May 10, 2008
Head of National Curriculum and Assessment Center
Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia
It is spring of 2005. Minister of Education and Sciences and group of people involved in the educational reform project have a meeting with teachers of one of the districts in Georgia.
The interest is high. Minister of Education has not been there before. The presentation using a laptop and projector is something new as well. Schedule of the day implies what the guests have to say, what, why and how they implement, and then teachers have a chance to criticize, express their concerns and ask questions. There is a lot to tell but they don’t want to exhaust the teachers. Therefore there is a conversation regarding basic issues: what changes have started in teaching planning, accreditation of schools and universities, preparation of teachers, changing textbooks, managing schools and introducing new models of financing, university entry exams, etc. The time for questions is arriving. The audience gets a chance to satisfy their curiosity. A teacher stands up and asks the question: “this is all good, but I am interested when the reform starts?” Some laughed, some were indifferent, and some were surprised. Educational reform even today is perceived differently by the public, but there are people that realize multiple directions of the reforms, the number of which probably is significantly higher than in 2005. If after reading this article you will join this people, it can be considered that the reform will start once again at this moment.
The educational reforms in Georgia are conducted in general educational schools, kinder gardens, undergraduate, graduate, and professional-technical schools. Each of these spheres is a complicated and interrelated system. On their own these systems are associated with interactions of different spheres of science, economy, citizenry, culture and social affairs. A general educational school differs from these systems by the fact that it is for everybody, and regardless of social, ethnic or religious origin everyone goes through this route. This school creates such environment in the country, which from one hand unites people with different cultures, ideologies or traditions as one nation in the boundaries of Georgia, and from the other hand it makes the relations of representatives of this nation with others understandable and possible. The educational reform is in a forefront with its content, rate and magnitude. Counting the steps and implemented strategies that have been already taken is complicated not because it is difficult to explain, but because there are so many. Therefore I will try to analyze few conceptual issues to explain the reasons of various steps taken during the process of the general educational reforms.
Conceptual issue number one – where does the knowledge and aptitudes come from?
Such procedures that the state took upon itself for improvement of infrastructure, renovation of schools, equipping them with a new furniture and apparatus, increase in funding, etc. are difficult to consider among the reforms of general educational system. A simple change in the relation and increase in the sense of responsibility cannot be considered as a reform, although the state was not doing anything in this direction during years. From one look it is obvious that the state should be occupied by a managerial work. It is also clear that the infrastructure is the one that is easily visible to audience and respectively generates more political gratitude from those voters that do not go to school or don’t take their children there. Regardless of this, if we search well for the reason of change we will see that this change has its conceptual bases, consideration of which forces us to change the infrastructure, as for example - the methods of teaching.
The declared goal of the Georgian State during the Soviet period and at 90s was that it should give education to its own citizens, to develop determined relations and to transfer values to them. From one look these are dignified goals, but they are not only practically impossible to implement, but their content is incorrect itself. Nobody can give education to somebody. He cannot take it and place it in somebody’s head. Neither can anybody that wants to study can take somebody’s knowledge. He can utilize somebody’s knowledge to create his own knowledge. To achieve this it is important that each person that studies something should undergo some experience within the scope of which he will build his own knowledge. The knowledge building process significantly differs from knowledge acquisition process. In such case when the state’s care is becoming assistance in knowledge building process to its own citizens the object of its concern is changing. Its main concern is not the teacher-student transfer process, but the conditions in which a student becomes capable to build the knowledge. These conditions consider a teacher as well that creates a situation in class for acquisition a particular knowledge. These conditions also consider learning programs, textbooks and other experienced measures. Precisely when creation of an environment is important the infrastructure development gets a different significance. When so called transfer of knowledge is important a massive wooden stationary desk doesn’t affect negatively this time, because the process of teacher-student relation is foremost and not that situation for example when students have to work in groups, move in class respective to their tasks or they should stage something for acquiring a specific experience.
It would be incorrect to say that during the Soviet system the authorities did not have any idea regarding the aptitudes. Their imaginations were incorrect and outdated frequently (sometimes even of 19th century). It was considered that the relation with information automatically develops aptitudes in a person. It is partially correct, but the relation with information does not automatically promote development of analysis or information preparation. Speaking otherwise, as an example, it is possible that I might understand what an anchor says during news coverage, but I may not be able to make conclusions nor to share my ideas with someone if necessity arises.
The second incorrect approach, that used to take place and now it is changing during the ongoing educational reform, is that it was considered that the aptitudes mainly were preconditioned and determined since the birth. There are talented, untalented, strong or weak students. This type of approach was revealing such methods used to take place as are creation of special schools for talented students or for those with limited ability. In regular schools there were classes for strong or weak students, etc. But educational research studies demonstrate that our relations with students are more important than other type virtually given abilities. Respectively, a teacher entering so called weak classes, he did not have many expectations from them.
It is also interesting that theories regarding aptitude development emerged into educational practice from social theories. When in 19th century authors of racist theories were classifying people, it was considered that there were cultures at high and low developmental stages. And the level of person’s development was in accordance with his age. For example it was considered that if someone was wild, he was at child’s developmental level. The opinion has been established that a person biologically and socially was undergoing those stages of development that was undergone at different stages of evolution. It has been considered that a human was repeating process of evolution from the embryonic stage to the maturation and each individual was repeating the evolution experienced by culture. Based on these theories the idea has been established in the educational system that a human should undergo the same path as people underwent at different periods. Therefore at the boundary of 19th-20th centuries, for example at many schools in the US relation with literature was starting with Song of Hiawatha. The same principle was applied in our schools before educational reforms, especially during teaching literature and history.
