Nobel-winning economist James Heckman proclaimed that “the data speak for itself” after he carried out an experiment known as the 'Perry pre-School Project' and discovered that investing in high-quality preschool education brings returns of around 14 percent – a rate of return that is much higher than standard returns on stock market equity (7.2 percent).
Acknowledging the huge importance of pre-school education in human capital formation (as well as in shaping individuals’ moral views and their social preferences), ISET, in collaboration with UNICEF and the World Bank, organized a dialogue on “Early and pre-School Education: Current Challenges and the Way Forward” as part of the Education Policy Forum (EPF). The dialogue took place on May 10 in the ISET conference hall.
The event was opened by Ms. Laila Omar Gad, a representative of UNICEF; Ms. Mercy Miyang Tembon, Country Director of the World Bank; Mr. Kakha Khandolishvili, head of MoES Strategic Planning and International Relations; and Mr. Eric Livny, President of ISET. After welcoming the attendees, Ms. Laila Omar Gad gave a presentation with a principle focus on early childhood as a critical period in human development, as both positive and negative early experiences have a very strong impact on a child's development, learning, behavior, and health throughout their life. She also discussed the common elements found in post-Soviet countries and the similar challenges they face when it comes to quality and inclusive pre-school education provision.
The audience also had the opportunity to hear Mariam Jashi’s assessment of the government’s performance. Mariam Jashi, who chairs the Education and Science Committee in Parliament, expressed her overall satisfaction with the new laws which were adopted in 2015. However, she thinks that time is still needed to enforce the proposals which have yet to be enacted. According to her, the total of 55 percent accessibility to pre-school education in rural Georgia is unacceptable, and the Government aims to improve this figure to 90 percent for children aged 3 to 6 years.
Doctor Florian Biermann, who heads the Education and Social Policy Research Center at the ISET Policy Institute, added flavor to the event by presenting the data illustrating the problems the pre-school education system faces in Georgia, such as crowded classrooms, underpaid caregivers, shortages of qualified personnel, as well as limited access to pre-service and in-service training. When it comes to inequality, divides between rich/poor, urban/rural, minority groups/ethnic Georgians, and children with/without special needs were emphasized. Presented data was followed by a number of recommendations.
The dialogue was concluded by group work and discussions, which were moderated by ISET President Eric Livny. The participants were divided into six groups, with each group being tasked with thinking up new ideas on how to approach the pre-determined problematic areas in the system. The groups showed a high level of enthusiasm and provided extremely useful ideas.
Overall, the dialogue was evaluated as a successful step forward in pooling information between the government and other stakeholders of Georgia's education policies. As follow-up activities are actively being planned, it is hoped that eventually a “national consensus” will be reached about the priorities and concrete reforms needed in Georgia's pre-school education system.