Entcho Gerganov / Pepka Boyadzieva / Elena Paspalanova

The transition from one century to another is usually accompanied by the expectation that something unusual will happen, something exceptional, which will change people’s way of life dramatically. Along with such frivolous beliefs, serious analyses and prognoses are also made both for the development of individual communities, nations and states, and for the global development of mankind. On the eve of the 21st century, attempts have already been made to assess the achievements of mankind in various spheres of science and technology, in education, literature and the arts, in politics and economics, in sports, etc. Among the trends affecting the sphere of education at the turn of the millennium are improvements in educational technologies, the affirmation of the idea of continuing education, and the emergence and development of educational institutions working for the implementation of this idea. These trends are reflected in our country too. It will therefore be interesting to explore briefly by analogy how education and education policy were seen in our young state at the end of the 19th century, on the eve of the 20th century. Pepka A. Boyadzieva is a professor at the Institute of Sociology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, while Elena P. Paspalanova and Entcho N. Gerganov work at the Institute of Psychology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Elena P. Paspalonova is a lecturer in social psychology, and Entcho N. Gerganov is a professor of cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.

The Social Attitudes of the Bulgarians towards Continuing Education on the Eve of the 21st Century

At the end of the 19th century, a long and heated debate was being carried out in the People’s Assembly and the pages of periodicals and scientific journals on the education policy of the newly restored Bulgarian state, and in particular on the level of education among the Bulgarian population and what public and personal use should be made of higher education. This debate took place at a time when, according to official statistics from around 1893, 84.37% of the population of the Kingdom were illiterate, with the percentage among women reaching 93.43%. According to the proponents of one viewpoint, the cost of education had to be reduced, both because the state was poor and there were not enough funds, because it had much more important problems to solve, and because the economic benefits of higher education were not proven. “Secondary and higher education are a luxury”, said Ivan Geshov in the journal of the Bulgarian Literary Society, adding that secondary education should be restricted because it would produce “a thinking proletariat”. One teacher insisted: “Enlightenment! Enlightenment!” But none other than the Minister of Finance and Minister of People’s Enlightenment, the liberal Petko Karavelov, responded: “Bread! Bread! ... must be our banner... All kinds of labour are sacred, but the most sacred is that done by a ploughman.”

The opposing viewpoint had the clear and ardent support of another member of the People’s Assembly, Stefan Stambolov: “It is desirable that the person selling olives and the person practising law acquire one and the same education ... and the more opportunities we provide for the people to study, the more we may hope that the people will better understand what concerns them, and if we continue in this way I am convinced that in 20 years we shall see a Bulgaria that we do not recognise.” Though beset by great difficulty and much opposition, it is this viewpoint which subsequently formed the basis of the education policy of the Bulgarian state. The facts are impressive: by the beginning of the 20th century, over 60% of children of school age were going to school, there were 26 high schools in the country, and the first Bulgarian university was open and functioning successfully.

Though our country differs greatly from what it was at the end of the 19th century, today it again faces the same dilemmas. What kind of education policy should we have – restricting or stimulating the aspirations of the people for education? What are the priority areas for funding – and is there among them any place for education at a time of limited financial resources and the need for radical changes in what are considered the key structural areas of society? How many educational institutions, how many schools and universities are necessary in a state in which people with higher education support their families by means of unskilled labour – the wealthiest are far from being the most educated, while the population of traditional university age is falling? What is the attitude of the state towards continuing education and the institutions which provide it?

While the educational policies of political parties are declared in public and can easily be assessed to see to what extent they have been implemented, the educational intentions and aspirations of the general population, and the position of education in their system of values, can only be ascertained by means of special sociological and psychological studies.

The aim of the study described in this paper was to explore the changing intentions of the Bulgarians on the eve of the 21st century with respect to continuing their education, and to find out what were their educational aspirations as they entered the next millennium. For this purpose, we made a comparative analysis of two nationally representative social and psychological surveys of the intention of those interviewed to continue studying even after acquiring a certain level of education. These were carried out at an interval of six years, in 1993 and 1999.