Conceptual issue number 2 – what is the object of the system?
Educational systems, and not only the systems of the Soviet origin, mostly care for processes, a magnitude of workload that are necessary for the initiation these processes and for participants of these processes, rather that on the results of these processes. As an example, expression of this was that more attention was given to information entered in a textbook than to getting desired results. To make it clearer, there were not practically any tasks in textbooks of such subjects as is literature, or if there was a task, it was only covering the questions that were oriented only on understanding and remembering the text. From here it is clear that for the author of a literature textbook a particular composition was realistically more important than the pleasure that was received by a pupil from this composition, knowledge that was built during working on this composition, developed aptitude –habits, or else. This type of approach to the system meant that if the standard given share of a workload exists (teacher, demonstration material, textbook) and if the standardized process (plan of a lesson, program) than the result in most of the cases would be good. Respectively it does not have importance who is a student, what is his interest, what experience does he have before he starts learning a specific topic, what goals does he have in life. In this situation it is important what does the government want. This system is changing today and it is becoming results oriented. And it considers that the object of the system becomes a student and his achieved results.
Just only 100 years ago most of the Georgian population did not have a formal education. The mandatory educational system did not exist that time. In these conditions it was difficult to find necessary amount of teachers during formation of educational system. Therefore process standardization was justified. Regardless of that what qualification a teacher had he had a strictly assigned plan for what, how and when to do. For “transferring” a minimal knowledge realistically it was more important that teachers had to know procedures established by the state than to have knowledge in pedagogy, psychology or accumulated scientific product regarding within the scope of a given subject. The same principle was utilized in pediatrics, where reduction of mortality rates was the goal instead of well being of infants. Implementation of the standard feeding regime might induce psychological trauma in infants but it was preventing excessive or reduced food intake. A parent could “properly” feed her child without frequent professional medical intervention and the state used to feel satisfied.
Within the frames of education reforms the study plans are now oriented on the outcome. The state does not regulate how a teacher brings a student to this result. For example, it is important that pupil should be able to resolve a specific problem (for example to plan their time). Someone may manage to keep his activities in his head, for another it may be important to take notes and someone else may think about priorities during planning of future activities. Each of them reaches the results, each has planned time, but the quality of achievements differs from each other.
Conceptual issue number 3 – is it possible to teach democracy at school?
Georgian population during their active participation at elections demonstrates that they would like to live in accordance with principles of democracy. Democracy has a short history and tradition in lives of the majority of citizens in modern Georgia. Teaching democracy at schools is possible only if a school itself will be the example of democratic life. Due to implemented changes within the scope of reforms it becomes possible not only by governing a school by management council, parents, teachers, administration and students, but new teaching plans and methods that teachers are learning to utilize presently significantly aid in establishing the democratic values. Lot of systematic changes was required to make a school as a model of democratic management. Such example is transformation of school financing. Presently a school knows exact amount of money it will receive because it does not depend on how much a governor likes political views of school teachers and administration, but on how many pupils study at school. The utilized principle of elections of school directors, regarding of which many myths have been dispersed (as though they were appointed using lottery method), was one of the ways of preservation of school independence from state or politics. It is impossible that one ministry can appoint directors to 2,000 schools and then request from them to manage their own institution democratically. Previously when this was happening directors were frequently facing the ministry and showing their backs to school. In the previous system director of a school frequently was becoming that person that was downgraded from district or central apparatus. A director appointed based on these principles could not necessarily be proclaimed for managing school democratically. After tests and interviews the best candidates for directors positions were chosen by schools itself. The system was collaborated the way that nobody could interfere in distribution of candidates to schools except of the candidates themselves, so that it would be impossible to have a suspicion that the candidate was without alternative and/or was appointed because of some influential person.
Conceptual issue number 4 – Are fast changes possible at all?
It is known for educational specialists that it takes at least six years to make the results of changes visible. But until then changes that took place can be proudly named. I will list only that which did not exist four years ago. For example: unified national exams did not exist, accreditation system of schools did not exist, standardization and certification systems of teachers did not exist, system of collaboration and quality control systems of textbooks did not exist, self-governance of schools did not exist, financing autonomy of schools did not exist and respectively competition between schools for attraction of students did not exist, competition between publishers on textbook market did not exist; none of the projects for infrastructure development in schools (from renovation to computerization) did not exist; national study plan that would explain a teacher, parent, representative of the state or student what results should be reached did not exist. Today there are these instruments, and most importantly, distinct goals that these instruments serve. Part of these instruments already is in working condition, and the others are in the process of implementation. Speed of changes is strange not only for Georgians. Head of Teachers’ International Association of one the subjects during his visit here in 2005 found out that the textbooks of this subject were outdated, teachers did not have experience of interactive teaching, and old methods were utilized in graduate schools for teaching the future teachers. Therefore once he arrived to Europe he decided to create grant projects. He finished writing this project in 2007 and found out that textbooks have been changed already and teachers had been undergone intensive interactive teaching courses. He also found out that program changes have been started at universities and teachers were prepared in accordance with the new requirements. It is clear for him that such educational reforms have been started that they will continue for a long time.