The FINANCIAL — “I prefer to pay more to be sure that my daughter is getting a good education in line with European standards,” said Tea Nefaridze, mother of 6 year old Mariam who is to start her studies at private school “Qorali”. She’s not alone as many parents disregard state education.
Private schools of all levels and grades have mushroomed in Georgia. In the 2000/2001 school year 12,137 students attended private schools but last year this number increased to 47,723. There are 200 private schools in Georgia according to the Department of Statistics.
Gia Murgulia, headmaster of Public School 24, says most of them got licenses from the Ministry of Education but many have stopped working due to financial problems.
“The 90s were years of war in Georgia. With ongoing civil war and poverty, the Government didn’t have the funds to pay teachers at public schools, so the idea of opening private schools was very attractive. However the Ministry of Education was sceptical about private schools, it wasn’t clear on how to organize private education,” said former member of the Ministry of Education Bejan Didebulidze.
While the Georgian authorities were discussing forms of private education Turkish businessmen opened the first private school in the country.
Turkish Demireli College with eleven year education was the first private institution to open its doors in Tbilisi. It was 1992, not long after the country gained its independence. And it is still considered among the best private schools in Tbilisi. The overwhelming requests for licensing new schools led the Ministry of Education to establish a special committee to evaluate the applications. Until 2004 the Ministry had given out 230 licenses. So in that year there were 3,500 schools and 20 percent of them were private. “But many of them have closed, especially in the regions,” said Bejan Didebulidze.
As more people decided to invest in private education, competition arose with state institutions along with logistical issues. Some people who wanted to open private schools couldn’t find an appropriate building. The constructing of a new building was connected with new expenses which they could not afford. “Not a single new school building has been built by the Government in Georgia for 25 years,” said Bejan Shalamberidze.
Some looked for public schools with partly unused floors and moved their classrooms in there. A human “migration” followed this resettlement. “Teachers started to move from public schools to private ones,” said Simon Janashia, an education expert and lecturer at Ilia Chavchavadze University. “Most of them left as they found better working environments.” This process was regulated by the Government. As the new educational law states that teachers could work in both state and private schools at the same time. This new bill allows teachers to make a better living without abandoning students who cannot afford the fees at private schools.
In 1996 the doors at “Mtsignobartuxutsesi” private school opened taking over part of the premises of Public School 62 on the outskirts of Tbilisi. But since 2004 this school has had its own building with a swimming pool and facilities in line with European standards. There are 700 students and 130 more will enrol in the next school year. They will pay 350 GEL per month, turning in to 300 GEL towards the end of the school career. The fees are increasing every year,” explained one of the teachers, Lali Khatiashvili.
On the question of whether the opening of private schools is a profitable business in Georgia Mtsignobartuxutsesi’s headmaster shook his head, “it’s not a highly profitable business but it is still a business and needs good management,” explained Davit Kaxniashvili.
A quick look at the rating of the national exam results shows that graduates from private schools occupy the top 10 places. Some private schools have special programmes for the last 3 years of education which cost between 2,000-5,000 USD per year. The graduates from private schools don’t need tutors to prepare for national exams. The public school programmes are not based on the national exams. “Public schools provide a general education and are not focused on just a few subjects like the national exams,” explained Simon Janashia.
The school “Logos” recently opened in the Tbilisi Saburtalo district. It will take students from the 3rd level which includes the last years of secondary education in Georgia. The cost of the education is 5,300 per year.
“Why is the school for third level students only? It has its own reasons. It is always difficult to organize a large school and at the same time a large school requires high expenses. At this stage we don’t have the funds for it and so we did what we could,” said one of the founders of the school Gia Murgulia.
He also added that from September “Logos” will offer new educational programmes to students which will make the school much more attractive than other schools. “The fact that we have more new private schools in the Georgian education sphere is a positive,” said Gia Murgulia.
“When talking about private schools we must not forget that we are involved in the process of marketing. It is expensive to get a good education in most countries. But it is not so expensive in Georgia, because teachers are paid a very low salary by comparison,” he added.
According to Simon Janashia, more existing private institutions are a positive sign as it means that more people can afford the fees. “It also means that more children can get a good education,” he said. “Although not every school has a good infrastructure and well trained staff.”
Since 2004 the educational environment has changed in Georgia: a lot of school buildings have been repaired, teacher salaries have been increased and both teachers and students have got more motivation in teaching and learning.
Still people with financial disadvantages can only afford to send their children to public schools though some private schools offer the possibility to financially disadvantaged students to attend their courses in the form of scholarships. “Generally their target is middle class students,” concluded Simon Janashia.
The Ministry of Education has recently announced that it will give grants to successful students to attend private schools so children from socially unprotected families will get the opportunity to study free at private schools in a better environment and get a better education. As Dimitri Sashkins from the Ministry of Education says, “it will be the award for their hard work”.