Public education in Georgia is comprised of the following categories: kindergarten, ages 2-5; elementary school, grades 1-4; secondary school, grades 5-9; and upper secondary school, grades 10-11. The system of kindergarten has largely collapsed, however, and has become increasingly privatized. Attendance is now a sign of prestige and, according to a World Bank report (Perkins 1998), only 20 percent of eligible children attend. There are plans to introduce a grade 12, but financial constraints have prevented any progress thus far.
Education is not limited to general day schools; there are also boarding schools for children with disabilities and "Youth Palaces" for an intensive study of such subjects as art, music, drama, and dance. In 1993 the first school for internally displaced persons (IDP schools) opened for elementary, secondary, and high school education. Both the teachers and students are IDPs; 90 percent of students must be IDPs, and the remaining 10 percent are local children.
The school year officially begins in September and ends in June, but the number of official school days is close to 150 due to numerous holidays and breaks throughout the year. Principals may decide to close school altogether during part of the winter due to lack of heat and electricity, or during harvesting season in the agricultural regions. A typical school day generally lasts from seven hours in upper school to as little as three hours in primary school. Schools use a two-semester schedule.
Examinations, Promotions, & Certifications: Students progress to the next grade based on their teachers' recommendations. The decision is made according to written work and participation throughout the year. Instead of being assigned a letter grade, students are rated on a scale of one to five, with five being the best. Students rarely fail or repeat a grade.
Every student in Georgia completing secondary school takes the exit exam, comprised of both oral and written assessment on the same day at the same time. The Minister or Deputy Minister of Education announces the essay questions via radio and television to eliminate the possibility of obtaining questions or answers beforehand. Whatever precautions are used before the test to ensure equity are lost in the grading. The exams are graded by members of a panel that includes the student's teacher. Because it is the individual student's teacher who ultimately records the grades and turns them in, the process is ripe for corruption and bribery. Additionally, no school wants to fail students or provide an excuse for further faculty or staff cuts. Annual examinations can also be held after the fourth grade, and many schools use that opportunity to test and evaluate students.
Because Georgia currently lacks national assessment standards for the exit exams, college entrance exams have been instituted. Although passage of exit exams is nearly universal, the rate of students passing the college entrance exams is markedly reduced. Students who want to continue their education thus often hire tutors to prepare for the exam. A World Bank reform project, discussed in detail in the Summary, would ensure national grading standards for exit exams by impartial judges, allowing for the elimination of the unpopular entrance exams. Universal testing at the secondary level and elimination of college entrance exams would improve the quality of students, especially those with financial constraints.
Only about 70 percent of pupils are accepted to higher education institutions. Students who do not successfully move to the next stage after completing secondary or high school can attend vocational and technical schools.
Educational Style & Textbooks: As Georgia tries to distance itself from a Russian curriculum, it still holds on to Soviet educational methodology. Education is content-based and focuses on memorizing facts, lectures, and texts, rather than analyzing subjects and teaching students critical thinking, which is more common in Western educational systems. A typical class begins with the review of homework and the material covered in the previous class, after which students recite the passages read or concepts learned word-for-word from the text. The teacher then explains a new concept and goes over exercises that students will take for homework. Then the teacher may review previous material covered or use the time to talk about what was learned during class. Reading, repeating, and recalling is the standard drill.
Each class lasts about 45 minutes, though in the rural regions classes may be shorter during the winter due to the cold and the lack of fuel to heat school facilities. There is a growing argument that such a curriculum doesn't adequately prepare students for university study and should be modified. Students who go on to study at universities usually have had extensive private tutoring throughout school.
Study of even the most basic topics has become difficult, however, as many students and teachers do not have textbooks. Government policy dictates that students supply their own school texts and supplies. Textbooks are quite expensive and often out of reach for many parents, especially in rural regions. Often the costs of purchasing texts for one child exceed the family's monthly income. The textbooks that are available are often in very poor condition, as the Ministry of Education encourages printers to keep costs low by using inexpensive, poor quality material and smaller type. Students who can afford to may buy several copies of each book because they have such a short life span. Relying on secondhand books is not always an option, as they are often in Russian and do not reflect the new Georgian curriculum and ideas. The Ministry of Education estimates textbook availability to be anywhere from 40 to 75 percent for elementary schools, 40 to 60 percent for secondary, and 25 to 30 percent for upper secondary grades. Plans for textbook reform are also part of the World Bank project.
Enrollment: Accurately estimating the number and percentage of children enrolled in schools is difficult, as no recent official data has been published, and the organizations collecting information use different methods for doing so. Moreover, some poorer families don't register the births of their children until they are old enough to attend school in order to delay the cost of registration.
Estimates for the 1997-1998 school year indicate 926,000 students enrolled in all levels of the Georgia educational system. In 1997, about 87 percent of children eligible for first grade were enrolled. This marks a decline in enrollment since Georgia gained its independence in 1991. Some suggest that the decline might be as large as 20 percent for primary school. The starting age for school was lowered from seven to six years and grade nine is now compulsory, which should raise the level slightly. The dropout rate is about 4.3 to 5 percent in elementary school, 5.4 percent in incomplete secondary, and 9.9 percent at the upper secondary level.
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