The long held understanding that success in life and one's career depends on getting a university diploma has eroded. Success today requires a lifetime of learning and adapting to the rapid changes of a global economy, new technologies, and transforming job markets.
More than ever, success today depends on soft skills - perseverance, the ability to work in teams, and clear communication - in addition to literacy and math. The foundation of these soft skills, however, is laid in the first 7 years of life - meaning that attending kindergarten is as important as graduating from a a good university.
Research from the World Bank argues that inequalities in education in Bulgaria start early - with too few children from poorer backgrounds benefitting from early childhood care and preschool education programs. Yet, global research has proven that quality, early-childhood development interventions can effectively break the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next.
For Bulgaria in particular, data from the international Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in 2012 have shown that extending the preschool education of vulnerable children by one year translates into gains in PISA test-results equivalent to an additional half a year of schooling. This is even more valid for kids from minority and poor families, meaning more time to socialize and broader exposure to the Bulgarian language in kindergartens can better prepare them for school - leading to better cognitive and social skills, and fewer students dropping out of school later in their education.
A recent World Bank report reveals that Bulgaria has the least equitable school education system in the European Union (EU), as well as the countries in Europe and Central Asia. Whereas other countries implement educational policies that reduce differences in educational outcomes between students living in poor and rich regions, a number of features of the Bulgarian education system tend to increase social and economic inequalities among students.
Before the democratic changes of 1989, Bulgaria maintained an elitist system of higher education that selected the best and most talented for university programs. The secondary education system was geared toward producing the required talent by establishing a small number of highly selective public schools that offered education programs in foreign languages and advanced math.
Nowadays, with Bulgaria’s membership in the EU, higher education enrollment has become massive, but the brightest students graduating these “elite” secondary schools now tend to choose universities outside of Bulgaria. The remaining part of secondary school graduates come from low-performing schools where between 56% and 60% of the students are functionally illiterate. These are the students that stay in the country and enter the labor market or go to Bulgarian universities.The situation is further compounded by the widespread perception that higher education in Bulgaria is of low quality and relevance.
Bulgarian universities are confronted with a high level of dissatisfaction, with nearly 85% of university graduates voicing dissatisfaction with the quality of their education, the outdated curricula, and the irrelevant knowledge and skills they acquire. In a report that informed the development of Bulgaria's national strategy for the higher education sector over the next 7 years, the World Bank assessed key challenges in quality assurance, governance, and financing of higher education in Bulgaria.