The Future of Desegregation and Education Policies
A sincere conversation about the range of educational segregation, the ways to overcome it and the overall development of school education in the coming months and years, took place during the National Conference “State of Educational Integration: From Segregation to an Ethnically Mixed Environment”. The first panel of the Conference was attended by the Minister of Education Nikolay Denkov, MPs Krasimir Valchev and Denitsa Sacheva, Christina de Bruin – director of UNICEF for Bulgaria and representative of the Group of Ambassadorial on Roma Issues, Teodora Dacheva, deputy director of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria, Hristina Petkova from DG Education of the European Commission, Deyan Kolev from Center Amalipe Center and Boyan Zahariev from the Open Society Institute. Around 150 teachers, principals, educational mediators and NGO representatives took place in the conference.
At the beginning of the first panel of the Conference, Boyan Zahariev presented the methodology and results of the study of segregated educational institutions, conducted within the framework of the “No Segregation” Project. It covers all regions of the country and all educational institutions – kindergartens, general education schools, professional and vocational high schools. The survey is based on the information that each school and kindergarten submits through the National electronic information system for preschool and school education regarding the educational and socio-economic status of the parents. It also uses the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) classification of educational institutions according to the concentration of vulnerable groups, dividing them into 6 categories – 5 groups of schools depending on the percentage of parents with less than secondary education and the 6th group, uniting schools without a concentration of low- educated parents. In addition, experts from the No Segregation Project conducted field research to supplement this information with data on the ethnic background of the parents.
Boyan Zahariev presented interesting maps of the segregated educational institutions in several of the major Bulgarian cities and the potential reasons for their segregation. You can see the presentation here.
Deyan Kolev presented the main models of segregation and important successful examples of desegregation in Bulgaria. He also made recommendations for urgent policy actions through which the executive and legislative authorities should support the efforts of municipalities, schools
and NGOs for desegregation. The recommendations include changes to the Law on Preschool and School Education, the Standard for Civic … and Intercultural Education, expanding the scope of the National Program for Desegregation, and a number of others. See the entire presentation here.
In his speech, the Minister of Education Prof. Denkov pointed out that educational integration should be one of the top three priorities for the development of Bulgarian education. He pointed out that thanks to the efforts of the outreach teams, more than 3,000 out of a total of 44,000 children who are in Bulgaria but not covered by the education system have been returned to the education system in the last year. I.e. there are still 8% of children living in Bulgaria of compulsory education age who are not in classrooms. Apart from them, there are tens of thousands of others who are abroad.
Minister Denkov agreed with the recommendations made, stressing that the Amalipe Center and the Open Society Institute have a unique opportunity to combine large-scale field work and skills for deriving analytical and political recommendations. The MES will expand its activities to promote education in an ethnically mixed environment and for desegregation. Minister Denkov emphasized that the strongest potential for solving the problem lies in increasing the quality of education in every school, regardless of the ethnic diversity in it. Children are different, they have different interests, and we must give all children an equal start. Therefore, it is necessary to differentiate the approach to them.
Minister Denkov pointed out important steps that have already been taken, paying attention to what was achieved under the previous government. For example, compulsory pre-school education from the age of 4, free kindergartens, diverse extracurricular activities and so on. He pointed out 7 directions in which educational policies should be developed in order for the school to be an interesting and attractive place for every child:
- Early childhood development – increasing the standard, continuing the construction of kindergartens and nurseries, appointing the necessary number of speech therapists, psychologists and other specialists, so that every child receives the necessary care and enters the first grade prepared;
- Education should not be a financial hardship for parents – we have already introduced free kindergarten and I thank the NGO sector for initiating the discussion on this much-needed step. We will continue with free textbooks, food for the children, dormitories, electronic resources… The MES is taking care of starting this autumn an electronic cloud with resources – electronic lessons and other online educational products, which should provide online educational materials to everyone. This access should not be abstract, but free and easily accessible to all children and parents, to enable exchange between students and teachers;
- Quality of school learning: we will continue to invest in teacher qualifications. Thanks to Teach for Bulgaria and Amalipe for showing in which directions the qualification should develop. It is necessary for the state to take care of the practically oriented qualification of teachers. Every single teacher, during their university training, has to complete an internship in a difficult school, together with an internship in a basic school, which usually has a low concentration of vulnerable groups;
- Creating interest among students: we will continue to build STEM classrooms. In addition to natural – mathematical sciences and inter-subject connections, they should become a center for extracurricular activities in addition to the national programs and children from all ethnicities and social groups should participate in them. In this way, the difference between one and the other schools will be overcome;
- For vocational high schools: there are serious funds planned in the Education Program, as well as a new program in the coming months. It is necessary for vocational high schools to acquire the prestige and attractiveness that language and mathematics high schools have – I believe that this is possible and not an illusion;
- Role models: educational mediators are a small part of the role models who motivate students and their parents. We will ensure sustainability of educational mediators. In addition, we are considering a new role for Centers for personal development support – expanding the activities of the centers for personal development, career development and organizing various extracurricular activities in them. Children from different schools and different ethnicities will participate in these activities so that they can constantly interact;
- Introducing a value-added assessment system: it assesses how far pupils have progressed, their family background and where they start from when entering the school concerned. The system will evaluate schools according to the efforts made and the effect they achieve on specific students. We anticipate that this system will be partially tested within 2 months, using the achieved results of the State matriculation exams and the external evaluation. I expect that the winners will not be the “usual suspects”, but schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups.
Teodora Dacheva, deputy executive director of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria, pointed out that for all municipalities education is a leading priority. She emphasized the fact that the situation with the number of children and school buildings is very different in different municipalities – in 40 municipalities there is only one school, in 70% of the municipalities the number of children is decreasing and the school buildings are empty, while in Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna and several other regional centers do not reach the kindergarten buildings and a single shift teaching process cannot be implemented. Desegregation is important for all municipalities, and in small rural municipalities it is associated with increasing the quality of rural schools, while in regional centers other approaches can be sought.
Beyond the words
Both the first panel and the entire conference made a strong impression with the constructive tone of the political discussions held, in which representatives of various political parties participated. Despite the tense political situation and the extremely heated tone of the parliamentary debates in recent days, the conference was characterized by a spirit of shared values, respect for the achievements of other participants, a desire for supra-partisanship in education policies and recognition of the role of civil organizations. All this made the participants feel confident that the policies of educational integration and desegregation would be continued regardless of the political turbulence and that the solutions reached by the participants would be implemented.