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History of Bulgarian Comparative Education

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History of Bulgarian Comparative Education

Nikolay Popov

History of Bulgarian Comparative Education


Professor, Dr.habil. Nikolay Popov, Sofia University, Bulgaria,


Published in: Comparative Education and Teacher Training, Volume 4, 2006, pp. 11 - 28.

Popov, N., Wolhuter, C., Heller, C., Kysilka, M. (Eds.) Sofia: Bureau for Educational Services & Bulgarian Comparative Education Society


This paper examines the preconditions, origin and development of the Bulgarian Comparative Education in Bulgaria as a practical problem-solving tool, a research field, a policy helping activity, and as a science and academic discipline. The paper also shows the political, socio-cultural, economic, national-consciousness, academic and scientific conditions determining the problems, achievements, issues and challenges to comparative education in this country during the different periods of its history. The main goal of the paper is to explain the most important facts, processes, debates, persons and their fundamental works that have so far composed the short but rich in ideas and writings history of Bulgarian comparative education. Presenting a national history, this study modestly tries to contribute to a better understanding of the global historical background of the field.


Note: In its 1325-year history Bulgaria has gone through three Bulgarian states and two yokes: the First Bulgarian State (681-1018); the Byzantine yoke (1018-1185); the Second Bulgarian State (1185-1396); the Turkish yoke (1396-1878); the Third Bulgarian State (1878 - up to the present).


1. Comparative education studies in Bulgaria till the Liberation (1878)

If we would like to understand the genesis of comparative education in Bulgaria we must go nearly 250 years back, to the beginning of the Bulgarian national revival in the dark days of the Turkish yoke. The appearance and development of comparative education studies should be seen in the context of the common uplift in Bulgarian society of that time.


1.1. Preconditions for the rise of comparative education studies

Economic preconditions. The process of decomposition of the natural-feudal economy of the Turkish Empire started in the end of the 16th century and new capitalist economic relations were gradually established by the middle of the 18th century. Bulgarian merchants expanded their activities to all regions of Central and Western Europe, and the Middle East. The growth in extent and depth of international trade contacts helped Bulgaria, as a part of the Turkish Empire, to participate in European economic life. That gave good conditions of observation of European education practice. The economic changes brought about the formation of a new social class, bourgeoisie, whose representatives were the main sponsors on the educational development.

Perhaps, the most important result of those economic preconditions was that they allowed Bulgarians to see themselves in an entirety, to feel the common misery, destiny, interests, efforts and hopes. The comparative activity can be given meaning only when a nation acquires the sense of national unity and hence, the sense of national similarity and difference compared with other nations. Only then the comparative activity can be treated as a social need.

National-consciousness preconditions. Actually, the Bulgarian cultural revival began in 1762 when a book entitled Slavonic-Bulgarian History appeared. It was written by a monk, Paisiy Hilendarski (1722-1773). In his work Paisiy presented all Bulgarian khans and kings from the First and Second Bulgarian States and told the Bulgarian people that it had had its own old history, origin and language. From today’s historical point of view we can see that Slavonic-Bulgarian History has got many inexactnesses in facts. However, the great role of Paisiy was in laying the foundations of a new cultural orientation including the Bulgarian people in an all-European context and increasing the national consciousness. Paisiy was the first one who formulated the idea of comparability of the Bulgarian people with all others.

The idea of education comparison was the next significant step and it was done in 1824 by a young scholar, Dr. Peter Beron (1800-1871), by his Primer with various instructions (its popular name is The Fish Primer because there is a fish painted on the cover). Beron traveled a lot around Romania, Austria and other countries examining the educational practice at primary schools. Comparing everything he had seen Beron showed progressive ways of improving Bulgarian education.

Education preconditions. Due to the fact that there was no system of higher education, the majority of Bulgarian intellectuals were graduates from universities in France, Russia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, etc. The accumulation of knowledge and direct foreign education experience supported to a great extent the rise and development of comparative education studies.


1.2. Comparative education materials in the Bulgarian pre-liberation press

The Bulgarian pre-liberation press is the only source of information on comparative education materials published during that time. The first Bulgarian journals and newspapers appeared in the early 1840s. The period until the Liberation saw more than a hundred editions. Comparative education materials (reports, correspondences, articles) were published in about twenty journals and newspapers. In the late 1860s and 1870s, just before the Liberation, such materials reached large proportions. School (1870-1875), edited by R. Bluskov, was the most active journal in publishing case and comparative materials on education in foreign countries. An article entitled “A Look at Education of All Nations around the World” (School, 1873, No 7) was a typical example in that respect. The short text expresses much naivetÚ but deep knowledge-ability, as well.

