The 2016 Pre-school and School Education Act (amended in 2020) refers to the term “innovation” and to the term “remote instruction” and “self-studies” through the means of modern information and communication technologies (article 7).
The 2020-2030 Digital Transformation of Bulgaria refers to the terms “information and communication technologies (ICT)”, “digital skills”, “modern educational content/ digital educational content/ interactive multimedia e-learning resources/ blended and distance learning” and defines “Digital technologies" as a means “to stimulate and support research and innovation and define the shape of the future digital economy”.
Constitution and laws: Article 53 of the 1991 Constitution (Amended in 2015) states that Education is obligatory until the age of 16; it is also considered a right and is free of charge. Followed by Article 54, the constitution affirms that “Artistic, scientific and technological creativity shall be recognized and guaranteed by the law".
Article 3 of the 2016 Pre-school and School Education Act refers to innovation in education as one of its main principles “innovation and effectiveness in pedagogical practices and in the organization of the education process on the basis of scientific evidence and forecast of the results of innovation”. It also states that the personality development support centres shall develop students’ interests, capabilities, competences and realization in the field of sciences and technologies (article 49) and that general education shall include “digital competence; mathematical competence and basic competences in natural sciences and technologies” (article 77).
Policies, plans and strategies: The vision and goals of the 2030 Concept for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) state that “There are two main sectors enablers, those that create conditions for the development of AI: education and training at all levels of the education system, including vocational retraining through lifelong learning, and the existence of an adequate legislative framework” so it aims the development of basic computer literacy and ICT in secondary education, particularly the use of AI systems.
The 2019-2025 Digital Bulgaria programme has three key goals: 1) Modernization of ICT education at the secondary and higher education levels through information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure at schools, improving assessments of students' digital competencies upon high school graduation, modernizing the curricula and instructional strategies, and upskilling instructors, trainers, and other educational professionals; 2) Increasing the number of highly skilled ICT specialists, and 3) enhancing workforce digital and ICT proficiency.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning prioritizes Educational Innovation, Digital Transformation, and Sustainable Development, a series of policy measures have been implemented to enable the education sector to make better use of ICT. Efforts to digitize education are ongoing and include providing interactive multimedia equipment, innovative hardware, technical support for the educational process, funding for educational electronic resources, and up-to-date training for teachers on digital competence. These efforts also include ensuring connectivity for all schools and building or updating wireless (Wi-Fi) networks for school education purposes.
Digital competency frameworks: The 2017 European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators “presents a framework for the development of educators’ digital competence in Europe.” By providing a shared frame of reference, the framework aims to help national policies strengthen educators' digital competency “It aims to help Member States in their efforts to promote the digital competence of their citizens and boost innovation in education.”
The 2015 European framework for digitally-competent educational organisations “is aimed at promoting effective digital-age learning”. SELFIE is an online self-reflection tool based on the digitally competent educational organizations for schools’ digital capacity.
Article 4 of the 2019 Ordinance on the status and professional development of teachers, school headmasters and other pedagogical specialists No. 15 defines the state educational standard on the status and professional development of teachers. Appendix No 2 to Art. 42, para. 2, item 1, lists the competencies required from teachers and that includes knowing “information and communication technologies and the mechanisms for their integration and application in the educational process”, the familiarity with “innovative educational technologies, techniques and methods of teaching and assessment applicable to the educational field, subject", and the ability to “apply information and communication technologies in their work, to support and motivate students to develop digital skills”.
The 2016 Ordinance on State Requirements for the Acquisition of the Professional Qualification "Teacher" states that several of the main necessary competencies for acquiring professional qualification as a "teacher" at different levels include digital media competences, the use of ICT in the process of synchronous learning in an electronic environment at a distance, and effective support of independent training in conditions of learning in an electronic environment or a combined form of education carried out through ICT.
Changes occurred as a result of COVID-19: In response to school closures due to COVID-19, the government switched to distance learning modalities until schools partially and then completely re-opened by December 2021. In October 2020, Ordinance № 10/2016, which governs the organization of activities in school education, was updated to align with the changes in the Pre-School and School Education Act. These changes were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically addressed the provision of distance online teaching. The update aimed to adapt the regulations to the new requirements and circumstances brought about by the pandemic.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning also states that digitization measures played a crucial role in ensuring the continuity of the educational process during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the declaration of a state of emergency, the educational system successfully transitioned to remote work mode, thanks to the implementation of digital technologies. These measures prevented the interruption of education and allowed for the continuation of learning in an electronic environment. The changes made to the 2020 Law of Education also regulated distance learning, ensuring that children and students can receive continuous education in various extraordinary circumstances, such as flu vacations, adverse weather conditions, or other unforeseen events. This guarantees the provision of education even when physical attendance at schools is not possible.
