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A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Don’t Talk about Georgia’s Future!

According to Micklewright (Macroeconomics and Data on Children, UNICEF 2000), a share of 7% of the Georgian gross domestic product of the year 1991 accounted for education. In 1994, this number had fallen to 1%. As Micklewright comments, such a dramatic decrease of educational expenditures was never seen before nor afterwards in the history of any country. Recovery after the crisis was a long process. Until 1998, spending on education had only increased to 2.1% (World Bank Development Indicators), and in 2002, wages in the educational sector were still ridiculously low, when university professors earned between 60 and 70 GEL per month, less than half of the Georgian subsistence income.

Not surprisingly, for employees of the education sector, corruption was the only way to ensure economic survival. Students paid bribes to be admitted to the universities and to pass the exams and receive diplomas.  If one did not come from a well-connected family, one had to bribe, usually amounts between $8,000 and $30,000 (cf. Rostiashvili, Problems of Corruption in Higher Education System of Georgia, 2004). Students typically paid tutors to study for entrance examinations who happened to be members of the commissions responsible for assessments and examinations.


GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS

In 2005, several path-breaking reforms were undertaken. 

Firstly, the internationally famed Unified Entry Examinations were implemented. While previously, each university had its own corrupt entry examinations, a standardized system of admission exams was created.  

Secondly, fierce anti-corruption measures were taken. For the unified admission tests, the exams were printed at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and then taken by police officers to the vaults of the National Bank of Georgia, where the papers were safeguarded till the exam date. 700 local and 20 foreign observers, as well as NGOs like Transparency International, monitored the process. The allocation of students was random, the exam papers were identified by barcodes, and students were able to appeal. A 2005 survey conducted by Transparency International showed that 80% of students, 79% of parents and 96% of administrators believed that corruption was rooted out from the Georgian education system. Without exaggeration, Georgia’s university admissions achieved an internationally unmatched level of integrity and transparency (cf. Fighting Corruption in Public Services Chronicling Georgia’s Reforms, The World Bank, 2012).

Thirdly, there were initiatives to improve the quality of education. These mainly focused on the university level, where a strict system of accreditation was implemented and the total number of universities decreased from 237 to 43.

Also the financial situation improved. According to the World Bank Development Indicators, public spending on education almost doubled between 2003 and 2013. However, the funding went primarily to the higher education sector and, like the general direction of those reforms, did not address the malaise at ordinary schools.


PAY TEACHERS DECENTLY!

According to Bray (The Shadow Education System: Private Tutoring and Its Implications for Planners, UNESCO 1999), shadow education describes the phenomenon of “tutoring which covers subjects which are already covered in school and provided by private entrepreneurs and individuals for profit-making purposes”. In Georgia, shadow education is ubiquitous, as Georgian schools, in particular in the higher grades, almost entirely fail to provide their students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the admissions exams. Pupils are forced to draw on the services of private tutors, and most of them even decide not to attend the classroom anymore in the last years of school. Since 2003, the problem of shadow education has worsened further. According to a 2011 study by Machabeli, Bregvadze, and Apkhazava (Examining Private Tutoring Phenomenon in Georgia), the share of students who take private lessons in at least one subject is higher than 75 % for 12th grade students. This is but a devastating verdict for the quality of the Georgian school system, and it is troubling that this obvious failure of does not dominate the Georgian policy debate!

Shadow education is a direct consequence of the absolutely unacceptable payment of Georgian teachers. Becoming a good teacher (as well as a university professor) requires to accumulate a huge amount of human capital, which on the job market needs to be compensated through salary premiums, as otherwise there are no incentives to take this career path. This is an obvious, almost trivial truth, and it is puzzling for outside observers why the Georgian public and the government (as in other post-Soviet countries) fails to understand this simple fact. In the current situation, no smart young Georgian is interested to become a teacher.

As teachers lost the high social prestige they enjoyed in the USSR and their salaries declined, they responded to the incentives in a market economy by starting a “tutoring sector” to make additional income. According to Machabeli, Bregvadze, and Apkhazava, 89% of private tutors are teachers from public schools, which is an obvious source of corruption (it was reported that some teachers force their students to take personal classes with them by threatening to give lower grades to those who don’t). Nothing has improved in that respect in the last years. In 2005, the monthly wage of teacher was only 80 GEL, while the average wage in Georgia was 150 GEL. In 2013, teachers made 580 GEL per month, while the average wage was 898 GEL.

Motivated and qualified teachers are the foundation of the economic success of a nation – throughout their career, a teacher can foster the buildup of human capital among thousands of pupils who go through his or her classroom. Therefore, in economically successful countries, teachers are typically among the best paying professions in the public sector (e.g. Switzerland and Germany).

Therefore, the solution is simple. Double teachers’ salaries and make it a criminal offense for teachers of public schools to engage in private tutoring. Moreover, apply the anti-corruption measures, for which Georgia enjoys worldwide recognition, also to the school sector.

Dear politicians of Georgia, if you do not tackle this problem, then it is just hot air when you talk about growth, employment, and Georgia’s future in general. A nation that does not incentivize its brightest young people to become teachers and scientists can also immediately decide to dissolve – no need to continue a process of agony that lasts over generations. You must immediately react to this extreme failure, or the damage will become irreversible.

