Tag Archives: informal education

Gender in Bulgaria (summary)

Gender in Bulgaria at a glance- World Bank Report

Gender Pay GapI stumbled upon this super concise document produced by the World Bank in Bulgaria which takes a look at gender and the distribution of employment and education between the genders.

I’m not at all surprised with the findings that, indeed, there is gender balance in Bulgaria and while we have not yet had a woman President, women are somewhat well represented in Parliament (holding 25% of seats and making up for 19% of Ministers as of 2013).

Again, not surprisingly man and women’s occupation are distributed in a rather traditional manner, women holding above 50% of positions in Education and Health and men dominating the labor fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction.

This fact itself calls for further action in terms of diversifying the gender make up of these fields in order to cope with stereotypes coming from traditional thinking that create false beliefs and disallow young men and women to pursue any career interest.

It’s worth mentioning that the wage gap in Bulgaria (the difference between the salaries received by men and women) is lower than the average for the European Union member states and equals only 13%.

belgiq-integrira-romi-imigrantiThe document presents an interesting statistical comparison between Roma and non-Roma population in Bulgaria and points out at the perceivable gender imbalance  between men and women from the first group. Presumably due to culture differences in marriage, childbirth and other customs, in addition to societal expectations and/or discrimination Roma women are drastically less employed (26%) than non-Roma women (56%). Moreover, it is safe to assume that the occupations Roma women hold differ significantly in terms of specialization, quality of working conditions and wages provided.

The chart on the Roma population points at the significantly lower number of years of school attendance for Roma children and youth (7.1 for Roma men, 6.2 for Roma women, compared with 11.1/11.3 for the Non-Roma population). Interestingly, research on the attitudes of this group shows stronger patriarchal and heteronormative attitudes in the Roma community where 52% of men and 38% of women approve of instances of domestic violence towards women.

non-heteronormative martenitsi by Maria Vassileva FlicrThis document while useful with its conciseness leaves out underrepresented groups which don’t identify with their assigned gender (transgender) or have a different understanding on gender (whether genderqueer, genderfluid, etc.) and takes a look at Bulgarian society from the persistent and pervasive heteronormative perspective which creates gender outcasts and disallows the socially inclusive study of society that could really foster dialogue about gender.

It is important as we read and review documents on topics as gender which, indeed, have the potential to acquire mass public interest to introduce the modern language and concepts associated with the topic. Such un-intrusive informal education calls for respect and acknowledgement of the differences between people and creates opportunities for both individuals and society as a whole to self-actualize.


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Alternative education in the Bulgarian school system

By Maggie Nazer

Maggie in High SchoolI learned to read at the age of 5 and eagerly wanted to start school. I entered the Bulgarian educational system at 7 and some thirteen years later I am happy I got out of it alive and somewhat sane. I hated school. I was always the brightest in class; my teachers needed someone to point to as an example but my classmates couldn’t quite stand it. Bullied and isolated, I came back from school crying every day for almost two years, before I conformed to my peer’s pressure not to stand out, all in attempt to bring myself happiness. I desperately wanted to be like everyone else. My lack of success in being likeable, combined with years of being imprisoned in school, naturally brought the thought of suicide. By the time I was sophomore in one of the most elite high schools in Bulgaria, school just stopped having any importance whatsoever. My classmates were unmotivated, my teachers even more so, school held no attractiveness, offered no stimulation. And while my mom would not let me be homeschooled because of the social conventions, I played along, changing the rules. Working at 15, running a charity and travelling internationally almost every month throughout tenth grade, I was compelled not to let the educational system ruin me. My grades were still among the best, and drinking beer at 10a.m. was not an option anymore. As I learned and involved myself in various non-formal education workshops and projects I once again experienced the joy of learning and dove into the excitement of actively pursuing self-development.

