Distance learning in an electronic environment in December – questions and answers

From November 30 to December 21, all schools go into distance learning mode in an electronic environment. Kindergartens also close their doors. How long is the distance learning expected to last? Will the school year be extended and is there a danger of a zero school year? Will the system projects Support for Success and Education for Tomorrow be implemented during this period? What will schools do where most students do not have electronic devices or an Internet connection?

Although at this moment almost half of the bulgarian students are in distance learning in an electronic environment, most of the questions above still do not have a clear answer. The Amalipe Center summarized the information available at the time to support the efforts of tens of thousands of teachers and parents who are the real heroes of the children at the moment.


Minister Valchev’s order for the new work regime is until December 21. Will the on-site training be resumed on December 22 and 23?

No, with another order Minister Valchev extended the winter vacation on December 22 and 23 at the expense of the interim vacation. This will take effect if the emergency measures are lifted on December 21st, as planned at this time. In any case, students will not return to school in person during this calendar year.

It is possible that if the measures weaken after December 21, the children will return to nurseries / kindergartens. If this happens, it will be by order of the mayor.


When will the face-to-face training be resumed?

Any answer to this question at the moment is more speculation. To a large extent, the return to face-to-face training depends on the development of the covid epidemic and the decision of the Council of Ministers and the Minister of Health to continue, tighten or loosen the anti-epidemic measures adopted.

At present, the announced plans of the Ministry of Education and Science are to proceed with the gradual restoration of the present training, first for the kindergartens and for the initial stage. After that, students from the critical seventh, eighth and 12th grades, as well as the junior high school, will be able to return to the classrooms. It will be alternated between face-to-face and online learning, ie it is very likely that high school and junior high school will alternate between face-to-face and distance learning, as was planned until recently.

Until now, the Ministry of Education has applied a decentralized approach, allowing entire schools or classes to move into distance learning according to the decision of the relevant teaching staff and principal, or the relevant Regional Health Inspectorate. This approach was welcomed by many schools, as it corresponded to the real situation in the respective regions – in some schools there is not a single sick student or teacher, while in others there are so many absent teachers that it is difficult to conduct a real learning process… Some principals applied an approach in which the initial stage remains present in school, while the lower secondary and upper secondary stages go out simultaneously in distance learning and so on. In facilitating the current measures, it would be good to apply this decentralized approach even more widely and to give the teaching staff the opportunity to do so. In any case, we should be prepared to alternate between face-to-face and distance learning for an extended period of time.


Will the school year be extended and until when?

At this point, it is already certain that for primary and lower secondary classes the school year will be extended by two weeks in June. This does not result in a two-week longer vacation in December or April. The two additional weeks provided are for individual and group project activities, as well as for activities that will make up for the inevitable deficit accumulated during distance learning.


Should schools use the two extra weeks for individual and group project activities now, in December?

Schools have to decide when to use these two weeks as they can do it at different times for different classes. In discussions with principals from the network Each student will be an excellent student, we found that most of the schools will not start using the Weeks for individual and group project activities now, but will do so in June. The decision everywhere should be individual and in accordance with the readiness of the pedagogical teams and the parents.


Is there a danger of a zero school year?

No. Distance learning in an electronic environment is also a form of learning, as face-to-face learning and students are not on holiday. Even if distance learning has to continue, this does not lead to a zero school year.


Is only real-time and electronic platform learning distance learning in an electronic environment?

No. Both synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning from. distance. The amendments to the Preschool and School Education Act of September 2020 introduce two different concepts – Distance learning in an electronic environment and Synchronous distance learning in an electronic environment. The latter is required only as an element of innovation in some innovative schools, while the former is applicable in all cases where the present learning process is discontinued. It can include both real-time synchronous lessons and forms of asynchronous distance learning, including setting tasks via Messenger and other social networks. Dissemination of materials by educational mediators is also permissible.

Of course, synchronous distance learning gives much better results and we strongly recommend it. But in many schools or individual classes it cannot be done for various reasons. These schools should not be stigmatized. For example, spring distance research in the UK found that more than 70% of public schools did not provide synchronous learning in any form, and so on. The Bulgarian teacher, including the teacher working with vulnerable groups, has always applied diligence and innovation, which is why Bulgaria is one of the countries with the highest percentage of covered in synchronous distance learning. We hope that this trend will continue in the coming weeks.


What should schools do to provide the necessary distance learning devices to all students if a large percentage of students do not have them?

The lack of devices remains a serious problem for many students and especially for schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups. In some places, the lack of proper internet communication is also a problem. Unfortunately, there is no universal solution to these challenges yet. There are several real opportunities for schools, which we described in our material 10 days ago. See the current opportunities for covering internet communication and distance learning devices presented here.

When approving the budget for 2021, the National Assembly adopted an additional BGN 15 million, which will be distributed among schools for the purchase of disinfectants, ventilation systems, as well as for distance learning devices. Schools will be able to buy devices with them, including tablets. Following the publication of the state budget, the Council of Ministers is expected to approve a decree on the distribution of these funds.

