21.04.2009Debate “How to bring children back to school?”

Debate “How to bring children back to school” took place on April 16 in the Center for culture and debate “Red House” – Sofia. Mukaddes Nalbant (Deputy Minister on Education), Kristina Popiordanova (UNICEF – Bulgaria), Maria Donkova (Paidea Foundation) and Deyan Kolev (Center Amalipe) took part in the debate. They discussed the problem of dropping out of school: how to collect reliable data about school drop-outs, what are the main reasons for the dropping-out, are there specific dimensions of this problem among Roma community, what is necessary to be done in order tobring children back to school.
Deyan Kolev expressed the opinion that three different groups of children drop-out of school. The reasons for this are different among these 3 groups and specific measures are necessary to stop dropping-out among them. Children who leave primary schools compose the first group. Almost 99,7 % of children who should enroll at 1st grade do it but only 84 % of them attend 5-8th grade according to the National Statistic Institute. Many of children who drop-out without obtaining even primary degree are Roma but the reasons for this are not only economic and language problems as usually the decision-making factors think: the drop-out rate is high among groups with relatively high economic status (as kaldarashi) as well as among groups that speak Bulgarian as mother tongue. That is why the problem with dropping-out in the primary schools would not be solved only with social measures (free food, etc.), explained Kolev. Deep changes are necessary in the entire school curriculum and environment, directed at introducing intercultural education, life skills and interactive methods of teaching. Permanent work with Roma parents for engaging them with the education of their children, incorporating Roma parents in the school boards as well as assigning more Roma teachers are also necessary steps.
Children who graduate primary school but do not continue in secondary school are the second group of drop-outs according to D. Kolev. This group is not ethnic but topographic determined – children from the rural areas drop-out after 8th grade usually. This problem will become even more serious if 8th grade is removed from primary to secondary schools as it is proposed in the draft for new Public Education Act. This step would abolish hundreds of new schools in the rural areas and would raise the number of drop-outs. It is necessary the state to create mechanisms for guaranteeing the access of children from rural areas to education.
The third group of drop-outs is composed by students who leave the gymnasiums before 16 year age. The reasons for the problem in this group are connected mainly with the unpractical and boring school curriculum and way of teaching, pointed Kolev. Modernizing Bulgarian education in general and connecting school curriculum with the practical requirements of the labour market in particular could solve this problem.

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