About 80 comparative education materials were published in the pre-liberation press. The countries most often included were: Russia - in 24% of the materials, Turkey - 21%, Germany - 18%, France - 15%; after them came the USA - 8%, England - 6%, Serbia - 4%, Switzerland - 3%. One-third of the materials were on primary education. Teacher training abroad was of special interest; the most often quoted examples were teacher training institutions in Germany. There were studies on curricula, teaching methods, administration. Attention was also paid to business and vocational education, and school sponsorship; the latter in the USA was presented as a good example.


1.3. Luben Karavelov: the forerunner of Bulgarian comparative education

Luben Karavelov (1834-1879), a Bulgarian writer, educator and publicist, can be regarded as the forerunner of Bulgarian comparative education. His contributions to the development of this field were as follows:

1) He studied education in Serbia and Russia by visits, and education in England, Austria, the USA, France and Germany by publications (for instance, he used Celistin Hippeau’s books on various countries).

2) He compared on the one hand, education in some European countries, and on the other hand, education in Europe and that in the USA. He did such comparisons in his article “A Critical Review of National Education in Different Countries” (Knowledge, 1875, No 22-23). This article was the most significant comparative education publication during that period. It is interesting that Karavelov’s sympathies were wholly with American education. He wrote on American education in a couple of his articles and in one of them, “Upon the School Programs” (Knowledge, 1875, No 24), he did an extremely detailed analysis of the educational system in the USA.

3) He considered borrowing foreign positive education experience as a necessity but always according to own national traditions and needs.

Luben Karavelov in Bulgaria is what Victor Cousin is in France, Friedrich Thiersch in Germany, Horace Mann in the USA, Matthew Arnold in England. On the grounds of his contributions Karavelov could be put among the distinguished forerunners of comparative education.


1.4. Characteristics of comparative education studies up to the Liberation

1) Practice went before theory. There were a lot of practical studies but there were no conceptions about the theory of comparison.

2) There was no comparative education as a science. There were only nonsystematic comparative education studies.

3) Since Bulgaria was in undeveloped social and economic conditions, the aims of studies were purely utilitarian.

4) Description strongly prevailed over analysis. This wholly corresponds to George Bereday’s definition of the 19th century as a descriptive phase in the development of the comparative method.

5) Comparative education studies arose during the Bulgarian national revival, which because of the Turkish yoke, started two or three centuries after that in other European countries. This influenced the character of the very studies. Their tone was slightly na´ve but pure and lofty in a renaissance way.

6) The origin of Bulgarian comparative education was closely related to the process of formation of the new Bulgarian school. Comparative studies appeared in order to contribute to the development of this process.


2. Comparative education studies in Bulgaria from the Liberation till 1918

As a result of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 Bulgaria overturned the 5-century Turkish yoke in 1878. The builders of modern Bulgaria began to lay the foundations of a new educational system. Broader prospects were held out to comparative education studies.


2.1. Conditions of the development of comparative education studies

The Liberation created favorable economic, social and political conditions of a free development of Bulgaria. Parliament, government and ministries were immediately established. West-European investments came into Bulgarian economy. All this had positive influence on the development of education. It was quite naturally for a just liberated country to turn its eyes to the more developed ones and to follow their laws, decisions, structural and functional models when establishing its own educational system. Comparative education studies represented a natural expression of the attempt some of our educational problems to be solved.

“The Liberation put new tasks and goals to our school. It had to be adapted to the new conditions. The school had to serve the newly established public groups and institutions, to serve for uplifting the cultural level of the Bulgarian people, helping it to acquire that knowledge it needed to become a member, equal in rights, of the family of the European cultural nations… There was no time for considerations and experiments. What could be done in that case - to follow the example of the cultural nations. And our first policy-makers imitated the school systems of Russia, Austria and Germany. But that imitation was not a slavish one, those copies were immediately adjusted to the Bulgarian conditions.” (Aleksiev, 1912, p. 9).

The first Bulgarian university was opened in 1888 in Sofia (today, that is Saint Kliment Ohridsky University of Sofia). Later on, in the 1890s and 1910s higher schools of finance, arts, and music were founded.

“On the one hand, Sofia University originated in order to satisfy the acute need for specialists having higher education in Bulgaria, as up to that moment all doctors, engineers, historians, philologists, etc. got their education abroad - mostly in Germany, France, Austria, Russia, and Switzerland. On the other hand, Sofia University sprang out as part and parcel of a subnational, European tradition, not just because most of its professors were trained in Europe, but because its entire history up to 1944 is in fact a history of protecting and establishing the European academic values and university spirit. Sofia University developed as a European university according to its way of developing, the principles that it cherished, and its self-consciousness of being an academic community.” (Popova, 1996, p. 891)

Sofia University played very important role in the development of comparative education studies. Most of Bulgarian comparativists of that time were university professors. Some lecture courses on foreign education appeared in the early 1900s.

