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Introduction to the Topic of This Issue: The REFORM Project
The topic of this issue of “Nota Bene” is dedicated to digital education and distance learning and their application in Bulgaria during the Covid-19 pandemic. The issue includes several papers from the first year of work on the research project “REFORM – Rethinking Bulgarian Education FOR the 21st Century: Concepts, Methodologies, Practices, and Players (2021-2023)”. It is carried out at the Institute for Philosophy and Sociology, Department of Social Theories, Strategies, and Prognoses. The REFORM project conducts theoretical and empirical studies on the transformation in the processes of learning and knowledge production due to the change brought by ICT.
Since the beginning of 2020, the state of emergency caused by Covid-19 set a challenge for the Bulgarian education system to integrate the education in electronic environment as a distance form of learning. The experience from that period indicates that such implemented digitalization of education is not only technological but also a social and cultural challenge - one that entails transformations of values and paradigms in education. With its work the REFORM project team responds to the pressing need for reconsidering the concepts and methodologies of education, on the one hand, and for in-depth reflection on the processes underlying the fundamental restructuring of knowledge, on the other.
In conducting their research work, team members are guided by the principle that the digital form of education cannot be considered simply as a tool to be implemented into the existing education system; instead, its implementation must be accompanied by in-depth reflection on the concept of education itself.
We can see that today’s education system in Bulgaria focuses on memorization and standardization – skills that will be efficiently automated in the near future in the form of artificial and augmented intelligence. Founded at a time when industries needed workers with a relatively fixed set of skills and knowledge, the current education system is losing its relevance in an era of innovation, disruption, and constant change, where adaptability and learning agility are most needed.
The twenty-first century invites us to restructure our thinking skills and learning practices. Novel tools have created new ways of learning, socializing, and communicating that are dramatically different from those of previous generations. Information accumulated over several millennia, for example, is readily available on the Internet. There is a great need for school children to learn how to organize and process the vast amount of available information, think critically, and turn information into practical knowledge. There is also an urgent need to help school children consider the advantages, constraints, biases, and risks of electronic media.
In such a way the REFORM project team recognizes the necessity to consider the digitalization of education in the context of the demands brought by the twenty-first century's technological innovations together with its broader social and cultural effect.
In addressing the research problems, the REFORM project team adopts an interdisciplinary approach. The combination of different epistemic perspectives, spanning from political theory and ethics to philosophy of cognition and futures studies, helps the researchers to acquire a deeper understanding of the way digitalization and distance transform the learning process - its meaning, its underlying value, its core concepts, and its instruments in terms of methodology and infrastructure. Such an interdisciplinary exploration of the problems and opportunities accompanying the digitalization of a fundamental social practice like education is a necessary condition for conceiving a viable vision and building reliable scenarios for its future in Bulgaria.
The ambition of the REFORM project is to support the process of successful integration of the digital form of education in the public school system in Bulgaria. The participants aim to elaborate a consensus vision and offer specifically tailored recommendations to support the strategic and planning efforts of policy and decision-makers when considering the future of (digital) education within the Bulgarian school system. In view of this aim, the following articles devoted to the topic of “Pandemics, Knowledge and Education” provide grounds for considering novel strategic solutions in the realm of education by 1) presenting an analysis of the results of the education in electronic environment during the COVID-19 pandemic in Bulgaria and other countries; 2) reflecting on the paradigms of knowledge and education underlying the current educational system and practice 3) detecting key driving forces and trends in Bulgaria while keeping the global context in sight.
Assoc. Prof. Hristina Ambareva, Ph.D.,
REFORM project leader