On the problems of education and educational integration: discussion with Minister Valchev
Schools need to work in networks, partner with each other and with all the important factors in education, and be innovative in order to meet students\\\’ real needs. Increasing teacher salaries will continue to be a key priority, with the Bulgarian teacher taking at least 120 percent of the average salary. In parallel, we will invest in improving the facilities as well as in equalizing the capacity of schools with few students. These were part of the main message of the Minister of Education Krasimir Valchev to the principals of the network “Every student will be a winner”. For more than 2 hours, the Minister spoke with over 200 principals from across the country at the annual meeting of the Professional Principals\\\’ Community for Intercultural Education, organized by the Amalipe Center on February 6 and 7 in Sofia. Below is a summary of the answers to the most frequently asked questions during the meeting.
At the beginning of the session, Minister Valtchev listened attentively to the presentation of the Professional Principals\\\’ Community on the development of educational integration policies, presented by Deyan Kolev. ‘Thank you Amalipe Center for the good partnership we have, for helping us with the policy development and implementation of the projects and programs we have, and for initiating important conversations in the system. Thanks also for organizing so many schools in network. This network makes each one of them work better. This is also my observation: there is a very clear relationship between school success and how much more connected it is to networks. The more partnering on the one hand and the more innovative on the other, the more successful it is the school. Then there is the pursuit of work, of innovation. I really wish there were more such networks. We can do more programs and projects on this principle because I see that your schools are mutually inspiring! \\\”, Minister Valchev replied.
He then commented on some of the suggestions made, as well as answering any questions asked through the Slido system.
The responsibility of the principals and everyone in the system
During the meeting, a survey among principals of whether they felt unfair image pressure from theRegional Departments of Education and the Ministry of Education, nearly 80% said that it existed.
The image is a collective boon, replied the Minister of Education. The bad thing about the common good is that because of the wrong attitude of several people, we easily fall into a crisis of trust. The fact is that there are principals who prefer, instead of being in charge of their duties, traveling abroad, attending conferences and Erasmus projects. This strikes the image of hundreds of other conscientious principals, as well as the entire system. This is the reason for ordering the principal to be absent no more than 10 days a year. This does not apply to participation in a qualification or in such professional association meetings – they are outside the stated 10 days.
The idea behind the order and other activities in this direction is different: we must all fulfill our obligations in a conscientious manner! We still do not have the mandate of principals, but if we do not change things in a positive direction, we may introduce a mandate.
Concerning the suspension of child allowances for one year in 5 unexcused absences
A survey among theprincipals found that only 9% of them thought that ending child allowances for one year had a positive effect, although 87% of them applied the measure. In response, Minister Valtchev stressed that the idea of the Ministry of Education is to have a system that is stimulating, not punitive. But restrictions must be applied to parents who do not do the best for their children and practically violate their right to education. Children\\\’s allowances are not stopped but transformed by being translated into schools. The Minister emphasized that the aid thus transformed should be used by the schools for individual support for the student concerned. If the parent does not have sufficient commitment, let the school buy the notebooks, supplies and other things the student needs. There is no further guidance on exactly how schools should use child allowances that are diverted from parents to the school itself. The principal has the freedom to judge how he or she can assist the student with these funds. The only limitation is that the funds must be used for individual support for the student concerned.
Increasing teacher salaries remains a key priority for the Government and the Ministry of Education. Our ambition next year is that teachers\\\’ salaries should be 125% of the average salary in Bulgaria. This level should be maintained in the coming years as a motivated teacher is key to change in the system. We are aware that the commitment to increase salaries is a very large resource. This is also the reason why we are constantly raising uniform spending standards, but they only cover wage increases. In the coming years, there will gradually be an opportunity for more investment in other directions once the desired wage increase is reached.
The material base
Despite the investments made in recent years, there is still much to be desired in terms of facilities. There are schools that have not yet been renovated, many of them are not up to par with the technology, despite the efforts we are making on European projects. The new operational programs to be developed this year will put more resources into the educational infrastructure. There will also be government investment. This year and in the next two years, we are planning to allocate BGN 70 million from the state budget for the construction of kindergartens, so that the municipalities can welcome more children when introducing a requirement for compulsory pre-school education of 4 years. We are also obliged to invest more in vocational high schools, as well as in other schools with vocational classes. In the coming years, we will also focus more resources in these areas.
Schools in small settlements
Our goal is not to close schools, but on the contrary. With the change in the system of delegated budgets from 2018, and more precisely with the introduction of standards for class and institution, we aim to balance the funding curve between schools with few students and large schools. What can and will be done is to increase the weight of the class standard.
I have forbidden the heads of Regional Departments of Education to evaluate schools by comparing the educational results achieved by the different schools in their region. It is clear that where parents have a college or secondary education and are committed to their children\\\’s education, the results are relatively easy to achieve. The same results can be more difficult to achieve if parents are without education and are not committed to education. Therefore, I absolutely do not want to compare the results of different schools. Regional authorities need to be very familiar with the environment in each school and the efforts that its team puts in and appreciate it. If we have 70% attendance at a school, but without the activities of teachers and mediators, this attendance would be much lower, it is a Success and should be evaluated.
Criteria for additional remuneration and evaluation of principals and teachers
These criteria must also be strictly individualized. I have dropped some benchmarks for regional departments that reflect the overall policies of the Ministry. But heads of regional departments must make individual criteria and adapt them to local specifics. There can be no national objective criteria, or if there are any, they can only be indicative.
The same applies to teacher evaluation. Principals should show maximum creativity and knowledge of each teacher\\\’s work.
National external evaluation
National external evaluation’s should not cause any form of stress or anxiety to parents and teachers. Especially when it comes to fourth grade. It can only be the basis for evaluating the progress the students will make afterwards. It is in no way dependent on fate and parents and teachers, in no case should overstate things. External evaluation is solely for measuring the current situation in the school concerned and then monitoring progress. Schools will not be penalized for poor results, but on the contrary they will receive additional support.
Free transportation and school buses
The need to replace school buses for schools and kindergartens with traveling children from other places is undeniable. We have requests for over 900 new buses. Last year we purchased and delivered 100 buses. We will continue to do so as of now it cannot be said how quickly we will be able to renew all buses.
Every year we increase the funds for free transport starting from BGN 14 million. And in 2019 we will provide 44 million. The increase comes from the fact that we are expanding the reach of students for whom we provide free transportation. After the new law came into force, we began to provide free transportation to high school students within the municipality. In 2018, we expanded by starting to provide transportation to the nearest professional class, even if it is in another municipality . Since this year, we have expanded free transport and not to the nearest class, if it is from protected and labor market shortages, even if this specialty is in a neighboring area.
There are currently problems with some municipalities such as Pazardzhik, as well as the fact that the amount provided per kilometer seems low for some bus carriers. Individual solutions will need to be sought.
For desegregation and learning in an ethnically mixed environment
Desegregation is an extremely important process without which it is not possible for quality education of Roma children to occur. In 2019, for the first time, the Ministry of Education introduced a National Desegregation Program, funded by the State Budget. We will continue this program in 2020. It funds a small part of what is needed to desegregate such as inland transport, study aids and more. Unfortunately, the interest of municipalities in the National Program was very low. And desegregation can only happen as a municipal policy and cannot be without the involvement of the municipalities.
In the course of the conversation, the case of the ongoing process of secondary segregation in the municipality of Samokov was described and Minister Valchev made a commitment to organize a special meeting on this issue.