Favorable circumstances contributed to the development of comparative education studies. Some of them were: fast increase of the number of foreign education journals received in Bulgaria; study trips of Bulgarian scholars to other countries; participation of Bulgarian administrators and scholars at international education conferences; enlargement of international research and academic contacts, etc.


2.2. Comparative education publications

About 120 comparative education materials (articles, reports, correspondences) were published mostly in the following journals: School Review, Education, Education Magazine, and Democratic Review. In addition to them, there were 2 books with comparative education orientation: Bourgeois and Proletarian Pedagogy (1911) by Bratovan Illiev, and Our School Policy (1912) by Nikola Aleksiev. The countries most often included were: France - in 38% of the materials, and Germany - 35%; after them came England - 26%, the USA - 25%, Russia - 22%, Austria - 14%, Belgium - 12%, Italy - 10%, Switzerland - 10%; Sweden - 8%, etc. Many other countries from Latin America, Asia, Africa, as well as Australia enlarged the geographical scope of studies. The distribution of the materials by the level of education was: secondary - 45%, primary - 40%, higher - 10%, preschool - 5%. The interest in secondary education can be explained with the fact that during that period there were frequent attempts in Bulgaria (in 1880, 1885, 1891, 1898, 1909) at secondary education improvement. The studies on teacher training abroad considerably increased; the interest was in teachers’ pedagogical and scientific training. German teacher training institutions were again most often studied. Much attention was paid to international education conferences.


2.3. Peter Noykov’s contribution to the development of comparative education

Peter Noykov (1868-1921), the first Bulgarian professor in education, was the most prominent comparativist of that time. His contribution covered three main fields: 1. case studies; 2. developments of the theory of comparison; 3. lecture courses on foreign education and school organization.

Peter Noykov visited Germany, France and England with special research aims. As a result of those visits he wrote a couple of articles, namely: “Berlin State Pedagogical Seminar of Secondary School Teachers” (1898), “Personal Observations in French Schools” (1902), “Public Schools in England” (1903), “The University of Oxford” (1903), “Business Education in England” (1909), published in School Review. In addition to them, many non-published but detailed manuscripts on education in about ten countries are available in his archive (Sofia, Central State Historical Archives, Fund 1106). The manuscripts show his deep knowledge of history and contemporary state of European education.

Peter Noykov was the first Bulgarian scholar who worked on the theory of educational comparison. He developed a method, called by him “A general method of studying characteristics of a given national education”. This method of studying foreign education consists of three phases: categorization, comparison, and generalization.

With his lecture courses on “German Education”, “English Education” and “School Organization and Management” which he began to give at Sofia University in 1908-1909, Peter Noykov prepared the ground of comparative education as a university discipline.


2.4. Other comparativists of that time

During 1878-1918 over than thirty Bulgarian authors published various comparative education materials. The following of them had more significant contribution to the development of the field:

1) Luca Dorosiev, whose studies on education in England, Italy, Spain, Serbia, the USA, France, Guatemala, etc. were published for 30 years, from the 1890s till the 1920s. He was mostly interested in secondary education reforms abroad.

2) Ivan Georgov, who wrote short but detailed materials on education around the world. His special interests were in Swiss education.

3) Nikola Lazarov, who studied education in Romania, Germany, France. He performed deep research of trade education and published a very important comparative study entitled “Trade Education in Advanced Countries” (Lazarov, 1906). In 1902 N. Lazarov translated into Bulgarian Charles H. Thurber’s Principles of School Organization. A Comparative Study Chiefly Based on the Systems of the United States, England, Germany and France (1899).

4) Bratovan Illiev, whose book Bourgeois and Proletarian Pedagogy (1911), although having many faults because of the narrow author’s Marxist-ideological view, was a very serious attempt at comparison of pedagogical ideas.

5) Nikola Aleksiev, who in his book Our School Policy (1912) compared the school reform, the structure of the educational system, and vocational education in Bulgaria with those in Norway, Denmark, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, USA, England, Belgium, Switzerland.


2.5.Characteristics of comparative education studies from the Liberation till 1918

1) Comparative education studies were not only a necessity but also maybe the only auspicious means for building modern education after the Liberation.

2) The number of comparative education publications was 50% higher than in the pre-Liberation period.

3) Description prevailed over analysis. However, a constant tendency to deep analytical consideration was established and developed.

4) Some scholars (Lazarov, Aleksiev, Noykov) largely used in their works different levels of the comparative method - description, analysis, and prognosis.

5) Comparative education did not exist as a science yet. However, the period 1878-1918, and especially the years 1900-1914, could be considered as a transitional phase to the differentiation of comparative education as a science and a university discipline in Bulgaria.


