Meeting with the Minister – Part I

Posted on December 8, 2011 by

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We had another meeting with the Minister this week – very similar to the one last May – at the Sheraton Metekhi Palace. I have a lot of details to cover so I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

Minister Shashkin opened the meeting, as usual, by praising TLG – stating that English opens doors, and pointing out that 75% of Georgian students choose English as their language to test in for the national curriculum. I remember hearing a similar figure at the last meeting and I wonder if this is the same number as last year or if it has been updated since TLG has been in operation. The Minister also told us that the teachers he has spoken to tell him that they have improved their English through communication with TLGVs and that they have learned new methodologies since TLG began.

Another hallmark of the success of TLG is that the MES is now creating a program, on the model of TLG, to send Georgian teachers to Ajara, Samtskhe-Javakheti, and Kvemo Kartli to teach Georgian to Azeris, Armenians, and other ethnic minorities who may be disadvantaged in Georgia due to not knowing Georgian. The Minister stated that 200 – 250 teachers would go this year and by next year there would be 500 teachers in the program. (There is also a separate initiative within TLG about sending Georgian English teachers to these regions, which I will discuss later).

The Minister discussed some plans for the future: the arrival of books for grades 7-12 next year, as well as a plan for TLGVs to offer English classes to adults in some regional cities (Poti, Gori, etc) this summer. Before taking questions, the Minister reiterated that our purpose was not to be expert grammar teachers, but to talk to and communicate with Georgian teachers and students.

During the Q&A session, I asked the Minister about the teacher certification process and the salary increases. This got me a bunch of numbers which I am more than happy to share.

First, there are currently about 60,000 teachers in Georgia teaching 600,000 students. Of these teachers, 6,000 currently have teacher certification (certification based on an exam, offered in July, that covers teaching methodologies, classroom management, and other teaching skills) and have received salary raises of 75 lari/month. Teachers who passed English, Computer, and/or Laboratory exams (offered in April) received additional salary increases (I believe up to 200 lari more). About 300 teachers were awarded a raise to 1000 lari/month for outstanding performance in their certification process, and some teachers are now making 2000 lari/month (although I do not know how many or what they did to achieve this salary).

The Minister stated that by 2014, 35 – 40,000 teachers should be certified, and certifications will become mandatory so that teachers who refuse to, or are unable to, get certified will be let go (the Minister mentioned that these teachers might choose to retire rather than learn new methods; these teachers will still collect their pension.) The Minister addressed the downsides of this policy, pointing out that the current teacher:student ratio was higher than in the US and Western Europe and that the school system would function very well even with a reduction in teaching staff; and arguing that tying teacher salary to a certification process may be hard on some teachers but is ultimately more fair than tying teacher salary to student test scores, as some programs in the US have begun to do.

In response to another question – about social promotion and grade inflation – the Minister said that after the National Exams last year, 200 school directors were replaced because their students performed so poorly. After this, some directors chose to impose standardized tests at every grade level to prevent students from progressing to the 12th grade with no knowledge of their subjects.

The Minister told us that only 6% of parents are involved in their children’s schooling process and that as a result, many reform programs simply don’t work. He said that in particular, programs aimed at inclusive education were unsuccessful because parents of children with disabilities prefer to keep their children at home rather than send them to a public school. Of 10,000 students with special needs, only 1,000 are in the school system. Also, programs to build boarding schools to give quality education to students in remote mountain areas failed because parents would not send their children away – partially because the students help out with chores around the house, including the subsistence-level agriculture many Georgian families engage in.

Finally, someone asked how long TLG would be around. The Minister told us that the program was budgeted until 2014 and reassured us that pro-TLG politicians would remain in power throughout the next election cycle.

Before he left, the Minister pointed out a difference between this meeting and the meetings last year – last year, questions were overwhelmingly about logistics; this year, they were more about issues of education. This means that TLG has become much better at its mandate – handling the logistics of having hundreds of foreign volunteers spread throughout Georgia – than it was last year, and the volunteers can now turn our efforts to our mission here.

In Part II, I’ll talk about what the head of TLG discussed with us after the Minister left. It’s good stuff, so stay tuned!

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