S. Nikolaeva

Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" (BULGARIA)
For centuries the non-formal education practices have served as a barometer for human integrity and complexity in supporting people development and socialization. Historically non-formal education (NFE) has taken quite different shapes, directions, manifestations or even meanings. From geo-socio-economical perspective it is considered to play a specific social and developmental role nowadays as well as in the past. Finally, both domains – the historical and the geo-socio-economical one, have merged and integrated in a really complex way. Thanks to the mature way of understanding NFE’s nature and importance today, we enjoy much wider usages of non-formal learning and teaching in every kind of contexts and educational needs. At the same time, typical third level educational programs still remain focused on traditional school pedagogy – i.e. preparing future specialists for becoming school teachers qualified for mainly formal education and its practice. This is why non-formal education is still absent from the proper pedagogical or educational professional discussions, researches and innovative practices. Moreover, it is often considered an area of social work, pure community practices or activities which function usually as in-formal freelance initiatives. Since lifelong learning has now become the new educational and social paradigm, attitudes and practices are slowly changing. Part of the process of rethinking of education fields nowadays in the Department of Education at Sofia University is the launching of the 4-year Bachelor degree course of Non-formal Education in academic year 2007/2008. Currently, the first students in the program already start their final year of study which gave reason to academic staff and students to share experiences and visions for the future.

This paper presents a summary of the opinions shared through the survey executed earlier this year (completed by 78 1st to 3rd year students), as well as deriving from the focus group discussion (involving 32 staff members) which took place in May 2011. Results show a very high level of students’ satisfaction with the curriculum and the studying process. They also share some concerns regarding their future professional career and development. Academic staff members are more pessimistic, sharing stronger fears and doubts with regard to both professional profile and career opportunities for the graduates. Based on the research results, some suggestions about possible changes in the program and its management are formulated. Most of them are generally focused on incorporating the degree program more successfully in the existing non-formal educational practice in the country as well in Europe and worldwide.