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A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Common Language, Education, and Nation Building

(Translation by Elene Grdzelidze)

Back in the middle of the 19th century, Georgia was much more fragmented and unequal than today. It was a society consisting of a huge mass of illiterate peasants (mostly serfs working the lands of their lords and the church), a sliver of urban population (large parts of which, particularly in Tbilisi, were not ethnically Georgian), and a relatively large proportion (up to 5%) of nobility, organized according to a rigid hierarchical system and controlling much of the country’s land.

The beginning of Georgia’s national revival in the second half of the 19th century was as much about reasserting the nation’s autonomy vis-à-vis the Russian empire as it was about i) breaking the traditional feudal divides within the Georgian society, ii) modernizing the Georgian language (bringing the language of literati closer to the vernacular spoken by the ordinary people) and iii) educating the “dark peasant masses”.


LET’S SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE!

It is quite characteristic that the national movement was led not by revolutionaries but rather by men of letters united in the “Society for the Advancement of Literacy Among Georgians” (“ქართველთა შორის წერა-კითხვის გამავრცელებელი საზოგადოება”). Founded in 1879 by Georgian nobles such as princes Dimitri Kipiani (the first chair) and Ilia Chavchavadze (succeeding Kipiani in 1885), this group strived “to promote a cultural renaissance among the peasantry of Georgia”. Tolerated by the imperial authorities, it involved virtually all Georgian intellectuals, including the famous educator and author of “Mother Language” (დედა ენა) Iakob Gogebashvili.

Not unlike members of the contemporaneous Russian Narodnik movement, the founding fathers of Georgia’s modern nationhood held a romantic view of Georgian peasantry, seeking, on the one hand, to enlighten the peasant masses, and on the other, to bring Georgia’s aristocracy and literati closer to their own people. Quite telling in this regard is the story of Akaki Tsereteli, a prominent member of the national movement and the author of Suliko. Born in 1840 into a noble family related to King Salomon I of Imereti, Akaki was raised by peasant nannies and grew up surrounded by peasant youth in the village of Savane. This is how he reflected on this educational experience in his autobiography “My Adventures” (ჩემი თავგადასავალი):

“Wet-nursing and sending young men to the village was a historical practice in our country: kings and princes gave their children to dukes (“eristavi”), dukes and noblemen (“didebuli”) sent their offspring to counts (“aznauri”), and counts entrusted them to the peasants; quite often princes would send off their children to be raised by peasants. Do not think that parents of the time were heartless and loved their children any less than they do today!... The reasons and grounds were different here: this practice of “raising and being raised” enhanced the link between different ranks; after religious ties, not even blood relations were as strong as the connection between “milk siblings”. … it was due to this practice that relations and attitudes between the higher and lower ranks were much more noble and kind-spirited in our country than anywhere else. …God bless this custom!... if there is anything good and kind in me, it is all thanks to the fact that I was sent to the village and grew up with the peasants’ children.”
(Translated by Elene Grdzelidze)

Akaki’s emphasis on the bonding function of common upbringing and education resonates with the philosophical writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau who considered the teaching of language and education to be critical for the creation of modern nations. In his "Considerations on the Government of Poland" (1772) Rousseau wrote: "It is education that should put the national stamp on men's minds and give the direction to their opinions and tastes which will make them patriots... National education is the privilege of free men who share common interests and are united under law".

It is against this philosophical backdrop that one should perceive (and appreciate) the role of Akaki and other members of the “Society for the Advancement of Literacy Among Georgians” in shaping modern Georgian nationhood. And it is against this backdrop that we should be assessing the successes and failures of Georgia’s contemporary public education system.


GOING TO DIFFERENT SCHOOLS AND SPEAKING DIFFERENT LANGUAGES

The utter collapse of Georgia’s government and economy in the early 1990s has left the country’s education system in shambles. With no public funding to pay for teachers’ salaries, no heating and only occasional supply of electricity, the system continued to exist in name, but was no longer able to perform any of its vital functions. The market responded through the emergence of private schools in Vake and other relatively affluent districts of Tbilisi. By 2012, Tbilisi had 122 private school (41% of the total), catering for the needs of 29,000 children from better-off urban families (17% of total school population in Tbilisi).

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With about 60% of privately schooled children in 2012 (29,000 out of 51,573), Tbilisi dominates the national scene. Kutaisi and Batumi, the only other cities to have sizeable population of privately schooled children, lag far behind.

Judging by available data, about 9% of Georgia’s youth – the country’s future elite – are privileged to study in private schools. Many of these are truly wonderful institutions, offering superior infrastructure, excellent instruction in English and other foreign languages, math, natural sciences, history and geography, arts and music. Classes are typically very small, two instructors per up to 20-25 kids. In addition to traditional “lecturing”, private schools often emphasize “soft” skills – teamwork, public speaking and debating. In short, anything a happy Georgian family can only wish for its children.

