Stefani Angelova from First language school in Varna has interviewed three of her classmates who have very interesting impressions from the educational systems in various countries. Do not miss her story, that compares the Bulgarian education with that in other countries and gives smart ideas how we could improve our school system.
What is the problem with our school system? As a student, I ask myself that question a lot – more than an average student in a good educational environment should. And I do this because of the faults in our ways of studying I have to deal with every day. I have heard my classmates discuss and even blame the methods of teaching for their low grades or lack of motivation to study. But is the problem in the school system in general or is the reason actually in our own country’s education? I asked three students from 10th grade in my school – First language school in Varna, what in their opinion is the biggest problem of our schooling. I was surprised to hear them compare the Bulgarian schools and methods of teaching to foreign ones in order to pinpoint the pros and cons of Bulgarian education.
Julia Lee has a pretty impressive origin. She was born in Korea, has lived in Kazakhstan and has relatives in Russia so she knows a lot about the methods of teaching in those countries. Julia says that the biggest problem of the Bulgarian education is maintaining discipline. While in Kazakhstan, Korea and Russia the children are thought to respect the teachers since first grade, here the teachers are not strict enough and find it difficult to keep the whole class quiet and disciplined for long.
She says that in Korea everything is about studying – children are told that their whole life depends on studying hard and getting into a prestigious university – otherwise they won’t survive in the ambitious fast-paced world. Parents pay huge amounts of money for extra lessons for their kids and they start attending different private sessions and extra-curricular activities every day since 9th grade. Add that to a school day that starts from 8 a.m. and finishes at 4 p.m., and you can imagine an exhausted student getting home late at night and falling apart under the constant pressure from teachers, competitive peers and parents. Julia says that although in Korea a mentality of ambition, hard work and competition is created in the kids since they are little in order to grow strong and motivated people, the pressure most of the time is too much and not worth it – teenagers lose their sleep and health because of stressing over grades and that can lead to suicide – that’s why in Asian countries the rate of suicides is higher. Also, their creativity is not valued and developed – they memorize facts and aim to become one of the majority of high-paid workers, but very few people have a vision and unique qualities to stand out and become a true leader.
That said, Julia admits that Bulgaria is better than Korea in terms of regulated extremeness of studying and cramming pressure, but she also reminds us there are things we can learn from the Asian educational system. For example, in Korea there are classes of self-study, when students write their homework at school and even though they go home late, they have already completed most of their tasks. In Bulgaria those classes are held only in primary school and are not obligatory. If we had them in high school, maybe we would be more productive and better at managing our time.
Julia also gives as example Japan where the students clean their own classrooms and serve lunch in the canteen themselves – that way they are thought to respect the school food and property. So maybe we could learn from the Asian school systems and improve in terms of motivation for studying, respecting our school and teachers and realizing the importance of receiving good education as the ladder leading to a better life in this fast-paced world.
Julia continues her comparison between the education systems by saying that Kazakhstan and Russia are similar to Korea – the way of studying is not that extreme, but the strict teachers and the competitive atmosphere are the same. In Kazakhstan the children are thought from little to stay focused in class in order to build a concentrated mentality and have class representatives chosen every day to keep the rooms clean and watch for the discipline. In Russia the teachers are extremely demanding and the environment is highly competitive because besides trying their best to meet their expectations, the students are fighting for only a few free spots at the prestigious universities – all the others are heavily paid.
Good ideas for improvement from Kazakhstan and Russia according to Julia are the canteens in Kazakhstan which offer warm and healthy food with meat, fish, rice and vegetables (in many schools in Bulgaria the canteens have been replaced with vending machines which offer packaged foods which are extremely unhealthy for the children who get used to them as their only source of food during the breaks), and the doors of the schools in Russia which open with special electronic chip key that is given to the students, teachers and staff – that way it is ensured that no unauthorized or suspicious persons will be able to get into the building.
Leman Hanbalaeva is in 10th grade and comes from Azerbaijan. Her family has moved to Bulgaria because the people here and the environment are nicer and the country offers more opportunities for development. She likes the education system here because in Azerbaijan everything – from the primary school to the university – is controlled by money and not grades. She says that although the discipline in Bulgaria needs improvement, the way of teaching is as strict as it should be – requiring from the students to work hard, but not pushing them to the extreme. In her opinion it depends on the teacher and their personality if you will do your best on the subject or spare the least time preparing on it. She suggest that there should be a workshop for the teachers – teaching them what level of discipline to require and how to maintain it.
Evelina Godemanova comes from Bulgaria but is a fan of the education system in Finland. This country gives complete freedom to the student – there is no homework, everything is explained and learned throughout the classes and the pressure is minimized. Every school is the same – there is not a more prestigious university or a better high school – so there is no competitive atmosphere and the kids are thought to study in their own pace, without stress. Evelina says that the Finnish schooling is a sword with two edges – on the one hand, the complete freedom of the students allows them to develop in the sphere they want to without wasting time on useless subjects, it also encourages their creativity and vision. On the other hand, it does not create ambition to strive for good results or to better themselves, does not teach them to deal with the challenges that life will offer and in the end that could result in permanent lack of motivation to achieve… anything at all. That said, Evelina is satisfied with the Bulgarian education system although it could use a little improvement by reducing the subjects we have to study – for example we could choose our program ourselves according to our interests and the areas we think of working in in the future. Like in America where students in high school and university “make” their own curriculum and that way they know that everything they study is useful to them and thus – study harder.
When asked, every one of these girls said she wants to study abroad after high school. Julia finds it more challenging and interesting than staying in Bulgaria – foreign countries offer more opportunities for self-improvement and personal growth. Leman says that after graduating she will return to Azerbaijan because the majority of her family is there. Evelina wants to study abroad because she will receive a better education outside of Bulgaria. Then she might return and use her knowledge to help our country develop.
So is Bulgaria in the middle between too much pressure and too much freedom? Or are the proportions completely confused, leading to lack of discipline and developing creativity? Those were the three different views of three different students comparing the Bulgarian school system with these in Korea, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Finland and America. We could definitely learn from those countries, but also appreciate more some sides of our own methods of teaching. Either way, I think it’s high time we use some of the innovative ideas of Asia, Finland and America for a positive change in our too outdated for today’s world educational system.