Why are more and more employers dissatisfied with labor market entrants? Why 85% of university graduates in Bulgaria are dissatisfied with the quality of education? What is the role of the state and the private sector in education? What will it take to make Bulgaria’s education system more forward-looking and capable of preparing the workforce for the opportunities of the future?
These were just some of the key topics discussed at the Business and Education: The Ideas that Can Change Education national conference, held in Sofia, Bulgaria in February, 2014. The event was organized by Capital Weekly and brought together more than 120 education experts, state, private sector, and civil society representatives. The World Bank was invited to deliver a key note presentation at the event, setting the scene for a lively discussion to come. Alberto Rodriguez, Director of Human Development for Europe and Central Asia at the World Bank, started off the conference by sharing some intriguing ideas:
- the probability of our children having a job that exists today when they eventually join the job market is surprisingly low. In developed economies some estimates indicate that only 1 in 5 elementary school students will find a job that exists today once they join the job market; and
- presently, the job rotation during the lifetime of an employee is much higher than in the past, and this number will only tend to grow
In response to these sobering trends, Mr. Rodriguez offered some guidance. He noted that preparing our children for the jobs of tomorrow requires the implementation of a flexible curriculum that equips students with skills that are simultaneously generic and transferable. Furthermore, these skills need to teach kids how to become learners.
In looking for examples, he pointed to the successful education reforms undertaken in Poland. These reforms have allowed Polish students to become some of the best performers in Europe on the international PISA tests. Bulgaria should take Poland’s example into consideration, but it takes time, a clear plan, and strong commitment to transform the key elements of the education system. Any action plan needs to ensure that the selection and tracking of students is delayed, that the curriculum is updated, that national assessments are improved, and that the teaching profession as a whole is bolstered, according to Mr. Rodriguez. The overarching goal of any education reform should be how to teach kids to be learners, rather than providing occupational training, because the jobs that are available today may not exist tomorrow.
Such directions for policy reform are featured in a number of recent reports prepared by the World Bank as part of its knowledge and advisory services partnership with Bulgaria. As part of the World Bank Systems Approach for Better Education Results” (SABER) diagnostic and policy assessment tool, for example, policy data in Bulgaria was collected and analyzed on teachers, workforce development, and early childhood development.
The diagnostics point to the fact that quality of teaching remains the main school-based indicator for student achievement and that several consecutive years of outstanding teaching can offset the learning deficits of disadvantaged students.
The SABER teacher diagnostic tool for Bulgaria finds that the education system at present is not properly geared toward attracting and retaining the best and most talented candidates to the profession of teaching. Much more needs to be done to attract the best students into pedagogy programs and prepare them, through training and practical experience, before conferring them with teaching certificates.
In terms of workforce development, the SABER workforce development report aims to diagnose the country’s workforce-development policies and institutions and identify bottlenecks and opportunities for strengthening the quality and relevance of national education and training systems.
In order to achieve these goals, according to the report, Bulgaria needs to strengthen its institutional and strategic framework for workforce development, based on forward-looking priorities that prepare the workforce for the economic opportunities of the future. This will require Bulgaria to do several things, including: (i) delaying the vocational track until after compulsory schooling; (ii) implementing regular assessments of the labor market to gauge the needs for new and different skills; (iii) reforming the Vocational Education and Training system through the optimization of schools and modernization of the curriculum; and (iv) ensuring closer cooperation with employers at all levels.
The third tool, focusing on early childhood development, is being finalized and will soon be made available. The SABER Early Childhood Development tool is being used to collect, synthesize, and disseminate information about policies and programs across different systems in Bulgaria. It assesses the country’s progress toward establishing an enabling environment, implementing policies as widely as possible, and ensuring proper monitoring and quality assurance.