(Photo by Ministry of Education and Science.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The current bilingual education program does not serve its purpose, according to Armenians in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. A specialist from the Ministry of Education and Science agrees with the critique and says that the current program

should be replaced with other projects.

According to the last population census, Armenians and Azeris together comprise about 12 percent of the total population of Georgia. The majority of Armenians and Azeris live in the southern regions of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli; there are some Azeri villages in Kakheti as well.

Flaws of the current bilingual education

In 2011, the state started a bilingual education project in the Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli regions, where Armenians and Azeris constitute a majority locally. The main goal of the project was to improve education in the state language in public schools by offering more lessons taught in Georgian.

Zatiashvili told DF Watch that the initial idea was to have 30 percent of each lesson conducted in Georgian, and 70 percent in the minority language, but in reality it was hard to implement. Instead, teachers were asked to conduct some classes, such as history and other social subjects, in Georgian. However, this project targetted only grades 1 through 6, while older pupils did not take part in the bilingual education.

‘Javakheti News’, a local news outlet in Samtskhe-Javakheti, writes that four years of bilingual education programs did not yield any of the results that were promised. On the contrary, the website reports, it is obstructing the general education process because there is a lack of teachers who are fluent in both Armenian and Georgian, the textbooks are poorly translated and the requirement to switch between these two languages in one subject also doesn’t contribute to the development of language skills nor knowledge of the particular subject.

Problems of current project

Davit Zatiashvili from the department of national education curriculum at Ministry of Education and Science, agrees with this critique. He told DF Watch that the current bilingual education project is not going to be prolonged in its current form. Most likely it will be replaced with alternative projects in the near future.

According to him, there are three big problems with this bilingual program. Firstly, there aren’t enough teachers who can speak the state language. Secondly, even those teachers who know Georgian, lack specific knowledge of their subject – for example, they do not know specific methodology and vocabulary. Thirdly, the lack of knowledge of Georgian has made trainings of teachers ineffective, as they have learned the methodology, but could not apply it in classrooms.

Zatiashvili said that the improvement of Georgian language skills among minority students is hardly noticeable even in the fourth year of the bilingual education project. And the main reason, according to him, is the lack of Georgian language skills among Armenian or Azeri teachers.

Two teachers in one classroom

To solve this problem, a new project is going to be implemented. The idea is to get Georgian teachers to go teach in the minority regions together with their Armenian or Azeri counterparts. “It is an expensive project. However, to teach Georgian to teachers and to make them fluent, takes a lot of time,” Zatiashvili explained.

In the near future, there will begin trials at 3-4 selected schools in  Samtskhe Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli regions, if the project is confirmed by the government. If it is proven successful, and if there is enough finances, it will be implemented in all 40 minority language schools around Georgia.

“To get Georgian teachers to go to the regions is not a problem. The main obstacle is money, as it is expensive to have two people to teach the same subject at the same time,” Zatiashvili said.

New textbooks to be prepared

In addition, new bilingual biology and art textbooks are being prepared for minority schools. If approved, they can reach schools already upcoming September. In addition, older students (grades 7 and up) should be included in the program as well.

A standardization of Armenian and Azeri language teaching is envisioned. “We want Armenians and Azeris to know their mother tongue as well, both grammar and literature. For that we need to standardize instruction of these languages, so we can provide schools with Georgian-issued and state approved textbooks. Now, for example, Armenians is being taught using textbooks from Armenia, which are not in line with Georgian educational standards,” Zatiashvili explained.