The Future of Education: Flexibility, Adaptability, and Applicability
For the first time in Bulgaria a number of leading education organizations joined efforts to create a large-scale forum which gave stakeholders the opportunity to discuss key questions about the future of education in Bulgaria and to present a list of recommendations, phrased as measurable short-term objectives, to the Ministry of Education and Science.
The Future of Education Conference was the largest education forum in Bulgaria for 2018. It took place on November 23-24 in Sofia. The conference was made possible thanks to the joint efforts of an impressive number of organizations and their sustainable work towards improving the quality of education in Bulgaria: the America for Bulgaria Foundation, Teach For Bulgaria, Industry Watch, Economedia, Muzeiko, Education Bulgaria 2030, the Trust for Social Achievement, the Center for Inclusive Education, the Center for Creative Education, the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria. The forum was supported by the Ministry of Education and Science as well. Representatives of over 60 business organizations, 2 chambers of commerce, and 30 expert, civic, and trade organizations participated in the conference.
Taking into account:
- Education is a top government priority;
- Recent positive trends such as an increase in the budget for education, the introduction of results-based financing, key policy reforms in pre-school, school, higher, and vocational education;
- The data presented in the Education and Training Monitor by the European Commission for 2018. The numbers in the latest monitor show that the pace of reforms is too slow to counteract the challenges which education is facing in Bulgaria (over 40% of 15-year-old students are functionally illiterate, 12.7% have dropped out of school);
- Young people’s inability to realize their full personal and professional potential because they lack the necessary skills to be successful in the modern world and in the future;
- The lack of qualified human resources as a major obstacle to industrial growth stunting organizations with added economic value,
We, the 10 organizations behind The Future of Education Conference, agree on the following key short-term objectives, drawn from the panel discussions with all stakeholders during the two-day forum, and pledge our support in the accomplishment of these objectives with all possible mechanisms of our work:
The organization of education
- Implementing a state policy to empower schools through the mechanisms of the delegated state budget;
- Providing school principals with the autonomy to manage human resources, design the curricula, and organize the learning process to meet the specific needs of the school and the state standards of education;
- Allowing for greater curricular flexibility to meet the needs of all learners, spark their interests, and match the profile of the school;
- Developing measuring instruments for educational outcomes which reflect the requirements to develop students’ 21st-century skills; this may require changing the national external assessments and maturity or exit exams.
Teacher training and support
- Reforms in university teacher-training programs;
- More practical training for future teachers and, if possible, in several different types of schools;
- Employing recruitment strategies targeting potential pedagogy and subject-specific education students such as scholarships for specific social groups (male students or students with limited financial means) and easier access to training programs (by making them available not only in several bigger cities, for example, but spreading them out more evenly across the country);
- Providing teachers with quality professional support once they enter the profession by implementing mentorship programs and training mentors how to do classroom observations, give feedback, help mentees plan lessons, assess student learning, etc. Implementing mechanisms which help experienced teachers develop their capacity to mentor beginner teachers;
- Providing current teachers with ongoing training which develops the same skills we would like to see them pass on to their students (critical thinking, emotional intelligence, leadership and digital skills);
- Developing leadership skills in teachers and principals – teachers of the future need to be able to manage processes. The business can facilitate this process;
- Implementing a feedback loop about the effectiveness of teacher training;
- Launching an active and long-running campaign aimed at improving the image of modern-day teachers. Zero tolerance when it comes to aggression against teachers.
Creating an educational ecosystem
- Giving experts from the business sector and university professors the opportunity to teach at schools as guest-teachers even if they do not have teaching certification. The business sector stated loud and clear their willingness to support this process;
- Creating a long-term vision and an action plan – beyond the framework of a single political mandate;
- Showcasing and replicating successful school models and practices in the education system;
- Creating an ecosystem for innovations in education: securing enough freedom to create new school models with input from universities and businesses in the organization of the school, teaching methods, and curricular design; sharing best practices which work; accepting that failure should not be punished; lifelong teacher training and qualification.
- Coining standards for quality assessment in education – the business sector can share best practices and experience to facilitate this process.
The future of education: the potential of technology
- Introducing technology in education – “seamlessly” and in every subject; utilizing technology in the process of teacher-student communication; using technology to create virtual teacher communities, help teachers assess student learning, and allow for a more personalized approach in their teaching;
- Implementing technology as part of every school’s infrastructure; providing Internet service on the territory of every school;
- Training teachers how to introduce technology in the learning process.
The future of vocational education
- Revising and updating the curricula with support from the business sector;
- Modernizing the examination process students are required to pass in order to attain professional qualification;
- Increasing students’ practical vocational training and making sure it is more effective as well; allowing for student practices to be organized in longer segments;
- Ensuring that vocational education develops key skills and competencies, namely lifelong learning, soft skills, basic digital skills – crucial for any career of the future. Training organized by skill clusters;
- Planning vocational education by taking into account current business needs;
- Improving the informational and analytical capacity of all students and preparing them for the jobs of the future and the competencies they require;
- Structuring school-business partnerships in a way which would make them result-oriented.
An early start to developing skills of the future
- Providing incentives such as tax relief, so that businesses are stimulated to invest in early childhood education;
- Creating “innovative” kindergartens by replicating the innovative school models;
- Adopting standards for early childhood development which are logically tied to pre-school education standards. Nurseries for children aged 10 months to 3 years should provide stimulation activities to help toddlers develop key skills and not just child-care services.