Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Bulgaria's Overdose of Russian Profs

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Bulgaria's Overdose of Russian Profs

Article excerpt

Since the Soviet collapse, the demand for Russian courses in Bulgarian schools has plummeted, leaving many teachers jobless

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin wall and communist regimes, Bulgarians could hardly imagine what lay round the corner. Apart from the need for economic reform, they had to face sweeping changes in ways of thinking and learning. "We had to rewrite all our textbooks, from primary school to university level," says a history teacher at the university of Sofia. The first thing to be done was to purge the national education system of the dead weight of ideology and of compulsory Russian classes.

The history of Russian language teaching in Bulgaria goes back to 1878, when the Czar's armies freed the country from the Ottoman yoke. As a token of gratitude to the "liberating brothers" from Russia, it was decided that Russian would be taught in secondary schools. Under the communist regime, Russian became compulsory in primary schools, and was even taught in kindergartens. By the late 1980s, courses were being taught entirely in Russian in twenty secondary schools, and Bulgaria had 4,000 Russian teachers.

In 1992, the wind of democratic reform swept through the education system. Marxism and compulsory Russian disappeared from curricula. But the decision was taken without much thought for the consequences, especially for teachers.

School number 133 in Sofia, where 1,300 students start learning Russian in the first year of the primary level, is the only holdover from the old system. It receives so many requests for admission that only one in four applicants can be enrolled. "We have sixteen Russian teachers, but many colleagues had to be retrained. I know of quite a few who went back to university to learn English or to become primary school teachers. Others left to sell books on the sidewalk," explains the principal, Lyubov Micheva.

Two thousand Russian teachers found themselves without a job after the reform, says Letelina Krumova, a specialist on the issue at the ministry of education. In 1993 she started a programme to retrain "high-risk groups", including jobless Russian teachers. "But the amount of money required turned out to be exorbitant, so we soon gave up on the idea and asked the people concerned to manage on their own," says Krumova. …

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