On Friday, September 9th, 2011, the first TLG Annual Report was presented at the Courtyard Marriot to guests including TLG staff, volunteers, Georgian government officials, and NGO representatives. The report, delivered by TLG Program Manager Maia Siprashvili-Lee with an introduction by Minister of Education Dmitri Shashkin, included a summary of TLG’s acheivements in its first year and plans for new initiatives in the coming year. After the report, refreshments were served including chicken and vegetarian burritos, delicious beef empanadas, and churros.
The presentation of the report was highly effective, combining some tried-and-true MES talking points (English + computers = Georgian students competitive in global marketplace) with some shiny new ones (“linguistic revolution” was uttered at least four times by two different people, and I think it’s an excellent soundbyte – well done, PR team).
The report itself is a 62 page document that is impressively comprehensive. It starts off with background information about the Georgian educational system – post-Soviet challenges and modern reforms – including excerpts from a 2010 US Embassy-sponsored report on progress and challenges in Georgian English language education. The report then describes TLG in detail, covering the roles and responsibilities of TLG staff, volunteers, and host families, as well as summarizing procedures for conduction some of those responsibilities. The next section contains statistical and anecdotal data collected from TLG volunteer reports and interviews with Local English Teachers. Finally, the report concludes with an honest and complete assessment of the problems TLG has faced and the steps that have been taken or will be taken to solve them.
This last part was the section I was most impressed with. In Georgian culture, admitting problems or mistakes – especially admitting them publicly – is considered humiliating and is often avoided at all costs. For TLG to publish statements like “we had insufficient communication at first, but we improved communication [include hyperlink to TLG improvements] using the TLG hotline, volunteer reports, and meetings with the Minister” or “we had trouble sorting out flights [include link to tlg flights?] for volunteers last year, it’s actually surprisingly difficult, but we’re aware of the problem and working on figuring out how to do it better” is a very important step not only for TLG but also for Georgia as a whole. I think it’s really important for TLG volunteers (and other interested observers) to know that these problems are not just being ignored or swept under the rug. I also think that- perhaps because TLG works so closely with so many Westerners – TLG is at the cutting edge of Western-style professionalism in Georgia and is setting the example – and hopefully setting the bar – for other institutions in the country.
TLG sits at the crossroads of two cultures, and in many ways the TLG management has to struggle to meet the often incompatible demands of both cultures at the same time. TLG is like the interface between Georgian and Western cultures. I know that TLG’s goal – and this is stated in the report – is not only to improve English language skills but also to serve as a cultural exchange and a catalyst for the modernization of Georgian society. Sometimes progress seems agonizingly slow, but after having been a TLG volunteer for a whole year I can say that I have personally seen TLG make positive changes at a rate I would never have believed if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
The presentation ended with a sort of teaser for some of TLG’s new initiatives. So what’s on the docket for this year? We’re getting new monthly reports – this time they’re online, and hopefully they’ll be miles better than the MS Word reports were. We have “introductory meetings” with our coteachers and course directors before we enter school this year. These meetings will serve to give us more direction than we had last year, strengthen the relationships between the English teaching team, and include information for us about the new textbooks and curriculum. We have a “teacher portfolio” that will include lesson plans and stuff that we do with our kids. We have improved information for host families including a short orientation program on what to expect from foreigners. Finally we have improved security training for TLG volunteers about things like sexual harassment and discrimination, which is an issue that I have obviously been quite outspoken about for quite some time, and I am cautiously optimistic about TLG’s redoubled efforts in this area. I’m looking forward to hearing more about all of these new initiatives and I’ll keep posting about them as information comes to me.
Overall, I give TLG very high marks for its Annual Report and extra credit for the delicious Mexican food offered after the presentation.