Public school in the village Sida, Gali district. (DFWatch)

GALI, DFWatch–School closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic are worsening an already difficult situation in Gali district  in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. Teachers are struggling to continue classes remotely, but with unstable electricity supply and a lack of computers and Internet, few students are able to attend. 

Suspension of classes and switching to remote learning has created enormous problems for teachers and pupils, who are already facing a difficult situation, due to Sokhumi denying them the use of the Georgian language.

Many teachers and students do not have access to computers and the Internet, which adds to the  chronic problem of power outages. Some teachers still manage to conduct online lessons on their own initiative, but classes are usually attended by less than half of the students.

Classes in all 30 public schools of Gali this year started as usual on September 1, but due to an increase in new coronavirus cases, they were closed on October 15 and have remained closed since. 

“We resumed classes by following all [medical] recommendations. Thermal screening was conducted daily, the duration of lessons was reduced and distributed in such a way that the rest time of primary and senior students did not coincide. It was mandatory for the teachers to wear face masks and even though no one provided us with masks, we did it with our own scarce resources. We did our best to protect ourselves and [our] students. Soon, the virus was detected at the school in [the village of] Saberio, so it was closed. A little later, the number of infected people increased dramatically, and on October 15, we were completely shut down. We are still in this mode. It was said that classes would resume on November 24, but it’s still dim,” a teacher at Saberio School told DFWatch.

The head of the Gali Resource Center, Nona Shonia, says that if the classes are not resumed on November 24, it will be necessary to focus on distance learning as much as possible, but if the problems with lack of Internet connection and  access to computers are not solved, the result will be disastrous. 

“Classes in the pre-war border areas of the Gali district, as well as in Abkhazia as a whole, have been suspended until November 24 due to the pandemic. Teachers here, in Gali district, use various means to communicate with students online, however, poor internet [connection] and lack of technical means prevent both students and teachers from properly engaging in remote learning. If no significant steps are taken to improve the schools’ access to Internet and computers, we will soon see the disastrous consequences,” she told us.

Along with the problem of Internet access and equipment, locals also struggle with an unstable electricity supply. 

“Schools are currently completely closed. There is talk of online learning, though resources are scarce in Gali. Students face many different problems. First, only a few households here have the appropriate equipment. Second, the speed of the Internet is extremely poor. Third, the power supply is unstable, especially in the winter months. This list of problems is enough to conclude that the students living in Gali are actually losing this year altogether,” said a mother of two students from the village of Tagiloni in an interview with DFWatch.

Currently, only a few classes at a handful of schools are practicing online learning. As one school teacher tells DFWatch, attendance is scarce and lessons are flawed. 

“We started online lessons for 9th, 10th and 11th grades on Monday. If there are 10 children in the class, usually 5 attend, in some classes even less. Many families have no computer, and thus no Internet, and cannot afford to buy one. For example, today we could not carry out lessons at all. We were told we would probably not have an internet connection for another two or three days. The power supply is on a schedule, from 12 am till 6 pm. Therefore we hold online classes this time, but sometimes the power is off for several days,” a Saberio school teacher told DFWatch on Friday, November 19th.

This situation is particularly problematic for students in secondary school who have to prepare for the national exams. One of them told DFWatch that they are now relying only on the kindness of the teachers, as they promised to help. 

“Based on last year’s practice, we are afraid that education may not be resumed this year. Remote learning will probably not be massive, however teachers promise to help us as much as possible. We are a graduating class and we have crucial exams ahead. Therefore, if this year is a failure, it is a big problem for us,” said one of the school’s students.