THE PISA SLAP and why we should play the game

by 28.02.2024

How to NOT let the school and the system fail the child?

The results of the PISA tests are once again bitterly disappointing for everyone involved in our education system on a daily basis – parents, students and teachers.

The participating over 7,000 ninth graders in over 200 schools ranked penultimate in reading in the EU, and last in math.

Once again, our fifteen-year-olds show a catastrophically low level of practical skills to analyze, evaluate and solve a problem using scientific methods – over half are below the critical threshold in the three areas studied – 54% in mathematics, 48% in science and 53% in reading.

And to make us feel even worse in more radical publications it is claimed that the national IQ of Bulgaria has fallen by 4 points from that measured in the 90s and is far below the champions China and Singapore.

This is a heavy blow for any parent, even though the curriculum in our schools is proverbially demanding, with a huge amount of information to absorb, activities and many changes introduced in the last twenty years.

This is not even mentioning the parallel industry of private courses and lessons that we have been pouring finances into for over 30 years.

Bulgarian business is also not encouraged by these data given the fact that it is the first to suffer – with many years of difficulties in finding sufficiently well-educated specialists, necessary for successful competition in an extremely variable global environment and the realization of set business goals.

Even with alternative educational institutions for qualification and retraining, the fastest growing salaries in the last two or three years, Bulgarian companies complain of an acute shortage of candidates prepared for the challenges.

At the same time, our country shows huge potential with the data of the last year for a sharp growth of foreign investments, an excellently developing industry in recent decades (at the same time with low levels of pollution compared to those in western and southern Europe), sustainability of our economy in international crises – the COVID pandemic, inflation after the start of the war in Ukraine and even in the current recession.

According to business experts, primary and secondary education should graduate minds in order to develop high-tech and innovative products, which bring the highest added value through exports and inject many times more fresh money into the country’s economy.

In addition, we are told from all walks of life that both our children and ourselves throughout life must develop the same universal skills needed in a variety of social and business activities – to resolve everyday conflicts and problems in a productive way, prevent of such in the future, using available resources in a new way, turning difficulties into solutions, using current crises for future development?

We need people who not only have practical skills in a dynamic environment, but are able to educate themselves, to think about thinking (metathinking) to find solutions, as well as to create new ideas and products, so that they have an economic and social meaning.

According to social philosophers, unusually fast and flexible, non-standard minds are needed to systematically create new, radical solutions to the chronic problems hindering the development of Western society, but also to help catch up in developing countries as the Earth turns out to be smaller and smaller. and all of us, ever closer and ever more dependent and connected to each other.

In the fierce discussions that followed the PISA results, concrete political solutions with left and right views, some more radical (the approaches introduced in the top-ranking Singapore are known), and more philosophical, are trumpeted from different directions.

It turns out that the future is bright, but we need to adapt and meet the challenges.

But HOW?, how do we prepare our children to play successfully in this global business playground??

Are we as a society capable of building such skills in our children?

And in yourself? And who doesn’t – why?

What are the factors that sabotage us in this basic function of human civilization – exploration, invention, adaptation?

And are there solutions readily available that we fail to see and implement that are already available in various fields of science?

Why do we study A LOT and fail? Why are our children failing in today’s world and 50% of young people are not even working? How do we change this?


We, the early childhood development specialists from Dr. Gergana Markova’s team, will look at the data and methods of the sciences that we use in our daily work with children and parents at the earliest age of 0-5 years, evolutionary biology, speech therapy, neuro – psychology and psychotherapy.

Our goal is, as always, to support the upbringing and education of the child in a home environment… despite the deficits of our society and the education system.

One of the first facts that are quite inconvenient to understand is that all people on earth have the same neuro-biological structure at birth, correspondingly – cognitive, social and emotional potential. When comparing genetic data from all over, we overlap completely, but what sharply distinguishes us are cultural attitudes and economic status. This underlies the economic and social differences between some nations compared to others.

Then the questions we should ask ourselves are:

First of all, HOW do we prepare our children to learn the skills leading to successful implementation in the modern world?
What are these skills that are required of them?
How do we give them to them?
What are the conditions for these skills to be developed?
And perhaps even more fundamental questions that lie between the lines of thousands of studies, articles and opinions

What do we here in our society understand by learning and what it really is? What do we understand and what does success mean for a child?
What beliefs and practices are sabotaging our children and us as parents and participants in society?
In fact, all these questions and more are asked daily by parents of children when they share their difficulties, fears and efforts in navigating the vast amount of information on the Internet and the enormous demands placed on them as parents.

But, let’s go back to the beginning!

Modern parenting has never before been such an ambitious and massive undertaking, with all its expectations, responsibilities, demands, tasks, lifestyle, financial investment and social significance.

What parents challenge us with in their parental role is the requirement to give absolutely everything to their children, and at the same time to protect them from absolutely all difficulties, traumas and burdens, and the end result of this is that one is perfectly prepared for the modern holy LEADER!

MUST is the word we hear all too often from exhausted moms.

SHOULD be the message in school for every assignment, scheduled exam, matriculation exam, kindergarten exam even.

We MUST also hear from hyper-anxious children when they dare to share their fears that they are not up to it and what lies ahead is unimaginable.

