However, the demand for quality education in Bulgaria has a long history. It started as early as the end of the 9th Century, when the first Slavic alphabet was adopted by the state and the church. This led to the opening of schools all over the country which taught children how to read and write. Later, these students became the backbone of the mediaeval Bulgarian intellectual class, and this tradition continued for several centuries. It ended abruptly with the Ottoman conquest at the end of the 14th Century.
For the next several centuries, education in Bulgaria was confined to monastic schools. Things changed in the 19th Century when Bulgarian entrepreneurs set up lucrative businesses all over the Ottoman Empire. This created a need for educated young merchants, fluent in foreign languages and skilled in accountancy. Local communities reacted accordingly, and by the 1870s every Bulgarian town and large village had at least a primary school, funded by the local community. Bright Bulgarian students continued their education in high schools, colleges and universities in Russia or Western Europe. Their further education was often sponsored by wealthy Bulgarian benefactors. Probably this was when the proverb "He who studies will succeed" came into circulation.
After the Independence in 1878, creating a modern European educational system became one of the main goals of the young Bulgarian state. Over the course of several years many quality schools were established, and in 1888 The Higher School (later Sofia University) welcomed its first students. Besides state sponsored primary and secondary schools, several private educational institutions appeared. Specialising in giving young Bulgarians a good knowledge of foreign languages, they were famous for the quality of their education. There was still a tendency to go abroad to France or Germany for tertiary education.
Things changed considerably after the Communist coup of 1944. Private schools and colleges were closed and the academic agenda in state institutions was informed by Communist propaganda. New secondary schools and universities were established in order to "feed" the planned economy with the specialists it needed. The studying of foreign languages was restricted to the compulsory Russian and the odd classes in French or German. English was considered ideologically inappropriate and was taught in only a few institutions where the children of Communist officials studied.
After the fall of Communism in 1989, the state educational system became one of the greatest victims of the transition period. A falling birthrate and mass emigration led to the closure of many schools, mainly in rural areas. Lack of funding deterred the best teachers and professors from working in state schools and universities. Today it is hard to find a young Bulgarian who studies pedagogy because he or she wants to become a teacher ‒ students of pedagogy have usually failed the exams for more "prestigious" subjects such as law or psychology.
A lack of educational reforms and low salaries for teachers led to a breakdown in discipline in schools and over the years there was a visible decline in the quality of education. A worrying survey showed that, while Bulgarian children do very well in reading and interpreting of texts in fourth grade, by seventh grade their performance has declined sharply.
The list of failures in state education is a long one. To earn enough to live on many teachers resort to giving private lessons to their secondary school students. In their pursuit of more students, and therefore more state funding, universities have created places for students that outnumber the graduates from secondary schools.
However, all this does not mean that the former Bulgarian desire for quality education has evaporated or that the only way to get a proper education is to study abroad. The desire is still there, but it has migrated to private educational institutions.
The first private kindergartens, schools and universities appeared soon after 1989. In the beginning they had an aura of exclusivity, but now that they have became more common everyone agrees that the education they provide is on a par with, and usually better than that in state schools. The main advantages of private education include motivated staff, well maintained buildings and classrooms equipped with the latest technology, and an up-todate curriculum. Most of them concentrate on foreign languages and prepare students for highly sought after professions such as accountancy, finance and management.
Traditionally, children in Bulgaria have not enjoyed going to the state kindergarten for several reasons, varying from the food, the lack of attention from the staff, and the wornout toys. Parents also hate the very thought of state kindergartens. In recent years places in any kindergarten in the larger cities have become scarce so every autumn parents queue for hours in front of kindergartens in order to enrol their child. And let's not forget the not so insignificant detail that most kindergartens shut down for one month every summer, leaving working parents with the dilemma of what to do with their child.
Choosing a private kindergarten saves you from all that. Children are taught in small groups, opening hours are parent-friendly, there are wonderful playgrounds and the food is tasty and often organic.
