More than 15 000 pupils in Bulgaria – about two per cent of the 717 000 in grades one to 12 – are being home-schooled, the Education Ministry said.
This was down from 20 000, about three per cent, in 2016, the year that the amendment to Bulgarian law widening access to home-schooling came into effect.
The Education Ministry released the figures in response to inquiries from Bulgarian daily Sega, which noted that the 2016 law allowed home-schooling as an option for anyone who wanted it.
The amendments made it possible for an application to opt for home-schooling to be lodged regarding a pupil of compulsory schooling age “at the request of the pupil or the parent” and for those who had reached the age of 16.
The application is made to the head of the school being attended by the pupil and is then subject to approval by an “expert committee” at the regional office of the education department, which has to assess whether the appropriate conditions exist at home for home-schooling.
The report noted that most of those now being home-schooled were in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades – currently 14 865 of the total.
Sega said that among the criticisms of the amendments easing the possibility for home-schooling was the lack of criteria by which regional education departments should assess whether conditions at a home were suitable for home-schooling.
It was promised that these criteria would be set out in secondary legislation, but this had not happened, with the primary legislation largely being transcribed with scant detail added.
Asked about these criteria, the ministry said that parents of pupils declared the existence of a learning environment that guarantees the child’s overall development and the maintaining of his or her physical and mental health and well-being.
The “expert committee” could also visit the home to assess whether the conditions were suitable.
However, there are no precise criteria in the rules to be met by the “learning environment”, such as having specific learning materials, a separate room, or a computer.
There is a requirement for the parent to submit a child development programme containing the selected training methods, for example the distribution of topics and a list of selected books and teaching aids, for example, the use of textbooks beyond those approved by the Education Ministry.
The Ministry of Education said that the “expert committees”, where there is a representative of the Agency for Social Assistance, exercise control over pupils who are being home-schooled while of compulsory school age.
There were annual examinations on the subjects in the school curriculum and tests were carried out every school said. Sega said that from the ministry’s responses, it was not clear whether there were cases where those being home-schooled failed to meet the requirements and thus should have been transferred to another form of education.