The real failure in education
Less than a month from now, the new academic year begins, and a few weeks later, the next parliamentary elections will take place. All of this will inevitably raise questions once again about the quality of our educational system and what it provides for children and society. Unfortunately, the current facts do not speak well for the system, and there are no noticeable actions for real change.
We have already commented on the latest data on the average success in the Bulgarian language and literature matriculation exams by subject areas, but what is happening in individual schools? For some of them, the state matriculation exams prove to be a challenging obstacle:
- Out of the 950 schools in Bulgaria where students took the mandatory Bulgarian language and literature exam at the end of the 2021/2022 academic year, 307 (almost one-third) had an average student success below "Average" 3.00.
- A total of 6,455 children, or about 15% of all high school graduates in Bulgaria, studied in these schools.
- Out of these 307 schools, 189 were vocational high schools, 102 were general high schools, 14 were sports schools, and 2 were spiritual schools.
- In 27 schools, the average matriculation success is exactly "Weak" 2.00. This means that no student in these schools has passed the matriculation exam successfully and will not receive a high school diploma.
- The distribution of these 27 schools by type shows that 13 of them are general high schools, 13 are vocational high schools, and 1 is a sports school. In practice, the type of school does not matter.
- The distribution of schools by regions is presented in the graph below, with three schools in the Burgas, Plovdiv, and Pleven regions, and two schools in the Kyustendil, Pazardzhik, and Stara Zagora regions.
These are not the only schools with students receiving a "Weak" grade on the matriculation exam. There are also such students in other schools, but in these 27 schools, not a single student has successfully passed the exam in their native language, and this is already a systemic problem. These schools, as well as the entire system, symbolize the failure of the state to provide any quality education for these children. If measures are to be taken, it is good to start with them, especially if this failure is not a one-time occurrence but repeats over time.
But what can be done?
The concept of education quality has been so overused in society that almost no one can come up with a meaningful idea of how to implement this concept in practice. Perhaps it should start with:
1) Setting clear, precise, and measurable goals for what we want to achieve. For example, to have no school like the 27 mentioned above, to achieve a certain average success for all students in the country, to minimize the overall proportion of weak grades, to achieve specific points in international educational assessments, and to minimize the dropout rate. The goals can be different, but they need to be based on public consensus.
2) Measuring the results according to the set goals. Matriculation exams may not be a sufficient measure of quality. Maybe there is a need for more frequent or different forms of tracking? However, measurement is essential to identify the problem, and burying one's head in the sand certainly does not help.
3) It is also necessary to have a clear idea of the actions to be taken when there are signals of low quality. What will we do with schools that have weak results, and when can we afford to wait and for how long? Support mechanisms would work best when problems are identified as early as possible, and they can be diverse – support with teachers or other resources, specific funding, programs for training school management, staff, and students, and if necessary, individualized education and many others. There are enough educational experts in the country who can implement such programs in practice.
4) Funding based on results. This implicitly assumes that we will finance for "good" results, but politicians have conveniently overlooked the important fact of what to do if there are no such results at all. It often happens, and it is normal that significant resources need to be allocated for correction. In the case of, for example, the 27 schools mentioned above, it may turn out that we will invest more in low-quality schools. These are difficult questions with unclear answers, which should be discussed and resolved so as not to fail several more generations by promising them quality education in words alone.