Education Ministry's Thrust Is on Vocational Education, Improving Teaching - Minister
Sofia, December 29 (Dimitrina Vetova of BTA) - Vocational education and improving the quality of teaching and teaching skills, followed by increasing teachers' pay, will remain in the focus of efforts of the Education Ministry during the new 1918 year, Education Minister Krassimir Vulchev said in a BTA interview. He also spoke about the efforts to ensure education for the children of migrant workers across Europe, to reduce school truancy and deal with the problem of heavy schoolbooks, among other issues.
"A top priority of the Education Ministry has to do with teacher motivation," the Minister said. The government has in its programme a commitment to double teachers' pay by the end of its four-year tenure. Pay increase will be conditional on improving teachers' qualification and showing a tangible improvement on the quality of teaching.
The average monthly pay for teachers as of September 2017 is 1,081 leva. The Ministry does not set a cap on teacher wages: with the delegated school budgets, schools are free to set their own rules for pay formation, Vulchev explained.
The 2018 budget has 240 million leva set aside for the 15 per cent increase of teacher wages. The increase was applied from September 2017 as the government provided an additional 80 million leva package for pre-school and school education in the last quarter of 2017.
In 2018, the introduction of a new mechanism for funding allocation will result in more money going to small schools and kindergartens in remote and sparsely populated areas.
"It is important to have a discussion on the quality of education and the results that the education system shows," the Minister said. He added that this discussion should include investment in digital content and skills.
The Ministry is making consistent efforts to establish vocational education as a source of greater career opportunities among schoolgoers. "What we were saying - that workers with vocational high school education will be better paid - has become a reality now," said the Minister.
He added that vocational high schools will have to make sure to regularly update the options of courses they teach to ensure a better match with the needs of the labour market.
Beginning next year, schools which teach skills in short supply on the labour market, will receive more generous financing. A list will be compiled of such skills.
The Education Ministry has announced that as of November 15, 2017, a total of 17,297 truant schoolgoers returned to classrooms as a result of an interagency campaign involving the Education Ministry - but the Minister said it will only be clear at the end of the first school term what is really happening with these students. The mixed teams continue their efforts to track down truant students and following up on each case. For some of these students, special measures have been prescribed. "Our goal is to see these children finish the school year and continue their studies," said the Minister.
Children of migrant workers
Bulgaria has proposed a Europe-wide initiative for monitoring the education of the children of migrant workers who leave to another European country to work. Vulchev said that he had discussed the matter with his counterparts of all 28 member states of the EU and interest in the initiative has been shown by Spain, Hungary, Portugal and Norway.
"It is an ongoing discussion because the migrant children accompanying their parents to another European country, are faced with a number of problems. Some of them don't go to school and others have difficulties adapting to school in a foreign country. And when they return, they have difficulties having the level of education they have achieved, recognized at home.
A working group will be discussing these issues in January and the Minister hopes that the initiative will take shape by the end of June. "We are talking about exchange of information to start with, and then specific measures will be discussed," he explained.
Vulchev said that the Ministry is considering several options for addressing the problem of heavy school bags. One is to split up into parts schoolbooks which have over 128 pages and require of publishers to use lightweight paper. Also, the Ministry is preparing a national programme to finance the purchase of lockers, where schoolgoers can leave the schoolbooks and teaching aids.
As schools prepare the second-term cirricula, they will be instructed to have same-subject blocs with longer periods of time for one subject and fewer subjects in one day, the Minister said. This will help reduce the number of schoolbooks that students will have to carry in their backpacks.
The Ministry has set itself a lot of goals in higher education. "The most important is to build a lasting and working match between university education and the labour market," said the Minister. The Ministry is pursuing a policy for restructuring university admissions and financing, and expects this to encourage universities to focus on areas of study where they are traditionally strong. "This will raise the level of education and will reduce mistrust among businesses in the quality of university education," said the Minister.
The Ministry encourages more students to enroll in engineering, math and natural science programmes. "The small number of students who pick these programmes is a cause of concern. At the same time, the students in such programmes have the strongest career chances of all university graduates," said Vulchev.
He said that this conclusion is backed by the latest edition of the rating of Bulgarian universities.
The rating also shows an increase of research work in universities, and the Minister said that it is a trend which needs to be further enhanced.
The Ministry hopes to increase to 36 per cent the share of graduates with Bachelor's or Master's degree in the 30-34-year-old population. To achieve that, universities should become more flexible and start offering more distant courses for people who work and want to pursue further studies without taking time off from work, Vulchev said.
In the area of research, the Ministry is yet to prepare standards for the quality of research work. "As funding for research increases, one of the important tasks of the Ministry is convince the public that the results of research can be applied in real life. In other words, the projects for which funding will be available will have to produce results which can be applied in the social and economic life of this country," the Minister said.