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Quality assurance in the Georgian educational system

By Laura Dabrowski
Friday, January 15
In November 2009, Simon Janashia, an Assistant Professor at Ilia Chavchavadze State University, published a comprehensive paper on 'The Quality Assurance System in Georgian Schools' in a policy review published by the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development. The aim of the paper was to define quality education, discuss its importance, assess the current quality of education in Georgian schools and propose suggestions for how to improve it.

For the past six years the Georgian Government has been working towards reforming the general education system and much progress has been made. In addition to creating a legislative foundation for the new education system, between 2004 and 2008 it established the Education Management Information System (EMIS), an important tool used biannually to assemble statistical data about schools for the Ministry of Education and Science. More however needs to be done to improve the quality of education. Additionally, more time is needed for the educational reforms to run their course so that their full impact can be assessed.

What is “quality” education? This is a difficult question to answer because definitions of quality differ, and different people (i.e. parents, teachers, students) will all have different views on what a quality education means to them. According to Janashia, “Quality education is the correlation of our goals with students’ existing knowledge, skills and attitudes.” In other words, the more student achievement matches the academic goals set for them, the better the quality of education.

Why is a quality education important? Its main goal is to provide students with knowledge and skills that will last a lifetime. Presumably higher quality education will lead to higher income, because the better educated have better jobs. On the principle of hereditary standards quality education can be self-sustaining because parents who receive a high quality education are more likely to be involved in ensuring that their children receive one. Additionally, “A society that is appreciative of high quality education is more community oriented.”

Although there is no agreement in Georgia on an exact set of educational standards, the National Goals for General Education provide the nearest thing. This was distributed to schools for teachers to review and is printed in each officially endorsed textbook, but it is uncertain whether parents are aware of these goals and rare for policymakers to refer to them. A major problem in the Georgian education system is that “perceptions of quality are based on a system of incentives, rather than on shared goals…Current Government policy is to shape perceptions of educational standards through tools, such prizes (in the form of either medals or resources such as computers) for academic achievement.” Additionally, the United Entrance Examinations are popularly viewed as indirect indicators of educational quality, yet these exams were not originally designed with this intention. Another main problem is that studies of quality education are rare. Existing evaluations are not conducted in a way that can be used to gauge educational standards, Janashia says.

Due to the lack of Georgian studies on educational quality we must look to international examples to decide what the elements of a quality education are. The determinants of a quality education include: the existence of relevant goals, the relevance of the curriculum, the efficient use of time, effective methods of teaching, assessments undertaken to improve practice and the availability of resources. Pre-schooling has also been shown to be important to increase the quality of education because it is where children first learn cognitive and social skills. It is difficult, however, to determine the exact effect of any single determinant and it must be considered that some determinants will have a greater impact than others, depending on the context of the educational system.

Currently, Georgia’s education system ensures quality in schools by giving them funding using a voucher system, where more students equals more vouchers. This is particularly important in urban schools, which have larger numbers of students than rural schools. The Ministry of Education and Science also uses an incentive system involving awarding medals and holding school 'Olympiads' which were originally designed to test the effectiveness of new reforms and encourage teachers. Starting in 2010, teacher quality will be maintained through a certification system, teacher training programmes and accreditation. The renovation of school buildings, updating of technology in schools, textbook endorsement and the evaluation and training of textbook writers, editors, designers and publishers will ensure quality in these areas. A licensing system also exists to ensure that newly founded schools meet minimal standards and offer positive learning environments. Although it is not in effect yet, a school accreditation system is also being developed to evaluate schools individually and provide tailored recommendations to each.

Janashia finds the main quality problem in education to be “the use of outdated models by both the State and the public at large.” He also fears that too much attention and funding is being given to reforms that show immediate results and focus only on short term improvement. He recommends that the school support infrastructure is strengthened, as the individual resource centres now in place cater for too many schools and experience high staff turnover. As each school has different needs Janashia also recommends that the Government tailor assistance to these individual needs.

It is recommended that “the State should finance private firms or NGO’s that help schools improve results.” Janashia suggests the creation of regional education boards that will bring together local and central Government, NGO’s and local businesses to discuss problems in educational quality and work to find solutions. Inter-school relations should also be increased so that schools share information and experiences with each other.

Data about individual schools needs to be collected. Janashia recommends creating school fact sheets, “which will compare the achievements of an individual school with State targets.” This data needs to be reviewed regularly and used by the State in policymaking for it to be most effective. Schools should also reward innovation in their students by promoting creativity, analysis and critical thinking, rather than only memorising facts, and progress and forward thinking in teachers should be rewarded through incentives, which could include a bonus system, Janashia says. Focus on long term sustainable change, efficiency, transparency, communication and innovation, Janashia predicts, will lead to increased educational quality in Georgian schools.