Functional literacy is different from the so-called basic literacy, defined as sufficient for self-reading and writing. But there is also the necessary literacy that is related to the level of social development in one country and the needs provoked by the coming public changes. We should not look at functional literacy, separately from the other and necessary. They are interrelated. It is about upgrades without which it is impossible for a person to develop and realize his potential fully and successfully.
According to UNESCO’s definition, “it is functionally literate to participate in activities where literacy is a condition for the effective functioning of its group and community and enables it to use reading, writing and calculus for its improvement and the development of community. ” The big conclusion is that how we solve all the problems related to the lagging in the functional literacy of today’s students depends on the development of our country tomorrow.
Education is the sphere that determines the representation of one country in all others. If students don’t go out of school thinking and prepared for life, it is almost impossible for this country to have a stable and modern economy and to live in satisfied people. According to official data released in 2016, Bulgarian ninth graders are again at the last places in the EU – reading literacy, mathematics and science.The OECD International PISA Test, whose new edition focuses on the natural sciences, is an important indicator of the country education system. Because it measures the ability of students to put into practice what they have learned at school, analyze and interpret information, and their willingness to cope with life. Poor results of PISA are synonymous with non-working education, which produces poor and unhappy people.
The results show that among the EU countries Bulgaria is the last place in reading literacy, in the penultimate in mathematics and in natural sciences. The points of Bulgarian students have increased slightly in recent years, but the country remains at the bottom of the charts. At OECD level, our success is also below the average and we are in a group with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Romania, Turkey, Montenegro, Greece, Cyprus, Chile and Uruguay. Bulgarian students are lagging behind in Singapore for about three school years, and are about two more behind those in most Western European countries, as well as Slovenia, Estonia and Poland. Almost every third ninth grader in Bulgaria does not reach the minimum second level in all three subjects, which makes it functionally illiterate. On average, for the OECD countries this share is 13%. Adding school dropouts also makes the situation worse. Functional illiteracy is a key indicator because it relates to analytical skills of students. Thus, over 40% of Bulgarian ninth graders don’t understand the meaning of what they are reading, and can’t apply elementary mathematical knowledge in life situations. Nearly so lacking adequate knowledge of natural sciences to explain or substantiate real phenomena.
These negative conclusions are further reinforced by the fact that the Bulgarian education system is also one of the strongest inequalities among students from different social strata. PISA shows that if a student comes from a lower socio-economic stratum, his achievements at school will be worse. But while some of the countries actively work against this problem and overcome it, in Bulgaria almost doesn’t move. Sixteen percent of the differences in the results of the Bulgarian ninth grade are explained by family factors, with an average of 13% for OECD. For comparison, this share in Romania is 14%, in Estonia 8%, and in Russia only 7%. For Bulgarian students from disadvantaged sections of society it is very difficult to get out of the influence of their environment. Only 13.6% is the share of those who achieve high results despite their difficult socio-economic situation. On average, for all countries, this share is close to 30%, with 75.5% of this criterion being Vietnam (it should be borne in mind that many children don’t go to school, but the result is nevertheless indicative).
In the three best-performing countries – Singapore, Japan and Estonia, nearly half of the low-income students manage to achieve high test results. The experience of these countries shows that there are clearly ways to break the link between poor family environment and low school performance. Here, students with the highest achievements are concentrated in groups of schools that perform well on all subjects. These schools, however, are small oases in the background of the grim darker picture and encompass a small number of students whose families have the opportunity to send them. OECD analysts write that “Achieving equality in education isn’t just a duty of social justice – it is also a way to use resources more efficiently and increase the stock of skills that are the driving force of economic growth”.
The results of the PISA tests, of course, are not the only indicator of the quality of education. But this is perhaps the most influential international analysis in this area and is a real basis for seeking meaningful policies in the sector.
The problem with the education system is that she offers fully uniform education to very diverse students. Education isn’t compliant with students’ interests and talents. As in Bulgaria and in many other countries, public education systems have been inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries. Efforts should be directed at diversity, self-government, autonomy of learners’ communities. So the education will respond to the needs of learners and will be adequate to the world we live in.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science recognized the Handbook “How to Develop 21st Century Skills” as a useful tool for Bulgarian teachers and organized its dissemination in schools across the country from the beginning of 2017 as a tool for handling with functional illiteracy.
The publication contains useful resources and good practices for developing functional literacy at school. The handbook is prepared and created by Teachers in different classes as part of the “Functional Literacy for the 21st Century” project within the framework of the NGO Support Program in Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2009-2014.
In the handbook are presented 13 key skills for 21st Century and ideas how each of them can be developed in regular classes, independently of the specific subject.
Included skills are:
– Reading literacy;
– Mathematical literacy;
– Scientific literacy;
– Personal development;
– learning skills;
– Communication skills;
– Critical thinking;
– Civic activity;
– Emotional Intelligence;
– Financial literacy;
– Digital literacy;
By Resolution No. 541 of the Council of Ministers, Bulgaria adopted on 26 September 2017 a National Action Plan in 2017-2018 in implementation of the National Strategy for Promotion and Improvement of Literacy (2014-2020). A number of goals have been set, such as:
Goal 1. Creating a favorable environment for promoting reading and enhancing literacy.
Measure 1. Attracting public attention to importance of literacy and popularizing reading;
Measure 2. Assist parents to improve their skills to attract and encourage their children to read and develop language skills;
Measure 3. Ensuring easy access to books;
Goal 2. Raising literacy levels.
Measure 1. Evaluating the level of literacy;
Measure 2. Optimization of standards for curriculum content and curricula;
Measure 3. Increasing the qualification of the teachers for raising the level of literacy;
Goal 3. Increase participation and inclusion.
Measure 1. Overcome socio-economic inequality;
Measure 2. Overcoming inequalities in bilingualism;
Measure 3. Overcoming the digital divide;
In all regions of our country, are planned activities to raise awareness of the importance of literacy and to promote reading in order to create a favorable environment for literacy.
Initiatives are planned for improve the skills of parents to encourage their children to read and develop language skills. There is also an enrichment of school libraries. In order to increase the motivation of children, the Ministry of Education and Science organized National Week of Reading on the territory of the whole country. The initiative includes a reading marathon, fairy-tale characters, races, book days, gift and book exchanges.
In order to achieve the objective of enhancing the level of literacy, are planned regional external reading assessments of 5000 children from the 6th grade and the functional literacy of 5000 IX grade students in the 28 regions with the methodological support of COPPO. 6300 students will be involved in international literacy studies (PIRLS, PISA) as well in the national research on literacy issues.
Improvement of the state educational requirements for the curriculum is envisaged. Particular attention is paid to adult literacy activities. It is planned to train 10,000 illiterate persons.
In pursuance of the Enhancement of Participation and Inclusion objective, additional support is provided for students with learning difficulties Bulgarian language, for children whose mother tongue is different from the Bulgarian language, as well as free access to libraries and electronic resources. The planned activities are based on the annual report on the implementation of the National Action Plan for the National Strategy for Promotion and Improvement of Literacy for the Period 2015-2016.
Starting from the UNESCO definition of functional literacy that I quoted at the beginning, we can come to the conclusion that citizens who manage to achieve it predetermine the normal functioning, perfection and development of any society. If we also start from the claim that literacy is a social skill, it is clear that the process of acquiring functional literacy at the Bulgarian school is urgent. And this process must go with the clear conviction that the participants are motivated, realize the need to develop their literacy in the interests of their own success and in the service of the community. Because of this importance, the reform of Bulgarian school education should involve the whole society.