donation campaigns to improve children’s access. But for younger children, even the inclusion itself was a challenge due to a lack of skills. This was a challenge even for educated parents. Another aspect was the psychological moment, which was beyond the control of institutions, parents, teachers. We had to adapt. ”

         “I want to congratulate you once again for what you are doing,” said Minister Valchev. “I am impressed by the work of almost all schools in the Amalipe network. You prove that when schools work in a network, they are much more creative, proactive and work better. We manage to implement the most important policies that lie ahead. Thank you for the good partnership we have! The challenges still lie ahead, but now in a slightly more difficult situation. Next year we will probably continue to live in such an epidemic situation. We will probably switch to different areas when the epidemic situation becomes more complicated. Much more will have to be done extraordinarily and individually with children: not only on Support for Success, but every teacher will have to work with children who are less willing to participate or do not have opportunities. The work of mediators is extremely important. I take this opportunity to thank all the mediators for their work in recent months.”

Afterwards, Minister Valchev presented the main challenges facing Bulgarian education. Detailed information can be found here.

  In his welcoming words, the Chairman of the Amalipe Center Deyan Kolev pointed out that this is the eighth consecutive pedagogical conference of scientific and practical nature organized by Amalipe and the University of Veliko Tarnovo. But this is the first online conference and its technical organization turned out to be a serious challenge.

Deyan Kolev presented the results of a survey among 150 schools from the network “Every student will be an excellent student” on how they carried out distance learning in the period March-June. The results clearly show the efforts that schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups have made and the important results achieved. The number of students enrolled in distance learning has significantly increased, as well as the percentage of participants in online lessons and forms of synchronous distance learning. At the same time, important problems remain, such as the lack of devices among many students and the non-participation of children from the most vulnerable families. The help of educational mediators was especially important.

          Galya Timova, Deputy Director of 75 Todor Kableshkov Primary School – Sofia, located in the Roma neighborhood of the Faculty, made a presentation on activating parents following the model of Dr. Joyce Epstein. She presented the main models in communication, the differences in the way different actors perceive the role of the parent and models for the active and full involvement of parents in the educational process. Cooperation in the community is key, said Ms. Timova.

Dr. Boyan Zahariev – Director of the Education Program, at the Open Society Institute presented ideas for the future of distance education. He stressed that modern technology suggests many opportunities that until now seemed incredible, citing the//and gave as an example the// closure of thousands of schools during the Spanish flu a century ago. At the time, it was unthinkable to imagine the possibility of schools continuing to operate, albeit remotely. The introduction of online forms and digital education is an irreversible trend. At the same time, Dr. Zahariev stressed that it is not possible to completely replace the present training and especially its important function to socialize.

Associate Professor Lazarova and Associate Professor Petya Sabeva from the University of Veliko Tarnovo “St. St. Cyril and Methodius” introduced academic discourse through their presentation Distance, digital and distance learning in an electronic environment: a terminological maze or lost in translation.

All presentations as well as a video of the plenary session can be found here.

            12.50 – 14.30. PRESENTATION OF GOOD PRACTICES (Parallel sessions)

During the second session, divided into four groups, the participants had the opportunity to share and discuss good practices, support mechanisms and challenges in four areas: teachers, students, parents and mediators, kindergartens.

Radostina Boycheva from “Teach for all”, who were co-organizers of the session in Group one “Learned lessons, methods and techniques to support pedagogical specialists in distance learning, successful decisions for organizing and conducting the learning process”, moderated the session. At the very beginning, after dividing into an individual room, the group prepared work norms during the session. Role-playing followed: through the Kahoot p

latform. Afterwards, principals and teachers shared the mechanisms they have implemented to support their colleagues in the process of introducing distance learning so that they feel supported and can overcome the maximum psychological burden.  Maria Velazquez from “Teach for all” presented the purposeful practice of the organization during distance learning to work in small groups and to support both teaching staff and to improve their skills in response to the challenges of the environment. In addition to teachers, the group also included a senior expert from RDE-Vratsa Gergana Vasileva, who explained in detail the support that the educational department provides to pedagogical teams in the form of distance learning.

More than 25 educational mediators and school principals took part in working group two “Breaking stereotypes or confirming hypotheses – The participation of Roma parents and educational mediators”. The beginning of the meeting was opened by the representatives of Amalipe Center, Deyan Kolev and Atanas Atanasov, and during the meeting the good practices for the work of the educational mediator during the state of emergency were presented. The educational mediators managed to share what was the most difficult for them, but at the same time the most exciting. They presented their work during the state of emergency, touching on the topics: Angel Angelov, Profesional High school of Agriculture – Shumen (educational mediator) – “Application of distance learning”; Krasimira Blagoeva, principal of “Vasil Levski” primary school in the village of Karadjovo – “The educational mediator works with students who do not have access to the Internet”; Zlatina Boyanova, Kotel – “Educational mediator during a pandemic”; Veronika Petrova, village of Novo Selo (educational mediator) – “The participation of parents and educational mediators in the learning process”; Tihomir Georgiev, Krivodol (educational mediator) – “Educational mediator – mission possible Impressive was the fact that everywhere the educational mediators they represented were supported by their teachers and principals and acted as a well-oiled mechanism. This imposed the message that the state of emergency has inevitably played a role in educating educational mediators to establish their authority and position and to become an integrated part of the school staff. This group united around the conclusion that in situations similar to the one in which our country finds itself, we realize how important each work is, and how important it is not to underestimate it. Educational mediators at risk for their lives have not stopped being for the benefit of their community, school, children, parents!