3. Bulgarian Comparative Education in 1919 - 1944


3.1. Conditions of progress in comparative education studies

In the post-war years, 1919-1923, there was stagnation in comparative education activities. There were three main reasons for that fact. First, from 1912 till 1918 Bulgaria took part in three wars: the Balkan War (1912), the Interallied War (1913) and the World War I (1914-1918). Bulgaria lost the latter two wars and was a broken country in 1919. All conditions of education functioning were extremely worsened. Second, the postwar governments brought about an unstable political and social situation. Third, the main task of the Ministry of Education was restoring the normal functions of schools in this country, laying aside all other activities.

In 1923-1924 stabilization in all aspects of life began. In a couple of years the economic stagnation was overcome, trade was activated, better conditions of the development of education were created. The world economic crisis of 1929-1933 almost did not concern Bulgaria. From the mid-1920s to 1944 Bulgaria was one of the most developed countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The state granted considerable funds to education. More and more highly qualified specialists in administration, economy, agriculture, banking, education etc. were badly needed. Studying foreign education experience was widely used to satisfy that need.

The following conditions were of great importance to the progress of comparative education studies.

1) The Bulgarian Ministry of Education kept close contacts with the International Bureau of Education (IBE), Geneva, immediately after its establishment in 1925. The IBE yearbooks were regularly received in Bulgaria.

2) Many Bulgarian scholars were on research trips at some centers of comparative education, such as: the International Institute of Teachers College, Columbia University; Institute of Education, London University; Zentralinstitut fuer Erziehung und Unterricht, Berlin; Institut International de Cooperation Intellectuelle, Paris; Musee Pedagogique, Paris.

3) Some prominent educators (for example, Prof. Paul Monroe and Prof. William Russell) visited Bulgaria in the 1920s and 1930s and shared their experience with Bulgarian scholars.


Note: William F. Russell, Professor in Education, Associate Director of the International Institute of Teachers College, Columbia University, visited Bulgaria in 1922 with research aims. In 1924 he published his book “Schools in Bulgaria” which was a typical example of the mutual Bulgarian-American interest in the field of education. Later, in 1939, W. Russell was awarded the honorary title Doctor Honoris Causa of Sofia University.


4) The process of differentiation of comparative education was assisted by the fact that many comparative sciences - comparative theory of literature, comparative linguistic, comparative law, comparative anatomy, comparative anthropology, comparative ethnography, comparative theory of culture, comparative study of myths and legends, comparative psychology - had already been developed and introduced as university disciplines in Bulgaria. 


3.2. Comparative education publications

More than 220 comparative education materials (articles, reports, correspondences) were published mostly in the following journals: School Review, Education, Teacher’s Thought, Free Upbringing, and Enlightenment. In addition to them, there were 3 books which were real contributions to the development of comparative education: New Education in the New World (1933) by Gencho Piryov; Education in the Far East (1937) by Sava Ganovski; Entire Education (1941) by Gencho Piryov.  The countries most often included were: Germany - in 52% of the materials; after it came the USA - 39%, England - 30%, France - 29%, the USSR - 22%, Switzerland - 21%, Italy, Denmark  - 19%, Austria - 15%, Poland - 14%, etc. The geographical scope of studies covered more than 60 countries from all over the world. The distribution of the materials by the level of education was: secondary - 40%, primary - 28%, higher - 20%, preschool - 12%. The interest in secondary education can again be explained with the fact that during that period there were a couple of secondary education reforms in Bulgaria (in 1921, 1924, 1934). Much attention was paid to conferences held by international education organizations. The studies on teacher training abroad continued to increase - the interest was in teachers’ pedagogical and scientific training, tests, appointment, salaries, professional rights, social status, organizations, and conferences. Various aspects of foreign education were comparatively examined - education reforms, admission and graduation procedures, school administration, school hygiene, school inspection, education budget.


3.3. Christo Negentzov - the founder of comparative education as a university discipline in Bulgaria

Prof. Christo Negentzov (1881-1953) was the first Bulgarian scholar who introduced comparative education as a university discipline. His comparative education heritage consists of:

1) Case studies on foreign education. Christo Negentzov wrote more than 20 articles on education in China, Switzerland, the USA, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, as results of his study trips abroad.

2) Systematical use of comparison as a basic research method. His comparative study “Schooling in Germany and the United States” (Negentzov, 1926) is a telling example in this respect. Even today, it can be followed as a typical pattern of a two-national comparative study.

3) A lecture course on “General Theory of School Organization” Christo Negentzov began to deliver at Sofia University in 1925. That lecture course consisted of two parts. The first one was a history of education in the 19th century. The second one was a detailed comparative research of school organization in many European countries and the USA. Namely the contents of the second part of this lecture course gives me the reason for considering Prof. Negentzov as the initiator of comparative education as a university discipline in Bulgaria.


3.4. Gencho Piryov’s contribution to the development of comparative education

In the period of view Gencho Piryov (1901-2001) was the author with the biggest number of comparative education publications - over than 35 articles and 2 books. His most active comparative activity was from the late 1920s to the early 1940s, after that he never returned to the field.

