Moving Forward with Information Technology

Posted on May 25, 2012 by

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I just read a press release about the new integrated English and computer skills exam. This is the second year the exam has been given, and apparently both the number of people who attempted the exam and the percentage who passed increased. As we’ve mentioned before, teachers who pass this exam get a salary bump, and by 2014 the exam will be mandatory for all teachers.

For me, the most important aspect of this exam is the fact that it requires computer skills. Georgia is a little late in the game in terms of IT (having suffered through infrastructure problems, including lack of reliable electricity, for most of the information age) but the upshot of this is that instead of having a patchwork of old, semi-obsolete systems in place to try to work with or work around, Georgia has been able to implement a number of public service solutions using entirely modern technologies.

One of the coolest things Georgia has done is the payboxes. Basically, the paybox is a one-stop payment center, where you can conduct any of a large number of transactions involving making a payment, for a reasonable commission. Payboxes have touch screens and work in English, Russian, and of course Georgian. I use them to put money on my cell phone and to pay my internet fees, but there are a number of other options I haven’t explored. The paybox is an easy and reliable way of converting cash in hand into a payment for a service. Payboxes are everywhere in Tbilisi – there’s at least one every few blocks, and sometimes more than one.

In the U.S., of course, you can pay for your cell phone over the internet – but this requires you to have a credit or debit card, which also involves banks or credit card companies, both of which, of course, charge for the service in one way or another, and if you happen to get paid in cash or with a paycheck, you have to go to the bank to deposit this money before you can use it. You also have to have access to an internet connection and a computer, both of which are expenses that not everyone, in Georgia or America, can afford. A paybox negates the need for all that stuff. You can just pay for things in cash while you’re out at the grocery store or whatever.

And then there are the buses. Tbilisi now has signs that tell you when your bus is coming – they went up almost a year ago, actually – which is something New York has still not managed. Bus fare is handled by a card with an RFID chip, which can be used on city buses, the Metro, and the new marshutkas. RFID, of course, is a step above the magnetic strip technology that New York City installed in all its buses and trains in the mid-nineties.

The point is, for a “developing” nation, Georgia is surprisingly adept at using cutting edge technologies to make its citizens’ lives more convenient. And to this equation, the Ministry of Education and Science has added the first grade laptops – a program designed to expose children to information technology and educational software at a very young age. Clearly, the Georgian government sees the use of computers and the internet as integral to the future of Georgia. I, for one, agree completely; Georgian students who learn IT young will be able maintain Georgia’s place at the head of the technological curve.

The one flaw some TLGers have noticed with the laptops for first graders is that the teachers are sometimes out of their league when it comes to computers. Many teachers have no exposure to computers whatsoever in their daily lives. Many teachers have little to no experience using computers. The teachers end up not really knowing how to guide the students in using their laptops.

Having certification exams in computer skills – and offering the training in computer skills leading up to these exams, and making computers available in schools and/or educational resource centers located in the regions of Georgia – brings teachers up to speed, so they can be computer literate enough to show students the potential of computers and the internet. Use of the internet underscores the need for developing English skills, and encourages both teachers and students to improve their English. Use of the internet also allows greater communication between teachers and the Ministry, and allows teachers to access online teaching materials and sample lesson plans.

Given the myriad advantages of having internet-savvy teachers, I think it’s clear why these certifications are so important for improving educational outcomes in Georgia. And as for the English section of the exam, of course the ability to do online research in English doesn’t really equate to the ability to communicate fluently and accurately in English with students – but then, that’s what TLG is for.

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