Information meetings with Ukrainian citizens
A face-to-face meetings with Ukrainian refugees was held on 18.02.2023, followed by a webinar on practical tips for the social and educational integration of Ukrainians in Bulgaria, held on 22.02.2023. Stanislav Georgiev from the Regional Directorate of Education for the city of Sofia made a presentation in which he informed the attendees of their rights and obligations to access education for their children in Bulgaria. Natalia Todorova from the association “Open Arms” gave concrete examples of the difficulties that Ukrainian citizens face when enrolling their children in Bulgarian schools and kindergartens. Natalia Ellis discussed the good practices of the organization “The Phenomenon of Plovdiv”.
Stanislav Georgiev talked about the legal requirements and specific requirements for enrolling children in the Bulgarian education system. All children aged up to 16, permanently residing on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, have the right to education in state and municipal kindergartens and schools. However, they need registration by a Civil ID number or a Foreigner Identity Number. Persons seeking or already granted international and temporary protection also have the right to access education. Education in state and municipal kindergartens and schools is free for children and school students and their families. Students up to and including grade VII use textbooks provided by the state, which they return to the school at the end of the school year.
Stanislav Georgiev told the Ukrainian refugees attending the meeting that since the beginning of the war over 250 children from Ukraine have been enrolled in Bulgarian schools. An example was given by the representative of the Regional Directorate of Education of girls from Ukraine, who used to study at a ballet school in Ukraine, for whom an equivalent school was found in Bulgaria, so that their education and development in this field would not be discontinued. Georgiev assured the audience that a solution can be found for every child.
Foreigners receive training as regular students on an equal footing with Bulgarian students. Students under protection have the right to join the educational process during the school year. For children who don’t speak Bulgarian, the educational establishment – kindergarten or school – can organise additional Bulgarian language tuition. This training is funded from the school budget and, when it is refugee-oriented, the funds are reimbursed from the state budget.
Children and students from other countries learn the Bulgarian language in three different ways: while studying all of the other subjects; through additional lessons; informal learning – through communication outside school.
Stanislav Georgiev mentioned examples from Germany and Bulgaria about differences in integration at schools. In Germany, children of Ukrainian refugees are separated in schools where everything is in Ukrainian, which, according to Georgiev, creates segregation and makes integration more difficult. In Bulgaria, Ukrainian children become students in Bulgarian schools and study with Bulgarian children, which helps them to integrate more quickly and successfully.
In order for their children’s education to continue as smoothly as possible, Georgiev recommended to the Ukrainian citizens present at the meeting that they should get an educational document from their country, have it translated into Bulgarian by a licensed translator, and have the translation notarized. This will also serve to more accurately establish the level and grade achieved by the child, as there are some differences between the Bulgarian and Ukrainian education systems. In Bulgaria, children study up to grade XII, in Ukraine – up to grade XI. Georgiev also explained that in Bulgaria, education levels from all countries are equated, not just from the EU countries.
For persons with an education document from a school abroad, the provisions of Regulation No. 10/01.09.2016 of the Ministry of Education and Science on the organization of activities in school education apply, after the application of the requirements of Regulation No. 11/01.09.2016 of the Ministry of Education and Science on the evaluation of the learning results of students, Chapter Five – “Recognition, adjustment and validation of learning results”. The documents of students from grades I to VI are equated by the director of the school, and the documents of students from grades VII to XII are equated by an expert committee from the Regional Directorate of Education for the city of Sofia.
There are different options for the admission of children from foreign countries.
1.1. Has not attended kindergarten or school because of his/her age;
1.2. Has attended school but cannot present a school education document due to reasons beyond his/her control – war, natural disaster, persecution on political, racial, ethnic, religious, cultural differences in the country of origin.
In the first case, which applies only to the city of Sofia, when the person did not attend kindergarten or school and has reached the age of eligibility, the following rules apply:
the admission of children to kindergartens is the responsibility of the Sofia Municipality and is carried out through the platform Information System for the Service of Kindergartens, Preparatory Groups and First Grade in Schools (ISODZ) – also applies to preparatory groups;
the admission of pupils to first grade is the responsibility of the Capital City Municipality and is carried out through the ISODZ platform.