In the mid-1980s Prof. Piryov told me that comparative education had been his first love in the science. His many-sided comparative education work could be divided into the following parts:

1) Systematical research of education in other countries. Mainly in the 1930s Gencho Piryov wrote articles on the educational systems in England, Italy, Japan, Poland, the USA. An important feature of his research was that he tried to comprise all levels of the educational systems. Special attention should be paid to G. Piryov’s studies on education in the USA. From 1926 to 1928 he was on a specialization at the International Institute of Teachers College. That gave him excellent possibilities of acquiring deep knowledge on the American education system and studying the modern trends in the development of comparative education. After his coming to Bulgaria, Gencho Piryov considered American education in more than 20 publications.

2) Comparative analyses of various educational problems. In a couple of articles Gencho Piryov compared preschool education, primary education, secondary school admission, higher education, teacher training, education financing in countries from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

3) Books with comparative education values. Piryov’s New Education in the New World (1933) was a real apology of pedagogical theory and education practice in the USA. In Entire Education (1941) he examined in a comparative perspective the varieties of the idea of entire education and their practical applications in some countries.

4) Consideration of comparative education as a modern science that had already been established itself in the USA and some West-European countries. Actually, Gencho Piryov was the first one in Bulgaria who introduced the term ‘comparative education’ and spoke about it as a distinguished science. Piryov strongly appealed that comparative education should be developed in Bulgaria and wrote a special article “Comparative Pedagogy and School Building” published in 1936. “Nowadays, when some more advanced and richer countries make great sacrifices in order to solve the big educational problems experimentally, we cannot help taking a look at their achievements so that it would not be necessary to start everything from the beginning. It is important only to treat with certain reasonable critical attitude the heritage we receive and to be able to adjust this heritage to our own needs.” (Piryov, 1936, p. 316)


3.5. Other comparativists of that time

In the period 1919-1944, and especially during 1923-1941, there was a comparative education activity on a large scale. Over than fifty Bulgarian authors published various comparative education materials. The following of them could be shown as having more significant contribution to the development of the field:

1) Dimitar Katzarov (1881-1960), who was an assistant of Prof. Edouard Claparede in Geneva, and later on was Prof. Peter Noykov’s assistant at Sofia University. Prof. Katzarov followed the experience of both his teachers - Claparede, the initiator of the IBE in Geneva, and Noykov, the pioneer of Bulgarian comparative education. Katzarov studied in details the educational systems in France, Austria, Italy, the USA. From 1922 till 1944 he edited a journal, called Free Upbringing that was one of the most active editions in publishing materials on foreign pedagogical theories and education practices.

2) Veliko Yordanov, who studied and compared education in Germany, Romania, Austria, Switzerland, England, etc. He was much interested in comparing teacher training abroad. Veliko Yordanov was the first systematical Bulgarian researcher of education in Japan.

3) Efrem Beldedov, who wrote a large number of articles on secondary education in Europe. In the 1930s he regularly presented to the Bulgarian readers the role of the IBE.

4) Asen Bosev, who published many materials on education in Denmark, France, Hungary and Germany. In 1940 he wrote a very careful comparative study on preschool education. Bosev also examined the relation between the IBE’s activity and the development of children’s literature.

5) S. Stavreva, who wrote many reports, correspondences and articles on education in almost all European countries and the USA. She was author of a deep comparative study on teachers’ remuneration in different countries.

6) Authors of comparative education publications were also: Ekaterina Zlatoustova, Ilarion Markov, Ekaterina Breyanova, Grigor Penchov, and many others. Some important comparative articles were published, as: D. Dimitrov, “Bulgarian and Foreign School: A Comparative Review” 1939; D. Pavlov, “A General Review of Schools in Yugoslavia in Comparison to Bulgaria” 1940; B. Yanchulev, “Cooperative Education in Different Countries” 1934. 


3.6. Characteristics of comparative education in 1919 - 1944

1) The analytical character of comparative education studies was much stronger than in the previous period. Description and comparison of data continued to be the basis of research but in many cases comparative analysis was widely used as a main research method. Prognoses were also built up.

2) Much attention was paid to the historical, economic, cultural and social conditions determining the development of educational systems. In many cases educational systems were considered as typical national entire formations, which however cannot be separated from the regional, all-European and even the world educational development.

3) Comparative studies on didactics of school subjects were performed, as: modern and classical languages, mother tongue and literature, mathematics, science, history, practical education, fine arts, music, military training, etc.

4) Assessment of educational phenomena was done on various criteria. Some of the most frequently used were: democracy in education, freedom of teaching, social prestige of teachers, state care on education, social equity, correspondence between education and the requirements of the present day. 

5) Interdisciplinary approaches (psychological, historical, sociological, statistical, etc.) to considering educational phenomena were very often used.

