School Kids in Sofia, Bulgaria: Good Grades Cost Good Money

Written by on December 13, 2016 in Bulgaria, Latest, Sofia - No comments

Due to a fire next door, hundreds of kids are leaving school no. 32 in Sofia shortly after they arrived. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

On Monday morning, at around 9 a.m., countless students at school no. 32 in Sofia called their parents, right after the building was evacuated, due to a fire. While fire brigade trucks were on their way, hundreds of kids ran out of the main entrance, filling the narrow Sofroniy Vrachanski Street, and not leaving too much room to the fire brigade. Most kids looked rather happy about the fact that school was out for the rest of the day.

It looks like the fire started next door, in a building used by the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture. Those offices are connected to the school by a door, around which there might have been smoke. Out on the street, it smelled of burnt plastic and asbestos. Some of the smoke, which might have been toxic, could be felt inside the school building. It was most likely a cable fire.

After a while, the news section on the school’s website read, Monday was a “non-academic day, due to an issue with electrical power”, which does sound a lot better without the word “fire”, especially to parents. Still, many students who were part of the second shift (in Bulgaria, there are not enough school buildings for a morning shift only), came to school, since they had not read that tiny message.

A week earlier, the same school had a power issue of a different kind. One of the teachers told the kids in 7th grade, there was going to be an electricity outage the next day, because the school had not payed its bills. Her prediction turned out to be accurate, when all lights and devices gave up 24 hours later. Why would a school with 2000 kids not pay their electricity bill? A good question, which will not be answered here.

The fire brigade are fighting a cable fire in the vicinity of school no. 32, on Monday morning. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

But the main problem at school no. 32, and many other schools in Sofia, is not the electricity or a cable fire next door, but the fact that hardly any student seems to be learning anything. Almost all children take private classes at home or elsewhere, almost every day, except for those whose parents can not afford them. The latter kids are lost in an education system which does not seem to work at many schools in Sofia.

Private classes for students have become a big business. They are being offered for hourly fees between 5 and 15 Euro per hour. The price tag for private classes in math, sciences, Bulgarian and history, once per week each, for 10 Euro per hour, would amount to 40 Euro or 80 Leva for one kid. Considering the tiny salaries people get in Bulgaria, parents are having trouble making ends meet. The fact that the system is failing is not their fault. But they get to pay for it anyway.

At school no. 32, the math teacher in 7th grade has to cover one chapter per day, in order to finish the material until the school year ends. When students ask her to explain a subject again, since actually none of them understood anything, she just says she has to carry on with the material and that there was no time to explain things twice.

The next problem: All 7th graders in Bulgaria have to pass their “Matura”, big exams in all subjects. Whether they can visit one of the few good schools starting in 8th grade or not, will depend on the grades they get. Without good grades, there is no good school, and there are no good grades without good money for good private classes.

There is hardly any perfect education system in any country, maybe except for some places in Scandinavia, where they come closer to perfection. So, issues in schools are not limited to Bulgaria, but there seem to be pretty substantial problems here. The whole thing is actually scandalous.

Most teachers in Bulgaria are old, many of them have old-fashioned teaching concepts. Only three percent of all school teachers are 35 years old or younger. Many are not motivated at all, in part because of their so-called salaries of up to 500 Euro per month. There are quite a few who are not qualified either. The English teacher who does not speak English at all is a good example. But, in most cases, teachers do not have a problem with their knowledge of the subject they are teaching, but rather with their ability to bring across their message. What the kids are mostly getting here is teacher-centered teaching without motivation, something which is not helpful at all. 

By Imanuel Marcus

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