The first schools in Bulgaria began opening in the early nineteenth century and provided only basic education, such as reading, writing, and basic mathematics. After Bulgaria gained its independence in 1878, the educational system remained the same until the fall of communism in 1989. The communist regime brought a new form of education. Liberal arts were replaced by technical training in the schools´ curriculum and Russian language study was required for all, beginning at the kindergartner´s level. The Soviet Union had a great impact on Bulgarian educational system. In 1979Zhivkov created the Unified Secondary Polytechnical School, which was a twelve-grade program that focused mainly on technical subjects. During the communism everyone received the same general education. However, after the end of the Zhivkov Era, the Bulgarian educational system was completely reconstructed. It consisted of three grade levels: primary - first to fourth grade, basic - fifth to seventh grade, and secondary - eighth to twelfth grade. Children were enrolled for first grade at the age of six or seven. Admittance at secondary schools was and is today by an examination. English became the prominent language studied at schools.
By 1990-91 school year new textbooks were published, however communism was still present, even in the sector of public education. An example would be a sentence taken from a mathematics textbook for first graders: "Count how many words there are in this sentence: I am grateful to the Party, for it leads my country to beautiful, radiant life and vigilantly protects us from war." However, in 1991 a law was passed that proclaimed that no political activity is to be allowed in the system of public education. In 1990 a new law was passed that gave the right to every institution of higher learning to control its teaching methods, such as choosing curriculum, number of students attending the institution, and qualifications they needed to meet in order to attend.
After an experts evaluation in 1991 of the country´s university system it was concluded that it was weak and the number of students continuing their education after secondary school was low. After the end of the Zhivkov Era, France and Germany helped Bulgaria reform its educational system.
Today the structure of the educational system of Bulgaria prior to higher education has two main levels - basic and secondary. The basic level is subdivided into two categories: elementary (grades first to fourth) and pre-secondary (fifth to eighth). The secondary level begins at eighth grade, however depending on the type of school it can start at grade seventh. There are two main types of secondary schools - secondary comprehensive (high school) and secondary vocational (technical school). The curriculum of Bulgarian Educational system focuses on eight main subjects: Bulgarian language and Literature, foreign languages, mathematics, information technologies, social sciences and civics, natural sciences and ecology, music and art, physical education and sports. Classes meet five days a week and usually take two shifts (morning and afternoon). The school year is divided into two terms with Christmas, Easter and Summer Break. The grading system is based on numerals, where 6 is the highest and 2 is the lowest grade a student can obtain.
The types of higher education institutions are Universities, Colleges and Specialized Higher Schools. Universities, as in most countries worldwide, have three stages: Bachelor, Master and Doctor´s degrees. The Bachelor stage lasts for at least four years, the Master stage lasts for five years after completion of secondary education or one year after obtaining a Bachelor´s Degree. The third stage of higher education results in obtaining a Doctors´ Degree.
In 2003 Bulgaria´s literacy rate was estimated at 98.6 percent, with approximately the same rate for both sexes. Bulgaria traditionally has had high educational standards. In the post-communist era, low funding and low teacher morale have damaged the system somewhat, particularly in vocational training. Adherence to classical teaching methods has handicapped development in some technical fields. The current system of primary and secondary education, introduced in 1998, has 12 grades, in which attendance is compulsory from age seven through age 16. In 1998 enrollment in the primary grades was 93 percent of eligible students, and enrollment in the secondary grades was 81 percent of eligible students. The ratio of females to males in primary schools was 0.97, and the ratio in secondary schools was 0.98. Because of Bulgaria´s low birthrate, total primary- and secondary-school enrollment has decreased in the post-communist era, causing reductions in teaching staff and facilities. At the same time, the number of private schools increased by 10 times during the 1990s. Bulgaria´s higher education system was fully reorganized in the mid-1990s. Between 1995 and 2002, the number of university graduates increased from 33,000 to 50,000. In 2002 some 42 institutions of higher learning were in operation, and 215,700 students were enrolled. In 2003 some 4.9 percent of Bulgaria´s national budget was devoted to education.
Member of European Union from 1-1-2007
In February 1990, the Communist Party voluntarily gave up its monopoly on power, and in June 1990 the first free elections since 1931 took place, won by the moderate wing of the Communist Party (renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party - BSP). In July 1991, the country adopted a new constitution which provided for a relatively weak elected President and for a Prime Minister accountable to the legislature.
The anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces took office, and between 1992 and 1994 carried through the privatization of land and industry, but faced massive unemployment and economic difficulties. The reaction against economic reform allowed BSP to take office again in 1995, but by 1996 the BSP government had also encountered difficulties, and in the presidential elections of that year the UDF's Petar Stoyanov was elected. In 1997, the BSP government collapsed and the UDF came to power. Unemployment, however, remained high and the electorate became increasingly dissatisfied with both parties.