6) Both horizontal and vertical comparisons were done. The latter were done more rarely.

7) Comparative education was introduced and developed as a university discipline. It also began to be considered as a science needed for our academic life, school practice, education policy making.

8) On the basis of all these characteristics, it can be concluded that in the period 1919-1944, and especially in the second half of the 1920s and the 1930s, comparative education in Bulgaria was established as a differentiated science.


4. Bulgarian Comparative Education in 1944 - 1989


4.1. Ideologization of comparative education

During the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1944-1989 the development of comparative education was strongly dependent on the Soviet influence, Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the idea of building a communist society. The second half of the 1940s and the 1950s were the darkest years. Every little interest in education in the Western countries was accepted as a provocation, even as a crime. The worldwide perspective of Bulgarian comparative education, established before 1944, was restricted to studying the ‘leading’ Soviet educational experience and education in the other socialist countries. More and more Bulgarian scholars were sent on post-graduate study trips and specialization to the Soviet Union. Prof. Christo Negentzov and Prof. Dimitar Katzarov left Sofia University. Prof. Gencho Piryov switched his interests to psychology. Bulgarian comparative education was left desolate. All education research was controlled, centralized and unified.

In the early 1960s it was assessed that the disconnection of Bulgarian education from the West-European education development had caused information vacuum. The ideological curtain gradually started to open. However, researchers had to examine foreign education theories and practice from a class point of view, applying the Marxist methodological approach. The Institute of Education in Sofia was the only research center where comparative education studies were performed.

In the 1962-1963 academic year Prof. Nayden Chakarov began reading a lecture course on comparative education to students from Sofia University in Education programs. Although it was not the first academic course in Bulgaria considering foreign education in a comparative perspective, it was the first one entitled “Comparative Education”. That course continued to exist in the 1970s and 1980s. On the one hand it had all the narrow fields of vision of that time but on the other hand it was one of the few open windows to the world of education. Master’s and Doctoral theses in the field of comparative education were written at Bulgarian universities. Their topics were on educational policy, elements of educational structures, primary and secondary school curricula.

Although few in number some projects were performed under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. I myself took part in such a project on a comparative study of secondary education in Europe in 1988.

In the early 1980s some new trends appeared: to breaking the neck of the ideological monism; to a deeper understanding of education in Western countries; to establishing reliable approaches to comparative studies.


4.2. Comparative education publications

While the development of Bulgarian comparative education from the Bulgarian revival till 1944 has already been studied (Popov, 1990, 1994), studies on comparative education in Bulgaria in 1944-1989 have not been done yet. Thus, it is not possible to say how many materials were published in that period. Just as a perfunctory review it could be said that: a) the number of comparative education materials was bigger than the number in the previous period; b) materials considering education in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries much prevailed over materials on other countries; c) there was a mass criticism on education in the developed countries; d) Marxist methods and approaches were the only research instruments; e) there was an extremely strong censorship on publishing comparative education materials.

Two important books were published during that period: Problems of Comparative Pedagogy (1969) by Nayden Chakarov, and Comparative Pedagogy (1986) by Nayden Chakarov and Georgi Bishkov.

Problems of Comparative Pedagogy was the first Bulgarian book in the field. It was also one of the first books on comparative education published in the socialist countries. Prof. Nayden Chakarov tried to discuss in details the basic problems of comparative pedagogy from a dialectical-materialistic point of view. The author considered the theoretical and methodological aspects of that science. He showed the significance, main tasks and role of comparative pedagogy. The problem of education as a subject of comparative study and of the methods of its research occupied a considerable part of the book. Chakarov tried to explain the reasons for the differences in education of separate countries. The author also discussed the fundamental importance of the economic structure of society. The principles of school organization were examined in the light of their practical value. A comparative characteristic of typical capitalist and typical socialist educational systems was done as a stage towards a study of concrete educational systems.

Although having the negative ideological features of all education books of that time, Problems of Comparative Pedagogy must be assessed as a very important and even progressive work in the years of communist regime.

Comparative Pedagogy was the second book in this field in Bulgaria. Its authors Nayden Chakarov and Georgi Bishkov tried to make a large and deep analysis of all aspects of comparative pedagogy and of some educational systems. The book examined the history and methodology of comparative pedagogy. Educational systems in some capitalist and socialist countries were presented. Unfortunately, the book included a large critical review of contemporary bourgeois education theories examined from a Marxist point of view. While in the 1960s such an approach was obligatory, in the mid-1980s it was not necessary. Thus, that criticism decreased the contribution of the book to the development of comparative education in Bulgaria. The main role of the book was to serve students in Education programs.


