Bulgaria’s National Strategy for Lifelong Learning offers a response to the emerging challenges the nation faces in terms of social inclusion and economic growth. The comprehensive strategy offers an approach to lifelong learning that encompasses all areas of learning and respective stakeholders. Lifelong learning is important not only for individuals, but also for meeting changing economic demands through employment, skills and qualifications, and technology. The strategy aims to amalgamate efforts to achieve the Europeans goals for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth within the country while addressing the consequences of the European continent’s financial crisis. Fundamentally, this strategy presents lifelong learning as a means to foster national and cultural identity and achieve economic stability.
Concept of lifelong learning
The definition of lifelong learning adopted by this strategy is based on the European Commission’s Memorandum on Lifelong learning, which emphasises learning at any age and in a variety of contexts. Lifelong learning, in this context, incorporates all purposeful learning, and results in the learner’s creative and professional success, thus enabling individual, societal and economic growth. According to the Bulgarian strategy, lifelong learning should encompass principles of quality, equality and diversity, decentralization, co-operation, measurability, and flexibility. Cognisant of these principles, the strategy defines lifelong learning broadly as an ongoing process which builds knowledge, skills and competence.
Bulgaria’s National Strategy for Lifelong Learning is challenged by both new and old influences on the broader education system. The strategy assesses Bulgaria’s status of development in 2014 in terms of the goals set out by the previous strategy (for the period 2008–2013), and also indicates recent pressures on the system:
- Low participation in lifelong learning for people aged 25–64: By 2012, only 1.5% of this population group was participating in both formal and informal learning activities, which failed to meet the 5% goal set in the previous national strategy. This is attributed to factors including the global economic crisis and school dropout rates (which are currently improving).
- Inter-regional migration: Bulgarians with higher qualifications have been seen to move to urban metropoles and abroad, whereas those with lower qualifications have been seen to remain in their original locations. This has meant that lifelong learning is pursued mainly in urbanised clusters and not as significantly in rural, less-educated regions.
- Educational competencies alignment: National policies, curricula and teacher training are still insufficiently aligned with learners’ competencies. In 2014, Bulgarians had varying levels of attainment of universal key competencies, and it was therefore perceived as difficult to design and achieve universal aims for lifelong learning.
- Ineffective implementations of policies: Education quality management tools have thus far been ineffectively applied; by consequence, schools have been unable to develop working mechanisms to improve educational quality.
- Demographic challenge: Bulgaria’s labour force is declining as the population ages and is replaced with a lower quota of working-age adults. Lifelong learning strategies need to take this into consideration while acknowledging the increased pressure on these decreased labour resources.
- Coordination and administration amongst various stakeholders: The intersectional nature of lifelong learning requires rapid and effective communication between stakeholders. Strategies do exist to increase the interaction between various stakeholders, but these need to become more effectively implemented.
- Monitoring and evaluation: Tools to effectively monitor lifelong learning attainments are yet to be effectively implemented.
Main targets and measures
The strategic lifelong learning framework developed by Bulgaria aims for the full creative and professional success of individuals who have lifelong access to a range of educational opportunities at a high quality level. The following improvements will be achieved through a coordinated and adapted system of education and training covering all ages and focusing on educational quality, equality, and the alignment of education and training with the country’s economic and labour market needs:
- an increase in preschool admissions and completion rates;
- an increase in literacy, numeracy and natural science skills for children aged 15;
- a reduction of the number of school-leavers aged between 18 and 24;
- an increase in the number of adults pursuing professional qualifications in STEM subjects;
- an increase in the share of 30–34-year-olds completing higher education qualifications;
- an increase in the employment rates of adults aged 25–64;
- an increase in the rate of participation in continued education and training of adults aged 25–64; and
- an increase of literacy for those aged 15–29.
Particular features of the strategy
The strategy describes various impact areas for the implementation of lifelong learning policies:
- Transition towards a functioning lifelong learning system: building links between the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and other quality assurance instruments to create and maintain suitable lifelong learning environments.
- Preschool education and training: focusing on quality.
- Early school leavers: focusing on enhancing their educational achievements and reducing the number of children who leave school early.
- Educational quality at the school level: focusing on the attainment of key competencies to align with labour market needs, learners’ personal development and achievements.
- Improving the quality and attractiveness of lifelong learning opportunities: focusing on vocational education and training to foster increased employment and competitiveness.
- Modernising higher education: focusing on improving access and outcomes through integrating research, innovation and higher education.
- Good quality formal and non-formal educational opportunities: focusing on personal and professional development.
- Coordination interaction between stakeholders as part of lifelong learning policies: focusing on creating conditions, an environment and a culture that are fertile and conducive to fostering these interactions.
Relevant documents that the strategy refers to:
- European Commission Memorandum on Lifelong Learning
- Labour Force Survey
- EUROSTAT data
- Bulgarian Industrial Association
- Strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020)
- PISA 2012 Results in Focus (from the OECD)
- CCAQSE, 2010, A School for Tomorrow
- Updated Employment Strategy (2013-2020)
- National Qualifications Framework
- National Development Programme: Bulgaria 2020
- Bulgarian Vocational Education and Training Act
- National Regional Development Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for the period 2005-2015
Stakeholders involved in the development of the strategy:
- National Lifelong Learning Council at the Council of Ministers
Stakeholders responsible for implementation of the strategy:
- National Lifelong Learning Council at the Council of Ministers
Ministry of Education and Science