The state of emergency in Bulgaria, declared by a decision of the National Assembly, started on 13 March, 2020. All schools in the country, including all VET schools, were closed and on 16 March switched to distance learning. This quick change was made possible by the efforts of teachers, the support of parents and the enthusiasm and curiosity of learners. The education ministry supported schools depending on their needs and monitored training provision. In just a few days, more than 90% of schools successfully applied digital technologies. Learners with no internet access or adequate equipment were provided with printed material and supported by education mediators.
To date, all schools continue to operate via distance learning. A variety of e-tools and applications is used depending on the specific needs of each school. Most commonly used platforms are Google classroom, Microsoft Teams and shkolo.bg. Teachers and learners also use social media such as Facebook and Viber.
The education ministry created a National electronic library (e-content repository). The content was significantly enriched in just a month; 50 000 users have visited the platform and the number of downloaded files exceeded 131 000. Within the e-repository there is a VET section with e-learning materials shared by teachers for free download. These include more than 400 self-learning/individual tasks, project-oriented teamwork exercises, practical cases, presentations, quizzes, simulative games and e-lessons covering various professions taught at secondary VET level.
Assessment and VET exams
VET provision at secondary level, including the practical part of VET curricula, is offered in an electronic environment through individual tasks, group tasks, project-oriented training, demonstrations and video films. In dual VET, teachers and mentors develop training materials jointly; in some cases, practical training is carried out through electronic platforms developed by the employers who have partnership agreements with schools. Regular assessment is based on learners’ results and activities.
State exams for the acquisition of VET qualifications are expected to take place in a ‛presence mode′ in school laboratories, or in cooperation with employers. Practical exams for dual VET learners will be conducted using material developed by mentors and teachers-methodologists. Depending on the Covid-19 situation, schools are allowed to postpone these exams until the 15 September 2020.
The VET Department of the education ministry initiated a survey targeted at all VET schools that provide dual VET, asking how in-company training is provided and how exams will be organised. According to responses, 95% of the schools have not terminated their cooperation agreements with the employers. Terminated agreements (5% of the cases) are mostly in enterprises operating in fields such as food production, CNC machines and systems, and tourism services. In many cases, practical training at the work place is provided through e-platforms under the instructions of teachers and mentors. Some employers also made their corporate e-learning platforms available to learners.
A similar questionnaire has been sent to the companies involved in dual training and the results are expected in late June.
In April, a survey was conducted among centres of vocational training (CVTs) about their operation during the Covid-19 state of emergency. At the time that the state of emergency was declared, most of the respondents that had already started vocational training (68.6%) were forced to suspend it; this reflects the fact that the emergency state law adopted by the Bulgarian government prohibited public gatherings in closed spaces. The main difficulties experienced by CVET providers due to the Covid-19 circumstances are:
- inability to conduct practical training in a real work environment;
- problems in providing training for individuals.
Other CVTs are intensively exploring the possibilities for distance learning and the functionality of various web-based learning platforms (including Google Classroom, ZOOM, Moodle, Skype, and Viber). However, not all CVET providers were technically prepared to conduct online training and 53.6% of respondents stated that they had the necessary infrastructure to provide e-learning solutions.
Some CVTs pointed out that evaluation/assessment is impossible in distance learning conditions for certain professions (such as hairdressers, masseurs, beauticians), which require direct contact with clients.
Many CVTs are postponing practical training for the period following the ending of the state of emergency. Others have switched to individual practical training, or practical training based on role-playing and problem solving using electronic platforms.
The state of emergency has provided many CVET providers with the opportunity for capacity building, updating facilities and curricula.
In general, CVET provision seems to be more heavily affected than IVET provision by the Covid-19 pandemic. This can be attributed to the fact that both providers and learners were not ready to switch to e-learning. Although CVET is much more flexible in terms of duration and training schedule, providers stated that there were no clear guidelines or support, including guidance on how to conduct assessment.
Challenges and opportunities
The Bulgarian VET system demonstrated an ability to switch quickly to distance learning, using various e-learning tools and platforms. Lack of resources for practical training and dual VET ‛virtual working place′ was observed. Additional effort is needed for the design and development of occupation specific e-learning tools and resources.