2.2.1. Technology infrastructure and digital capacity of schools
Electricity: Article 172 of the 2018 Energy Act states that access using the transmission network and/or the distribution networks for transmission of electric power against payment of a price and under conditions determined by an ordinance is a right. The duty to provide access to own installation and/or equipment also applies to production gas-transmission network, as well as for provision of access to their use in the cases provided for in the Act. However, access may be refused due to lack of capacity, violation of technical conditions and security of the facilities, hindering operators from fulfilling their obligations for public interest services, or causing serious economic and financial difficulties as a result of concluded contract for supply having a clause "take or pay".
Computers and devices: According to the 2021 Report on the Activities of the Ministry of Education and Science for the period May-September, devices were provided for vulnerable students in the event of a need for distance learning in an electronic environment - 40,000 tablets were ordered.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning mentions that over the past five years, the preschool and school education system has received over 20,000 personal computers and tablets. Additionally, modern high-tech visualization equipment, such as interactive whiteboards and displays with built-in computer modules and Internet access, has been installed in nearly 4,000 classrooms. These initiatives aim to ensure guaranteed, permanent, and universal access to quality educational resources and services. The provision of such technology contributes to enhancing the learning environment and enabling students to benefit from the latest educational tools and materials.
Internet connectivity: The 2030 Concept for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) priority is geared towards enhancing the current infrastructure by ensuring the widespread deployment and utilization of very big-capacity networks and society will be fifth-generation networks with high-speed optical pathways “By 2030, the government is geared up to provide gigabit connectivity for all major socio-economic drivers such as schools, transport hubs and major public service providers, as well as digitally intensive enterprises.”
The 2009 National Strategy for the Development of Broadband Access aimed to reach full internet access by 2010.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning states that there was a notable emphasis on digitizing the learning process in schools between 2018 and 2020. Substantial investments were made during this period to establish secure wireless networks in public and municipal schools. This involved the installation of advanced firewalls and access points, aiming to create a modern educational environment. The objective was to optimize the learning process, enhance its efficiency, and facilitate the integration of ICT-based innovations. These investments aimed to transform schools into technology-enabled spaces, enabling the effective utilization of digital tools and resources in education.
2.2.2. Technology and learning environments
Bulgaria's experience in the national regulation of distance learning in higher education dates back to a national ordinance from 2004 and a new ordinance from 2021. In 2004, distance learning was defined as an organization of the learning process in which the student and the teacher are separated by location, but not necessarily by time, as the distance created is compensated by technological means.
The COVID-19 response plans to deliver distance education online include the launch of the National Teachers' Electronic Library (Repository for electronic content) to provide an opportunity for video lessons, training programs, innovative methods, tests, films, exercises, entertaining pedagogy, presentations and above all projects that are related both to independence in the implementation in an electronic environment. Students were able to access distance learning through national television channels BNT 2 and BNT 4.
In response to the challenges encountered by teaching professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic while teaching remotely in a digital environment, a project called “Equal access to school education at times of crises” was initiated in the spring of 2020. The project, which ran for 35 months, involved various activities, including tailored training programs for pedagogical staff in schools across the country. The training aimed to improve the skills of professionals in teaching various subjects remotely in a digital environment. The project provided opportunities for short-term upgrading in-service and qualification/further training courses for teaching staff, designed to equip them with new skills for efficiently dealing with digital education platforms and enhancing the quality of distance learning. Those who had already experienced difficulties in teaching from a distance during the COVID-19 pandemic have benefited primarily from the additional training. The educational content is designed to support their competence in digital-media literacy and cultivate their ability to handle the algorithms of digital platforms not only to work properly with AI but also to develop digital creativity in students.
The education system has also incorporated a unified digital platform for educational services and content, featuring an innovative "Digital Backpack" module. This platform manages the entire life cycle of education services and content, from creation to evaluation, distribution, and subsequent use. The platform is anticipated to generate a significant improvement in the teaching approach and become a daily tool for numerous students across the country for learning and using study resources.
The MoES identification platform integrated the two major virtual classroom platforms globally, namely Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams. The platform also integrates textbook publishers, scholarly resources, and other digital platforms offering free educational resources to support teachers in their teaching practice. Over the past two years (2020-2022), there has been a significant update of the hardware assets used in the education system across the country. Additionally, three large-scale data centers have been established to store and process all educational digital platforms of the Ministry of Education. A substantial reserve of digital devices has also been created to meet the educational needs of all learners in the country.