There are kindergartens and children’s centres where preschoolers love to go and Villa Villekulla Children’s Centre is one of them. Part of its irresistible charm lies in its premises. The centre is situated in a huge house with a leafy garden making the perfect playground for kids from one to six years old. The pedagogues in Villa Villekulla have mastered the art of educating kids through play, music, dance and visual arts. True to the spirit of Pippi Longstocking and her home Villa Villekulla, everything in the centre is dedicated to raising children as healthy, bright and socially active people from an early age in their lives.
Krisi Private Nursery is another great spot on Sofia’s map. Situated in Lyulin neighbourhood, it works all year round and offers free transportation for the kids. The food is delivered by a renowned milk kitchen, dedicated to healthy eating, with petit déjeuners with various fruits being an essential part of everyday life. Children are taught in a learn-and-play method with emphasis on development of memory, and fine motor and communication skills.
Sofia’s Azbukarche Nursery and Kindergarten is the only one in Bulgaria where Chinese language is being taught.
The International Children Creativity Foundation (ICCF) is an English-only preschool with half-time and full-time care for children two to six years old. It was founded 15 years ago by mothers from the international community and is still the first choice for many expats. ICCF’s exceptional reputation is based on its first-rate team of teachers who understand children’s needs and create a warm, caring environment; its healthy balance of play and learning with specialised phonics and social development programs; and its variety of extracurricular activities, outings and sports. ICCF’s location in Dragalevtsi provides a clean, peaceful environment for children and is ideal for expat families living in the mountain suburbs. Admission is throughout the year depending on space availability.
Working parents know how difficult it is when their schedule conflicts with their children’s. Baby-sitting in Bulgaria is both expensive and of dubious quality so the better option is to find a good children’s day-care centre. In a place like that the kid spends his off-school hours doing his homework under the supervision of trained staff and playing with other children.
Deva Children Centre is one of the best in Sofia. It is open from 7.30 am until 10 pm and has five branches in Sofia. The centre works with kids from three to 14 years old, seven days a week, all year round and offers expert help in studying, art classes and foreign languages lessons and even opportunities for an afternoon nap. Deva also organises summer camps, day trips. In Bulgaria there is a great variety of private schools offering primary and secondary education. Some of them specialise in arts, but all pay great attention to language education.
Sofia’s Russian Lyceum is an excellent example of how education from kindergarten to the high school can be both effective and fun. The Lyceum is officially recognised as an educational institution by the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and provides excellent level of knowledge in general sciences. Students of the Lyceum graduate with diplomas for secondary education and for advanced knowledge of Russian and English languages. The Lyceum is arguably the best place in Bulgaria for young ballet devotees seeking careers as professional dancers. Besides full secondary education and lessons in Russian and English, here they are trained in contemporary dance or classical ballet. The latter is being taught according to the infamous Agrippina Vaganova’s methodology. The students graduate from the dance school with four diplomas: for secondary education, for Russian and English languages, and for professional dancers.
Established in 1992, ESPA Private Kindergarten and Secondary School has one of a kind educational programme for turning kids into competitive, educated and socially responsible persons. The teaching of two foreign languages – English and French, German or Spanish – starts from the first year of kindergarten and continues throughout all years of education up to seventh grade. The intensive classes make children fluent in the languages, and special programmes like the popular Days of Foreign Languages Cultures boost the effect. The school works in cooperation with prestige educational institutions like Cambridge Education Group, Stowе School, St Edmunds, International House London, Kingston University London, Imperial College London in the UK, The University of Tokyo in Japan, and the Regents School in Thailand. Every year alumni demonstrate the advantages of ESPA education, scoring top marks in exams for prestigious schools, colleges and universities in Bulgaria and abroad.
The management of Darbi College, the first British Sixth-Form College in Bulgaria, is fully aware that the best world universities are looking for students who have not only top grades but who are also independent and creative individuals. Stressing on personal development, Darbi College has become one of the best colleges of Cambridge International Examinations Board and IGCSE and A Level, and the results of its students are alongside that of youths from the top colleges in the world. Logically, most of Darbi College graduates continue their higher education in the most prestigious universities.
American English Academy, or AEA, is an international school established in 1992 in Sofia. AEA attends to the needs of parents from diplomatic and military missions from the United States and the international community in Bulgaria and offers classes from pre-school through 12th grade. AEA team is competent and dedicated to providing a quality educational experience for each student.
