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HISTORY OF BULGARIAN EDUCATION

Authors: Zhecho Atanasov and Nayden Chakarov

 

General Organization of the Education System

The Bulgarian educational system has its deep roots and rich history. The Bulgarian people have established and preserved long-standing and intransient educational traditions throughout the 13-century existence of their state; they accepted and developed further the alphabet created by the brothers Cyril and Methodius as early as the 9th century, which was a predecessor of the Cyrillic script. In the 10th century Bulgaria reached the "golden age of Bulgarian literature and culture", when Kliment Ohridski established the first Bulgarian school. The Bulgarian people preserved their love of learning and education through the years of the Ottoman rule. Cell schools of mainly religious character were established in the 18th-19th century. They were popular under the names of cell, monastery or church schools because most often the study process took place in monks' cells. Later, schools established by patriotic Bulgarians, mainly craftsmen or educated people, where pupils were taught how to read, write and count, were called public and secular cell schools. Some of those schools developed into handicraft schools, where pupils went through a long training process - the stages of apprentice, journeyman and master. Passing from one stage to the next one was achieved by taking a difficult examination, conducted by craftsman recognized by their guild, publicly acknowledged and respected.

Public schools were established on a larger scale at the end of the 18th century, and especially in the 1830s and 1840s of the 19th century. Known as "new Bulgarian" schools, they were described in detail in the records of the schools in Samokov, Koprivshtitza, etc. Those schools were established and maintained by educated patriotic Bulgarians associated in school boards of trustees. The board of trustees was a public body for organizing and managing the established schools and assumed all the functions related to their establishment and management. They recruited children to attend school, rented or constructed the school building, most often at the center of the settlement or in one of its beautiful parts surrounded by a large green yard; they also hired a teacher or teachers, selected the method of teaching, which most often was the so-called "mutual-aid method"; they approved the internal regulations concerning discipline and other requirements to be met by teachers and pupils. At the end of the school year, to exercise control over the pupils' training, the board of trustees organized a public examination, which was conducted in the presence of both parents and public figures. Such schools functioned and developed as early as the Ottoman rule years and were maintained by the patriotic population. In those schools, there were conditions for progressive for that time education as a great part of the teachers had graduated from schools in the then developed European countries. The Bulgarian National Revival developed as a movement for enlightenment, for incorporation of the Bulgarian people into the European and Christian civilization. After the Liberation, the Bulgarian education reached the level of the West European education within a historically short period of time.

The state educational system was established after 1878, which was also the time when the first school laws were passed. The first law on education, the "Provisional By-laws of Public Schools", was passed in August 1878. This law established three levels of public schools: a) primary; b) secondary or two-class; and c) main or four-class. It specified the subjects to be studied, the course of study by level, management and financing. The latter were mainly the responsibility of municipalities, which in their turn, elected the school Board of Trustees among their members. The functions of the Board of trustees were as follows: to provide means for establishment and improvement of school facilities, to support poor pupils who are successful at school. District School Boards were established and district inspectors were appointed, having the functions to support and control the work of teachers. The School Boards reported on their work at the meetings of the city and district voters. A distinctive characteristic of this first law was the compulsory primary education for both male and female pupils. In February 1881 the Primary School Act in Eastern Roumelia was adopted, followed by the Public and Private Schools Act (1885), Public Education Act (1892), Act on Girls' Secondary Education (1897), and Basic and Secondary Education Act (1982).

These first laws recognized the democratic principles applied to the establishment and management of schools. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the educational system underwent rapid development. A relatively progressive legislation was enacted. The Public Education Act of 1909, adopted at the time of Minister Nikola Mushanov, specified the main principles on which the educational system was based, i.e. compulsory and free of charge basic education, school training accessible to all children, specification of the objectives, content, organization and management of the different types and levels of schools, central, district and school management, issues concerning the teaching staff and school Boards of Trustees, Supreme and District School Boards, supervisory and penal institutions. This Act also included university education, private schools, cultural and philanthropic organizations - national museums, libraries, community centers, the National Theatre, etc.

The Public Education Act (1921), adopted under the government of the Bulgarian Agricultural Union with the Minister Stoyan Omarchevski, also played a significant role in the development of education. This Act was based on the principles laid down in the Act of 1909, but developed them further in accordance with the conditions existing at that time, introducing compulsory basic education, free education and more intensive development of secondary general education and vocational education. The Act preserved the public participation in the management of schools through the work of the Boards of Trustees.

The period encompassing the first half of 20th century was characterized by both stabilization of the educational system and its expansion into the sphere of general and vocational education.

The education in the period 1944-1989 was highly centralized and subordinate to the communist ideology. Within that period, the following positive elements should be pointed out: popularization of secondary education - general and vocational, establishment and expansion of a great number of secondary schools, preservation of a number of democratic trends in the management of education, participation of the parents and the community in school activities. Negative effects on the educational system were produced by the strict regulation and its centralized administration, by the frequent ill-founded and self-serving changes in its structure and governing bodies and the educational system itself, its surface-deep democratic character, etc.

In 1948, a new public education act was adopted, establishing new educational content and textbooks in the spirit of the socialist ideology. Certain spelling changes in the Bulgarian language were introduced.
The functioning and management of education in the period of 1944-1989 was carried out on the basis of documents issued by the ruling Communist Party - decrees, orders, theses for development of education, etc. The only law adopted in that period was the Closer Link between School and Life Act (1959), which emphasized polytechnic education and the need to bind instruction with the production processes.