Poor neighborhood schools and elite High Schools in Bulgaria are alike in what they do the best: skillfully alienating and demotivating students. Evidently, formal education needs to be transformed to better suit the needs of students, engage and empower them through the incorporation of alternative education and non-formal education practices. The now popular Bulgarian alternative method of education, called Suggestopedia, in addition to my own experience of using non-formal education instruments to teach at a school in Bulgaria, serve as examples of how non-standard methods of education can revolutionize the school system in Bulgaria.

superlearning-2gSuggestopedia is a revolutionary method of teaching developed in the 1970s by the Bulgarian educator and psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov. Considered by UNESCO experts a “generally superior teaching method compared to traditional methods[1]”, the introduction of suggestopedia and the science of suggestion- suggestology, triggered a movement in Western Europe which emphasized the need for developing better methods for accelerated learning, and stimulation of the manifestation of man’s reserve capacities. The main tool of the educational-curative process is suggestion- a psychological process of light hypnosis or influence, invoked by the creation of a stimulating and engaging educational atmosphere. In his statement to the UNESCO committee Georgi Lozanov elaborates on the nature of existing educational methods, claiming that “all the methods so far developed are in conformity with the norms accepted by society that man’s capacities are limited”[2]. Contrasting to this assumption is Lozanov’s attempt to desuggest, or liberate, his students from this social norm and the fear and aversion of studying.    Positive suggestion is, therefore, introduced through the creation of a comforting environment and use of relaxing music, emotional stimulation via dramatic readings, role plays, and vocabulary games. While stimulating and humanizing the learning process through its emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual’s processes of self-development, suggestopedia does not “add burden” to the neurological system. The principles of “joy, lack of tension, and concentrative psycho-relaxation,” engage pupils on an emotional level- a trait shamelessly missing in the formal education system. Meanwhile, the “unity of the conscious-unconscious and integral brain activation” establishes a more holistic attitude towards learning as it utilizes both conscious and paraconscious activity, and incorporates all aspects of the Self: body, mind and soul.

DE-SUGGESTIVE_PRINCIPLES  Lozanov’s extensive educational work and research make him aware of the critical challenges schooling faces: “Instead of creating conditions for the joyous satisfaction of the personality’s basic need- the thirst for information, and instead of bearing in mind the brain functions, teachers often seem to want to “teach the brain how to work” [3]. In his attempts to resolve these problems he has become an advocate for spontaneous learning, simultaneous activation of “emotional and motivational complex, the image thinking and logical abstraction[4]”, holistic study of elements as invoked through suggestion or autosuggestion.

As a result, students who undergo suggestopedic language training manifest creative superproductivity and increase in memorization power; reveal their personal reserve capacities; and develop self-observation, and self-soothing skills. Introducing children and teenagers to suggestopedia or even incorporating it in the curriculum for foreign language study has already proved to be extremely successful. The suggestopedic values of bringing joy, giving freedom to creativity, spontaneity and personal expression, and appreciating human potential should indeed be prioritized in the school system, as they can transform the experiences of and relationships among students, teachers, parents, and thus the whole society.

Another example which illustrates the benefits of the integration of various methods of informal or alternative education in the school curriculum is my own experience of teaching students. Due to my extensive experience and training in the creation of programs and content to educate young people on different topics through the instruments of non-formal education, I got approved to teach two semester-long non-graded classes as a part of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education program to integrate informal education in the classroom. Thus, twice per week I met with my two student groups. I did Dance therapy and Multiculturalism classes.

My Dance Therapy class consisted of fifteen lively, lovely and extremely loud and full of energy second graders. The program featured workshops exploring movement through various dance improvisation exercises. Aiming to establish trust between students, reduce stress and overcome barriers in communication caused by prejudices towards children from the minorities, I used dance to transform their energy and guide it towards positive social actions and creativity, thus decreasing the violent outbursts among the students. Very satisfactory was the student’s positive reaction towards group discussions, in which they shared interesting insights. For instance, once during a discussion following a set of movement and touch exercises, an 8-year-old girl expressed the fear she felt and her conscious decision to trust that “the other will be nice to you” which struck me with its profound meaning and clarity.

My Multiculturalism class was a mixture of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. Teenagers at the edge of their confusion, mistrust, and lack of direction. As I stepped into the classroom and told them about myself and the program we were to have, they refused to believe it. Separated only by the mere gap of five years, we instantly immersed ourselves in a process of constant challenging and learning from one another.

Speaking English in class was as exciting for some as difficult and troublesome for others. The principal of the school put some of the most difficult students in my group just so that there would be sufficient number of students as, in general, students in Bulgaria are raised to lack initiative and engagement. Nobody expected anything from me, yet soon, I started bringing foreigners to the little school, setting up presentations about Algeria, Mexico, UK, and Morocco and attracting even students who weren’t initially in the group. A graduate from my high school who knew thirty-five languages came to give a presentation on learning languages, but rather than speaking to the students, he let them ask him questions. The conversation continued for three hours and everyone listened with full attention.