Lotos is one of the most powerful symbols of enlightenment in the East. Staying true to that, Lotos Private School has dedicated itself to bringing up its students as socially and nature conscious personalities with rich academic background. Lotos is for students from preliminary school to 12th grade. There is a special centre for younger kids as well. Lotos pupils study foreign languages, customs and cultures, natural sciences and Eastern and Western history and culture. The school offers various outdoor and sports activities, as well as special interest clubs such as aircraft and automobile model making.
Higher education opportunities in Bulgaria vary, with several excellent colleges and universities providing quality education in all types of degrees, including MBAs and PhDs, and some of them offer distance learning programmes.
Since 2010 the University of Sheffield, which is one of the top 100 in the world, has started Bachelor and Master programmes in Bulgaria in partnership with VUZF, or the High School for Insurance and Finance. Choosing VUZF the students receive high quality knowledge and training in Marketing, Finance, Banking or Computer sciences. When graduating they receive two diplomas – a British one from the University of Sheffield and a Bulgarian one from VUZF.
The International Business School, or IBS, was founded in 1991. The teaching and learning activities are carried out in Botevgrad and at the Distance Learning Centre in Sofia. The IBS offers Bachelor, Master and Doctoral programmes in Business Administration, Finance, Accountancy and Tourism. In co-operation with international partners International Business School offers joint degree programmes at Bachelor level. Business Administration as a distance education is held together with Jones University, the United States, and International Tourism Management and Consultancy are taught in co-operation with Breda University of Applied Science, The Netherlands. The Master level programme in Business Administration is held as a distance education scheme together with Jones University. The Distance Learning Centre of IBS, together with Gatlin International LLC, provides also a wide range of online courses.
International University College, Sofia, for example, has two English-language Bachelor programmes in Business Administration and in International Finance and Trade. After three years of learning and compulsory internships in companies in Bulgaria and abroad, the alumni graduate with two Bachelor degrees – one from the University of Portsmouth and one from the International University College. The knowledge and skills they have accumulated during their years in the International University College are sufficient enough for starting a career as managers or entrepreneurs. However, those who want to boost their future chances can apply for the three-semester MBA course, developed in co-operation with University of Whales Institute, Cardiff and end up with a UWIC MBA degree.
Those who want to boost their educational level or just learn something different can opt for special classes.
Improving your abilities and academic knowledge beyond what you have learned in university or just radically changing the professional future you are seeking is often crucial for your career. However, changing your way is not always that easy. BPP Professional Education Bulgaria offers a helping hand in such a situation. The professional training centre for education and career development has a wide range of practically oriented courses. Are you seeing your future in Accounting and Finance? Then attend the BPP examination courses for globally recognised qualifications as ACCA, CIMA, CFA, etc. You can get from BPP Professional Education Bulgaria more than that. The centre has also courses for continual professional development in the field of leadership and management skills.
Some of the centres specialise in teaching to adults and teenagers. For two years now Excellence Language Learning offers English, Bulgarian and Dutch language courses, using the most advanced methodologies and teaching technology. Founded by English Caroline Fletcher and Dutch Femke Bex, the centre is also helpful if you want to improve in Legal English or plan to prepare for the IELTS, TOEFL or Cambridge exams. A number of multinational companies based in Sofia have chosen the Excellence team for developing the business and language skills of their staff through tailored Corporate Training programmes. The centre offers individual lessons as well.
Since 2001 NordStudeo Language School is providing Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and Finnish language courses, and Bulgarian for foreigners as well. Due to high interest, the school also offers distant learning courses.
For 15 years British Cultural Centre in Burgas has been running an English language school which is certified as a Cambridge ESOL Authorised Centre of Preparation for Exams and a Pearson Exam Centre for the region of Burgas. If you are a native speaker and live in the area feel free to join annual events like the Thanksgiving workshop and the Christmas Reading, and celebrate Pancakes Day and St Patrick’s Day. Support of native speakers is highly appreciated during the Oral Exam Preparation period in spring when centre students take linguistic competence exams within the Common European Framework. Qualified language teachers are welcome to join the school as well.