Education is obligatory in Bulgaria for children between five and sixteen years old. Parents who do not enroll their children in the educational system face fines and are not entitled to family benefits.
The education system in Bulgaria has four levels: primary (1-4 grades), basic (5-7 grades), secondary (8-12 grades) and higher (university degrees). No matter the level, the marks are as follows:
- 6 (Excellent)
- 5 (Very good)
- 4 (Good)
- 3 (Passing grade)
- 2 (Fail).
Primary, basic and secondary education are free of charge. Textbooks are provided by the educational authorities for the primary and basic levels, while for the secondary level parents need to provide them themselves.
There are three Arabic high schools in Sofia: Palestinian school ‘Avicenna’, Lebanese school ‘Dzubran Dzubran’ and an Iraqi school. These are private schools where the education is paid. Note that while children in those schools get good training in Arabic language, they often do not have sufficient classes in Bulgarian language which hampers their integration. Furthermore, they might face difficulties in recognizing the diplomas issued by those schools which are considered as foreign ones by the Bulgarian education system.
Nurseries and Kindergarten
Babies from 10 months to three years of age could be enrolled in municipal nurseries, while those from 3 to 5/6 years old – in kindergartens.
Enrollment procedures vary across the municipalities. While in Sofia there are not sufficient places in nurseries and kindergartens and the enrollment could be challenging, in other municipalities the process is pretty straightforward.
In Sofia parents have the right to apply for a place for their child in up to ten nurseries or kindergartens through a Unified System for Servicing Kindergarten and Pre-school Facilities (online or on the spot in one of the facilities). Parents need to make an electronic registration in the system here: https://kg.sofia.bg/isodz/. If the system does not allow the entry of all relevant data, parents should use the feedback form to provide the necessary additional information. The ranking of applicants is based on a number of criteria, including a permanent address in the area of the facility, enrolled brothers and sisters in the same facility, parents and/or children with disabilities, children at risk, children with missing parents, children with more than three siblings, etc.
A number of documents need to be presented when enrolling your child in a nursery or kindergarten. These are the original and a copy of the birth certificate and a number of medical tests certifying that the child is not suffering from any contagious diseases and has been vaccinated in accordance with the Bulgarian immunization calendar. For more information, you should consult your General Practitioner (see section V. Healthcare).
Municipal nurseries and kindergartens are free of charge, with parents paying only a monthly fee for food. In the absence of places in the municipal facilities, there are private nurseries and kindergartens with higher fees.
Access to School
Five-year-old children need to be enrolled in pre-school education which continues for a year and could be provided either in a kindergarten or at school. In general, children start first grade aged 6 or 7. All children of compulsory school age regardless of their legal status have the right to access free primary and secondary education in Bulgaria.
The school year starts on 15 September or if it falls on a holiday, on the next day after.
The procedure for enrollment of children with refugee or humanitarian status in pre-school or school education depends on the availability of educational diplomas.
- If the child is between 1st and 6th grade, had been enrolled in school in the country of origin, and is in possession of a diploma issued by the educational institution, the parent submits a translated copy of the diploma and a filled application form for enrollment in a school of their preference. A school might reject the application, if not enough places are available, meaning that a new application should be submitted in another school. If the child has a diploma for a grade higher than 6th, the application for enrollment is submitted in the Regional Educational Administration. Children up to 6th grade do not need to take additional exams throughout the school year. Children in 7th grade need to pass an exam in Bulgarian language, and those in grades 8th to 12th need to pass in addition to the Bulgarian language exam, exams in a number of school subjects, such as history, literature and geography.
- If the child does not have any educational certificates, the parent submits an application for enrollment to the Regional Educational Administration. It then refers the child to a specific school with a recommendation on the grade where the child should be placed. Upon a conversation with the child, a committee from the school takes the final decision on the specific grade and class in which the child will be enrolled. A child cannot be enrolled in a grade three levels lower than the one corresponding to his/her age. Enrollment is possible throughout the school year, but not in the last 45 days. Children in the grades 1st to 4th do not need to validate previous knowledge throughout the school year. All other children need to validate their knowledge in all school subjects for the grade previous to the one they are enrolled by the end of the school year. They can transfer the validation of maximum 3 school subjects for the next school year.
Additional Training in School
Children with refugee and humanitarian status have the right to additional classes in Bulgarian language at school. The parent needs to write an application to the director of the school. The committee which assessed the school grade, decides on the necessity for additional language support. If there are enough applicants, a group could be formed within the school, if not – the children could receive the training in another nearby school.
The number of additional classes varies depending on the grade:
- 60 school hours (or twice per week): for children in pre-school education;
- 90 school hours (or three times per week): for 1st-4th grades
- 120 school hours (or four times per week): for 5th-7th grades
- 180 school hours (or five times per week): for 8th-10th grades
Additional classes in other school subjects are also possible in case of difficulties. The same commission, set up by the coordinator for support to the personal development of pupils, which assesses the need for additional Bulgarian language training, also assesses and makes recommendations on the need for additional training in other school subjects.
The Bulgarian higher education system consists of three qualification degrees: bachelor’s (with a duration of 3-4 years), master’s (with a duration of 1-2 years), and a PhD (with a duration of 3-4 years).
Refugee and humanitarian status holders could apply to state and private universities in Bulgaria either as Bulgarian citizens or as foreigners. University education for Bulgarians is much cheaper than the one for foreign nationals, but it is usually delivered in Bulgarian language.
The tuition fees depend on the field and the university, with public universities charging between 200 and 900 leva per semester, while in private ones the fees could reach several thousand leva. Scholarships may be available for high grades and/or for certain social criteria. For more information, you should ask the relevant university administration.
One needs either a diploma from a Bulgarian secondary school or a translated diploma of a foreign country in order to apply to a university of their choice. Legalization for refugees and humanitarian status holders is not required. Admission exams vary depending on the desired university and field of studies, with an admission exam in a foreign language (such as English, French or German) available as an option for some university fields such as philology. You need to check the admission requirements of each university of your choice before starting the preparation for admission.
Persons above compulsory school age have the right to continue their education.
- If you have a diploma or an educational document from your country of origin, you need to translate it and apply for enrollment in a school of your choice (for the grades 1st to 6th) or in the Regional Educational Administration (for the grades 7th to 12th).
- If you do not have a diploma or an educational document, you need to validate your previous knowledge and take exams in all subjects for the class you are applying for. Exams are held in Bulgarian. For those who do not have a sufficient mastery of Bulgarian language, there is an option to get directly enrolled and validate previous knowledge at the end of the school year. Validation of previous knowledge takes place in a school of your choice.
Adults can study in evening schools or in an individual or distance form of learning. 5th evening school in Sofia has experience with the enrollment and education of adult refugees.
NB: In order to validate previous class or grade, you can enroll in literacy courses for primary school, 5th, 6th or 7th grade in some designated schools. The courses last from 3 to 5 months depending on the education level. You can inform yourself of such opportunities at the local Regional Education Administration Office.