ISET

ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Like Teacher, Like Son

Many of us have been lucky to be taught by great teachers, teachers who did not just teach, but inspired and brought out the best in us. Indeed, it is hard to overestimate the impact (positive and negative) of teachers on the children’s minds, their career prospects and aspirations. Understandably, such impact is strongest in weaker social environments where THE teacher is often a beacon of light (and enlightenment), a ‘wailing wall’ of sorts, a leading moral and intellectual authority.

Despite that being so, the second half of the 20th century has seen the teaching profession going into freefall as far as its social esteem (and pay) is concerned. This apparently global crisis in public schooling has mainly affected the poor: the rich and the educated were able to adjust by opting for the far more expensive private options, or re-discovering the “homeschooling” and “un-schooling” alternatives. Thus, the policy debate surrounding the teaching profession and the quality of public schooling is very much about a country’s commitment to social mobility as embodied in the ‘equal opportunity’ slogan.

The collapse of Georgia’s state in the early 1990s has left the country’s education system in ruins. What should worry us today, however, is that judging by the 2012 level of salaries in the education sector (see chart), it hasn’t even started to recover, despite a succession of reform efforts and many millions spent on teacher training and retraining, school boards and guards, improvement of curricula and textbooks, investment in computerization and infrastructure.

 

While falling short of a comprehensive assessment, the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M), which was carried out by National Assessment and Examination Center in 2008, speaks volumes about the low quality of Georgia’s future elementary math teachers: Georgia ranked last )!) among 17 participating countries both in teaching methods and subject comprehension (mathematics).

The relative social status of Georgia’s educators is surely a key factor in the country’s sorrow performance in international tests that measure students’ achievements in reading, math and sciences. For example, in 2006 and 2011 Georgia was ranked 37/45 and 34/45, respectively, in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which examined the reading comprehension skills of children aging 9-10. While only aggregate results from these and similar test are available to us at this time, it is clear that Georgia’s performance in these tests is a function of the country’s demographics and economic geography. Far more than half of Georgia’s population – the urban poor and subsistence farmers – have their children trapped in extremely low quality public schools that fail to present them with an ‘equal opportunity’, let alone prepare them for the 21st century ‘knowledge economy’.


THERE IS NOT MUCH USE IN BEATING A DEAD HORSE

Georgia current education system may have reached a point of no return, requiring new out-of-the-box solutions rather than more of the same teacher-training-curricula-reform type medicine. First and foremost, the system urgently needs new blood. And this is mainly about two things: prestige and compensation.

A few decades ago, teachers were a symbol of dignity in the Georgian literature. For example, a famous poem by Joseb Noneshvili (“Teacher”) idealizes teachers as societal role-models and endows them with extraordinary spiritual characteristics: honest, loving, always happy, educated, patriotic and motherly. While going all the way back to this ideal may not be possible, it is also not necessary.

The main policy question is what can bring the best and the brightest among Georgian university graduates to the country’s smaller towns and villages in order to teach and contribute to a process of change. A simple but unaffordable option would be to dramatically raise teachers’ salaries. A more complicated but relatively inexpensive solution would be to launch a national program requiring (and enabling) the best university graduates – recipients of government scholarships – to give back in the form of a one or two year service as a teacher and/or community organizer in Georgia’s social and economic periphery.

For such a program to be effective, the young and inexperienced teachers will have to be trained and supported. Naturally, not all of them will develop a passion for teaching and stay. But many will, particularly if the government, the schools and local communities in question will provide adequate incentives and resources.

* * *

As John DePrey has apparently said, “The apple doesn't fall far from the tree......unless that tree's growing on top of a hill”. The teacher quality debate in Georgia is about more than half of Georgia’s apple trees growing in a hole, with little light and no way to escape.

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Guest - Simon Appleby on Friday, 22 November 2013 16:13

A scheme in use after the Second World War in Australia, to attract teachers to isolated rural communities, was based on scholarships. Talented school-leavers could apply to have their substantial university fees covered by the government, and a modest living wage paid during their studies, in exchange for a committment to serve in government schools in remote areas for a period twice that of their scholarship. The Australian government's scholarships for foreign students in Australian universities has followed a similar path, with contractual obligations to serve in rural government schools or the civil service in their home country after graduation for a period. Perhaps some version of this scholarship scheme might improve the situation here.