5. Bulgarian Comparative Education from 1989 up to the present


5.1. Overview

In the autumn of 1989 the communist regime in Bulgaria cracked and all life became changing. The past fifteen years have been filled with much hope, contradiction and disillusionment with the political, social and economic development of Bulgarian society. Education has developed under the conditions of a deep, all over and constant economic crisis. Since 1997 the Currency Board has come into force in this country and brought about extreme financial restrictions in all aspects of life.

Every attempt at assessing the recent development of comparative education in Bulgaria is very difficult to be done. The historical distance is not long enough. Without any pretensions of thoroughness, the following characteristics of Bulgarian comparative education from 1989 up to now could be pointed:

1) All ideological and party prejudices and restraints in education and research have been abolished. Comparative educators have been given freedom in defining what, why and how to study.

2) At the same time, there have been limited possibilities of comparative education studies because of the lack of money. Education research in the past eleven years can briefly be described in three words: freedom, perplexity, penury.

3) Much better conditions of enlargement of the academic and research contacts with countries from all over the world have been established. A very strong trend to internationalization of Bulgarian education has been observed.

4) The academic mobility of Bulgarian lecturers and researchers has been widened many times. Information exchange and collaboration opportunities in the field of comparative education have much increased as well.

5) Hundred thousands Bulgarian youths have gone to study abroad. The geography of Bulgarian students comprises all continents. In Bulgarian society this outflow is usually assessed in a negative aspect only. However, from a comparative education point of view this fact could be also considered as a positive step in forming the future Bulgarian comparativists.

6) Many foreign educational and cultural offices have been established in Bulgaria. All European countries and the USA have their centers or institutes providing education information on the given country.

7) Since 1997, according to the Bulgarian higher education standards, comparative education has been introduced as an obligatory discipline in all university teacher training programs. Thus, all student teachers in Bulgaria must study comparative education. This is a very important fact leading to: a) involving more lecturers and researchers in the field; b) extending the students’ interests in the history, methodology and practice of comparative education;  c) giving students wider and better possibilities of writing Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral theses; d) increasing the role of comparative education in policy-making.

8) In 1991 the Bulgarian Comparative Education Society was founded. In 1992 the BCES became a member of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies. Since its foundation the BCES has been a small but very active society keeping close contacts with WCCES Presidents and Secretaries General, and with other member societies. The BCES is an elitist society. On the one hand it is open to the Bulgarian education community but on the other hand - it is difficult for one to become a member of the BCES. New members are rarely accepted because of the extremely high admission criteria.


5.2. Recent books

The third Bulgarian book in the field, entitled Comparative Education, by Georgi Bishkov and Nikolay Popov, was published in 1994. This book is the first one in Bulgaria, which systematically, impartially and without any prejudices examines the historical, methodological and practical aspects of the science. The book consists of three parts: 1) history of comparative education; 2) theory, methodology and methods in comparative education; 3) description and comparison of educational systems in countries from all regions of the world. The second amended and reworked edition of Comparative Education appeared in 1999. Its third edition is being prepared now.

Another book examining, describing and comparing 20 educational systems in Europe (Popov, Bishkov, 1997) was published. All levels, from preschool to higher education, of national education systems are studied and compared on the base of the following five aspects: goals, management, finance, structures, and teacher training.

Two other books trying to examine and apply the world comparison as a main methodological model of comparative study appeared as results of Nikolay Popov’s work in the field: Primary Education: Comparison of Structural Aspects in 90 Countries (Popov, 2001); and The World Comparison: A Challenge to Comparative Education (Popov, 2002).

A very detailed comparison of ABC books in nine Slavonic countries was done by Nikolay Popov and Marinela Mihova (Popov, Mihova, 2003). This book presents a clear systematic research strategy of how the legal bases, format, structure, contents, methodology, texts, etc. of ABC books can be examined, juxtaposed, compared, generated, and explained.

The newest book is The Contemporary Education System in Bulgaria (Popov, 2004). On the other hand it has a national context giving a very thorough presentation of today's Bulgarian education, but on the other hand it examines the Bulgarian education system in a comparative context together with many other national education systems worldwide.


5.3. Current state of Comparative Education as a university discipline

Comparative Education has had a 100-year history as a university discipline in Bulgaria. Prof. Peter Noykov created the academic grounds in the early 1900s. Prof. Christo Negentzov put the beginning of comparative education lecture courses in the mid-1920s. Later on, the tradition was followed by Prof. Nayden Chakarov in the 1960s, and by Prof. Georgi Bishkov in the 1980s, and now it is being continued by Prof. Nikolay Popov.


Nowadays at Bulgarian universities, Comparative Education is included among the compulsory academic disciplines in curricula of most education programs. Comparative Education is studied in its "traditional" contents containing 3 parts: 1) History; 2) Theory, methodology and methods; 3) Description and comparison of a given number of educational systems usually defined by professor's competencies and students' interests. Internet sources are largely used in the training process.