High quality private institutions are a great alternative to the faltering public schools. They are not a problem but rather a solution. Nevertheless, in the absence of a viable public schooling alternative for 91% of Georgia’s population, the country’s nation building project may be at the risk of unraveling. Not because of external aggression, but as a result of division into social classes that go to different schools and speak different languages.

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Guest - Florian Biermann on Monday, 14 July 2014 19:56

Elites can be parasitic or constructive, and while in a feudal society they tend to be on the parasitic side, it was a great custom of the Georgian nobility to let their children be raised by peasants. Today, the elites of dictatorships are usually highly parasitic, and the more democratic a society is, the more the elites are constructive. Yet as the article suggests, being a democracy is far not enough for having truly constructive elites.

Georgia should develop into a Scandinavian and not into an English society. In the UK, your neighborhood, your school, and your dialect decide on your place in society. While to some extent this is everywhere the case, the difference between UK and the Scandinavian countries is that the UK elites do not care about the fate of the lower classes. The social welfare state in the UK is just a means to keep the lower classes quiet, not to help them improve. In Scandinavia, on the other hand, the social welfare states derive from a genuine concern for the lower classes, from a genuine feeling of solidarity among compatriots. When the elites are only interested in their own social group and do not care about the nation as a whole, a county degenerates and eventually dissolves (as we can observe in the UK).

Preventing class segregation at school level, i.e. letting pupils of all classes attend the same schools, is an important measure to create constructive elites. This is another reason to get serious about a substantial upgrade of the Georgian public school system.

Elites can be parasitic or constructive, and while in a feudal society they tend to be on the parasitic side, it was a great custom of the Georgian nobility to let their children be raised by peasants. Today, the elites of dictatorships are usually highly parasitic, and the more democratic a society is, the more the elites are constructive. Yet as the article suggests, being a democracy is far not enough for having truly constructive elites. Georgia should develop into a Scandinavian and not into an English society. In the UK, your neighborhood, your school, and your dialect decide on your place in society. While to some extent this is everywhere the case, the difference between UK and the Scandinavian countries is that the UK elites do not care about the fate of the lower classes. The social welfare state in the UK is just a means to keep the lower classes quiet, not to help them improve. In Scandinavia, on the other hand, the social welfare states derive from a genuine concern for the lower classes, from a genuine feeling of solidarity among compatriots. When the elites are only interested in their own social group and do not care about the nation as a whole, a county degenerates and eventually dissolves (as we can observe in the UK). Preventing class segregation at school level, i.e. letting pupils of all classes attend the same schools, is an important measure to create constructive elites. This is another reason to get serious about a substantial upgrade of the Georgian public school system.
Guest - Eric Livny on Monday, 14 July 2014 20:24

I very much agree, Florian. I would also add another aspect. In another country we both know very well (Israel), there is another powerful mechanism to generate national solidarity - a unique national army that brings together all men and women for 2-3 years of service during which they wear the same uniform, drive the same cars (or tanks) and learn to speak the same language. I personally immigrated to Israeli at the age of 13 and only started feeling that I belong into the Israeli society after spending three years in an Israeli paratrooper unit. The school I attended was actually an elite private school (the Reali Gymnasium in Haifa) where I felt very much like an alien. As a smart kid I was able to get a scholarship, but my situation was not helped by the fact that I came from a different neighborhood, spoke (at least initially) with an accent, and my father's job as an engineer was not on par with the businesses and the legal and medical practices of my classmates. Interestingly, the school required all kids to wear a uniform consisting of jeans and a standard blue shirt with the school's emblem and slogan "be modest" (הצנע לכת). Modesty, however, was not widely practiced. This says something about the limitations of schooling as a nation building mechanism.

I very much agree, Florian. I would also add another aspect. In another country we both know very well (Israel), there is another powerful mechanism to generate national solidarity - a unique national army that brings together all men and women for 2-3 years of service during which they wear the same uniform, drive the same cars (or tanks) and learn to speak the same language. I personally immigrated to Israeli at the age of 13 and only started feeling that I belong into the Israeli society after spending three years in an Israeli paratrooper unit. The school I attended was actually an elite private school (the Reali Gymnasium in Haifa) where I felt very much like an alien. As a smart kid I was able to get a scholarship, but my situation was not helped by the fact that I came from a different neighborhood, spoke (at least initially) with an accent, and my father's job as an engineer was not on par with the businesses and the legal and medical practices of my classmates. Interestingly, the school required all kids to wear a uniform consisting of jeans and a standard blue shirt with the school's emblem and slogan "be modest" (הצנע לכת). Modesty, however, was not widely practiced. This says something about the limitations of schooling as a nation building mechanism.
Guest - Randy on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 03:58

Please do not confuse public funding with a government run school system. Even Sweden has had, for the past 20 some years, a pure voucher system (skolpeng) enabling free choice among publicly run schools and privately run friskolor ("free schools"). In the Netherlands equal funding of all schools ("government," "religious" or "private") is enshrined in the constitution.