It is important to keep track of the deadlines and comply with the requirements, as the application for admission is ONLY done electronically.
When the person is not able to present a document of school education and is of an age corresponding to grades II – XI, the admission is the responsibility of the Regional Directorate of Education and is carried out in accordance with the provisions of Regulation No. 3/06.04.2017 of the Ministry of Education and Science on the conditions and procedure for the admission and education of persons seeking or granted international protection.
It is important to know: the Regional Directorate of Education specifies in an order the school where the student will be enrolled and the school administration determines the grade in which he/she will study. Schoolchildren may be required to start their education UP TO THREE GRADES BACK depending on their age.
Student with a recognized grade:
independently orient themselves to a school with a learning profile according to their preferences, aptitudes and abilities;
enrol in a school where there is a vacancy;
it is advisable for pupils up to and including grade VII to seek an opportunity to enrol at a school close to the address where they live.
Georgiev recommended that Ukrainian citizens establish contact with the schools of their choice through the school principals, as they can provide them with the most accurate information. If they experience problems, they can always contact the Regional Directorate of Education to find the best solution for their children.
Stanislav Georgiev’s presentation was followed by questions to the representative of the Regional Directorate of Education for Sofia-city. The case of a child studying both in Bulgaria and online in Ukraine was discussed at the meeting and Stanislav Georgiev pointed out that this was unacceptable, adding that education in one of the schools should be discontinued.
In the course of the discussion it became clear that most of the mothers were worried that their children would not be able to continue their education again in Ukraine after studying in Bulgaria.
When the topic of school bullying was raised, Stanislav Georgiev pointed out that each school has a specific mechanism for counteracting school bullying. It is very important to give publicity and to report through official channels cases of bullying in order to take appropriate action. Georgiev noted that in such cases it is important to react without delay.
If there are cases of bullying, the whole mechanism should be activated, starting with the class teacher, going through the school principal and even reaching the Regional Directorate of Education, if necessary. Notifications are submitted in writing to the school office and must be given an incoming number. In this way traceability is ensured. Georgiev pointed out that this does not only apply to foreigners and refugees, but also to Bulgarian citizens.
After the presentation on the education of children from Ukraine in kindergartens and schools, a presentation was made on the good practices in the social integration of Ukrainian refugees by Natalia Ellis, a representative of several organizations based in Plovdiv. One of the successful projects Natalia mentioned is “Heart to Heart”, which aims to support Ukrainian children and adults in Plovdiv who have suffered from armed aggression, by organizing individual counselling and different types of group support sessions for adults, teenagers and children. Other instances of good practices include the Second Home Refugee Accommodation Centre and children’s centres. Both centres are designed as temporary stay centres. Second Home is a temporary residence centre. The Ukrainian citizens staying at the centre are entitled to Bulgarian language education, food and shelter, while they also help clean the premises and yard. There are two centres for children which are pre-school institutions and aim to facilitate the adaptation of Ukrainian children in Bulgaria. It is important to note that all of these efforts are the result of the joint work of the municipality, the municipal council, the regional crisis headquarters, businesses and volunteers from Plovdiv.
As a representative of different organizations in Plovdiv involved with the social integration of Ukrainian refugees, Natalia Ellis discussed accommodation possibilities in Bulgaria. She talked about the residential bases on the country’s territory where foreign citizens can reside.
Natalia Ellis spoke about social security contributions for the employed and the unemployed as well as about the differences between civil and labour contracts.
One of the successful projects Natalia mentioned is “Heart to Heart”, which aims to support Ukrainian children and adults in Plovdiv. Support is provided through individual counselling and different types of group support sessions for adults, teenagers and children. Other instances of good practices include the Second Home Refugee Accommodation Centre and children’s centres. Both types of centres are temporary residence centres. Second Home is a temporary residence centre. The Ukrainian citizens staying at the centre are entitled to Bulgarian language training, food and shelter. They also help clean the premises and yard as part of their communal responsibilities. There are two centres for children which are pre-school institutions aiming to facilitate the adaptation of Ukrainian children in Bulgaria. It is important to note that all of these efforts are the result of a joint effort of the municipality, the municipal council, regional crisis headquarters, companies and volunteers from Plovdiv.