A scheme in use after the Second World War in Australia, to attract teachers to isolated rural communities, was based on scholarships. Talented school-leavers could apply to have their substantial university fees covered by the government, and a modest living wage paid during their studies, in exchange for a committment to serve in government schools in remote areas for a period twice that of their scholarship. The Australian government's scholarships for foreign students in Australian universities has followed a similar path, with contractual obligations to serve in rural government schools or the civil service in their home country after graduation for a period. Perhaps some version of this scholarship scheme might improve the situation here.
Guest - Eric Livny on Friday, 22 November 2013 17:00

Exactly my point, Simon, thanks for making it even more emphatically. I've had a chance to observe a similar program in Senegal when traveling in the countryside. I remember being incredibly impressed when entering a small village school, some 200km from the capital, and finding a young and well educated woman teaching French to a bunch of beautiful young African kids...

Exactly my point, Simon, thanks for making it even more emphatically. I've had a chance to observe a similar program in Senegal when traveling in the countryside. I remember being incredibly impressed when entering a small village school, some 200km from the capital, and finding a young and well educated woman teaching French to a bunch of beautiful young African kids...
Guest - G.T. on Friday, 22 November 2013 18:24

Next to that wonderful project, Government of Georgia could also substitute military service for serving as teacher in rural areas for talented and successful graduates. To my mind, in terms of its serving-for-country significance working as a teacher in the peripheries of Georgia is at least the same as, military service. Currently, lots of young educated and talented Georgian graduates are trying to avoid military service by various manipulations such as: enrolling to some non-demanding low quality master's degree or phd (in reality they don't attend lectures but work), serving as a security guy once in three days and so on. In case of being possibility to teach in rural areas instead of military service I am sure many of young graduates would opt for this option. For example, I would happily do that. Furthermore, this option has to be available only for the graduates with outstanding performance as we are concerned about the quality of teacher not the quantity.

Next to that wonderful project, Government of Georgia could also substitute military service for serving as teacher in rural areas for talented and successful graduates. To my mind, in terms of its serving-for-country significance working as a teacher in the peripheries of Georgia is at least the same as, military service. Currently, lots of young educated and talented Georgian graduates are trying to avoid military service by various manipulations such as: enrolling to some non-demanding low quality master's degree or phd (in reality they don't attend lectures but work), serving as a security guy once in three days and so on. In case of being possibility to teach in rural areas instead of military service I am sure many of young graduates would opt for this option. For example, I would happily do that. Furthermore, this option has to be available only for the graduates with outstanding performance as we are concerned about the quality of teacher not the quantity.
Guest - Eric Livny on Friday, 22 November 2013 19:04

I could not agree more, G.T.

I could not agree more, G.T.
Guest - Lasha Nikolaishvili on Friday, 22 November 2013 23:23

The idea is very kind but I see several problems here. First, there is a constant problem of firing the current teachers (social one). Second, I think mandatory teaching will cause the problems of attitude from these teachers. If one does not want to be a teacher (s)he may do this job worse than currently employed teachers (I think teacher's profession is different from a standard one). There will be the same problems (of low quality) as it is in army. in schools there is even less ability to control the "employees" than in army.

The idea is very kind but I see several problems here. First, there is a constant problem of firing the current teachers (social one). Second, I think mandatory teaching will cause the problems of attitude from these teachers. If one does not want to be a teacher (s)he may do this job worse than currently employed teachers (I think teacher's profession is different from a standard one). There will be the same problems (of low quality) as it is in army. in schools there is even less ability to control the "employees" than in army.
Guest - Eric Livny on Friday, 22 November 2013 23:47

Lasha, thanks for offering a critical view. It is indeed important to think about potential implementation difficulties. For one thing, as we are writing, the young and inexperienced teachers would have to be trained and supported. Surely, not everybody will be found fit for teaching. There should be other civil service options available for those lacking in skills and/or motivation. It is important to bear in mind, however, that at least some of the young teachers may fall in love with the teaching profession and stay. This is would be a key benefit of a mandatory civil service/teaching program

As a matter of principle, I do not agree with the view that a badly needed reform should be postponed or, still worse, tabled for "social policy" reasons. Education policy should not be used as a social policy tool. Social problems should be dealt with using social policy tools. For example former (bad) teachers and former (corrupt) policemen could be retrained and put into more suitable employment. Those among them who are close to retirement age could be offered early retirement.

Similar programs have been used by many countries around the world. Learning from their experience should be fairly easy.

