Salaries: Teachers' salaries reached their lowest level in 1995, at an amount of US$4 per month. At one time teaching was the lowest paid profession in Tbilisi, a relatively high-paying city: teachers earned 21.8 laris per month, compared to the overall average salary of 61.5 laris per month. Subsequent increases have raised teachers' salaries to about 30 laris (US$24) per month. A lari is worth about 80 U.S. cents. Average teacher salaries are about 55 percent of the average wage for the total economy (54.9 laris) and about 80 percent of that for other public sector employees (37.5 laris). One reason for the low wages is overstaffing: education staffing in Georgia is atypically generous by international standards, and is twice as high per student as in Western nations. Thus already tight budgets must be spread thin over many teachers. Teachers in some rural villages have turned to farming and teach classes in their spare time. Others sell fruit or their remaining household items in Tbilisi market places in order to make ends meet.
The state still controls Georgia's most prominent higher education institutions and is unable to pay professors a living wage. As a result, scholars have been forced to emigrate or "moonlight" at jobs outside their fields. Many now teach at the private colleges and universities that have opened in the country. Although these schools pay decent salaries, the scholars have no time for research and writing, and are sometimes forced to instruct students who do not wish to learn.
An even bigger problem for many teachers, however, has been not being paid at all. Some regions have gone almost a year without paying their teachers, leading to several teacher strikes. In one instance, more than 100 teachers blocked the road in front of the of the regional administration office to demand their wages, which had not been paid for six to eight months.
Parents also complained, noting that teachers were looked at by pupils as poor people who could not even afford to buy proper clothing. This had a negative impact on teacher morale, and some believed that their authority among students was compromised. Teachers who had to work in the market during the weekend considered that shameful and said that they did not want to be seen by their students. The months without pay, combined with ill-equipped classrooms and limited teaching materials, have made many teachers feel inferior about their jobs.
Training & Qualifications: Teachers in Georgia have been hired not out of necessity, but because of the social prestige associated with teaching and a strong pressure to accommodate the growing number of graduates. The actual abilities and credentials of many candidates played a small role in the process. (An exception is the rural mountainous areas, where most schools lacked even a minimum number of teachers.) Large numbers of teachers cannot teach without a textbook; textbooks have become the main source of knowledge, not a supplement. This is in part due to the practices of the Soviet period, when teachers were compelled to rely heavily on texts; teachers have become accustomed to following them step by step.
The number of teachers has significantly declined since 1990-1991. In 1996, there were 102,073 teachers in Georgia: 69,219 (68 percent) in grades 1-11; 9,368 (9 percent) at preschool; and 18 percent in higher education. In the process of reducing the number of teachers, those teachers who received their posts by merit, as opposed to bribery and nepotism, are most likely to lose their jobs. Another factor is that male teachers were leaving teaching at rates beyond the national average, moving to find work in Russia or Armenia.
The proportion of teachers with complete higher education has increased slightly, to 87 percent in urban schools and 75 percent in rural schools. So far, the impact of low pay and poor conditions has been confined mainly to growing teacher shortages in foreign languages and computer science, where demand is strong outside the teaching profession, and in the remote rural areas, where it has become extremely difficult to replace retiring teachers. Recent measures by the government to consolidate and improve the teaching force have succeeded in raising the pupil-teacher ratio to 10.4 (from 8.3 in 1991), reducing the number of part-time teachers, increasing the full-time working load, and increasing salaries on a performance basis through a national testing and certification process.
Unions & Associations: There are two major trade unions in Georgia. The first is the Education Workers Trade Union of the Georgian Trade Unit Amalgamation, and the second is the Free Trade Union of Teachers of Georgia-Solidarity. Both unions are focused on teachers in the regions. The Education Workers Trade Union is the older organization, and is based in the northeastern region of Tianeti. Many call this union an offshoot of the old Soviet-style unions, although the leaders deny this. The Free Trade Union was established in 1998 and is based out of Kutaisi; it has 2,800 members throughout the regions. Although the trade unions do not have a good working relationship with each other and disagree over methods of change, they appear to have similar goals of improving teachers' working conditions and compensation.
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