As for one language, there is strong evidence that in multi-ethnic developing countries (such as Georgia) growth rates and political freedom are greater when an "international" language (English or French, take your pick) is an "official" language required of ALL students and used for government business.

Please do not confuse public funding with a government run school system. Even Sweden has had, for the past 20 some years, a pure voucher system (skolpeng) enabling free choice among publicly run schools and privately run friskolor ("free schools"). In the Netherlands equal funding of all schools ("government," "religious" or "private") is enshrined in the constitution. As for one language, there is strong evidence that in multi-ethnic developing countries (such as Georgia) growth rates and political freedom are greater when an "international" language (English or French, take your pick) is an "official" language required of ALL students and used for government business.
Guest - Eric Livny on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 10:45

Thanks, Randy! It is indeed interesting how Sweden resolved the tension between private and public schooling:

From Wikipedia:

"Prior to the 1990s, there were only a handful of private schools in Sweden, mostly tuition-funded boarding schools. A major education reform in 1992 allowed privately run schools offering primary or secondary education to receive public funding for each student, at a level similar to what public schools receive. These are called "independent schools" (friskolor), and in 2008 there were around 900 of them.

The "independent schools", similar to charter schools in the United States or academies in the United Kingdom, are funded with public money (skolpeng) from the local municipality, based on the number of pupils they have enrolled, in the same way Swedish public schools are. Consequently, they are not allowed to discriminate or require admission examinations, nor are they allowed to charge the students any additional fees. They are, however, allowed to accept private donations. Regional economic differences directly affect how much money each municipality can provide per pupil, by as much as SEK 50,000 (around USD 7,700 or GBP 4,700).

Anyone can start an independent for-profit school, or a chain of such schools, in Sweden. Many of them offer an alternate pedagogy (such as Montessori), or a foreign/international, religious or special needs (such as hearing-impaired) profile. There are also several secondary schools with an elite sports profile. In 2008, more than 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in "independent schools""

Thanks, Randy! It is indeed interesting how Sweden resolved the tension between private and public schooling: From Wikipedia: "Prior to the 1990s, there were only a handful of private schools in Sweden, mostly tuition-funded boarding schools. A major education reform in 1992 allowed privately run schools offering primary or secondary education to receive public funding for each student, at a level similar to what public schools receive. These are called "independent schools" (friskolor), and in 2008 there were around 900 of them. The "independent schools", similar to charter schools in the United States or academies in the United Kingdom, are funded with public money (skolpeng) from the local municipality, based on the number of pupils they have enrolled, in the same way Swedish public schools are. Consequently, they are not allowed to discriminate or require admission examinations, nor are they allowed to charge the students any additional fees. They are, however, allowed to accept private donations. Regional economic differences directly affect how much money each municipality can provide per pupil, by as much as SEK 50,000 (around USD 7,700 or GBP 4,700). Anyone can start an independent for-profit school, or a chain of such schools, in Sweden. Many of them offer an alternate pedagogy (such as Montessori), or a foreign/international, religious or special needs (such as hearing-impaired) profile. There are also several secondary schools with an elite sports profile. In 2008, more than 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in "independent schools""
Guest - Nikita on Monday, 03 November 2014 02:30

I have been reading the ISET Economist blog posts on education and (un-)employment with great interest. After some digestion of the read material I recall the following list of problems:

1. a failing public school system: teachers’ wages are too low, the teaching profession has lost the good reputation it once had in Georgia; few teachers work in rural areas; class sizes are too big; students only learn to pass exams; students miss school to prepare for university entrance exams; higher education is often worthless for getting a job, education certificates regarded only as signals of general ability; good students do not want to become teachers; government does not have enough funds to improve the quality of public education

2. high unemployment levels, structural unemployment, few opportunities to finance new businesses, nepotism in hiring, at times the expectation that either the state or the family will change one’s employment situation

3. an increasing socio-economic divide between a rich urban minority and a poor rural majority; worry that Georgia’s future de jure and de facto elites will be emotionally disconnected from the poor and will not implement policies that improve the poor people’s living conditions or social mobility.

Building on your discussion of different school forms, I imagine a network of private (non-profit) entrepreneurship schools that address some of the challenges that I listed above. In the following, I sketch some important characteristics of these schools.