The random sample used in the 1993 study consisted of around 1300 interviewees. The analysis of the results of that time is published in the book “Education Outside the School Walls”.1 In May 1999, the study was repeated with the same questionnaire, again using a nationally representative sample, consisting of around 1050 interviewees. In order to measure the intensity of the desire of those interviewed to continue studying, we asked the question in both studies:

“What is your intention of continuing studying in some form after you have completed your education?”

my intention is:
  nil very weak rather weak than strong  equally weak and strong rather strong than weak  strong very strong
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The intensity of the intention to continue studying was directly linked with the educational aspirations of those interviewed, which were ascertained by the question:

“What is the highest level of education you are striving at?”

  1. I am satisfied with my education
  2. Elementary
  3. Primary
  4. Vocational training
  5. Secondary
  6. College
  7. Special Secondary
  8. University
  9. PhD
  10. Doctor of Sciences

Here we shall present the results from both studies in chart form in order to understand the changes in the educational intentions and aspirations of Bulgarians. We shall take as dependable variables the scale of the intention of the interviewee to continue studying, on the one hand, and the scale of his/her educational aspirations on the other, and as independent factors, the time of collecting the data and some important sociodemographic features such as the age and education of the interviewee, place of residence, ethnic affiliation, etc.

1. Continuing Education – Escape from Reality or Rational Intention?

From a comparison of the data from both studies, the most striking fact is the trend towards a greater intention to continue education and a higher level of educational aspirations. Over two thirds of those interviewed in 1993 (73%) stated that they had no intention of continuing their education; only 1.5% defined their intention as very strong; 4.5% as strong; and 5.1% as rather strong than weak. The data from 1999 show a different picture: the percentage of those definitely not seeing their future associated with educational activity had decreased considerably, to 53.8%. At the same time there was an increase in the percentage of those interviewed who declared a clear educational intention: 5.3% stated that they had a very strong intention to continue their education, 5.9% a strong intention, and 8.7% a rather strong than weak intention. This is shown in Fig. 1.

Analysis of the data shows that the difference between the educational intentions of those interviewed in 1993 and 1999 is statistically significant. The average scale value of interviewees’ intentions in 1993 was 2.02, while in 1999 it was 2.46.

Fig. 1: Percentage of the intensity of the intention of interviewees to continue studying

Much more significant is the difference in the educational aspirations of both groups of interviewees (Fig. 2). In 1993, 78.3% of them expressed satisfaction with the level of education they had acquired, 5.2% wished to acquire secondary education, 2.9% college education, 9.1% university education, and 1% a higher degree. In 1999, the percentage of those satisfied with their education had decreased to 55.1%, those wishing to gain a certificate of secondary education rose to 11.2%, those wanting a college education fell to 2.9%, those aspiring towards a university education rose to 20.5%, and those aiming at a higher degree to 3.7%. The analysis shows that the difference between the two studies in the educational aspirations of those interviewed is very significant, their average value in 1993 reaching 2.2, while in 1999 it reached 3.6.

Fig. 2: Percentage of interviewees wishing to acquire a higher level of education than they already have

We have to admit that the significant change in educational intentions and aspirations that revealed itself surprised us to a certain degree. While we had expected some change, we had not anticipated its undoubted extent. Over the space of only five calendar years, the educational intentions of the Bulgarian population had changed so greatly that they gave a new face to society as a whole. A society in which 25% of its members include in their life plans a certain type of social activity is hardly different from a society in which 35% of people have such an intention. But if this social behaviour becomes the goal of half the population – as is the case in the 1999 study – it is obvious that a profound change has occurred within the fabric of the society. This is the more so if it is a question of educational intentions, which is a sphere with both personal and social implications.

How should the differences observed be interpreted? What are the factors causing the increased interest in educational services and the increased striving for higher levels of education? What is the purpose of educational activity, and what is the value of learning itself at a time when democracy and the civil society are being stressed, but also when poverty is increasing, unemployment remains high and social divisions are becoming deeper? Later on, we shall seek answers to these questions by analysing the influence of the social and demographic features of those interviewed on the intensity of their intention to continue studying and on their educational aspirations.

