In April 2020, Bulgarian National Agency for Vocational Education and Training conducted a survey about the organization and conduct of vocational training in Bulgaria during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment there are 1003 vocational training centres in Bulgaria, and 140 of them completed the questionnaires, and here are some results.
Based on the survey, 67% of the VET respondents have stopped training during the lockdown due to various reasons, such as:
- Difficulties in conducting state exams;
- Impossibility to conduct practical training in a real work environment;
- Dissatisfaction among students, some give up training;
- Reducing the number of candidates for training.
However, some respondents indicated that they did not encounter difficulties in the state of emergency, and some changes in the form of training were accepted with understanding by the trainees.
Some VET providers are intensively exploring the possibilities for distance learning and the functionality of various web-based learning platforms.
Only half of the respondents indicate that they have the necessary technical and technological conditions for training in professions and specialties and that the distance form is applicable.
VET providers also shared the impressions and opinions about the functionalities of the platforms (as Google Classroom, ZOOM, Moodle, Skype, Viber, etc.). Trainees can participate in the educational process via computer or smartphone. Some respondents contacted the trainees by e-mail or telephone.
From the results of the survey we understood that trainees received work instructions, opportunity for video consultations, etc. Some software solutions are providing the ability to share information between learners and share files.
Some VETs are sharing the experience that the lecturers have remote access to each trainee’s computer screen and they can check how the student completes the task and what software (s)he is working with. If it is necessary to show a drawing or any other object, the trainee shows the project on their video camera and presents it in real time. This is done for individual assignments, but is not currently applicable for state exams.
Various practical tasks, cases, projects, etc. are also provided in remote form. Some of the VETs have prepared a schedule for individual assessment. Others say that they use couriers to send the test materials and receive them back.
Some organizations stated that in the current environment assessment is impossible, especially for professions such as hairdresser, beautician, where the learners are supposed to work in contact with customers. Some of the respondents point out that the implementation of the practical training is currently impossible and has been postponed until the end of the state of emergency. The examples are different professions in the field of restaurant and hotel business, because the sites are closed and there is no way to carry out practical training. Others point to the possibility of individual practical training. Some VET providers use the capabilities of different training platforms by submitting assignments, projects, etc. In the lockdown situation, trainers focus on practical training based on role-playing games, solving certain cases, etc. in the specialties in which it is admissible.
In terms of keeping in touch with students, 88% of VETs communicate by phone, 76% use e-mail, and 37% communicate with students through the institution’s website. Other mentioned answers are for example social networks, Skype, Viber, learning platforms, live chat and others.
During the state of emergency, VET providers are working on the creation of additional training materials in an interactive format, develop more electronic presentations; learn to work with online learning platforms; use video surveillance.
The respondents have formulated specific proposals in connection with conducting professional training:
- To develop a framework for conducting online practical training and exams;
- To organize a meeting between NAVET (National Agency of Vocational Education and Training), Ministry of labor and social policy, and Employment agency and to give the opportunity to implement the training under various programmes in the form of distance learning (especially the programmes for employees);
- Allow validation to be done entirely online;
- Use virtual classrooms to temporarily replace attendance. To legitimize in such emergencies the possibility of assessment in the absense – tests and demonstration of practical tasks in a virtual classroom when this period is more than two months;
- Allow enrollment of students for distance learning without having to provide the medical certificate. In other words, for professions, for which the training, practical work, and final exams pass entirely through distance learning, the medical certificate could be provided by the end of the training.
Based on the obtained results, NAVET has sent a letter to the Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, and the Employment Agency with a proposal to provide the possibility of distance organization of vocational training and examinations for persons over 16 years in vocational training centres.
NAVET has sent a letter to the Ministry of Health with a proposal to supplement the order of the Minister of Health in order to enable all VET providers to conduct vocational training in compliance with the measures for social distance and all others anti-epidemic measures.
Despite the challenges that have been raised because of the pandemic, vocational training centers managed to continue their started trainings without compromising on quality.
Situations like this one help us to realize how much we need digital skills to continue education, training and practicing the profession even remotely.