Lasha, thanks for offering a critical view. It is indeed important to think about potential implementation difficulties. For one thing, as we are writing, the young and inexperienced teachers would have to be trained and supported. Surely, not everybody will be found fit for teaching. There should be other civil service options available for those lacking in skills and/or motivation. It is important to bear in mind, however, that at least some of the young teachers may fall in love with the teaching profession and stay. This is would be a key benefit of a mandatory civil service/teaching program As a matter of principle, I do not agree with the view that a badly needed reform should be postponed or, still worse, tabled for "social policy" reasons. Education policy should not be used as a social policy tool. Social problems should be dealt with using social policy tools. For example former (bad) teachers and former (corrupt) policemen could be retrained and put into more suitable employment. Those among them who are close to retirement age could be offered early retirement. Similar programs have been used by many countries around the world. Learning from their experience should be fairly easy.
Guest - G.T. on Friday, 22 November 2013 23:47

Thanks, for your comment Lasha. I will number points:
1. Social Problems caused by firing current teachers will always arise no matter of the form of treatment for the problem.
2. Teaching won't be mandatory. It would be an option or substitute for mandatory service. I am sure educated and smart guy will always prefer to teach at school in 8-11 grades rather than stand in front of Moduli building with a gun for 24 hours and obeying some not so much polite officer's orders. Furthermore, in order to provide incentives for high quality teaching government should somehow compensate their work. I am sure some nice policy could be elaborated from this approach.

So, let's agree that in any case Government has to create some incentives to attract high quality graduates to schools. From international researches mentioned above the situation at schools is catastrophic. One option is the program that Simon and Eric mentioned. This possibility of substitution military service could be considered as additional stimulus for talented graduates to involve in such kind of programs. So, next to the above mentioned benefits, there is possibility of discharging military duty. Of course, not everybody should have this possibility. It should be merit based.

Thanks, for your comment Lasha. I will number points: 1. Social Problems caused by firing current teachers will always arise no matter of the form of treatment for the problem. 2. Teaching won't be mandatory. It would be an option or substitute for mandatory service. I am sure educated and smart guy will always prefer to teach at school in 8-11 grades rather than stand in front of Moduli building with a gun for 24 hours and obeying some not so much polite officer's orders. Furthermore, in order to provide incentives for high quality teaching government should somehow compensate their work. I am sure some nice policy could be elaborated from this approach. So, let's agree that in any case Government has to create some incentives to attract high quality graduates to schools. From international researches mentioned above the situation at schools is catastrophic. One option is the program that Simon and Eric mentioned. This possibility of substitution military service could be considered as additional stimulus for talented graduates to involve in such kind of programs. So, next to the above mentioned benefits, there is possibility of discharging military duty. Of course, not everybody should have this possibility. It should be merit based.
Guest - Lasha Nikolaishvili on Saturday, 23 November 2013 00:31

Something should be changed there, There's no doubt about it.

If we chose motivated young people it will be great. But still I think it will be very difficult to choose exactly the right people. Most of them will prefer teaching to serving in army but this does not guarantee that they will be enthusiastic about teaching.

About social costs I agree with you both completely. I just stated reason why it is (and will be) problematic for any government to deal with it. In the case of policemen it was easier, because government just said that they were violating the law. It will be very hard to explain to teachers that they are not good in their job. But still we (people) should claim this type of reform. This will add the courage to reformers and the legitimacy to the reform. I would be glad if many people join the discussion started with this blog.

Something should be changed there, There's no doubt about it. If we chose motivated young people it will be great. But still I think it will be very difficult to choose exactly the right people. Most of them will prefer teaching to serving in army but this does not guarantee that they will be enthusiastic about teaching. About social costs I agree with you both completely. I just stated reason why it is (and will be) problematic for any government to deal with it. In the case of policemen it was easier, because government just said that they were violating the law. It will be very hard to explain to teachers that they are not good in their job. But still we (people) should claim this type of reform. This will add the courage to reformers and the legitimacy to the reform. I would be glad if many people join the discussion started with this blog.
Guest - Lasha Nikolaishvili on Saturday, 23 November 2013 00:50

I think the fact, that ISET alumnus are teaching in several universities, is a good point to start thinking about the mechanism how recent graduates can help increasing teaching quality. I can say that ISET alumnus have increased the quality of study at TSU without doubt. If something similar happens in public schools, it will be great achievement for our educational system.

I think the fact, that ISET alumnus are teaching in several universities, is a good point to start thinking about the mechanism how recent graduates can help increasing teaching quality. I can say that ISET alumnus have increased the quality of study at TSU without doubt. If something similar happens in public schools, it will be great achievement for our educational system.
Guest - Eric Livny on Saturday, 23 November 2013 11:34

An inspiring talk by Bill Gates on http://www.wired.com/business/2013/11/bill-gates-wired-essay/all/. Here is what he had to say about "catalytic philanthropy in education:
...Government spends huge sums on schools. The state of California alone budgets roughly $68 billion annually for K-12, more than 100 times what our foundation spends in the entire United States. How could we have an impact on an area where the government spends so much?

