Bulgarian education system became more efficient, further focus on quality is needed

September 13, 2010

SOFIA, September 13, 2010 - Bulgarian education system has increased its efficiency as a result of the latest reforms initiated three years ago, next step is to focus on quality and relevance of education. The deeper involvement of parents and municipalities in school decisions should be considered as an option to increase education results. These are the main conclusions of the latest World Bank report called “A Review of the Bulgaria School Autonomy Reforms”. The report was officially presented today before senior officials of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Science, government officials from Council of Ministers, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, members of Parliament, school principals, civil society organizations, representatives of the National Association of Municipalities and international partners.

A Review of the Bulgaria School Autonomy Reforms records the achievements of the latest reforms and highlights outstanding challenges. The study does not discuss the curriculum neither quality of teaching process or textbooks, but tries to look into existing relationships of accountability and the system of monitoring and measuring education results. The report focuses on four aspects of Bulgarian education system: its efficiency, quality, equity and accountability for results.

“International experience shows that it takes 5 to 8 years to reap the benefit of school-based management reforms, provided all critical ingredients are in place, like a sound system for monitoring and evaluation of education quality and adequate mechanisms to hold schools accountable for education results”, said Alberto Rodriguez, World Bank Education Sector Manager for Europe and Central Asia summarizing the achievements and outstanding challenges of school autonomy in Bulgaria. He explained: “About 5 years are needed to generate fundamental reforms in the school and only after 8 years of implementation reforms start to deliver visible results”.

The sweeping decentralization reform of the education system introduced in 2007 following the nationwide teachers strike aimed to promote greater school autonomy and more efficient spending. The reform produced impressive efficiency gains. The School Network Optimization was the most difficult phase of the reform with 111 small schools closed in 2007, 340 in 2008 and 44 in 2009. If the Government of Bulgaria had not implemented the reforms and consolidated the schools in 2007 and 2008, the projected total budget in 2008 would have been 4 percent higher (or more than 100 million BGN) than the observed budget. The resources thus saved were invested to increase wages in the education sector by 46 percent between 2006 and 2008. Efficiency gains allowed also allocation of more resources for capital investment within the sector.

The number of students per teacher increased slightly since 2007, but this ratio still remains below OECD average. For example, in Netherlands 1 teacher takes care of 16 pupils in secondary education, while in Bulgaria there is 1 teacher employed per 11 students in secondary schools. International experience shows however that in many cases more teachers (lower student teacher ratio) do not guarantee higher education results.

The report also emphasizes that Bulgarian teachers became more qualified, with 90 percent of them holding Bachelors or Master degrees, an increase by 13 percent compared to the levels 10 years ago. At the same time the percentage of more experienced teachers (age 50 or older) increased from 19 to 38 percent in the period 2000-2009.

Bulgaria needs now to focus on quality of education. Results from the international student assessment PISA 2006 show that:

  • Less than one-half of Bulgarian students are able to reach the OECD critical threshold of reading literacy and math competency.
  • Bulgaria has the highest between-school variance of all countries that participate in PISA, suggesting that school differences play a large role in student achievement. 
  • Small schools are associated with significantly lower scores 
  • Linguistic minority students tend to perform better in small schools than in larger schools

One possible approach to overcome these weaknesses is the improvement of the external assessment system. National assessments need to be comparable across time, measure progress and school value-added. Deeper involvement of parents and municipalities in education could also significantly improve the quality of education. International experience shows that if parents and local authorities are able to hold principals accountable for providing information about gains in performance of individual schools, this improves the quality of education and boosts student’s achievements. The report provides different examples for such involvement. In several OECD countries the relationship between school autonomy and student performance is strong and significant. In Netherlands for example where 70 percent of schools are administrated by private boards, parents can choose among several schools, and schools are required to disseminate information to the public. School boards are accountable to parents, government, and society.

“Investing in quality of education is critically important. And it is a shared objective. All parents want good education for their children. Well educated people are the driving force for increased productivity and strengthened country competitiveness, and this is what the Government wants. This in turn will accelerate convergence and people will enjoy higher living standards. As a committed partner to Bulgaria the World Bank will continue providing the best of international experience helping the country to become stronger EU member state”, World Bank Country Manager for Bulgaria, Markus Repnik, said.