Experts highlight problems in secondary education, despite reforms
By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, August 10A number of new ideas will be introduced in Georgian schools from September 2010. The changes are set out in Georgia’s Education Ministry strategy for 2010-2015. According to officials at the Ministry of Education of Georgia, the main priority of the strategy is to “provide future generation with quality education and invest in the future of the country.”
Earlier in June the Education Ministry announced a progression to the second stage of secondary education reform in the country. “As a result of the reform, by the year 2015 we will have a complete system of education,” Education Minister, Dimitri Shashkin said. According to ministry officials a new national education plan will be completed by September 2010, start in 2011 and remain unchanged until 2015,
The new education plan envisages introducing new subjects at secondary schools, including Information Technology, as well as Civil Defense and Security. Studying English language and computer programmes will become mandatory for first grade students. In addition, according to the new plan, 1000 native English language teachers will arrive in Georgia to teach at Georgian secondary schools on a voluntary basis. Education Ministry representatives say that one of the main goals of the ministry is to raise the importance of School Certificates.
“We are putting a lot of effort in this direction. It is important for us to get students back to school. Students should raise their level of education, which unfortunately is currently quite low,” Head of the Education Ministry Press Centre, Nino Potrzhebskaya said. “That’s why we are planning to introduce minimum competence level exams from next year. In parallel to the entrance exams, 12th grade students will have to pass 9 exams in the main subjects at school. If they pass the level of minimum competence, they will be able to enter the higher education institutions,” she added.
Despite the planned changes, education system experts point out several problems. Director of Tbilisi 42nd Public School, Aluda Goglichidze said that the decentralization process of schools has not led to involving interested groups in the decision making process, neither has it resulted in an improvement in the quality of education being delivered in the classroom. In his research into the situation and management of Georgia’s Education system, Goglichidze focuses on this issue.
“Although we have a highly democratic model at school level, we also have a very inefficient management. No matter how good our education plans are, no matter how good the programmes and the textbooks are, if the basic requirements are not being achieved in schools in order to maintain studies in the classrooms, all the efforts and resources will go vain. The number one problem is a high democratic level with a low quality management,” Goglichidze suggested.
In late June NGO Transparency International-Georgia published research about the reforms in Georgia’s public schools, naming the need for decentralization of the secondary education system as one of the main problems. According to the research' authors, a law on secondary education adopted in 2005 was aimed at moving away from the old, soviet system and creating a more decentralized system, in which schools would be able to make decisions more independently.
Two main points of the 2005 secondary education reform were the introduction of the School Council system and starting a voucher system at schools. However, the TI-Georgia report states that amendments made to the Law on Secondary Education in 2009 have wiped out most of the achievements in terms of school autonomy reached by the 2005 law. In particular, according to the new amendments, the Education Ministry was given the right to appoint its representative to the School Councils with full rights to participate in the voting process. The amendments also envisaged enabling the Ministry to annul the decisions of School Councils and fire the director should he/she not comply with the legislative acts received from the centre.
Meanwhile, experts have assessed the introduction of the voucher system at schools as an “obviously important step.” The voucher system finances schools through distributing special vouchers to the parents of the pupils, instead of direct funding. The TI-Georgia report says that in many parts of Georgia the system “failed” in achieving the promised financial autonomy. “The simple reason for this is the small value of the voucher. In many schools the funds received from vouchers are not enough to fund the school's main expenditure such as teachers’ salaries and communal expenses,” states the TI-Georgia report. The Director of 42nd Public School, Aluda Goglichidze also noted that the existing form of funding is not relevant to the needs of school. He suggested that a new model based on school needs should be introduced.
Education Ministry representatives do not agree with Goglichidze. “This is just due to the lack of management skills of school directors. A school which has 600 or more students should not be facing financial problems, because the vouchers are enough to fund all kinds of needs in the school,” Nino Potrzhebskaya said, adding, “Management skills need to be improved. As for the voucher system, there are no plans to change it.”