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Former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, holds the opinion that the incumbent government is deliberately stopping or outright abolishing those projects which were started by the previous government. He named the foreign volunteer teachers programme as an example and added that the programme has been practically abolished.

FactCheck

obtained information about the aforementioned programme and verified the accuracy of the former President’s statement.

In order to raise the English language teaching level, the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia launched a programme

 in 2010 entitled Teach and Learn with Georgia. Foreign volunteer teachers came to Georgia to teach in schools within the framework of the programme’s activities.

We interviewed Nino Maisuradze, the programme’s director, as a part of our information gathering on this issue. According to Ms Maisuradze, the first groups of foreign volunteer teachers came to Georgia in July 2010. The principal aim of the programme was to have a native English speaking teacher in every public school in Georgia. In the programme’s initial phase, priority was placed upon the quantity of foreign volunteer teachers with the number fixed at approximately 700-800 programme participants coming to Georgia annually. The teachers were rotated every two months which made their adaptation difficult. There was a total of 48 groups of volunteer teachers in the period 2010-2012. Ms Maisuradze clarified that the process for bringing the foreign volunteer teachers to Georgia has been modified since the end of 2012, thereby improving conditions overall. Following the changes, teachers are now expected to sign employment agreements for one school term or for an entire year.

At the present moment, Georgia is hosting the fiftieth group of foreign volunteer teachers. Nino Maisuradze indicated that the number of teachers has dropped significantly as compared to other years. As of 15 February 2014, there were 35 foreign volunteer teachers in the country. An additional 12 teachers were supposed to join the ranks from that date as well. A new group of teachers is scheduled to come in September of this year. All of the teachers are required to sign a one-year contract which will cover the entire academic year. Ms Maisuradze highlighted the one-year commitment as an important part of the arrangement as it enables the building of team spirit and the principle of cooperation between the teacher and the students. She added that the previous approach oriented at the quantity of foreign volunteer teachers proved to be ineffective alongside monitoring mechanisms which were also rather weak. Additionally, it was difficult to find such a large number of available teachers at once. At the present moment, schools with clearly defined needs and a demonstrated desire are given priority for getting a teacher. Monitoring mechanisms have been introduced since 2013. Volunteers undergo intensive consultations concerning the degree of their cooperation with the local teachers and are given feedback on their work and contribution. Similar consultations are slated for local teachers as well.

Nino Maisuradze also underlined for us the novelties which have been implemented within the framework of the programme which include French and German language teachers together with English. Moreover, upon the basis of a memorandum signed by the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia and the Confucius Institute, several schools already have Chinese language courses taking place after regular classes. Today, the foreign volunteer teachers programme covers almost every region of Georgia. There has never been a break in the arrival of volunteers although the number of participating teachers decreased in 2013 and 2014. The teachers come mostly from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada as well as other English-speaking countries.

Nino Maisuradze further indicated that it is impossible to permanently sustain the foreign volunteer teachers programme. She also said that it is the task of the government to determine the objectives which must be achieved at the end of the programme. Currently, a long-term and result-oriented strategy is being elaborated. The teachers cover 20 districts in nine regions of Georgia.

For additional information, FactCheck

also interviewed Assistant Professor at Ilia State University, Giorgi Zedgenidze. Mr Zedgenidze commented that the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia did not have a concrete and clear vision in regard to the programme. Additionally, it is still undecided whether or not the programme will continue and, if so, in what capacity. Mr Zedgenidze gave a favourable assessment for a prolongation of the programme. He did state, however, that the decision to decrease the number of volunteers was confusing because if the overall goal of the programme was to encourage the studying of English, then the number of foreign volunteer teachers should be increased. He also refuted the idea of the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia that increasing the numbers of the foreign volunteer teachers further complicated the monitoring process. This should have been the task of the programme’s administration. He stated that the Ministry’s decision to decrease the number of teachers was baffling and it would be interesting to see the research or the data upon which their decision was made. Mr Zedgenidze also mentioned the shortcomings which were detected at the initial phase of the programme including the lack of time and assistance for the volunteers’ adaptation to the new environment which created significant problems owing to Georgia’s particular culture and customs. In any case, he believes that decreasing the number of teachers was not a solution and the problems on the ground should have been properly attended to.

As of today, only two public schools in Tbilisi have foreign volunteer teachers. FactCheck

interviewed Andrew Orland Rowen, a volunteer teacher who came to Georgia in February 2014. As foreseen by the programme, he was initially sent to public schools in the Imereti and Shida Kartli regions and now teaches at Public School No. 62 in Tbilisi. He is mostly involved in the development of listening and speaking components and provides assistance in the classroom to his Georgian colleague. He indicated that transportation, computer malfunctions and the internet comprise an enormous problem for schools in the regions. He believes that having high-quality native English speaking teachers in every public school in Georgia is of the utmost priority and importance given the growing role of English at the global level. At the present moment, however, sharing the services of the existing pool of foreign volunteer teachers among interested schools is the only option owing to the low number of teachers currently in Georgia. Mr Rowen indicated that the monthly salary of a volunteer teacher equals GEL 600. Of that amount, GEL 200 is paid to a host family which leaves GEL 400 for the teacher. The programme does cover the costs of health insurance and airfare.

FactCheck also addressed the National Centre for Teacher Professional Development with further questions. After a delay of several days, we received answers a day after the article was published. The letter explains that the teachers’ corps are to be increased nearly by 40% from 2015-2016 academic year. FactCheck

welcomes such a positive decision and hopes that the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia will implement the given plan.

Conclusion

The foreign volunteer teachers programme in Georgia was not abolished; however, it was considerably downsized as a result of a decision of the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia. There were 700-800 teachers participating in the programme in 2010-2012 whereas only 47 teachers are currently in Georgia taking part as volunteers. There were 48 groups of foreign volunteer teachers in 2010-2012 as compared to only two groups having arrived from 2012 until now.

FactCheck concludes that despite the prolongation of the programme, its capacity and efficiency has dropped to a minimum. Therefore, Mikheil Saakashvili’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.