15th September: the first day of school in Bulgaria – Sharon

Every 15th of September schools in Bulgaria open their doors and welcome students to celebrate the beginning of a new academic year. The first day of school represents a very special tradition for Bulgarians since decades: its current date was actually established in 1921, under Alexander Stamboliiski’s government.

This festive day has usually a rich programme that includes speeches, readings, singings, dances and other rituals for pupils like bringing flowers to teachers. The Youth team took part in the celebrations held in a local school of Sheinovo village, a centre for children from 3 to 10 years old mainly belonging to the gypsy community that lives in the surroundings.

Before the beginning of the ceremony, we could visit the school building and see some kindergarten and primary school classrooms. Inside this austere building, the sign Здравей Училище (“Hello students”), colorful drawings, maps of the European Union, pottery and other traditional bulgarian objects made the atmosphere warm. Classrooms also were ready to welcome pupils in their first day of school with balloons, greetings on the blackboards and workbooks, a gift from the Ministry of Education and Science.

The ceremony started at 9:30 a.m. with the traditional ring of the bell, which drew the attention of the people present in the schoolyard and gathered them in a circle to watch the celebration. There were around fifty pupils with their parents and also guests from public institutions to wish good luck and success to the children. Everybody seemed very excited for this new beginning and to the eyes of a foreigner spectator like me it was totally an unusual event.

Some students handled the school flag along with the sound of the Bulgarian national anthem. Another ritual for the occasion that introduced the official welcome from the director of the institute. In her emotive speech, the director underlined the importance of literacy as a means that enable us to be responsible citizens and make a change in our adult life. Her words were full of hope and confidence in a European future that may offer great opportunities for the development of Bulgaria and its people. “We need to make a change, create our future”, she stressed in the end of her intervention.

While speaking, she made me reflect about one the most critical issues to be faced by the Bulgarian educational system: education accessibility. As I discovered later, according to a recent study conducted by the Bulgaria’s Center for Inclusive Education, around 23% of 6 year-old students in the country live in extreme poverty, but many other children in marginalized communities have never entered into a school. In fact, despite the aids offered by local municipalities to disadvantaged families to encourage education, many of them don’t want to benefit from this opportunity. Hopefully, this is going to be solved in a future not so far.

After a long applause, a representative member from Kazanlak Municipality read the discourse of the Major and other guests shared their best wishes for the students.  The final part of the ceremony was protagonised by the pupils singing Bulgarian songs and performing typical dances. In the end, the director of the school raised the national flag and invited the kids into the school to take their seats, share the typical homemade cake with honey and start their first lesson.

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