Meeting Shashkin

Posted on March 21, 2012 by

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As we walked into the Hotel Marriott to meet the Minister of Education, Dimitri Shashkin, I was relieved to note the relaxed nature of how he was dressed: sweater, jeans, and hiking boots. After being told to dress business casual and, specifically, to not wear tennis shoes, I was nervous that the meeting might be rather formal. I was quite pleased that it was the Minister’s decision to meet in smaller, more intimate groups, allowing for a more comprehensive discussion about education. A selected group of TLGers was broken down into smaller groups of 5-7 over the course of 3 days for breakfast at the Marriott.

The Minister spoke in nearly perfect English of the importance of learning English in order to progress in the field of education across Georgia. Education is in a continuous state of change and development. After being asked what comes first, teachers or infrastructure, Shashkin explained that infrastructure is a serious concern, but requires such a large budget that Georgia is not yet ready to tackle such a huge project. Teachers can be provided immediately, hence why I am here along with my colleagues.

An interesting point that Shashkin touched on is that Georgians tend to take better care of property and buildings that are privately owned. He cited, for example, a school in Tbilisi that was bought by a principal and is now considered one of the best-maintained schools in all of Georgia. It now has proper plumbing and toilet facilities, which are lacking elsewhere. Similarly, it can be said that the poor state of appearance of many apartment buildings may be equated to the lack of privatized ownership. The buildings themselves lack ownership, while individual apartments are owned and therefore are thoroughly take care of.

As I teach police officers in Zugdidi, my experience with education in Georgia is vastly different than that of my fellow members of TLG. While I am aware of the state of schools throughout Georgia, the same infrastructure issues do not exist within the police stations. All police stations have been remodeled and are pleasant to teach in because of these modifications. In asking specifically about the development of English education within police units, my original understandings were reinforced. If Georgia is to become a more recognized country in the world and to become a popular tourist destination, police officers must learn how to communicate with foreigners (with English being the common language of travel). In addition, as someone who has traveled extensively, I can say that police officers are often the people sought out in times of trouble and confusion in a foreign country.

While it is difficult to comment on the current state of education outside of the police stations, I do have a basic understanding of the school system in Georgia. Shashkin mentioned briefly that the average age of teachers in Georgia is much higher than ideal. My initial impression was that young people do not go into the teaching profession due to low salaries, however, I have learned that there are different levels of salaries based on qualifications. Whatever the reason, the lack of incoming young teachers leads to monotony in the school system. Georgian schools appear to be stuck in a rote education system which stifles creativity. By bringing in foreign teachers, new methods of language acquisition are being introduced, as most TLG members have studied at least one second language.

This country is headed for huge growth over the next few decades, and education has to be a priority. There needs to be a bigger push for young people to go into the field of education with a focus on alternative teaching methodology. Infrastructure must also not be forgotten as studying in a comfortable environment is invaluable.

I will keep my eye on Georgia, even after I leave in June, as I expect great progress in all realms, but especially in education. Shashkin appears to have genuine compassion for the state of education in Georgia as well as respect for the TLG program. I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to meet the Minister of Education for a stress-free, well informed conversation. Not to mention the food at the Marriott was amazing!

This post is available in Georgian!

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