By Rostom Chkheidze, Member of the Parliament of Georgia from the United National Movement – United Opposition ‘Strength is in Unity’ Faction, Deputy Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee, and a member of the Education and Science Committee. Rostom Chkheidze is an author, translator, and academician.
Today, the international community marks the International Day of Education. It offers our country the opportunity to embrace reforms and new priorities to go beyond “education reform” and really shape the next generation of citizens. The International Day of Education is directly linked with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and with the global motto – “To invest in people, prioritize education”.
Georgia has gone through several waves of education reforms. Yet, it is hard to see real progress. Pupils graduate with little preparation for the real world. And the lack of institutional memory is the first problem we need to recognize. Every Minister of Education started their work from scratch, implementing new programs without taking into account previous ideas. Institutional memory has been completely neglected, and unless we, as a State, deal with it, we cannot move forward.
Georgia’s educational curriculum Georgia lacks creativity and fails to meet the needs of children as they grow and become full members of society. To build a better education system for the next generation, we must ensure our kids are equipped with the right tools as citizens.
When we talk of investing in people, the first thing we need to do is to invest in new textbooks as soon as possible. Our Georgian literature and history textbooks are outdated and need to be rewritten. Part of building the next generation is shaping a better understanding of our language and literature and a more modern vision of the history of our ancestors.
Education should not just be about learning a set of facts. Critical thinking needs to be taught to the voters, decision-makers, policymakers, and leaders of tomorrow. Teaching children how to think critically, formulate ideas, debate, and speak in public, will help raise a new generation through new standards. To do this, we must train our public school teachers in this new dimension of education.
As of 2023, there is no coherent curriculum to teach about the Georgian Constitution, national laws, and our system of governance. To become full members of society, children must know the details of our Constitution, our government, of our electoral system, as well as study political ideologies. These courses should also include a special part on environmentalism and what individuals can do to promote sustainable development and reduce pollution.
Kids in school have to learn 12 years of math, but not a single year is dedicated to financial literacy, even though this is probably the most important area where math is used on a daily basis. The last, 12th grade must take a financial literacy course to learn the rights skills for becoming financially independent. Financial education should include taxes and government fees, personal budgeting, debt and refinancing, how to start a business, the benefits of renting versus home ownership, getting started with investing, cryptocurrency, etc.
Only with these tools, with stronger critical thinking, civic education, and financial literacy, will we see a true sense of citizenship emerge in our society.
Public schools must become cultural centers. Schools should be centers of intergenerational learning. As pillar institutions of local communities, public schools have the potential to serve not only children but all members of the community by teaching about local culture and history. In partnership with the Ministry of Culture and local governments, public schools should launch “Local Museum Weekends”, a program that would transform schools into museums of local lore for several days. For example, Public School #166 can serve as the Cultural House of Didube, open to all on weekends and continuing exhibitions throughout the school week for children to discover their local history.
We cannot talk about education without mentioning the crucial issue of funding. Much work remains to be done to make the way we spend money on education more transparent, reliable, and efficient, but we can start with a few steps. The first should be to increase the salaries of the rural school staff.
A new formula for distributing salaries to public school teachers needs to be adopted. Every teacher is extremely valuable and this needs to be recognized, but we need to show the importance of the work of those teachers and staff who continue to teach today in small, remote schools far from the capital, in villages that are experiencing a steady decline in population. The 2024 budget must implement measures to make rural teachers the best-paid public servants in the country. This would create an incentive for young and competent people to stay or move to the regions and the local economy.
We must also create a new formula for regional university tuition. One of the most pressing problems of Georgia’s demographic crisis is the exodus of young people from villages and towns to Tbilisi and other large cities in the hope of finding new economic opportunities. Starting in 2025, we should implement a new formula that guarantees lower tuition fees for students who choose to study in the regions.
Finally, the move for a stronger education comes with more European integration and for that, we need to find a way to equalize the tuition fees of Georgian and European students in EU countries. EU integration will take place through sectoral integration, and that includes education. After the success of Erasmus+, we need a new system that will allow more Georgians to study in Europe. The best way would be to equalize tuition fees for Georgian and EU-origin students in EU universities. The ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education and Science should make this a priority in international educational cooperation.
Much more needs to be done to make schools real places of learning. We need to address crime among our youth, we need to make sure that school psychologists are not just a mere formality to be fulfilled but a real program that benefits the children, and we need to take immediate steps to separate politics from school administration.
And every day we don’t act is another lost opportunity. Time is of the essence.
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