Education Reform is not a Fast Process
By Bryan Morris
Education Development Volunteer
I have been an education development worker and secondary school English teacher in Georgia for a year and a half. In that time, I have observed and worked with students, pupils, teachers, administrators, and university faculty and staff in several regions in Georgia. I have found the experience to be joyful, frustrating, angering, confusing, challenging and rewarding. Sometimes, I experience all of these emotions at the same time. Most of the time, they come in cycles, each rotating in and out of my emotional being, leaving me, usually, quite exhausted. To work in the education sector in Georgia is hard work for everyone. You must be a teacher and a learner, a leader and a follower; you must be challenging and focused and you must be open and receptive. You must be all of these things at the same time, all of the time. These things make us developing educators. In order to be effective educators, we must be these things—we must be constantly developing.
Georgia is in the beginning stages of substantial, necessary education reform. School environments are not conducive to learning, with many schools lacking in such essentials as water, heat and electricity, not to mention chairs, desks, and chalkboards (and sometimes even chalk). Salaries are extremely low when they are paid; pupils study various subjects with outdated textbooks, many of which have misinformation. Discipline is varied and motivation, both student and teacher, is usually pretty low. Assessments of learning and evaluation of teaching is less than standardized and many times very subjective, if done at all. There is no shortage of issues to discuss in education reform in Georgia.
There is good news, of course: the issues are being discussed. In some places, they are not only being discussed, but people are taking active steps to improve them.
In October, seven members of Kutaisi State University’s English Studies Department held a two-day, English teachers’ training conference for teachers in Kutaisi. These seven educators worked (tirelessly, in their spare time, with no financial incentive) with seven American Peace Corps Volunteers living in western Georgia. These Volunteers received funding from the U.S. Embassy to work with regional ETAG branches and interested educators to initiate and plan training conferences for secondary school English teachers. The first such conference was held here at Kutaisi State University.
Forty eight English teachers from over 30 different schools in Kutaisi participated in this two-day conference, receiving training in the Communicative Approach to teaching and learning many new language learning activities for the classroom. They discussed crucial professional topics, including English teaching trends in Georgia, native language interference in the classroom, and interactive classroom learning. These teachers came during their free time, on the weekend, to improve their teaching abilities, to practice their English, to study new methodology, and to develop their English curriculum at their respective schools.
There is one telling aspect of the conference: while the conference was funded in part with a grant from the Public Affairs Department of the U.S. Embassy, that funding was only a small portion of the cost of the conference. Of the total budget for the conference, which was approximately $700, over $500 dollars of that funding came from the community.
The community of educators—the Kutaisi State University’s English Studies Department, the participating teachers, local families—all came together and donated either funding or other in-kind contributions to make this conference possible.
While living in Georgia, I have noticed a trend among certain groups of people in Georgia. Whenever looking for a project to do or some work to involve themselves in, they immediately look for outside funding. They immediately start looking for grants. This trend tends to lead some to believe that development projects can only be done with funding, through grants, from foreign donors. The community of educators that planned and participated in this conference did something remarkable. They knew what they wanted to do and instead of depend solely on outside funding, they pooled their resources together in order to execute a professional, successful training. The majority of the funding came from within, from their own community.
Education reform is not a fast process. In order for there to be lasting, effective reforms in the education system in Georgia, it will take time. It is difficult to change an existing system, no matter the condition, into one that is considerably different. This is going to take time. However, in order for any reform to take place, it takes the continual work of those people that work within that system—in this case, the Georgian educators.
The community of English educators in Kutaisi is extremely involved in the continual work of developing the education system in Georgia. This community—teachers, administrators, educational associations, students, pupils—showed their commitment to education development during the conference in Kutaisi. Teachers came prepared, ready to learn, with open minds, and with lots of questions. Facilitators spent weeks preparing session designs and planning the curriculum for the conference. Families opened their homes to host visiting facilitators to Kutaisi. Together, this community spent two-days together discussing how to make English language education in Kutaisi more interactive, practical, and learner-friendly. These are the things that must be done on a regular basis in order for that lasting change in the education system to happen later on down the road.
Soon, I will be ending my work in education here in Georgia, after two years of living and working with educators in this country. I often wonder what the education system will be like here in ten years. Will it be different? Will it be better? Will Georgian teachers be making a substantial, personal investment in their professional careers? Will students be satisfied with their education at public institutes of learning? Will their still be a need for private tutors? Will there be enough money for teachers to earn a living?
I can’t say what the education system in Georgia will be like in ten years. Truly, it is not my place to say. It is not, after all, my education system. I have been blessed and challenged working within that system, but ultimately the only people responsible for that system are those that are an intimate part of it. I know what my hopes are for the Georgian education system and I know that many Georgian educators share many of those hopes for the future of the education system in Georgia.
What is left now is to see if that continual, necessary development work progresses. After working with the faculty and staff at the university and with the teachers that participated in the conference, I have hope that this continual work will progress. It will likely be joyful, frustrating, angering, confusing, challenging, and rewarding. I hope that it is all of those things; they will be proof that educators, and therefore the education system, will progressively develop.