2. Weakening of the Cumulative Effect of Educational Advantage

Relationship between the intention to continue education and educational aspirations, and the level of education already acquired

In presenting the results from the empirical studies we shall observe the following procedure. First, we shall examine the influence of each independent factor on the educational intentions of the persons studied in 1999, using two-dimensional statistical tables, and we shall then examine the influence of this factor on both groups of respondents – in 1993 and 1999 – using two factor dispersion analyses.

In both the 1993 and the 1999 study, the educational level acquired by the respondent proved to be an exceptionally important determinant of educational intentions. There is a clear relationship between the intention of interviewees to go on studying, and the educational level previously acquired – the higher their education, the higher their wish to continue their education. For instance, among the group of people with university education, 31.93% stated that they had no intention of continuing their education, while in the group with secondary education this percentage increased to 47.3%, and in the groups with primary and below primary education, to 78.65% and 92.86% respectively. Among university graduates, 16.87% declared a strong or a very strong wish to continue studying, while among those with secondary education this percentage dropped to 12.86%, among those with primary education, to 6.74%, and among those with a lower level of education, to 4.76%.

The combined influence of the level of education of interviewees and the year of the study on the intensity of their intention to continue studying is shown clearly in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3: Intensity of the intention of interviewees to continue studying as a function of their education and the year of study

The factors year of the study and educational level of respondents have a considerable influence on the intention of continuing education. People with a higher level of education had a stronger intention to continue studying. Besides, those interviewed in 1999 had on average a stronger intention of continuing education than those interviewed in 1993. Special attention should be given to the fact that the interaction between the two independent factors significantly affects educational intentions. In other words, there is a difference between 1993 and 1999 in the way in which the level of education acquired by a person influences his or her wish to continue studying. As can be seen from Fig. 3, in 1999 the effect on educational intentions of a college education on the one hand, and of a university education, on the other, is almost equal. A decrease in the marked difference in intensity of intention observed in 1993 between the influence of secondary and primary education can also be observed. If these changes are maintained and grow in the years to come, we shall have grounds to speak of a weakening of the cumulative effect of educational advantage. In other words, the intensity of the intention to continue studying will be approximately equal for people of different levels of education.

The factors under study also have a strong influence on educational aspirations. Fig. 4 shows that those interviewees with college and secondary education had on average higher educational aspirations than the others. In this case, the profile of those interviewed in 1999 is at a higher level than the profile of those interviewed in 1993, i.e. the educational aspirations of interviewees in 1999 are considerably greater than the aspirations of those surveyed in 1993.

The interaction between the two independent factors also has a noticeable effect on educational aspirations. This is due to the fact that in 1999 the “behaviour” of those with college education changed substantially – they were much more strongly motivated to acquire a higher level of education than all the others.

Fig. 4: The educational aspirations of interviewees as a function of their education and the year of the study

3. Education – Open to All

An analysis of the effect of social and demographic factors such as age, residence, ethnic affiliation, sex and social affiliation on educational intentions and aspirations reveals that education is tending to turn into a sphere of public activity that is socially open.

Relationship between intention to continue education and educational aspirations, and the age of the interviewee

The age of a person is a significant factor in his or her educational intentions. The data from our study confirm the tendency known from other studies that the younger the interviewee, the stronger his or her desire for education. Thus, for instance, among the group of respondents aged between 18 and 30, 19.63% stated that they had no intention of continuing their education, in the group aged between 31 and 40 this percentage increased to 38.66%, while among interviewees aged 51 to 60 and over 60, it reached 79.03% and 91.7% respectively. The breakdown of respondents at the other end of the scale of educational intentions is therefore no surprise: 26.29% of interviewees in the age group 18-30 expressed a strong or very strong wish to continue their education, while in the age group 31-40 this percentage decreased to 10.31%, among respondents aged between 41 and 50 to 6.47%, among those aged between 51 and 60 to 2.42%, and among the oldest – aged over 60 – to 3.73%.