During the period of 1990-2006, a number of democratic changes have been brought about both in society as a whole and the educational system in particular. A new Public Education Act was adopted (1991), which is still in force in the educational system, and Bulgarian legislation underwent serious changes. The principle of competition for electing school management has been introduced, democratic principles of functioning and administration of schools have been applied, serious attempts have been made to harmonize Bulgarian educational legislation with the standards of other European countries, while the positive democratic tendencies and achievements of the educational system so far have been preserved to a great extent.

Bulgarian people have always recognized education, both historically and traditionally, as a specific public value and have exerted efforts to provide their children with good quality education. The historical development of the educational system has been characterized by its progressive nature, its stability, high number of children included in the educational process, good education and upbringing of the pupils. All of the above can serve as a lever for social development.

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Miscellaneous: There is no comprehensive material available on the "history of education in Bulgaria". Regrettably, the archives were destroyed for a period of 50 years or so and many scientific disciplines specifically, in the fields of social and managerial sciences were left in vacuum, having no history at all or scanty repudiating on the fragments of Marxism-Leninism.

Such is the case with the discipline of theoretical pedagogy or didactics viz., as proponent one of the basic disciplines in the University curriculum and having given many distinguished scholars to the Bulgarian scientific milieu. Fact is that the last rector of Sofia University, Prof. D. Katzarov, was from the above mentioned Department of Pedagogy and at least one of the Emeritus Professors i.e., Prof. Mihail Geraskov were persecuted by the People's Court and subjected to neglect by the historians. We have been experiencing considerable difficulties to stitch a story for the "bulgarian education" in its more than 130 years modern history. A standard textbook existed from titular Nayden Chakarov, which stopped abruptly the narrative in year 1878 and couldn't fulfill the requirements for a generalized history of didactics the way it was perceived in the first half of the 20th century. What was remnants from the early advocates of education was transformed in Eastern Europe as Makarenko's "Pedagogical Poem" and sadly Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago".

Thus far, our private research has revealed two parallel lines in the development of Education in Bulgaria logically, these stem from the development of philosophy itself where pedagogy is one of its daughter sciences. Firstly, the Marxist-Leninist approach which have meager philosophical roots. Except for utopian educators which later branched in various liberal doctrines, Marx and his adherents were sham advertisement of modern capitalist society. The social revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries didn't blast the core of social life and didn't turn the progress of civilization in different direction. Secondly, there comes the basic line in the development of philosophy and namely the classical school of thinking. It is based on literary traditions of the Antiquity, the Medieval World and lately the West World. Here everything is simple as that good is good, bad is bad.

We are not going to dwell here on the first line of the bulgarian pedagogy. People like Bratovan Illiev, Todor Samodumov, Sava Ganovski, Asen Kiselinchev, and others did their best for the sake of the proletariat. They didn't advance further than mere translator's activity and left a couple of good books behind. Among them is the work of the titular of this project, Prof. Nayden Chakarov, who translated in the 1950s a standard textbook "History of Education" from E. Medinski, the classical work "Magna Didactica" from A. Comenski and some others. Here I should put also the work of Prof. Gencho Piryov, who specialized in America and started work as assistant in the Department of Pedagogy. Later he became founder of the discipline of Educational Psychology in Bulgaria, and long years stood as beacon on national and international forums. Lastly, I should enumerate also the names of Zheko Atanasov, Boris Ivanov, etc., who systematically worked in the field of social pedagogy in the second half of 20th century.

There comes the most valuable part in the bulgarian educational heritage. Most of the sources are gathered by personal means since those authors were long time discarded from any large library in the country. Immediately we should reiterate that these authors were in their great numbers graduates from universities in France, Germany and so on; they were members of the intellectual elite of the Kingdom of Bulgaria before the World War II. The abolishing of the constitutional monarchy in Bulgaria left those people jobless, some of them succeeded to immigrate abroad, others remained in communist Bulgaria and perished. The pre-World War II scholars in Didactics, Psychology and General Theory of Philosophy left thousands of pages in print which were left untagged by their communist followers. Most of them would remain unrecovered if not salvaged from different private libraries and funds. We have been sound adherents to find various titles from bulgarian authors in the period 1878-1944. As procrastination, efforts have led to fragmentary success but the big names are there.

The review article with which we started has commemorated some good writers from the pre-war period. We could corroborate their work from the "Almanac of Sofia University" (1939). On the other hand our booklist contains titles that were among the most neglected in the censorship. 1). "Jubilee Collection of the Bulgarian Teacher's Union" from 1905. This is first anthology of its kind and includes articles from best educators at that time viz., leading article is written by H. Ganev with commentaries on all Education Acts until 1905; article from young M. Geraskov on child labour; article from Prof. K. Popov on literacy of the bulgarian population with wealth of statistical data from censuses, etc. 2) "Principles and Theory of Didactics" (1940) from Hristo Nikolov, custodian-assistant at the Department of Pedagogy. This is textbook on Didactics published in the country during the war years and contains in the bibliography all preceding works from bulgarian and foreign authors with commentaries. A clear picture evolves in the book on many fundamental ideas in field and laboratory research and of the social sciences as holistic discipline. Specifically admonished is the German School of Didactics from 19th and early 20th century which was leading at the time. 3) "Jubilee Book on the Occasion of Prof. Mihail Geraskov" (1942) from collective editorship. The book is published to celebrate the retirement of the scholar from active duty and has the bulk of 700 pp. It contains articles from all leading authorities on the problems of education in Bulgaria, including the titular himself, and remains an important document that should be studied by a following generation, ditto.

 

Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above

(i). This is lecture curriculum for the academic year 1942-43 effectively, last one before reforming the University after 9 September, 1944. Department of Pedagogy is presented here with 3 Professors and 2 Assistant Professors. Only Assistant Professor Gencho Piryov continues work after the revolution.

 

 

Copyright 2008 by the author.