Bulgaria: Generation Gap

generation gapSOFIA | Asen Georgiev is a senior student  of Bulgarian philology at Sofia University, training to become a teacher  of Bulgarian language and literature.  But, like many other people his  age, he is already employed in an unrelated field: journalism.  Though  he enjoys the teaching practicum required by his program, he says he  does not see himself working as a teacher anytime soon.

One of the main reasons, although it  is not the only one, is money.  The starting salary of a young teacher  with no post-graduate work experience in the Bulgarian education system  is 200 euros per month.  Georgiev earns more than twice that working  as a journalist, but says he would consider becoming a teacher if he  could make ends meet on a teacher’s salary, or to combine the two professions. Other  equally important reasons for his reluctance to enter the teaching profession  are what he sees as Bulgaria’s overly traditional education approach,  and the government’s lack of a clear vision for education reform.  Having  taught in ten schools as a practice-teacher, Georgiev says that nothing  he has seen gives him hope the system will change for the better.

“The teachers are very conservative,  and most are afraid to use new technologies as a teaching method,”  he explained. “They are sometimes even hostile to young teachers who  teach using [multimedia] presentations, videos, and other interactive  methods.”

Missing in Action

“Young teachers are missing from Bulgarian  schools,” explained Katya Doynova, principal of the 163rd school in  the capital city, Sofia.  “Out of  25 teachers who work in my school,  21 have more than 10 years of work experience.”

The 2009 Teaching and Learning International  Survey (TALIS), produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation  and Development (OECD), revealed that 36.3 percent of teachers in Bulgaria  are over the age of 50, versus a meager 6.9 percent under the age of  30.

“When the current teachers in the schools  retire, who is going to teach Bulgarian children?” Doynova lamented.

The aging workforce in the education  sector has important financial implications, as well.  The more work  experience a teacher has, the higher his or her salary is, raising the  share of the education budget spent on teachers’ wages over other needed  resources and expenses, a fact throughout many of the OECD countries. In  2005, for example, the average share of the education budget spent on  teachers’ wages among OECD countries was 63 percent. And iIn 2006, the  salary of a teacher with 15 years of work experience was 35 percent  higher than that of a starting teacher.

Accordingly, recent reforms in the remuneration  system in Bulgaria have put a strain on the education budget. Teachers  with 10 years of experience now receive far higher salaries than their  younger counterparts, who, as mentioned above, bring in an uncompetitive  200 euros per month. Older teachers, by contrast, can earn as much as  twice that.

Discrepancies in Pay

The pay increases may have soothed disaffected  Bulgarian teachers who took to the streets in the fall of 2007 to protest  their low salaries. But the differentiated pay levels introduced in  the wake of those disruptive teacher strikes has only deepened the generation  gap in Bulgarian schools.

“It rewards experience at the expense  of other factors, like using innovative methods, or working with children  with disabilities,” says Diana Shopova, a literature teacher in  Sofia. “These are also rewarded, but have less weight in the overall  remuneration package.”

Even though Shopova herself has over  two decades of experience, she understands the risk in overvaluing all  those years in front of the blackboard. “The fact that somebody has  more than 10 years of experience does not necessarily mean they are  a good teacher,” she says.

Shopova worries over the lack of young  colleagues at school, but what she finds most disturbing is that the  young teachers who do choose to enter the profession are usually those  who have no other options.  Teaching is frequently a graduate’s second  choice – or last resort.

Asen Georgiev shares her worry: “Unfortunately,  those who become teachers, at the moment, are those who cannot find  another better paying job.”

Katya Doynova, the school principal in  Sofia, has a different perspective in the debate over salary, believing  that more money should definitely go to those who have made a commitment  to education as their career. “…If a teacher has stayed in the  profession for more than 10 years, it means teaching is their vocation,”  she says. Doynova is more critical of the difference in teachers’ pay  between smaller and larger schools.

Bulgarian schools are now operating on  a per capita basis, a long-awaited reform to the structure of education  funding.  The more students a school has, the more money it gets from  the state budget – and the higher its teachers’ salaries. Teachers working  in schools with 800-1,200 students thus receive 50 to 100 euros more  per month than their colleagues in smaller schools. Doynova’s school,  for example, has only 308 students, meaning the average salary of a  teacher is a bit higher than 300 euros. At larger schools, teachers  get 350-400 euro, she says.

“This was one of the first effects  we felt from the strike in 2007: Principals of larger schools could  be real managers having bigger budgets at their disposal. Most of those  principals are doing a very good job, and the teachers at their schools  are receiving decent remuneration,” Doynova added.

However, the changes have also meant  that many smaller schools potentially risk going bankrupt and getting  shut down due to a lack of students and state support.

Crisis or Opportunity?

When Bulgarian teachers talk about the  future, the generation gap among them becomes even more tangible.  While  older teachers are afraid that, after they retire, there will be no  one left to teach Bulgarian children, younger teachers see their absence  as potentially bringing more opportunities for a new generation of teachers  to exert a positive influence on the education system. Many believe  older teachers are less capable of adapting to changes, especially those  who began their careers before 1989.

“The moment when the current generation  of teachers retires will either put everything to an end, or it will  be very good for the Bulgarian education,” said Asen, the teacher-in-teaching


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