Fig. 5: Intensity of the intention of interviewees to continue studying as a function of their age and the year of the study

In line with our preliminary expectations, the two factor dispersion analyses show that the age of a person has a strong effect on his or her educational intentions within the groups of persons studied in 1993 and in 1999. There is no observable difference in the interaction between the two years, which means that the curves of educational intentions for the two years are statistically parallel.

Fig 5. shows clearly that the considerable effect of the year of the study factor on educational intentions is due to the stronger desire for education expressed in 1999 by interviewees in the higher age groups. This result deserves particular attention as it shows that in our country, as in the advanced West European countries education is not a privilege of the young, but is gradually becoming a life choice for people of all ages.

Age has a significant effect also on the educational aspirations of the respondents in the groups of persons studied in 1993 and in 1999 (see Fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Educational aspirations of interviewees as a function of their age and the year of their study

A significant effect on educational aspirations can be observed both for the year of study and for the interaction between age and year of study. The latter result is obviously connected with the higher educational aspirations of respondents in the age group 41-50.

Relationship between intention to continue education and educational aspirations, and the respondent’s residence

The residence of a person is a significant factor in his or her attitude to education. Among those living in villages, 9.26% expressed a strong or very strong wish to continue education, 5.06% of those living in small towns expressed such a wish, 15.7% of those living in larger towns, and 13.01% of those living in the capital.

Fig. 7 presents the effect of the residence and year of the study factors on educational intentions.

Fig. 7: Intensity of the intention of interviewees to continue studying as a function of residence and the year of the study

Both factors have a significant effect on a person’s educational intentions. A significant influence on the wish for continuing education is exerted also by the interaction between the two factors. The difference in the residence effect on educational intentions between the two years under study is extremely important. In 1999, the wish to continue education had considerably increased among respondents from villages, small and larger towns, which suggests that education is a sphere of activity that is opening up to broader sections of society.

According to the results from the two factor dispersion analyses, respondents’ residence and the year of the study have a considerable effect on educational aspirations (see Fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Educational aspirations as a function of residence and the year of the study

In the two groups studied in 1993 and 1999, the influence of the residence factor remains similar, so that the curves in Fig. 8 are statistically parallel. Some increase is observable in the educational aspirations of respondents living in villages and small towns. In comparison, however, with the change observed in 1999 in the effect of the residence factor on educational intentions, a statistically significant change is not registered in relation to educational aspirations.

Relationship between the intention to continue education and
educational aspirations, and the ethnic affiliation of the respondent

The tendency of education to become a sphere of activity that is socially open is seen particularly vividly in the analysis of the effect of the ethnic affiliation factor on educational intentions. Among the persons studied in 1999, this effect turns out to be statistically insignificant. The educational intentions of respondents from different ethnic groups were almost equal – a strong or very strong wish to continue education was declared by 11.7% of Bulgarians, 10.61% of Bulgarian Turks and 15% of Roma; no wish to continue education was declared by 53.33% of Bulgarians, 51.52% of Bulgarian Turks and 65% of Roma.

Fig. 9 shows clearly the differences in educational intentions between the various ethnic groups in 1993 and 1999.

Fig. 9: Intensity of the intention of interviewees to continue studying as a function of ethnic affiliation and the year of the study

While the ethnic affiliation of interviewees was a significant factor in their wish to continue studying in 1993, in 1999 it was already statistically insignificant. The increase in the educational intentions of the Bulgarian Turks and Roma is particularly striking.

Ethnic affiliation has a significant effect on educational aspirations among the groups of persons studied in 1993 and 1999 (see Fig. 10).

Fig. 10: Educational aspirations as a function of ethnic affiliation

Once again, the effect of the year of the study is considerable, as is the interaction between the two independent factors. The essential difference in the effect of the ethnic affiliation factor on the educational aspirations in the two groups studied is due above all to the exceptional increase in the educational aspirations of the Bulgarian Turks. The results obtained show a tendency towards equality between the educational wishes of Bulgarian citizens of different ethnic affiliations. Whether this tendency will also bring about equal educational opportunities will depend both on the policies and on the strategies of the individual educational institutions in relation to the various ethnic groups in our country.