In the last 20 years Comparative Education has been developed as a science, research field and academic discipline by Prof. Nikolay Popov and Prof. Georgi Bishkov at Sofia University.



This is, shortly presented, the history of the Bulgarian Comparative Education. Through the centuries, and especially in its modern history, Bulgaria has had few years of free development. The educational system in this country has had little possibilities of normal functioning and in the hard process of its improvement comparative education has always been a wide-open window to the world of others. Nowadays, Bulgarian comparative education has to meet the following main challenges:

  • as a university discipline - not only to offer deep knowledge on foreign education systems to students but to teach them how really to do comparisons, i.e. the discipline must be much more comparative than informative;
  • as a problem-solving tool – to observe, describe and analyze as much as possible the active education reform processes and their results around the world, to compare them to our own needs, efforts, achievements and mistakes, and to offer solutions;
  • as a research field - to assist carrying out theoretical and empirical studies in all aspects of the field, and to look for new research instruments;
  • as an activity supporting education policy making - having in mind that Bulgaria is becoming a member state of the European Union, to help Bulgaria in its efforts to harmonize its education with the other EU member states.




Aleksiev, N. (1912): Our School Policy. Sofia.

Bishkov, G., Popov, N. (1994): Comparative Education. 1st Ed. Sofia: Sofia University Press.

Bishkov, G., Popov, N. (1999): Comparative Education. 2nd Ed. Sofia: Sofia University Press.

Chakarov, N. (1969): Problems of Comparative Pedagogy. Sofia: Narodna Prosveta.

Chakarov, N., Bishkov, G. (1986): Comparative Pedagogy. Sofia: Sofia University Press.

Lazarov, N. (1906): Trade Education in Advanced Countries. School Review, Vol. 11, No 8, 811-822.

Negentzov, C. (1926): Schooling in Germany and the United States. Teacher’s Thought, Vol. 7, No 2, 90-112.

Piryov, G. (1936): Comparative Pedagogy and School Building. Enlightenment, Vol. 1, No 3, 298-317.

Popov, N. (1988): A Comparative Analysis of Native Language and Literature Education according to the Curricula of Some Countries. Bulgarian Language and Literature, Vol. 31, No 2, 49-54.

Popov, N. (1989): A Comparative Analysis of Curricula in the Primary Schools of Some Countries. Primary Education, Vol. 29, No 4, 32-39.

Popov, N. (1990): Development of Bulgarian Comparative Education from the Time of the Bulgarian Revival till 1944. Ph.D. dissertation, Sofia University & The Bulgarian Higher Testimonial Committee.

Popov, N. (1993): Secondary Education in the Most Developed Countries. Pedagogy, Vol. 3, No 12, 58-74.

Popov, N. (1994): Primary Education in Europe. Primary Education, Vol. 34, No 1, 48-61.

Popov, N. (1994): History of Bulgarian Comparative Education. In: Bishkov, G., Popov, N. Comparative Education, Sofia: Sofia University Press, 56-80.

Popov, N. (1996): Comparison of Management and Finance of Secondary Education in 20 European Countries. Management of Secondary Education, Vol. 39, No 8-9, 81-94.

Popov, N. (1996): Comparison of Structures of Higher Education Systems in 20 European Countries. Strategies of Education and Science Policy, Vol. 4, No 4, 80-87.

Popov, N. (1999): A Comparative Study of Higher Education Acts in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Russia. ISRE Newsletter, Vol. 7, No 2, p. 4 and 12-34. Institute for the Study of Russian Education, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Popov, N. (2001): Comparison of Structural Aspects of Primary Education in 90 countries. Pedagogy, Vol. 11, No 1, 57-70.

Popov, N. (2001): Primary Education: Comparison of Structural Aspects in 90 Countries. Sofia: Sofia University Press.

Popov, N. (2002): The World Comparison: A Challenge to Comparative Education. Sofia: Bureau for Educational Services.

Popov, N. (2004): The Contemporary Education System in Bulgaria. Sofia: Bureau for Educational Services.

Popov, N., Bishkov, G. (1997): Educational Systems in Europe. Sofia: Sofia University Press.

Popov, N., M. Mihova (2003): ABC Books in Slavonic Countries: A Comparative Study. Sofia: Bureau for Educational Services.

Popova, K. (1996): The Bulgarian University: Development, Trends, and Challenges. The European Legacy, The International Society for the Study of European Ideas and the MIT Press, Vol. 1, No 3, 891-893.

Preece, J., Blunt, B., Heagney, M., Popov, N. (2000): Restructuring to broaden access: a comparative study including Australia, Bulgaria, South Africa and the UK. In: Changing the Culture of the Campus: Towards an Inclusive Higher Education. Ed: L. Thomas and M. Cooper. Staffordshire University Press, 104-116.

Nikolay Popov. History of Bulgarian Comparative Education