Back at School: Refugee Children Learn Alongside Bulgarian Kids

Written by on September 16, 2016 in Bulgaria - No comments

At school no. 32, St. Klement Ochridski, the first day of school started with chaos and a priest. It is unclear, why a Christian Orthodox priest preached on the school’s premises yesterday, at this institution with 2,000 students of all grades. Hardly any of the kids listened to the religious lecture. While he was shouting into that microphone, they told each other about the holidays, including the most important adventure they had, called Pokémon Go.

One of the 7th grades was supposed to assemble in the class room, presumably in order to hear about the coming school year. But, during the 30 minutes they spent inside, all they got was their class schedule for today and Monday. Next week, they are supposed to receive a new one. It was another wasted day at school no. 32. Unless things have changed during the vacation, for some reason, there will be more of those, due to a lack of motivation among most teachers. So far, there is no indication for any change. A hundred priests preaching on the school yard will not improve anything either.

What has changed, is the general approach. Yet another education reform is kicking in now. Primary school will now officially end after 7th grade, according to Bulgarian National Radio, but that is what it felt like before. Also, state funding for schools will now be available for private schools as well, but there is not much to go around anyway. On top of that, very gifted children are supposed to be supported more. Critics do not believe any of the measures will change anything.

Because, in most cases, classes are being taught by underpaid teachers with no motivation, in a very old-fashioned way, a majority of school kids need private classes at home too. Only three percent of all teachers in Bulgaria are 35 years old or younger, a fact which leads to the question of how much innovation can there actually be. Teacher-centered teaching is the central aspect of the Bulgarian approach, instead of more modern forms of teaching, which would give kids more opportunity to research, to find out about things themselves and develop some enthusiasm. Well, not ever here.

Yet another issue will have to be resolved: The number of school dropouts needs to be decreased. Last year, almost 4,000 kids have left the school system prematurely.

But, there is one new aspect: In Sofia’s Ovcha Kupel quarter, school no. 66 started teaching refugee children. A total of 28 kids from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria were enrolled there. They will be in grades one to three and learn Bulgarian first. In a country like Bulgaria, which is not very multi-ethnic, apart from its two discriminated minorities, this is new indeed. It remains to be seen how successful the integration of these refugee kids will be.

By Imanuel Marcus

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