While some of the boys in the group were quite hard to handle, being open and authentic were my strongest instruments. Once one of these clever, but lazy and untrusting boys tried to challenge me and asked me why I came to work with students who are ill-behaved and careless. Speaking from my heart, I told him that I believe in the good nature of people and in their potential and that many times it is not that people are bad, but rather they wear masks of negativity either to protect themselves, or to call for attention. All of the boys were listening quietly and I was sure they all understood.

Yet, I wasn’t the only one to teach. There was a girl I let to join us even though she had not signed up for the class. She often distracted the boys and didn’t seem much interested in our activities. On one of the first trips we had, I decided to not take her with us so that the boys would be more concentrated. “I cannot help everyone”- I thought, just as almost any other teacher. My not letting her join the trip turned out to be a decision with consequences: the two boys that I spent so much effort to engage decided not to come to class anymore. I apologized to them, thus not only learning a lesson myself, but also showing them what the right thing to do is when you are wrong.

By watching short movies, learning how to give presentations, participating in fun educational exercises and, most importantly, sharing opinions and learning from each other, my students grew to engage learning. As I shared stories and inspired them to be open-minded, respectful and aware of their stereotypes, I pushed them to dream. To be self-responsible, create and reach out to the opportunities for learning. Two years later, there are still some of them who message me on Facebook saying that I have “ shown” them “that no matter who you are, you always mean something”, [5]that “we all change the World, every day… In many ways…”

Six months spent at a small school in Kostinbrod- a town some 15 kilometers from Sofia- proved to be transformational. Challenged to the extremes- having to hitchhike to get back home and remain positive in times when all felt meaningless, yet being able to follow closely the progress of my students and their exciting journeys towards self-discovery, I came to realize theurgent need to educate students in a fresh, stimulating way to help them manifest their talents, interests and exciting personalities. Non-formal education methods, in addition to the genuine love and care for students are, indeed, powerful tools which have the potential to transform not only the educational system, but the society as a whole.

Doubtlessly, there is much to change in the process of schooling in Bulgaria. However, practices as Georgi Lozanov’s Suggestopedia which is now quite popular and spreading across the country, and the Ministry of Education’s program allowing young people with different expertise to go into schools with fresh ideas and tools, showing the inspiring progress that is being made with the inclusion of non-standard educational practices and educators from different backgrounds.

Students on a trip to discover different religions; visited a mosque, a sinagogue and a chirch in the center of Sofia and met with two Morrocan friends of mine who told them a lot of interesting facts about Islam Boys discussing and getting ready to present their stereotypes about girls The stereotypes that girls have for boys Team work Showing everyone's lists of positive feedback received from the others Second graders had to give positive feedback to each other Student work :) working together to make the boat sail :) 537241_3495609719973_1588488844_n 538409_3495543078307_1601140345_n Inspiring Sofia

[1] UNESCO Final Report on Suggestopedia from 1978

[2] UNESCO Suggestology and Suggestopedia- Theory and practice, Paris, November, 1978

[3] UNESCO Suggestology and Suggestopedia- Theory and practice, Paris, November, 1978, p. 23

[4] UNESCO Suggestology and Suggestopedia- Theory and practice, Paris, November, 1978, p.24

The cleaner who became a teacher

They say your first job is meant to be awful. It is clear that more often than not your first job will not guarantee you a sense of fulfillment; it is simply a milestone on the path to personal triumph.

I started working in the ninth grade.

My first job was as a cleaner in the house and office of my employer. I would go there two to three times per week after school, dust the furniture, mop the floors and clean the space in front of the building. At first I was quite ashamed to tell my friends what I did, but soon I realized that there is no bad job when you earn money in an honest way through labor and diligence. I worked there for a year and a half and while it remained a stagnant, unstimulating position throughout this time, I did like the opportunity to exercise being happy in disadvantageous conditions. I reflect on those times with appreciation.

228168_475160032518884_1363675462_nMy second job was as a children’s party entertainer. I have worked for a lot of party companies over the past few years and I planned and hosted parties for my young guests on my own. My tasks were to make the decorations, welcome the guests and then organize games and dancing. It took quite a measure of responsibility as well, as it’s easy for children lost in the gleeful moments of a new game to injure themselves. I really liked the fact that I could be creative and always come up with new ideas for games or themed parties. What excited me the most is that games can be not only fun, but educational as well. I paid particular attention to innovations in the field of Gamification, my interest being captured both by its practical implications and its psychological context.

