Schools with a small number of students and the Kovid-19 pandemic: statistics and beyond

In 501 schools, the entire junior high school stage consists of less than 50 students. In them a class and a class coincide, as for the respective junior high school class there is one class, in most cases – small, and sometimes even merged with another class. The situation is similar in 289 schools teaching middle school students, in which the five high school classes teach less than 100 students. Most of these relatively few schools have a large building stock, but the demographic crisis and migration abroad have left them with low class / class occupancy. For these schools, the current national anti-epidemic measure, which returns only one junior high school and two high school classes to classrooms, seems like a restriction that is difficult to understand. What is the state of the pandemic, the anti-epidemic measures in these schools and what are the rational solutions for them?

The school network in Bulgaria is characterized by diversity, including the occupancy of classes, classes and schools themselves. The average size of a school is currently exactly 300 students, but there are huge differences – 1451 schools have up to 300 children, the remaining 808 schools to a total of 2259 have over 300 students. Approximately 1/3 of the schools have over 300 children. The median school has 200 students (actually 200.5), and 25% of the schools have over 431 students.

This diversity can also be seen when comparing schools with the most and the least students. Over 32% of the schools in Bulgaria have less than 100 students. These are 704 schools. Despite the shock optimization of the school network in 2007 and 2008 following the introduction of delegated school budgets, small schools have and will have their place in Bulgaria due to the presence of many villages that are alive, ie in which children are still born . The system of central schools cannot cover the more remote villages, especially in the mountainous and semi-mountainous areas, and access to education is a fundamental principle that must be guaranteed. At the other pole on occupancy are 22% of schools that teach more than 500 students. For example, in 92 schools there are over 1000 students… Usually they are located in Sofia, where more than 20% of Bulgarian students study, as well as in the regional cities.

Transposing these disparities in the lower secondary stage, we see that 43% of schools with lower secondary classes have up to 50 students in them. These are 501 schools – primary, secondary or united. In them, the junior high school class – fifth, sixth and seventh – is almost always composed of one class. The situation is similar in 31% of the schools in which there are less than 100 high school students.

A study by the Amalipe Center from the beginning of February, conducted in 233 schools of the intercultural education network “Every student will be an excellent student”, shows that in schools with a small number of students it is definitely unjustified to keep distance learning in an electronic environment of some classes. Returning to the classrooms of most of the schools with up to 120-150 students will not seriously aggravate the epidemic situation, the study shows. There are at least three reasons for this statement. The first is the strict observance of anti-epidemic measures in small schools. The second reason is the availability of sufficient building stock and space to maintain social distance, even when all students return. Third, in the closed rural communities of Kovid-19, the pandemic is rare and students in nearly three-quarters of schools have not touched it.

Limiting the Kovid-19 pandemic is one of the most important challenges facing societies in almost all countries, including Bulgaria. Protecting the health and lives of citizens is a priority. From this point of view, the transition of schools to distance learning in an electronic environment seems to be a relatively painless measure, especially against the background of the closure of entire sectors of the economy. At the same time, we must bear in mind that the long-term consequences for the education of all children, and especially of children from vulnerable groups, are extremely negative. The World Bank’s assessment of the losses from distance learning in the second term of the past school year 2019/2020 predicts that Bulgaria’s results will deteriorate by 8 PISA points, will increase the percentage of functionally illiterate from 47 to 54 and will further deepen the differences between the most the best performers and the worst performing students. The World Bank estimates the economic loss at $ 393 million a year. This expert assessment illustrates with mathematically measurable indicators what every teacher clearly knows, namely – distance learning can not compensate for all losses and can not replace for a longer period of time the present interaction between teachers and students. It is necessary for as large a group of students as possible to return to the classrooms, of course – subject to all measures to limit the pandemic.

What is the optimal solution for small schools, educating students with classes of one or two classes and having enough building stock to ensure the necessary social distance?

In a letter from the end of January to the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education, the Amalipe Center and the schools of the Network for Intercultural Education “Every student will be an excellent student” suggested that autonomous decisions be given for the return of junior high and middle school students. . They insisted that in schools with a small number of students, in particular with one class in each class, be given the opportunity to return to face-to-face training in more junior high and high school classes, depending on the availability of sufficient facilities. A national decision is fully justified in which all classes with one class to return in person to the classrooms and this is not on a rotating basis. In addition, the possibility of autonomous local solutions should be provided, allowing the return of more classes depending on the availability of a sufficient building stock and the possibility of maintaining social distance and implementing anti-epidemiological measures.

Author’s note: The analysis was prepared before Order № RD-01-98 / 14.02.2021 came into force, which allowed schools to return all classes in which there is only one class from 15 February.