4. Continuing Education and Reproduction of the Sociocultural Environment

The results of our studies show that the social environment and the cultural capital of the individual still have a marked effect on educational intentions and aspirations.

Relationship between the intention to continue education and educational aspirations, and the social affiliation of the respondent

Both in 1999 and in 1993 there were significant differences in the educational intentions of respondents, depending on the social group to which they belonged. The farmers and unemployed persons interviewed were most inclined to be satisfied with the education already acquired – 74.39% of the former and 74.52% of the latter stated that they had no intention of continuing to study. Among manual workers, this percentage dropped to 58.82%, and among freelance workers and non-manual workers, to 36.84% and 37.38% respectively.

The year of the study does not appreciably influence the educational intentions of people of different social group status.

The position of the respondents who expressed the weakest educational intentions – the unemployed, farmers and workers – is worth analysing particularly. One could suggest that if the wish of these groups to study remains comparatively low, vertical social mobility will remain closed to them and they will not be able to change their present social group affiliation. If these results are confirmed in other studies, we shall have grounds to speak of an “entrapment” effect exerted by a person’s social group affiliation on his or her future. This, in turn, would mean that our country is still far from building a democratic and pluralistic society.

The social group affiliation factor also has a significant effect on educational aspirations among the groups of persons studied (see Fig. 11).

Fig. 11: Educational aspirations as a function of social and group affiliation and the year of the study

Despite the general increase in educational aspirations among interviewees, no significant difference was observed in 1999 in the influence of social group affiliation in comparison with 1993. The increase in the educational aspirations of private sector businesspeople should be noted as a positive trend. In respect of both educational intentions and educational aspirations, farmers, the unemployed and workers “lagged behind” the other social groups.

Relationship between the intention to continue education and the family cultural environment of the respondent

As a proxy for the family cultural environment of the respondent, the educational level of the father was used. The analysis shows the presence of a significant correlation between the education that the father had acquired and the educational intentions of those interviewed. Of the group of respondents whose fathers had university education, only 23.81% had no intention of continuing to study, in the group whose fathers had college or secondary education, this percentage was 31.25% and 29.58% respectively, while among those whose fathers had primary education, this percentage increased to 58.50%, and it reached 81.71% in the group whose fathers had below primary education. Among the respondents whose fathers had university education, 23.81% stated that they had a very strong or strong wish to continue education, but only 2.44% of those whose fathers had primary education stated such a wish.

There is no doubt that the family environment is an important factor in the formation of personal goals and aspirations. The question is how the wider public environment and the various social institutions can stimulate people who come from families of lower cultural status in order to neutralize or at least to decrease the negative effects of primary socialisation.

5. Conclusion

From the analysis of the results of the two social and psychological studies, it is found that significant changes have taken place in the last five years both in the attitudes of Bulgarian citizens towards continuing education and in their educational aspirations. The majority of the people in our country are willing to study throughout their lives, and to increase their level of education by acquiring new skills and specialisms through various forms of continuing education. The Bulgarian Turks and Roma, who have traditionally been satisfied with their lower levels of education, are already voicing their intention of continuing their studies and acquiring much higher levels of education than they have presently. In terms of educational aspirations, they are equal to the Bulgarians. Lifelong learning occupies an important place in the value system of our people. The existence of this hidden psychological resource for education presents a pressing challenge to non-governmental educational institutions, which will have to expand their activities in order to satisfy as far as possible the increased educational needs of Bulgarian citizens. This will mean studying the needs of the people for various types of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of modern efficient educational teaching technologies. The key feature of educational practice in the 21st century will be people’s demand for knowledge and for the ability to do more to ensure their self-development and a higher standard of living.

 

1 Boyadzieva P., Gerganov E., Dilova M., Paspalanova E. and Petkova Kr.
Education Outside the School Walls, Sofia, GAL-ICO, 1994