We looked for a new approach. To me one of the great tragedies of our education system is that teachers get so little help identifying and learning from those who are most effective. As we talked with instructors about what they needed, it became clear that a smart application of technology could make a big difference. Teachers should be able to watch videos of the best educators in action. And if they want, they should be able to record themselves in the classroom and then review the video with a coach. This was an approach that others had missed. So now we’re working with teachers and several school districts around the country to set up systems that give teachers the feedback and support they deserve.

An inspiring talk by Bill Gates on http://www.wired.com/business/2013/11/bill-gates-wired-essay/all/. Here is what he had to say about "catalytic philanthropy in education: ...Government spends huge sums on schools. The state of California alone budgets roughly $68 billion annually for K-12, more than 100 times what our foundation spends in the entire United States. How could we have an impact on an area where the government spends so much? We looked for a new approach. To me one of the great tragedies of our education system is that teachers get so little help identifying and learning from those who are most effective. As we talked with instructors about what they needed, it became clear that a smart application of technology could make a big difference. Teachers should be able to watch videos of the best educators in action. And if they want, they should be able to record themselves in the classroom and then review the video with a coach. This was an approach that others had missed. So now we’re working with teachers and several school districts around the country to set up systems that give teachers the feedback and support they deserve.
Guest - Zaza on Friday, 15 April 2016 08:59

The article is very interesting. It touches a very sore point of Georgia and suggests very interesting ways to break through the situation which unfortunately we have in Georgian educational system. I agree to all commentators of the blog. The decision maker (the government of Georgia) should try all legitimate ways to change the situation positively. To show that the ideas which are developed in paper and in comments works, I can recall one history about my schoolmate and friend Gocha Goqadze, who now is a director of the private school in Kutaisi and one of the best math teacher in Georgia. Gocha was my schoolmate from A. Razmadze mathematical boarding school in Kutaisi.
When he was the fifth (final at that times) year student of the faculty of Mechanics and mathematics at TSU he heard the announcement from the Dean that who would go to Barisakho boarding school as math teacher would be free from writing the diploma thesis and from the attendance of lectures (by lucky coincidence in the article is shown picture of the same Barisakho school’s classroom.) Gocha decided to go. In Barisakho School he completely changed the situation and introduced his own rules. In fact he turned the school in mathematical boarding school. The students had to stand up at 7 a.m. and make exercises, run around the stadium and so on. He also gave them the additional math lessons and introduced math circles. Once he told me that the parents of the students gave him permission “do what you see as the necessary steps to make from them the men, but not kill them” . And after 3 years there happened a little miracle, namely on the final (third) tour of math Olympiad in Tbilisi appeared Gocha with his six Kevsurian students, the fact never seen before in history of math Olympiads (as a rule on the final stage of math Olympiad all participants are the students of three Georgian math schools: Kutaisi A. Razmadze math school and two Tbilisi (Komarovi and Vekua) math schools). He worked in Barisakho three or four years, married on a beautiful Khevsurian girl and returned to Kutaisi.

The article is very interesting. It touches a very sore point of Georgia and suggests very interesting ways to break through the situation which unfortunately we have in Georgian educational system. I agree to all commentators of the blog. The decision maker (the government of Georgia) should try all legitimate ways to change the situation positively. To show that the ideas which are developed in paper and in comments works, I can recall one history about my schoolmate and friend Gocha Goqadze, who now is a director of the private school in Kutaisi and one of the best math teacher in Georgia. Gocha was my schoolmate from A. Razmadze mathematical boarding school in Kutaisi. When he was the fifth (final at that times) year student of the faculty of Mechanics and mathematics at TSU he heard the announcement from the Dean that who would go to Barisakho boarding school as math teacher would be free from writing the diploma thesis and from the attendance of lectures (by lucky coincidence in the article is shown picture of the same Barisakho school’s classroom.) Gocha decided to go. In Barisakho School he completely changed the situation and introduced his own rules. In fact he turned the school in mathematical boarding school. The students had to stand up at 7 a.m. and make exercises, run around the stadium and so on. He also gave them the additional math lessons and introduced math circles. Once he told me that the parents of the students gave him permission “do what you see as the necessary steps to make from them the men, but not kill them” . And after 3 years there happened a little miracle, namely on the final (third) tour of math Olympiad in Tbilisi appeared Gocha with his six Kevsurian students, the fact never seen before in history of math Olympiads (as a rule on the final stage of math Olympiad all participants are the students of three Georgian math schools: Kutaisi A. Razmadze math school and two Tbilisi (Komarovi and Vekua) math schools). He worked in Barisakho three or four years, married on a beautiful Khevsurian girl and returned to Kutaisi.
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