In many schools there is a problem not only with the lack of devices among some students, but also with the lack of skills in children and their parents to use learning resources and online platforms. The Amalipe Center and some of our partner schools already have successful experience in engaging student mentors, parents and educational mediators to support those who do not have the necessary skills. The Help a Friend principle often proves to be one of the most reliable tools for overcoming this challenge.


What should be the duration of synchronous distance learning lessons?

For the primary classes it should be 20 minutes, in the high school classes – 30 minutes, in the high school stages – 40 minutes, and in the all-day organization – 30 minutes.


Will the implementation of the projects Support for Success and Education for Tomorrow continue during the distance learning?

Yes. The implementation of both projects can and should continue. An announcement was made on the electronic platforms of both projects in October and early November that it is permissible for additional training and interest-based activities to continue through distance learning. This is one of the differences with distance learning in the second term of the past school year.

It is very important to continue the implementation of system projects so that your students do not accumulate additional knowledge deficits. Of course, it will be even more important for them to make up for the gaps after returning to school through systematic projects.


If a parent has to go on unpaid leave to take care of their child. who is in distance learning, will he be entitled to any assistance?

Families with children up to 14 years of age who study at a distance will be entitled to targeted assistance from the state, as its maximum amount for a whole month for a family with one child is BGN 610 (with a monthly income below BGN 2745), and for families with two or more children – BGN 915 (with a monthly income below BGN 3660). In this way, targeted assistance will be given in proportion to the days when parents are not at work due to childcare.

More information about the benefits can be found here.


Some practical tips:

  1. 1. Upgrade the distance learning experience during the second academic term of the previous year. Try to take a new step to involve more students in even more diverse forms. Certainly your students, parents and teachers are already much better prepared;
  2. 2. Match the forms of distance learning with the real capabilities of your students – do they have devices, internet communication, what are their skills and so on. It is possible to apply synchronous forms in some of the classes and classes, and asynchronous in others. The best form of distance learning is the one that involves the largest number of students and develops to the greatest extent their knowledge and abilities;
  3. 3. Be prepared to adapt the chosen methods and means on a daily basis according to what the students give you. A system is more alive the faster it adapts;
  4. 4. Seek the help of parents – they can be your first assistant to ensure the commitment of students and that they will take the necessary time. Don’t worry about some parents having a low level of education: if they have a commitment to their children’s education (and this is often the case with the most uneducated), they will be able to secure their children’s commitment. It is now a period of crisis. Approach your parents by showing them that together you can overcome this crisis. This unites and creates communities. This will strengthen the bond between parents and teachers. For Roma, a sense of belonging to a community is particularly important, understandable and recognizable. In addition, in the Roma community, mutual assistance is one of the core values and a widespread practice. Show your parents that you trust them and it would be difficult to cope without them;
  5. 5. Seek help from educational mediators and NGOs working with the parents of the most marginalized families. They can reach them, but remember that they need to be properly equipped;
  6. 6. Think about how to make the students themselves active in this process: assign them responsibility, give them the opportunity to create things – this will provoke their interest.


Here are some ideas:

  • Assign a student to create and be the administrator of a messenger / FB group that you will use for distance learning. If this is a student you have not encouraged so far, this is an ideal opportunity for him to express himself. He can reach, involve and activate his other classmates much more successfully (at least, most students actively communicate with each other via messenger, viber, etc.);
  • In some of the schools successfully work students – mentors who help their classmates who encounter certain difficulties, regardless of whether they are related to teaching materials, motivation, participation. The model of students-mentors can be successfully adapted in distance learning, and students-mentors will be assigned to work more actively with certain students (but let this connection also be distance, not physical);
  • Assign students to develop their own topics and exercises (or you can try a new lesson) and present them to others. Lessons can be digital. During the Leadership Academy, organized by the Amalipe Center in November 2019, in one of the sessions, we developed such lessons with the participants. If you decide to do so, you can count on our help. This will inevitably provoke the interest of the students – they themselves will become authors, and the network of Amalipe their lessons can be shared and watched by both students and other schools;
  • Don’t just focus on the best and most engaged students. This is a natural reflex, but with appropriate forms of distance learning, you could also attract students who have been passive so far.


Beyond the technical details

There is hardly any doubt that the most effective is the most effective form of training is present. Distance learning in an electronic environment can only partially replace face-to-face learning – in a relatively short period of time and with the inevitable calculation of educational losses. The possible long-term transition to online learning will have serious negative consequences, especially for primary school students.

The World Bank’s assessment of distance learning losses in the second term of the past school year predicts that Bulgaria’s performance will deteriorate by 8 PISA points, increase the percentage of functionally illiterate from 47 to 54 and further deepen the gap between the best performers. и An increase in the number of school dropouts and early school leavers is also forecast, which will reduce to a minimum the effect of the successes achieved in recent years in this direction. The World Bank estimates the economic loss at $ 393 million a year.

In order to avoid or minimize the negative effects on education, as well as on the economy and society as a whole, it is necessary for institutions at the national level, schools, parents and non-governmental organizations to work together in support of school teachers, educational mediators and parents. You can expect concrete proposals in this direction on the page of Amalipe Center.


Author Deyan Kolev