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View from here - Bulgarian pupils beg for the Bard

Pupils are increasingly calling for English or Spanish classics, as Colin Graham reports

Pupils are increasingly calling for English or Spanish classics, as Colin Graham reports

Just imagine the scene. A student pipes up during a literature class: "Come on Miss, do we have to do any more of this Shakespeare rubbish? When are we gonna read some Dimcho Debelyano?"

The shock of a British pupil demanding to learn about a Bulgarian poet might be enough to induce heart attacks among staff (if they recognised who Dimcho Debelyano is).

Yet the reverse is apparently occurring in schools in Bulgaria. Reports here suggest some pupils are complaining they could not care less about Debelyano - a compulsory subject of study on the national curriculum. Instead they are claiming they would rather read English or Spanish classics because they offer a more "universal" outlook.

Many teachers suspect that teenage pupils may be talking up their intellectual credentials as a cover for the fact they just can't be "bovvered" turning their attention to the demands of genuine Bulgarian literary fiction.

Tzvetan Tzvetanski, head of the Center for Educational Initiatives in Sofia, told The TES: "When the students say they prefer reading foreign authors, I am pretty sure that in reality they do not have Shakespeare or Victor Hugo in mind. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling are more likely to be to their taste. In most cases, contemporary writers passing through the valorisation of Hollywood are what the adolescents are keenest on."

However, teachers as well as pupils have been calling for the workload involved in studying Bulgarian language and literature to be made less burdensome. According to statistics provided by the education ministry recently, the average result in the subject in the latest exams was about 55 per cent. When it came to languages such as English, French and Spanish, the marks achieved ranged from 62 to 76 per cent.

Other observers here say that the failure rate in Bulgarian is less a case of students being taxed too vigorously when it comes to learning their own culture than a consequence of teaching methods inherited from the Communist period - which are about as inspiring as having a brick dropped on your head.

Mr Tzvetanski said: "If we use the term 'heavy workload' in the sense of 'too many classes' I believe that this is an excuse, but if we understand it in terms of a clumsy, boring and conservative way of teaching, then I stand behind the moves for change."

A corruption scandal during May arguably highlighted the beleaguered state of teaching and learning Bulgaria's language and literature. Two officials from the education ministry, Asen Petrov and Krasimir Lefterov, were found to have sold the answers to the school-leaving exam in the subject to students online for 600 levas (#163;256) a throw.

Both were caught out as a result of a lie-detector test, though Lefterov practically owned up to his misdemeanour when he refused to take it. The two were summarily dismissed by education minister, Sergey Ignatov, once the offences had been proved.

Pupils here may be willing to pay heavily for answers, but do not take the subject to their hearts - not when they have J.K. Rowling to look forward to, anyway.

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