250593_2014367969855_7390944_nIn 2011 I started working as Manager of Youth Activities for an NGO called NC Future Now. I would meet young people to familiarize them with the different programs and projects, in which they could take part, promote our work in radios and TV shows, organize events, etc. I loved this job, as my tasks were very similar to what I’d been doing in my own charity—the only difference being that I was paid for it!

One of my most important tasks during I worked there was to get an accreditation for the organization to host and send volunteers through the European Voluntary Service (an EU funded program). I not only succeeded to get the accreditation from the institution that was reviewing the applications, but was even invited to attend a training course for youth workers in France where, to no surprise, I was the youngest participant.


I was in the 8th grade when I first watched “Pay it Forward”. I was greatly inspired, and started dreaming of becoming a teacher myself someday: being able to inspire my students and attune their mindsets so that they can see all the possibilities there are in the world and do the best with their potential.

In the second term of my senior year I started working as a part-time lecturer in a school close to our capital, Sofia as a part of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education program for informal education integrated in the classroom. I had two groups of students whom I met twice a week. I taught Dance Therapy (Metadance) classes with my second graders as well as supervised a Club of Young Travelers in English with students from the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

430154_3408396379694_953265264_nMy Dance Therapy group consisted of fifteen lively, lovely and extremely loud and full of energy second graders. The program consisted mainly of workshops exploring movement and various dance exercises aimed to establish trust between students, reduce stress, overcome barriers in communication caused by prejudices towards children from the minorities; transform their energy and guide it into positive social actions and creativity, thus decreasing the outbursts of violation between the students. I was especially satisfied by the student’s positive reaction towards group discussions after each exercise, in which they shared interesting insights.


551103_3495544038331_1314023837_nWith my older students age 13-15 my real challenges and successes began. I easily attracted their attention not only with my age being close to theirs, but especially with my impressive travel history. When I told them what I planned our classes to be like, they hardly believed me as they never before had acquainted themselves with informal education. Speaking English in class was as exciting for some as difficult and troublesome for others.

dsc02862The principal of the school had put some of the most difficult students in my group just so that there would be sufficient number of students. Nobody expected anything of me, but I found that a good possibility for me to show them more than they could have ever expected. Soon, I started bringing foreigners to our little school, setting up presentations about Algeria, Mexico, UK, and Morocco, attracting students from the other classes as well. A graduate from my high school who knew thirty-five languages made a great presentation on the process of learning languages.

dsc02940Some of the boys in the group were quite hard to handle, but being open and honest were my strongest instruments. I remember one of these clever, but lazy and unbelieving boys asking me why I have come to work with students who are ill-behaved and careless. I told him then that I believe in people and their potential and that I think that many times it is not that people are bad, but that for different reasons they wear masks of negativity not to be hurt, or just so that the others will like them. All of the boys were listening quietly and I was sure they understood me perfectly.

My teaching experience was a process of learning all the time both for my students and for me. There was a girl whom I let come into my classes even though she didn’t sign up in the beginning, but she actually distracted the boys and was not really interested in what we were doing. On one of the first class trips, I decided that it would be better to not take her with us so that the boys would be more concentrated. That turned out to be a decision with consequences: the two boys that I spent so much effort to engage decided not to come to class anymore. I apologized to them, thus not only learning a lesson myself, but also showing them what the right thing to do is when you are wrong.

dsc03066Through watching short movies, making presentations, engaging into fun exercises with educational content and most importantly- sharing opinions and learning from each other, I think I succeeded helping them realize that they should learn less for grades and more for themselves. I taught them they needed to be open-minded, aware of their stereotypes, responsible of their behavior and the way it affects others, and most importantly that the world has much to offer if only they are willing to work for it.

Being an educator is by all means my favorite occupation. Leading workshops for young adults during exchange programs as part of my extracurricular activities and having this amazing and transforming experience in the school gives me the confidence I am on the right track of what I want to do in my life and what the change I want to make in the world is. Improving educational systems, developing new educational tools and practices and leading people towards awareness of their need to develop is what truly makes me happy and willing to go on.

Going back hapily with the final result Organized a street action: everyone drawing together on the topic of "How will a better world look like?"" dsc03151 drawing and inviting people to share their positive message Trying out meditation Boat sailing during one of our trips


♥Maggie Nazer is a social entrepreneur, activist, blogger and current Middlebury college student.