SEATTLE — Despite the implementation of previous educational reforms, recent trends show that there is a lot of work to be done for education in Bulgaria. The average Bulgarian child may have more access to education compared to other countries in southeastern Europe, but learning outcomes in Bulgaria are failing to meet EU education benchmarks. As a result, the World Bank is now intervening.
In the past, Bulgarian reading scores have compared well to other countries. In 2001, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) showed a high learning outcome in reading for Bulgarian students, with Bulgaria scoring the top in its region and fourth out of the 35 countries monitored. However, PIRLS results dropped in 2006, placing Bulgaria 14th out of 45 countries.
Testing scores from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show Bulgaria scoring even worse, placing it 44th of 57 participating countries. According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), there was also a sharp decline in performance in science and mathematics between 1999 and 2003. UNICEF concludes that these decreasing scores in science, reading and mathematics suggest education in Bulgaria is “deteriorating.”
In order to stabilize its education system and salvage poor scores, Bulgarian authorities implemented several educational reforms. These included raising teacher salaries, creating policies to optimize the access of education and adjusting public school funding. Even with these educational reforms, UNICEF states that schooling in Bulgaria is still not meeting the EU education benchmarks, which calls for all EU countries to reduce the number of underperforming students by 50 percent. Reports state that, instead of these reforms addressing underperforming students, education in Bulgaria “has shown a reverse progress, performing worse in reading, science and math over time.”
A study shows that equity is the problem for education in Bulgaria. According to UNICEF, the desegregation of Roma people in Bulgarian schools may be causing the decline in achievement. Poverty differences persist between the general population and the Roma people, who make up about eight percent of Bulgaria’s total population. Almost 80 percent of Roma people in Romania and Bulgaria live on less than $4.30 per day. Roughly half of Roma children attend primary school, with less than half of those students completing their primary education. From there, only seven percent manage to finish secondary school education.
In 2015, the government of Bulgaria signed an agreement with the World Bank titled the Reimbursable Advisory Services (RAS). The purpose of the program is to ensure equal opportunities for all Bulgarian students. This is executed by the World Bank collecting data and doing research on low performing Bulgarian schools, with the hope of gaining the ability to address some root causes.
In the meantime, the World Bank is assisting the Bulgarian school system by sharing the most optimal global practices and creating effective teaching strategies. Tony Thompson, the World Bank Country Manager for Bulgaria, states, “Data shows that Bulgaria could converge with EU living standards in just one generation. But this will only be possible if productivity grows at a faster pace – and for the latter improved education outcomes are key.”
– Morgan Leahy