On June 17, 2001, Simeon II, the son of Tsar Boris III and the former Head of state (as Tsar of Bulgaria from 1943 to 1946), won a narrow victory in democratic elections. The king's party - National Movement Simeon II ("NMSII") - won 120 out of 240 seats in Parliament and overturned the two pre-existing political parties. Simeon's popularity declined during his four-year rule as Prime Minister, and the BSP won the elections in 2005, but could not form a single-party government and had to seek a coalition.
Since 1989, Bulgaria has held multi-party elections and privatized its economy, but economic difficulties and a tide of corruption have led over 800,000 Bulgarians, most of them qualified professionals, (known as the 'brain drain' phenomenon) to emigrate. Since a reform package introduced in 1997the economy has returned to growth. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union in 2007.
Bulgaria became a member of the European Union in 2007; the World Bank classifies it as an "upper-middle-income economy" . Bulgaria has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years. The country still ranks as the poorest member state of the EU, but standards of living have started to rise. Unfortunately Bulgaria has been affected by high profile corruption scandals especially regarding the Interior Ministry, which is severely hindering Bulgaria's progress and development. The European Union has partly frozen EU funds of about EUR450 million and more of the EU funding may be frozen or terminated if solid progress is not shown in fighting corruption and speeding up reforms. Bulgaria has tamed inflation since the deep economic crisis in 1996-1997, but latest figures show an increase in the inflation-rate to 12.5% for 2007. Unemployment declined from more than 17% in the mid 1990s to nearly 10% in 2007, but the unemployment-rate in some rural areas continues in high double-digits. An Industry Watch report predicts inflation rate of 5% for 2008, with unemployment dropping further to a record low of 6.5%. Due to its positive economic profile, pundits predictthat Bulgaria will join the Eurozone in 2011, after having spent 3 years in ERM II (entry currently scheduled for early 2008).
According to the 2001 census, Bulgaria's population consists mainly of ethnic Bulgarian (83.9%), with two sizable minorities, Turks (9.4%) and Roma (4.7%). Of the remaining 2.0%, 0.9% comprises some 40 smaller minorities, most prominently in numbers the Russians, Armenians, Vlachs, Jews, Crimean Tatars and Sarakatsani (historically known also as Karakachans). 1.1% of the population did not declare their ethnicity in the latest census in 2001.
96.3% of the population speak Bulgarian as their mother tongue. Bulgarian, a member of the Slavic language group, remains the only official language, but numbers of speakers of other languages (such as Turkish and Romany) correspond closely to ethnic proportions.
The country has a Roma population estimated at between 200,000 and 450,000.
Most Bulgarians (82.6%) belong, at least nominally, to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the national Eastern Orthodox Church. Other religious denominations include Islam (12.2%), various Protestant denominations (0.8%) and Roman Catholicism (0.5%); with other denominations, atheists and undeclared totalling approximately 4.1%.
In recent years, Bulgaria has had one of the slowest population growth-rates in the world. Negative population growth has occurred since the early 1990s, due to economic collapse and high emigration. In 1989 the population comprised 9,009,018 people, in 2001 7,950,000 and in 2008 7,640,000.Now Bulgaria faces a severe demographic crisis. Bulgaria has a fertility-rate of 1.4 children per woman as of 2007, with a predicted rate of 1.7 by the end of 2050. The fertility-rate will need to reach 2.2 to restore natural growth in population
A country often described as lying at the crossroads linking the East and West, Bulgaria functioned as the hub of Slavic Europe during much of the Middle Ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world by means of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. Bulgaria also gave the world the Cyrillic alphabet, the second most-widely used alphabet in the world, which originated in these two schools in the tenth century AD.
A number of ancient civilizations, most notably the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs, and Bulgars, have left their mark on the culture, history and heritage of Bulgaria. The country has nine UNESCOWorld Heritage Sites:
* The early medieval large rock relief Madara Rider.
* two Thracian tombs (one in Sveshtari and one in Kazanlak)
* three monuments of medieval Bulgarian culture (the Boyana Church, the Rila Monastery and the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo)
* two examples of natural beauty: the Pirin National Park and the Srebarna Nature Reserve
* the ancient city of Nesebar, a unique combination of European cultural interaction, as well as, historically, one of the most important centres of sea-borne trade in the Black Sea
Note also the Varna Necropolis, a 3500-3200 BC burial-site, purportedly containing the oldest examples of worked gold in the world.
Bulgaria's contribution to humanity continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with individuals such as John Atanasoff - a United States citizen of Bulgarian descent, regarded as the father of the digital computer. A number of noted opera-singers (Nicolai Ghiaurov, Boris Christoff, Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova), Anna Veleva, the world-famous harpist Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean and successful artists (Christo Yavashev, Pascin, Vladimir Dimitrov) popularized the culture of Bulgaria abroad.
One of the best internationally-known artists, Valya Balkanska sang the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin, part of the Voyager Golden Record selection of music included in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir also known as Mystery of Bulgarian voices has also attained a considerable degree of fame.
A uniquecustom called nestinarstvo distinguishes the Strandja region. Customs include dancing into fire or over live embers.