With Bulgaria poised to enter the European Union and its public education system crumbling, now is an important time for teacher trade unionists to work closely with Bulgarian education officials to advocate for policy changes and funding improvements to benefit students and teachers alike.
Indeed, last week representatives of Education International and two of Bulgaria’s teacher unions met with Bulgarian Minister of Education and Science Daniel Valtcher to discuss problems and explore strategies.
General Secretary Fred Van Leeuwen represented EI, and accompanying him were Janka Takeva and Kounka Damianova, President and International Secretary respectively of the Bulgarian Teachers’ Union (SEB), and Krom Kroumov, President of the Teachers’ Union Podkrepa.
The discussion focussed on issues arising after Bulgaria’s entry into the European community, especially identifying challenges for the public education system and seeking strategies to prevent its continued collapse.
One key question is how to retain teaching personnel when about 5,500 teachers have lost their jobs, of whom half had met the necessary conditions for retirement. What is in the future for these teachers? Teachers also questioned how to enhance quality within the education system, while remaining competitive.
The minister emphasized that there has been good cooperation between the teachers’ unions and the government administration, and that there is desire on both sides to negotiate and find solutions to problems.
He demonstrated goodwill in terms of envisioning reforms that would retain teachers, except in the face of demographic barriers and pressures from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Van Leeuwen offered EI’s assistance in intervening on behalf of Bulgaria’s education sector with the financial institutions.