More than 50 students from 23 comprehensive and vocational high schools from 15 Bulgarian towns and a village took part in the National High School Student Forum "Freedom to Learn and Participate", held in Sofia on May 29 and 30, 2023.
The event aimed to gather the opinions and ideas of young people on necessary changes in the school system, that could open up opportunities to turn schools into learning institutions with adequate conditions and environment, to include:
- curriculum and content of textbooks and supportive reading materials that are well-tailored and adequate to student age and schooling, i.e. are in line with material learned so far and considerate of the need for a good balance between theoretical and practical assignments and work;
- guaranteed opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities based on interests (inc. special interest clubs);
- nurturing positive, kind, empathetic and inspiring teacher-student and student-teacher relations, based on mutual respect, in the learning and the personal development processes of young people.
The students also named the problems identified by them and provided some ideas for solutions in an open and well-intended manner. Among the key steps needed they listed: – optimization, modernization and change in the assessment of the process of acquiring knowledge and skills at school; – restoration of schools as places that create and nurture strong individuals, communities, and constructive and friendly student-teacher and student-student relationships; – qualitative inclusion and dialogue with young people on questions related to the management of the school environment – physical, learning base, time and its effective allocation to the learning process and to accompanying extracurricular activities, giving young people the opportunity to develop not only their knowledge, but also various artistic and other skills and interests.
In addition to the open plenary discussions and working group formats, conference participants strongly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to the Bulgarian youth delegates to the UN – Victoria Savova and Tsvetelina Garelova, and to their predecessor Todor Rogoshev. The Bulgarian delegates presented their aspirations and how enriching the experience of being a delegate is.
They also presented the results of a national survey on the main challenges faced by young people in Bulgaria and analysed how these inform the priorities they set up within their mandate.
The delegates also stressed on the importance of developing and keeping from an early stage a good level of information about the opportunities provided by universities and post-high-school academic institutions; of systematically seeking new opportunities to apply to universities; of getting involved in volunteer initiatives; of being active at school, township and state level; of participating in identifying problematic issues in their local areas and taking initiative to solve them in collaboration with their peers and community members.
The debates and working group outcomes and recommendations of the conference will be summarised by BEPF team and presented to high schools and Ministry of Education and Science in Bulgaria, to offer insights and specific propositions. The objective is to motivate the institutions to engage more deeply with solving the identified problems, with students being able to stand up for the introduction of changes that will strengthen their schools.
The propositions could be embraced and implemented relatively easy, without substantial financial or programmatic efforts, to help improve the school environment and provide more democratic and participatory processes.
The national high student forum "Freedom to learn and participate" was organised by our partner, the Bulgarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, and conducted in partnership with the Bulgarian Children's Youth Parliament Association as part of the project Reclaim Our Civil Space!