In addition to that, ESRI Bulgaria, has supplied Bulgarian schools with 10,000 software licenses for ArcGIS. These licenses have been in use by schools since 2021 and the product package includes ArcGIS Online, which is a comprehensive online platform that enables the creation of maps, visualization of spatial information, and performance of geographic analyses. ArcGIS Online is an easy-to-use, fully browser-based platform that works on any desktop or mobile device, making it suitable for teaching GIS in schools. Other applications in the package include ArcGIS Survey123, ArcGIS Dashboard, ArcGIS StoryMaps, and ArcGIS Web AppBuilder, which are ready-to-use web and mobile applications that facilitate student engagement and enable learning experiences beyond the classroom. Additionally, the package includes professional applications such as ArcGIS Pro Advanced, ArcGIS Drone2Map, ArcGIS Urban Suite, ArcGIS GeoPlanner, and ArcGIS Insights that allow the creation, analysis, and modeling of 2D and 3D data for professional training of future builders, architects, engineers, and other related fields.
The implementation of the National Programme on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the preschool and school education system aimed to transform the learning environment by enhancing digital learning quality, promoting innovative teaching methods, and facilitating the development of skills among teaching and pedagogical professionals in applying these methods.
Article 21 of the 2016 Ordinance on the evaluation of results of students' education No. 11 states that expected learning outcomes determined by the curriculum includes technological skills.
The 2016 Ordinance No.5 on Pre-school Education and the 2016 Ordinance No.7 on Profile Education and Training regulate the acquisition of digital skills as it is part of the educational system starting in grade III with mandatory classes on computer modeling. The learning process continues through junior high school grades (V-VII) with mandatory classes on computer modeling and information technology, and in the first high school stage (VIII-X) through compulsory classes on information technology. The second high school stage (XI-XII) focuses on profile subjects such as informatics and information technology.
The curricula for these subjects, from grades III to X, comply with the European Reference Framework for Digital Competences. At the end of the first high school stage (grade X), learners must take a national external examination to comprehensively measure their achieved competencies. Every learner may also take an exam in information technology upon request to measure their individual key competencies in the field of digital competences (According to Art. 53, para. 3 of the 2016 Ordinance No. 11 on the assessment of the educational outcomes of the students’ learning).
The 2021-30 Strategic Framework for VET highlights the importance of digital skills in the modern education system. It emphasizes the need for the modernization of learning environments, curriculum changes, and pedagogical approaches to incorporate digitalization. The framework recognizes that digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are reshaping societies and occupations. It emphasizes the development of learners' digital skills alongside training related to the green transition.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning states that since 2019, there has been a concerted effort to expedite the acquisition of knowledge and skills necessary for functioning in a digital society. In 2020, the establishment of school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) centers was initiated. These centers are specially designed and equipped learning spaces that prioritize the development and application of competences in mathematics, science, and technology. The objective is to provide students with hands-on learning experiences and foster their proficiency in these critical disciplines.
The 2030 Concept for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) states that “Primary school students are already receiving instruction in digital skills, while secondary students place more emphasis on computer science”. It is also mentioned that the skills needed for 2030 will be heavily influenced by the integration of AI into educational programmes in schools “The acquisition of these skills should lead to faster and easier adaptation of students to the work environment after graduation, while on the other hand, it prepares them for the professions of the future”. In addition to that, the development of students' hard skills (math, data analysis and processing, basic programming and use of operating systems, and working with data), STEM skills, digital skills, and transversal skills is crucial to the acquisition of knowledge and skills for professional realization using artificial intelligence.
Building an Ultimate STEM learning environment in every school has been given high priority on the political agenda. As a result, approximately 60% of students are currently engaged in STEM activities, mainly in priority thematic domains such as "Digital Creativity," "Natural Sciences," "Mathematics," and "Technology”. Ongoing projects have allocated funding to equip STEM offices and centers and to create innovative high-tech classrooms in every school in Bulgaria. Though no information has been found on girls' inclusion in this STEM.
The 2030 Concept for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) includes a target for “developing the competencies of teachers to work with information, digital technologies and AI regarding the changing nature of teaching, as well as the use of AI-supported systems for school system management.”
