With the main focus of Questers Giving Programme being education, Teach for Bulgaria is one of the main organizations we continuously collaborate with. We’ve been supporting them through various initiatives for the past 6 years as we value their efforts and truly believe they are making a real impact on the Bulgarian education system.
This year Teach for Bulgaria celebrates its 10th anniversary and we were curious to learn more about the challenges they have faced through the years as well as their achievements and future plans. In order to do so, we talked to the CEO of the organization Trayan Trayanov. Here’s what he shared with us:
Tell us more about Teach for Bulgaria. What’s the purpose of the organization?
We are guided by a vision that every child in Bulgaria gets equal access to quality education regardless of the circumstances of their birth. We train and support new teachers and school teams. We also form collaborations in order to introduce a variety of good practices to the Bulgarian education system. We were founded in 2010 on the initiative of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, our most generous donor.
Approximately 150 participants across two cohorts will be teaching this September, working in schools that primarily serve disadvantaged communities. In the classroom these teachers focus on expanding access to new learning opportunities for students in order to help them develop a sense of agency and pursue their aspirations. Many of our participants tell us that taking on this challenge is the most intense learning experience they have ever had. The vast majority of over 360 alumni of this programme continue working in education and contributing to our mission.
We see Teach For Bulgaria as a lab: we test different interventions, evaluate them, and make our learnings available to other teachers and teacher-training organizations across the education system. Through active collaborations, we facilitate lasting changes in the education system so that one day it has the human resources, capabilities, and policies in place to ensure access to quality education for every child in the country.
When and how was the idea conceived? How has Teach for Bulgaria changed over the years?
Several America for Bulgaria Foundation directors and employees were the original visionaries who thought Bulgaria could benefit from an organization that provides young people with an opportunity to serve by teaching in high-need schools. Evgenia Peeva, then a consultant at McKinsey & Co, took on the challenge of developing the original business plan. She then left the private sector and founded the organization and led it for most of the last ten years. From the very beginning Teach For Bulgaria had a chance to learn from partner organizations via the Teach For All global network.
Over the first few years we had to prove the viability of our model: that there would be enough capable people interested to teach; that schools would trust us enough to hire our teachers; that we can do a good enough job of preparing our participants for the challenges that await them; that enough people would be willing to support our programme.
Once we gained enough traction and earned the trust of all stakeholders, we set out to scale and evaluate our programme. The point of having an alternative pathway to the teaching profession is not to get more of the same. We need teachers who are making a difference for their students despite their relative inexperience. We have partnered with three different research organizations to assess the impact of our programme and build a strong case that the education system should adopt key elements of our model: student-centred instruction in the classroom and the careful selection, practical training, and focus on ongoing support and supervision of teachers.
As we are celebrating our 10th anniversary, we are now deepening our collaborations with different education authorities. Over the years we learned that to maximize learning opportunities for students, teachers need to be part of strong teams. Thus, we are launching a new programme aimed at helping school teams and building their team capacity. We are also now reaping the benefits of earlier investments by being able to tap the energy and expertise of over 360 alumni.
What are your biggest challenges and how do you overcome them?
We compete with employers in the private sector (who yield considerable resources) to attract capable and motivated people to the teaching profession and to our team. We are also trying to run a sustainable organization that has steady and predictable funding from diverse sources. Last but not least, we now have to up our game and prepare teachers to navigate yet another challenge: teaching remotely when needed and maximizing the learning potential of digital technologies.
We overcome all challenges the same way: we work hard, learn fast, and act nice - toward each other in the Teach For Bulgaria community and toward all stakeholders in the education system. We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for the generosity and commitment of our donors, board members, and partners across the public, private, and non-profit sectors.
As an organization what’s your biggest achievement so far?
This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary since our founding. We have a strong and experienced team, we have an engaged community of alumni, and we have many partners and supporters. We also have three independent evaluation studies demonstrating the impact of our programmes. Teach For Bulgaria teachers run a different kind of classroom, and their students are gaining academically. Last but not least, we have completed two major projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science, one of which resulted in the launch of a new national programme.
We are also hopeful that more and more people are realizing that we cannot afford to waste the potential of Bulgarian children and that we need to eradicate the education inequities that hold us back as a society. Our long-standing partnership with Questers is yet another example of that.
How do events like QuizIT help Teach for Bulgaria?
Our partnership with Questers is built on a shared commitment to a vision: equal access to quality education for every child. Over the last couple of years, we managed to organize 5 events like QuizIT and some other initiatives which helped us attract new friends, raise new funds, and bring together key supporters. We are grateful to the Questers staff for their donations and their tireless efforts to help spread the word about Teach For Bulgaria. Alexander Drangajov, CEO of Questers, has also generously supported our organization in personal capacity.
Any interesting new initiatives you’re planning?
It’s certain that the next 10 years will be very different for us. Let’s look at the big picture. The world is facing a possibly unprecedented global recession, and Bulgaria would be hard-hit. The education sector is bound to suffer. Even before the crisis, Bulgaria was spending a smaller share of its GDP on education compared to European benchmarks. Meanwhile, the World Bank warns that “education systems face a triple funding shock, with COVID-19 expected to put significant strains on household and donor funding that will only add to its effects on government funding.”
Mandated lockdowns and social distancing measures pose a significant challenge to Bulgarian schools. First, there is notable variability in the extent to which individual teachers and school teams are able to organize for distance and blended learning. Second, teacher shortages can be expected to worsen. It seems that eligible teachers are opting to retire at a higher rate this year. Meanwhile, the government may find it hard to deliver on its promise to double teacher salaries (relative to their 2017 levels) by next year.
We are not discouraged. On the contrary - we expect to see even more demand for our programmes. That’s why we are grateful to have the support of Questers and all our partners who stick with us through thick and thin.