We don’t hear a lot of WANT or NEED!

And could it be easier and more effective?

Can we, the professionals, ease the daily life of parents and children instead of handing new responsibilities and expectations.

We will attempt to do just that and weave a new path of solutions to guide you through this multi-year adventure of acceptance and inspiration.


Step One: Forget the Ambition, remember the Game.

In our drive to push our children through secondary education, the efforts late at night to decipher math homework, and mostly because of fatigue, the pleasure of communicating with our children disappears.

And to turn the table in the air and confront you head on and use the findings of the latest and radically mind-bending Neuroscience, what drives the human brain’s ability to assimilate knowledge from the surrounding world OVER THE LAST FEW MILLION YEARS is ..THE GAME !

It is not by chance that the GAME brings pleasure to every person.




PLAY is a NEED, not a ‘MUST’.

THE GAME is a PROCESS, not just an end goal to win.

This is not a new idea, but recent neuro-technology with its advances in monitoring brain function and metabolic processes in the body explains WHY and shockingly!!! they remind us of the most intimate, simple and forgotten in the modern rush of human needs and natural processes and activities.

Play is an amazing invention of Evolution. It is the main tool for the accumulation of knowledge in young mammals and a sign of a higher mental activity than all species that preceded them in evolution.

The more complex the nervous system of the animal species, the more and LONGER it plays!

In humans, this is a lifetime!

The very anticipation of play unlocks the synthesis of powerful hormones in the brain that drive the behaviors necessary to carry out that activity.

If you happened to observe your child in the first two years, you must have had the impression of a period of hyper-focused study with repetition of a certain movement hundreds of times, in the same way – to absolute perfection and precise execution.

With a seemingly inexplicable maturity, persistence and patience, the child reaches out again and again, day after day, to the dangling string of a balloon, long before he can crawl or even sit on his own on the ground.

One of the reasons for this persistence and ambition! is the anticipation of the upcoming pleasure and reward for the effort – DOPAMINE!

Dopamine is the learning hormone – it is predatory, spontaneous and dangerous because it helps absorb ANY information very quickly!!

Even if she is wrong.

Even if it is dangerous and harmful.

In babies and children up to 3 years of repeated repetition of a situation and information, this “knowledge” remains as if carved in stone in the young brain and unlearning” – much more difficult to achieve.

20 repetitions are enough in the first three years, when the brain absorbs information at a hundred times faster speed than in adults, but more on that later.

Accordingly, long-term studies of the life development of people who grew up without intense communication and play (understand sensory, social-emotional research of oneself, others and the world, that is, learning) with relatives and peers show a tendency to compensate for this lack and unlock addictions for which dopamine is again responsible.

This means that children will learn what we make available to them.

If we teach them “NO – don’t!”, “Not now! ‘Don’t!’ ‘It can’t!!! they will learn they can’t and will compensate with something else.

If we teach them that learning is unpleasant and painful, they will avoid it with all their might and compensate with something else.

If we are never seen with a book in hand – the idea of reading will only evoke associations of disgust and boredom.

If we like Mathematics – the same will most likely be found in them as well.

And the opposite is true – children do not want it when learning is not fun, important and reflective of their inner world. Such activities bring boredom TO PAIN when they do not validate personal worth, do not explain the world, do not give new tools for coping, comfort, hope, freedom!

However, if we take advantage of the moments of joy and discovery that inevitably happen (too often at the ‘wrong’ time lol, just when I wanted to wash windows!), it always leads to unlocking new horizons of exploration, curiosity, daring.

And since we promised more solutions than responsibilities, here’s an idea!

Играйте! Играйте! Играйте!

PLAY! Cocoto more – the more! Hehe, no, just kidding… SO MUCH BETTER!

Play with them even when they are decrepit, disheartened by failure, and agonizing in the pointless boredom of some lesson with no real meaning.

Play to give them hope and instill zest and hope.

Play because they WANT and NEED.

Play teaches need.

The game teaches losing and winning.

Play teaches connection with self and others.


The game teaches I AM important, my feelings DO matter! I’m not alone!

The game is HERE AND NOW! Anxious expectations for the future disappear, sadness about the past and regrets disappear.

The game teaches patience, resourcefulness, experimentation, ingenuity. IMPROVISATE!

The game teaches calculation and competition!

When we play for real, with senses and feelings, with rolling and wrestling and tossing and turning, the insidious addiction to tablets, TVs, social networks, substances and harmful habits melts away!

Play tunes the brain to productive functioning in service of the creative PROCESS, not just the cherished goal.

The game teaches attention, develops coordination, muscle tone, memory!

The game teaches the skills needed in business and the competitive (and often brutal) school environment.

The game teaches emotional resilience, discipline, ambition, curiosity, morals and EVERYTHING SUCCESS is!

Play to exhaustion and OUTSIDE, in nature, in the hay, in the forest.

Play silly and ridiculous, play until you’re dirty and dirty!

PLAY with your children and your partner.

Heartwarming and (even) laugh-out-loud when you’re nervous and there’s homework to write and windows to wash and even sad moments of grief.

Play to reconnect with your inner world.

Enjoy and let the ambition drop so we can get back to our essence!! Success will inevitably follow!