In the first years after the democratisation and the liberalisation of the educational system in Bulgaria, the general public looked at private education suspiciously. Through the years, however, the sector gained the respect of the Bulgarians and is now a commonly accepted way to get high quality education for both children and adults. Many people already choose not the traditional beaten track of state educational institutions but decide to study in younger, but ambitious and offering more opportunities for future prosperity private schools and universities.
But the lately topical debate of which one is better – state or private education – is incorrect and misleading. The comparisons in bulk between educational institutions divided by their ownership are mistaken, at least till we have enough empirical data. Comparisons between individual schools are something different – private and state, state and state, private and private. They could indeed take us somewhere.
Nevertheless, there are undeniable facts. Along with traditions, there is a lot of accumulated inertia in state-run schools and universities. It doesn't foster but hampers curiosity, inquisitiveness and thinking out of the box. And all these things are valuable in the modern dynamic world. In private schools and universities, however, one could find more flexibility and opportunities for constructing the educational profile one would like to follow and specialise. Taking into account talents and interests is most common in private universities, but is also present in the programmes of many private primary and secondary schools.
Another important problem is money. Private education is more expensive than state one, but this does have some advantages. The private schools and universities offer significantly better environment and technologies than the state ones do. Higher revenues also give private schools and universities the opportunity to invest in tutors' qualifications and payment. This gives private educational institutions a significant advantage, as they attract qualified, ambitious and motivated teachers and professors.
The last two regular Bulgarian governments tried to pass a change in the legislation, stipulating that the state pays subsidy to private schools starting from 2016. The suggestion did not make it. The change would probably reshuffle the Bulgarian educational system, in which the state budget subsidises only state educational institutions. Experts argue if the private schools should get subsidies at all and if yes, what part of the study schools' subsidies per student should they be entitled to. The critics of the idea believe that the stimulus would not make private schools more affordable but would lead to their multiplication without any guarantee they would offer good enough education. The defenders point to the fact that the state discriminates pupils in private schools, since it doesn't pay for them, as it does for the ones attending state institutions.
An enormous part of the criticism towards Bulgarian education is owed to the very construction of the system. It is based on the principle that the money follows the student. This means that universities are stimulated to enrol as many people as possible, and few of them dare to fail them at exams. Another part of the widespread criticism – that universities do not give real skills for the labour market – comes mainly from business organisations, but it is not entirely fair. It is true that Bulgarian education is too academical and more or less divorced from practice, resulting that after finishing their education the young people simply cannot find quality jobs for their profession. The problem, however, is wider and more serious and is about the structure of the economy and the labour market. Moreover, it is not possible for universities to follow blindly the labour market, and anyway the task of higher education is not just to create qualified labour force, but also to form individuals.
In such an atmosphere, the private education stands out as the most dynamic, opened to changes, and labour market oriented. Formed on the base of the world educational tendencies, the programmes of the best private schools and universities stress not only on academical knowledge, but also on educating of the students as responsible, active, enterprising individuals regardless of whether they have chosen to specialise in economy, engineering or humanities.
AMERICAN-ENGLISH ACADEMY: BELIEVING, ACHIEVING AND SUCCEEDING
FIRST PRIVATE MATHEMATICAL GYMNASIUM: KNOWLEDGE MEETS EXCELLENCE
When FIRST PRIVATE MATHEMATICAL GYMNASIUM (Sofia, 58 M D Skobelev Blvd; phone: + 3592 971 3300; www.parvamatematicheska.com) was established in 2004, it started with seven children. Today, its qualified teachers take care of 324 pupils and the prestigious awards won by the disciples are the best proof for the quality of education. In the last 10 years, the students of First Private Mathematical Gymnasium have been awarded with dozens of medals and hundreds of charters. They have regularly been ranked the highest places at olympiads and national competitions. The First Private Mathematical Gymnasium programme is specially developed to ensure that your child will be competitive in the world of tomorrow. It puts emphasis on studying of the English language and the deep understanding of the natural sciences. Amongst the other priorities of the school are the non-commercial education, keeping the attention of pupils in class, and the development of students' interest in extracurricular activities through participation in local, national and international projects. From 2014 a class of natural sciences and mathematics with intensive studying of the German language after the 7th grade is also available.
THE ESPA MODEL
Studying foreign languages is a priority for the Bulgarian private schools, which achieve excellent results by working with qualified foreign teachers. ESPA SCHOOL (Sofia, 23 Gradina St, phone: +359 899 161 734; www.espa-bg.com) is one of the Bulgarian Top 5 schools and offers nursery (1-3 years old), kindergarten (3-5 years old), school preparatory courses (5-6 years old), elementary school (7-11 years old), and middle school (11-14 years old). At the moment there are more than 180 children studying at ESPA. ESPA works in cooperation with one of the most prestigious education institutions in the UK, the Cambridge Education Group. Each year during the spring holidays ESPA holds a two-week language course by the programme of English in Action and the additional 30 hours a week with teachers from the UK help the children to cover successfully the C1 Expert language level. The course includes interactive and entertaining methods, games and project work, giving students a chance to develop their communicative language skills.
LOTOS SCHOOL: THE POWER OF TRADITION
Sometimes private education is a field for experimental learning methods that do not necessarily produce the best results. But at LOTOS SCHOOL (Sofia, 4 Bilyanini Izvori St, phones: 02 441 6880; +0885 125 100, www.lotosbg.eu) the stress is on tradition – a team of highly qualified teachers support the Bulgarian Revival principles of rigorous and wide-ranging education. The atmosphere of Lotos is channeled towards development of practical skills, creativity and artistry in pupils, and subjects learned include Eastern languages, etiquette and communication, martial arts. The school cooperates actively with parents in its effort to supply children with quality education and excellent environment for self-improvement.
MEDIA EDUCATIONAL CENTRE: TO STUDY WITH JOY
MEDIA EDUCATIONAL CENTRE is one of the biggest non-formal education schools in Bulgaria and was created in 2001 as a centre for interactive foreign language education. Media has four branches in Sofia (100 Vitosha Blvd; Mladost 3, block 321; 96 Slatinska St; 53 Otets Paisiy St; www.mediaedu.bg) and offers foreign language training for children and adults, study hall, green schools, computer lessons, suggestopedic schools, creative workshops. What distinguishes Media is the inspiring and motivating environment where children and adults can unleash their potential. Media is a certified testing centre of PEARSON and Cambridge.
VIHROVENIA: LEARNING WITH THE HEART
Suggestopedia is a pedagogical system recognised by UNESCO as a supreme method of education. While passing the studying process through the heart, it broadens the capability of the mind. The father of suggestopedia is Prof. Dr Georgi Lozanov who created this unique method about a half century ago. The CENTRE FOR CLASSICAL SUGGESTOPEDIA VIHROVENIA (Sofia, 9 Chiprovtsi St, phone: 0879 811 644; www.vihrovenia.bg) is one of the first which began to apply suggestology in studying of foreign languages, as well in the whole variety of subjects for children – reading, Maths, study room, the Art of Being a Parent parenting lessons. All tutors in Vihrovenia are trained in the classical suggestology method.