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Ruediger Heining on Monday, 07 March 2016 13:45

Why claiming to double the salary of teachers? To avoid corruption in education or the rank growth of parallel teaching system, where gaps in the public education system are partially filled with private lessons? I am not sure, whether a higher salary only can avoid these trends or not. Education as such, general, higher and vocational education, needs to strengthen the focus on results. The aim should be to compare the outcome of education with the indicators of the new Qualification Framework, in which descriptors for knowledge, skills and competences for all eight educational levels are available. To achieve that, of course qualified teachers are playing the most important role.
From international studies we can learn a general rule. A teacher’s yearly salary is about 100 percent of GDP per capita. In high income countries, the figure is even higher, up to 180 and in few cases up to 200%. Applying the general rule for Georgia would result in a yearly salary of about 7.500 USD. Everybody knows, that we are thus far away from that level. And the question is: does Georgia want to follow this rule? Looking to other countries in transition, especially to the new EU Member States, we still can find countries, which are far-off that canon. Some did not go beyond 50 percent so far.
In my point of view, the most important point in all discussions about teachers’ salaries, is to offer competitive jobs for those teachers, who have a talent for teaching, are qualified for teaching, respect the code of ethics and share the approach of learning outcomes. And a competitive salary is a salary, which is high enough to prevent a change to a better paid job. Being a teacher should not be the second best solution for qualified teachers.
In Georgia, especially in the rural communities, competitive salaries are lower than the mentioned figure of 7500 USD per year. That must change in the long run and teachers, especially teachers in vocational schools, should be paid better. But politicians should not just increase teachers’ salaries. Salaries should be based on performance indicators and of course in line with the national economic development.

Why claiming to double the salary of teachers? To avoid corruption in education or the rank growth of parallel teaching system, where gaps in the public education system are partially filled with private lessons? I am not sure, whether a higher salary only can avoid these trends or not. Education as such, general, higher and vocational education, needs to strengthen the focus on results. The aim should be to compare the outcome of education with the indicators of the new Qualification Framework, in which descriptors for knowledge, skills and competences for all eight educational levels are available. To achieve that, of course qualified teachers are playing the most important role. From international studies we can learn a general rule. A teacher’s yearly salary is about 100 percent of GDP per capita. In high income countries, the figure is even higher, up to 180 and in few cases up to 200%. Applying the general rule for Georgia would result in a yearly salary of about 7.500 USD. Everybody knows, that we are thus far away from that level. And the question is: does Georgia want to follow this rule? Looking to other countries in transition, especially to the new EU Member States, we still can find countries, which are far-off that canon. Some did not go beyond 50 percent so far. In my point of view, the most important point in all discussions about teachers’ salaries, is to offer competitive jobs for those teachers, who have a talent for teaching, are qualified for teaching, respect the code of ethics and share the approach of learning outcomes. And a competitive salary is a salary, which is high enough to prevent a change to a better paid job. Being a teacher should not be the second best solution for qualified teachers. In Georgia, especially in the rural communities, competitive salaries are lower than the mentioned figure of 7500 USD per year. That must change in the long run and teachers, especially teachers in vocational schools, should be paid better. But politicians should not just increase teachers’ salaries. Salaries should be based on performance indicators and of course in line with the national economic development.
Florian Biermann on Sunday, 01 May 2016 15:37

I agree with most of your remarks, though I am wondering why you question the importance of salaries. As you write: (quote) The most important point in all discussions about teachers’ salaries, is to offer competitive jobs for those teachers, who have a talent for teaching, are qualified for teaching, respect the code of ethics and share the approach of learning outcomes. And a competitive salary is a salary, which is high enough to prevent a change to a better paid job. Being a teacher should not be the second best solution for qualified teachers. (quote end)

I agree with that. But how can that be achieved without drastically increasing the salaries? I think this is a rather obvious, necessary condition for any solution of the proble.

(quote) Why claiming to double the salary of teachers? To avoid corruption in education or the rank growth of parallel teaching system, where gaps in the public education system are partially filled with private lessons? I am not sure, whether a higher salary only can avoid these trends or not. (quote end)

Prohibiting teachers to teach outside school is a very natural thing to do. Usually, employees have an exclusive labor contract with their employers and are not allowed to take up additional employment elsewhere without their employer's consent. For teachers, this is even more relevant, as teaching outside school puts teachers in a direct conflict of interest. To get rid of this severe problem in the school sector, one has to prohibit teachers to teach outside school. This, on the other hand, can only be done if teachers' salaries provide sufficient income and reflect the qualification of teachers. To achieve this, one has to at least double the teachers' salaries.

The failure to make being a teacher a well-paying and attractive job is one of the greatest failure of the Saakashvili government as well as the new government.

I agree with most of your remarks, though I am wondering why you question the importance of salaries. As you write: (quote) The most important point in all discussions about teachers’ salaries, is to offer competitive jobs for those teachers, who have a talent for teaching, are qualified for teaching, respect the code of ethics and share the approach of learning outcomes. And a competitive salary is a salary, which is high enough to prevent a change to a better paid job. Being a teacher should not be the second best solution for qualified teachers. (quote end) I agree with that. But how can that be achieved without drastically increasing the salaries? I think this is a rather obvious, necessary condition for any solution of the proble. (quote) Why claiming to double the salary of teachers? To avoid corruption in education or the rank growth of parallel teaching system, where gaps in the public education system are partially filled with private lessons? I am not sure, whether a higher salary only can avoid these trends or not. (quote end) Prohibiting teachers to teach outside school is a very natural thing to do. Usually, employees have an exclusive labor contract with their employers and are not allowed to take up additional employment elsewhere without their employer's consent. For teachers, this is even more relevant, as teaching outside school puts teachers in a direct conflict of interest. To get rid of this severe problem in the school sector, one has to prohibit teachers to teach outside school. This, on the other hand, can only be done if teachers' salaries provide sufficient income and reflect the qualification of teachers. To achieve this, one has to at least double the teachers' salaries. The failure to make being a teacher a well-paying and attractive job is one of the greatest failure of the Saakashvili government as well as the new government.
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