The 2016 Ordinance on State Requirements for the Acquisition of the Professional Qualification "Teacher" adopted by Decree No. 289 defines the state requirements for acquiring a professional qualification of a teacher in which the initial training includes 30 compulsory hours of “Information and Communication Technologies in Learning and Working in a Digital Environment” and courses in “Digital competence and digital creativity” in the elective options for further development of the competences necessary for the exercise of the teaching profession.
The 2019 Ordinance on the status and professional development of teachers, school headmasters and other pedagogical specialists No.15 establishes the requirements for professional development of staff within the public education system (in-service training) and in which teachers are required to improve their competences continuously. According to Article 43, in-service training is carried out by specialized service units, higher schools and scientific organizations, and training organizations whose training programmes have been approved by the Ministry of Education and Science and are entered in an information register. The 2019 Ordinance points out that “The higher number of qualification credits and the higher professional qualification degree are grounds for faster career development regardless of the teacher's experience”. Article 46 states that improving the qualification includes a “master class as an interactive form of training of innovative teachers by presenting their pedagogical achievements, sharing positive professional experience, discussing current trends and applying innovative technologies and practices” and through “courses, seminars, training, schools, practicums, lectures, and webinars”.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning and its action plan includes targets for ICT training for teachers.
2.4.1. Data privacy
The 2015 Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, specifically Article 32 and Article 34, establishes the fundamental right to privacy. These articles serve as the foundation for ensuring and protecting the privacy of individuals in Bulgaria.
The Electronic Communications Act regulates public relationships related to the provision of electronic communications services. While its main focus is on electronic communications, the act also includes provisions related to the protection of personal data. These provisions ensure that personal data transmitted or processed in the context of electronic communications services are handled in accordance with relevant data protection principles and requirements. The act aims to safeguard individuals' privacy and protect their personal data within the electronic communications sector.
The 2002 Protection of Personal Data Act (last amended in 2019) serves as the primary framework for local law governing data protection. It was amended in 2019 so it can comply with the 2016 General Data Protection Regulation “to ensure protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2016/679” as mentioned in 1st Article and to complement the GDPR by providing additional safeguards and regulations in situations where the GDPR does not have specific provisions. This ensures that individuals' personal data is effectively protected and privacy rights are upheld in accordance with both the PDPA and the GDPR. The Act establishes the legislative basis for the Commission for Personal Data Protection's oversight and regulatory responsibilities and its Administration. The Rules on the Activity of the Commission for Personal Data Protection and its Administration “Regulates the structure and the organization of proceedings of the Commission” and is a secondary legislation that complements the 2002 Privacy Act. It has been highly active since the GDPR came into effect, both in terms of releasing regulatory guidelines and in terms of enforcement, for example, in the field of education, it delivered projects in collaboration with Erasmus such as the “AI-Trans: Increasing AI Transparency Through Digital Alternative Learning of Privacy Training” and the “e-OpenSpace - European Innovative Open Platform for Electronic Networking and Sustainable Provision of Adult Centred Education in Privacy and Personal Data Protection”.
The e-OpenSpace aims to promote “non-formal digital learning and awareness on privacy and personal data protection for adults, civil servants and practitioners.
2.4.2. Online abuse and cyberbullying
The 2018 Cybersecurity Act, regulates activities regarding cybersecurity, cyber defence and cybercrime, but no information has been found in the context of schools.
The 2021-2030 Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training, and Learning action plan foresees activities in school to protect from the dangers of the internet (including on fake news).
The Ministry of Education and Science is responsible for the education sector at all levels along with the Council of Ministers. The coordinator of the activities related to the implementation of digital technologies in the economy and society is the Ministry of Transport, Information Technology and Communications (MTITC) including education.
Article 64 of the 2016 Ordinance on the evaluation of results of students' education No. 11 states that technical commissions for the electronic processing of examination papers are established for one or more national external assessment exams. The composition of the commission may include specialists with computer skills, experts and pedagogical specialists who do not teach the subject. Article 70 warns that students who transcribe from data contained in technical devices (mobile phones, calculators, tablets, etc.) or just use a mobile phone or other technical means of communication during examinations are removed from the school building.
In 2015, Bulgaria's Parliament approved legislation that prohibited school pupils from using mobile phones in class. The measure was implemented due to disciplinary issues and allegations of cheating in examinations using mobile phones. Every school was required to develop and publish a code of conduct online. The amended law granted pupils rights to express their opinions and suggestions regarding school activities, including elective classes. It also allowed them to participate in discussions on resolving school-related issues, including the curriculum. Additionally, the new law mandated students to carry their school ID cards at all times, both inside and outside the school premises.
This profile was reviewed with the support of the Permanent Delegation of Bulgaria