Georgia faces many problems, but it is also in the process of working to reform its educational system. In that effort, it has the support and participation of the World Bank. The World Bank is working on a 12-year program that will eventually give US$60 million to the government of Georgia. The program is divided into several phases; the first phase goes until 2005 and involves US$25.9 million. If all the triggers are accomplished, the program will advance to the next phase and involve more money. The goal of this project is to realign the educational system and to make it more equitable, effective, and efficient. There are groups at the Georgian Ministry of Education specifically devoted to each component of reform.
There are seven components to the program: curriculum reform, national student assessment, professional development of teachers, development of new textbooks, strengthening policy and administration, efficient use of human resources, and increasing public awareness.
The curriculum component involves developing a national curriculum by 2005 for both primary (grades one through six) and secondary education (grades seven through nine). Students all over the country will study the exact same materials at the same levels.
A national student assessment exam and a national assessment center will be developed. As of 2001, assessment exams were administered and recorded by each local school. Thus students may score the same but be tested on different material. The old system has also been tainted by corruption: because teachers are paid so little and so rarely, some sell test scores, offer private tutoring, or change grades for a little extra money. With a national assessment, the exams will be reviewed and recorded by the national assessment center. The center will also collect and compile data and statistics nationwide for education.
The component for the professional development of teachers has several parts. One important aspect is the development of school networks for sharing information and creating a community of teachers. A program for individual school grants is also planned. The Ministry of Education will be responsible for setting up the regulations and provisions and will also provide support and instruction in grant proposal writing for those without experience in this field. Every school will receive a grant for the purpose of helping children learn. The grant cannot go to books or computers, but to projects engineered by the teachers themselves, in order to involve teachers in the reform process and allow the schools to see immediate results from the project.
The development of new textbooks includes the training of authors and those who will have to make the final decisions about what texts schools should use. Schools will buy the books and then rent them out to students. The first-year students will pay about 50 percent of the cost of the books, and then 30 percent for the next four years. Thus through book rentals the schools will accumulated enough funds to purchase new textbooks every four years and so on. This would make the project self-sustainable and would not require foreign loans or aid in order to provide books for students.
The project also includes a component to strengthen policy and administration. Regional education departments, which were established in the late 1990s, lack clear and defined roles. The Soros Foundation is helping to define the roles of the various departments. Local authorities are responsible for paying teachers' salaries, funding school maintenance and upkeep, however, the management responsibilities have not been plainly articulated.
The next component is a more efficient allocation of resources. Currently there is one teacher for every 10 students, a carryover from the Soviet system in which there was about a 1:5 teacher-student ratio. One of the program's goals is to increase this ratio to 1:14 by 2005. According to current regulations teachers are allowed to teach only certain grades and subjects. Therefore, a village school could have only 5 students but 10 teachers because secondary teachers are not allowed to teach primary classes. Because of this redundancy of teachers, about half of all teachers will have to be laid off. The Ministry of Education and the World Bank are trying to establish a severance package for pensioners. Although teaching pays very little, pensions are even less. It is against World Bank policies to pay severance for teachers, but they are revisiting the policy to look for an interpretation that would allow this. The system would have to retain the most qualified teachers and insure that those receiving severance pay would not return to the education system as consultants or in other capacities.
The Bank's project does not provide for any changes to school buildings, but it will analyze and map schools to eliminate redundancy. If there are two schools in close proximity they may be merged together. These resources will go into a database and the center will develop software and a computerized system for recording this data. Not all schools will have computers—they may still have to fill out their forms by hand—but the data will be computerized. This will allow the government and others access to information about the schools throughout the country.
The final component of the project is increasing public awareness. Sustaining education reform will require the increased dissemination of information and higher levels of parent and teacher involvement in the school system.
This project will help combat corruption through its measures to increase openness, cooperation, community involvement, and organization. Hopefully the example of these reforms will encourage similar changes in higher education, which faces even greater problems of corruption. For example, with nationwide exams throughout secondary schooling, higher institutions of learning might adopt this type of assessment as well, thus minimizing unfair influence and bribery.
Georgia's educational system has a long way to go before it is as effective as its supporters hope it will be. Nonetheless, the country has a plan and the resources to help it achieve major improvements over time.
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