In group three – Challenges and opportunities for kindergartens, the moderator was Silvia Stancheva – an expert at CIDT Amalipe and a trainer at TSA under the international program “Embracing Diversity. This panel was dedicated to preschool education and supported by RAIN Bulgaria – the network for early childhood development in a Roma environment. 5 good practices in kindergartens from different parts of the country were presented – the capital, regional towns and small villages. Educators have proven that the use of information technology is possible in kindergartens. They said that the emergency situation surprised and hindered them, but gave them the opportunity to expand and develop. For children aged 3 to 7, it was no less important to continue the learning process during isolation – especially for children from compulsory preparatory groups. The good practices showed different parts of the work in the kindergarten – work with bilingual children – children whose mother tongue is different from Bulgarian, work with new pedagogical methods and techniques, showed how pre-set activities can subsequently be adapted and implemented with the observed measures for safety. Ways to achieve an interactive learning process that maximizes the shortcomings of distance learning in young children and to take full advantage of digital education were discussed. The participants in the panel unanimously agreed that distance learning has taught them to pay attention to the need to support participants at all levels in the kindergarten – support from institutions, support from the principal, support with a colleague and creating a space for mutual support between teachers – internal qualifications, peer learning, the importance of lifelong learning, and very importantly, parental support. They united around the opinion that the authority of the pedagogue is increasing. And that in today’s dynamic times, all participants in the education system must be flexible and creative. The panelists also concluded that remote work required greater participation of parents in kindergartens, as children are small and can not participate remotely without their help. And the fact that the parents participated restored their trust in the educational institutions, in this case the kindergarten.

In the fourth group, we had the pleasure of discussing Success Stories: the change in students that we did not expect. The aim was to get acquainted with good practices from the introduction of distance learning in a multicultural environment with an emphasis on examples of activating students and their active involvement in the organization of the learning process. Students mentors and group leaders, active school communities during distance learning. Moderators of the session were Nelly Nikolova and Denitsa Ivanova, who together with the panelists – the team of “Arete“ Youth Foundation, Anatoli Georgiev, Deputy Director of “Hristo Botev” Primary School in the village of Dolni Tsibar, Yordanka Vasileva, Sofia University “Traiko Simeonov”, Shumen, Donka Petrova, Galina Toshkova, “Dobri Voynikov” Primary School, Pobeda village and Daniela Hristova, director of “P.R. Slaveykov” Primary School, Dzhulyunitsa village, presented successful practices for activating students.

This helped us to see more clearly the effect of our efforts, to share the difficulties, to give solutions and to remain with the feeling that in a shared space everyone can help, get help and not be alone. We are united around the quote of the American philosopher and reformer in education John Dewey “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” Our children are ready for tomorrow and we must be!

            14.45 – 16.00. EDUCATION STRATEGIES

And while in the first session we set the framework and trends in educational policies in a pandemic, in the second we went through the good practices of the last pee, in the final third session we discussed the Strategies for Education in the new school year, as each of us sees them of their professional experience. Using the opportunities provided by the Zoom platform, and having already experienced and mastered the pitfalls of working in groups and dividing into virtual zoom rooms, we randomly split into four groups to reflect on the need for change in several areas. Detailed information about the work in this session and the suggestions made, you can see here.

All presentations, part of the VIII National Pedagogical Conference “Distance Learning in a Multicultural Environment” can be viewed from this link in the Padlet platform. The presentations are organized in separate folders for the specific sessions and groups in which they were presented, so you can find them by opening the individual subfolders by category. The reports that were sent, but which we could not include in the Program, were uploaded in the separate places.

If you have questions related to the conference, its materials or the activities of the Amalipe Center, you can write to our emails: office@amalipe.com, edu@amalipe.com. Thanks to everyone who believed in us and helped us get through this challenge together! We keep learning! We hope we have helped you to take something from this shared experience: experience, information… or just the emotion of meeting like-minded people!

And in order to be even better next time, your feedback is extremely important to us, for which we ask you to fill in the survey attached here.

The network “Every student will be a winner” was established by the Amalipe Center and unites nearly 300 schools across the country. It aims to create a working model for reducing school dropout, increasing the motivation for education of students and parents, creating a host multicultural environment and introducing innovative methods of work based on intercultural elements that lead to increased the educational results of the students.

The meeting is realized with the support of

Trust for Social Achievement (TSA) is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to break the vicious circle of poverty by promoting opportunities that help the most disadvantaged citizens of Bulgaria to achieve educational and economic success. TSA supports programs that, with their integrity, growth potential and transparency, help to improve the well-being of the poorest people in Bulgaria, with a special focus on the Roma.