The entrepreneurship schools (eschools):

1. Mission statement: “We coach and connect Georgia’s future entrepreneurs.”

2, (Re)distribution of school budgets and school fees: While each school in the network generates its own revenues, donations from alumni and from external sponsors to the central organization are distributed to support the schools in poor rural areas. Moreover, affluent families pay high school fees for their children, while children from poor families receive subsidies (school fee waivers and stipends).

3. First who (will teach):
a. Hire the best suited teachers, create part-time employment opportunities for (business, government, culture, etc.) practitioners, enable own students to become future faculty members
b. Create performance incentives (financial remuneration, room for self-realization, social status within the organization) that attract the best teaching talent
c. Teachers first employed for a fixed term of 2/3 years and evaluated on their performance; for this fixed employment teachers are assigned to a school in a particular urban/rural area.
d. Implement in-house training programs for teachers and administrative staff to ensure continuous learning and personal development.

4. Then what (will be taught): Education in eschools is focused on developing hard and soft skills for entrepreneurship. Skill training is an integral part of every course. The course contents - apart for specific entrepreneurship and management courses - cover the prescribed school curriculum in Georgia. Thus, the eschools differ from the normal schools more in the teaching style than in the teaching content. Moreover, the training in eschools differs from VET, as it is not tied to a particular profession or industry. Instead, the training equips the students with skills, habits, and values to found, to manage, and to develop sustainable organizations that meet a need in students’ own communities and that create employment opportunities for the local labor force.

5. Social Entrepreneurship Camps in (changing) rural locations in Georgia: During each camp poor, rich, rural, urban students are mixed into groups to play together, to study together, to live side by side, to develop business ideas and to start up the social enterprises that address the development problems that Georgia currently faces. At the end of camp the student groups present their ideas and business plans to the faculty, to potential sponsors, and to interested government officials.

If an organisation like the eschool already exists in Georgia I would be happy to learn about it.

I have been reading the ISET Economist blog posts on education and (un-)employment with great interest. After some digestion of the read material I recall the following list of problems: 1. a failing public school system: teachers’ wages are too low, the teaching profession has lost the good reputation it once had in Georgia; few teachers work in rural areas; class sizes are too big; students only learn to pass exams; students miss school to prepare for university entrance exams; higher education is often worthless for getting a job, education certificates regarded only as signals of general ability; good students do not want to become teachers; government does not have enough funds to improve the quality of public education 2. high unemployment levels, structural unemployment, few opportunities to finance new businesses, nepotism in hiring, at times the expectation that either the state or the family will change one’s employment situation 3. an increasing socio-economic divide between a rich urban minority and a poor rural majority; worry that Georgia’s future de jure and de facto elites will be emotionally disconnected from the poor and will not implement policies that improve the poor people’s living conditions or social mobility. Building on your discussion of different school forms, I imagine a network of private (non-profit) entrepreneurship schools that address some of the challenges that I listed above. In the following, I sketch some important characteristics of these schools. The entrepreneurship schools (eschools): 1. Mission statement: “We coach and connect Georgia’s future entrepreneurs.” 2, (Re)distribution of school budgets and school fees: While each school in the network generates its own revenues, donations from alumni and from external sponsors to the central organization are distributed to support the schools in poor rural areas. Moreover, affluent families pay high school fees for their children, while children from poor families receive subsidies (school fee waivers and stipends). 3. First who (will teach): a. Hire the best suited teachers, create part-time employment opportunities for (business, government, culture, etc.) practitioners, enable own students to become future faculty members b. Create performance incentives (financial remuneration, room for self-realization, social status within the organization) that attract the best teaching talent c. Teachers first employed for a fixed term of 2/3 years and evaluated on their performance; for this fixed employment teachers are assigned to a school in a particular urban/rural area. d. Implement in-house training programs for teachers and administrative staff to ensure continuous learning and personal development. 4. Then what (will be taught): Education in eschools is focused on developing hard and soft skills for entrepreneurship. Skill training is an integral part of every course. The course contents - apart for specific entrepreneurship and management courses - cover the prescribed school curriculum in Georgia. Thus, the eschools differ from the normal schools more in the teaching style than in the teaching content. Moreover, the training in eschools differs from VET, as it is not tied to a particular profession or industry. Instead, the training equips the students with skills, habits, and values to found, to manage, and to develop sustainable organizations that meet a need in students’ own communities and that create employment opportunities for the local labor force. 5. Social Entrepreneurship Camps in (changing) rural locations in Georgia: During each camp poor, rich, rural, urban students are mixed into groups to play together, to study together, to live side by side, to develop business ideas and to start up the social enterprises that address the development problems that Georgia currently faces. At the end of camp the student groups present their ideas and business plans to the faculty, to potential sponsors, and to interested government officials. If an organisation like the eschool already exists in Georgia I would be happy to learn about it.
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