'Bulgarian students are much more motivated to succeed': interview with Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons is teaching History and is the ‘international programmes’ coordinator at Zlatarski International School. Mr Parsons graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a bachelors degree and has a masters in ‘Applied Social Sciences’ from University of Sheffield; specialized at Northampton University. Daniel has worked at Peterborough Regional College, Great Britain and was an Acting director at the Cambridge Access Validating Agency. A certified teacher with more than 10 years of teaching experience in the programmes A-level, IGCSE and International Baccalaureate.

Mr Parsons, how long have you been working for at the school?

This August it will be two years since I started working at Zlatarski International School. Back in Britain, before I became a part of this team, I used to work in Higher Education Institutions for four years, Further Education Institutions and high schools for 8 years.

So you are more than familiar with educational qualifications like A-levels, IGCSEs and the International Baccalaureate?

Pretty much I am familiar with all the educational qualifications that are offered in Britain for students in high school level – A-levels, IGCSEs, the International Baccalaureate. I have the pleasure to coordinate these programmes at Zlatarski International School, which is the school with the greatest experience in Bulgaria. What the international programmes offer students is the opportunity to actually appreciate what it’s like to be a citizen of the world. Why I say that? The reason why I say that is because we are living in a globalized world that effectively becomes smaller in terms of time and space and because it’s becoming smaller we are in contact with groups of people more often than ever before. What these standardized international programmes offer is the opportunity for people from different cultural backgrounds to experience the same quality of education. I am impressed by my Bulgarian colleagues’ professionalism, who integrate the international programmes IB and IGCSE with the Bulgarian educational system. The School has been gaining experience and remarkable results each year – excellent Bulgarian diplomas and 40-44 points in the IB Diploma Programme. Every first-class international school should be proud with such results.

What are the advantages that Bulgarian students gain from the IB?

Specifically for Bulgarian students – it gives them flexibility to apply to universities not just outside of their country, it gives them choice in the sense that they acquire different sets of skills and ways of learning. Because they have different sorts of skills they can actually have an informed choice of what they want to do at a university level. In comparison with the A-levels where the student chooses 3 or 4 subjects which they want to study at university, the IB broadens that opportunity for the students. The A-levels is quite narrow in some respects because in the International Baccalaureate the student is following a wider range of subjects in different areas – for example IB Biology, IB Physics, IB History, IB Economics, IB Chemistry, IB English B etc. In the IB programme a student develops a profile which basically says to a University “I have developed the necessary skills to follow the undergraduate course that I am applying for”. For example if a student wants to apply for an Architecture course, he would be required to have IB Physics and IB Mathematics, along with a portfolio, in order to apply successfully in top universities in Britain. This “profiling” is done at Zlatarski International School at grade level 10, before students enter the IB programme. So a group of professionals sits with every student and their parents and discuss the future university plans in order to choose the best subjects range in their IB programme. The IGCSE programme at grade levels 9 and 10 has already given the students a chance to see what it is like to study in an international system, they have already sit international exams by the time they apply for the IB programme, which happens in grade 10. So the IGCSE gives them a great start and prepares them for the vigor of the IB curriculum.

Is a comparison between British and Bulgarian students possible?

In terms of academic abilities there is no real difference. In terms of motivation, though, the Bulgarian students that I have been working with are more motivated in some respects because they have to develop more skills as students with international mindset. This school is actually doing a pretty good of giving the opportunity for students not just to feel Bulgarian or European but to feel International citizens which is really good.

One of the problems that I found when I was an Admissions Tutor in England is that you get thousands of applications from around the world which you don’t know what they mean. But if I receive an application from Zlatarski School I would know exactly what the application means because the students are doing the International Baccalaureate. I would also know that students are obtaining two diplomas which means that they have received a far broader education that their peers.

And in my experience of a lecturer and a tutor is that foreign students are more likely to drop out because of the culture shock, a lack of experience with a bureaucratic system, etc. I believe that the International Baccalaureate at Zlatarski School allows the students to utilize a range of skills – they have to learn how to do presentations, they have to be able to write essays, they have to able to work in groups and to implement different projects. This programme is not just exam based as are the A-levels, for example. And that means that students at this school stand a far less chance of dropping out of university because when they get to university to already know how to write courseworks, to write reports, to do presentations. What the IB and what this school does is actually prepare students far better than A-levels students are prepared in Britain. When I have spoken to students who have already gone to British Universities they said that they don’t struggle at all.

If a student wants to apply for a university course abroad, does he get any support from the school?

Absolutely! We have a dedicated UCAS officer as part of the authorised UCAS centre at the school. Our team’s primary role is to work with the students and their families in order to choose the best university courses that fit the students’ profile and desires. These professionals also support the students in filling out their application form, writing their personal statements, coordinating the recommendations process etc. We provide the kind of support that any good international school abroad would offer.

What do graduates who are already university students abroad share?

From my conversations with our graduates, who are now students at British universities, I understand that they do not feel stressed or shocked when facing the universities’ requirements and exams. For example, one of the students that I have contact with is Ana-Maria Dakeva. She graduated last year and is studying Marketing at Royal Holloway University. When we spoke she said that she had found the first year of her higher education far easier than what she has thought it would be. This is because the IB has given her the skills that she needs to cope with deadlines, a range of assessments, having to be your own motivator and having to take responsibility for your own actions.