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March 8, 2011

Homeschool Pioneers in Bulgaria: Endurance through Adversity

By Peter Porumbachanov

Homeschooling, like democracy, is new to Bulgaria. In fact, the growth of the homeschool movement quickly surpassed the speed of democratic changes in our post-totalitarian country. This reality has created a number of problems for homeschool families, as the law is slow to give freedoms back to Bulgarian citizens. Also, Bulgarian society does not perceive homeschooling as a “normal” educational option. This places additional pressure on those who choose to teach their children at home.

Since homeschooling is not explicitly allowed by Bulgarian law, every family that withdraws their child from the public system is attacked and persecuted by the government. Interestingly, families who begin homeschooling before their children reach the compulsory attendance age are able to homeschool with relative freedom, since they have never enrolled the children in the public education system. If these families cooperate with the authorities, no one bothers them. Of course, this is not a viable solution to the current situation, since homeschooling is still prohibited at large.

After the fall of the totalitarian regime 20 years ago, the new government revised Bulgaria’s education law a number of times. Unfortunately, these changes in the law always gave the government more control over education. The most recent revision of the education law proposes that children enter the compulsory education system at the age 3 and spend their entire day at school through the seventh grade. In this way, Bulgaria looks to the European Union as its guide and tends to imitate the policy of countries like Germany and Sweden. This approach fails to increase freedom for homeschoolers.

Few in Number

At this time, the number of Bulgarian homeschoolers is few, and there is no real hope that upcoming legislation will include homeschooling as an educational option. No more than three families have, of their free will, actively worked to popularize homeschooling. Although these families attempted to create a homeschool group to help their cause, their efforts were unsuccessful. About half a year ago the Bulgarian court categorically refused to register the Homeschool Association in Bulgaria as an official organization. This decision greatly discouraged some of the families, who hoped that the organization would unite, help, and protect them.

The practical side of homeschooling in Bulgaria also meets with significant difficulty. The majority of the families use English literature and almost always homeschool programs made in the United States. These programs are expensive for the Bulgarian families and are often gifts from Bulgarian emigrants who live in North America. More often, we are able to supply ourselves with used textbooks and manuals, very rarely whole curriculum sets. These realities add great hardships to the families who are already fighting for the right to educate their children and are sacrificing a lot to achieve that goal.

In spite of this difficult situation, several individuals have continued to work for the cause of homeschooling because they feel it is their vocation. Over the years, several parents have with great effort worked to organize conferences for the homeschool community. The culmination of these efforts came in 2010, when HSLDA Director of International Affairs and our dear friend Michael Donnelly spoke at our annual conference. Thanks to the small number of homeschool pioneers who continue to volunteer their time and efforts, we have a website about homeschooling in Bulgaria and also a webpage for the children that are studying at home.

Sincere Devotion

The motivation to homeschool for most of these families stems from their sincere devotion to God’s word and their irrevocable and unwavering belief that we must educate our children in the truth (Proverbs 22:6).

All of the homeschool families are aware of the gravity of the situation and the risks they have taken upon themselves. In light of the current hostile climate in Bulgaria, homeschooling greatly limits future opportunities for our children. For example, without a Bulgarian diploma, our children will not be able to work in the army, as police, or in public administration, and with the changes in the law on education they will not be allowed to have even a driver’s license if they have not been in the public school to the 10th grade. All of this puts our children in a difficult situation and severely limits their rights as citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria. Unfortunately, many families are planning to send their children to Western Europe or America so that they can have better chance to realize a future. This means that it is very likely that the first generation of Bulgarian homeschoolers will not remain in their homeland. However, for us parents, it is important that our children receive a good education and be brought up in Christian values.

We are praying and working hard for the situation here to change, specifically that the children who are homeschooled will not be discriminated against by the government authorities. We are praying for strength to overcome the bureaucracy, so that our children are able to apply to study at Bulgarian universities, which will allow them to have professions that are currently inaccessible to them, becoming, for instance, doctors, lawyers or engineers. We know that it will not be is easy, but we count it a privilege to be pioneers in an enterprise that is unknown to the Bulgarians and that fills us with joy and gratitude to God. There is no greater reward for us than that to see our children as grown, mature and dedicated Christians, something that Bulgaria has not seen in a very long time. From the whole hearts, we thank all who pray for us and support us.

Peter Porumbachanov is the president of the Homeschool Association in Bulgaria.

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Bulgaria webpage.