Dozens of thousands of Georgian families, including the less-than-well-off ones, decide to send their children to private schools and pay tuition of two to 20 thousand laris per year. Why?
A tenth of parents of Georgian school-goers have been opting for private education for their kids. The popularity of private schools has to do not with the levels of income among the population (which are increasing, even if modestly), but rather with broad dissatisfaction with what public schools have to offer.
The most-oft cited complaints about public schools are:
1. High teacher-student ratios
The average class size in a public school in Georgia is 35-40 students. Both parents and teachers complain this makes it impossible for learners’ individual needs to be properly responded to and compromises the effectiveness of lesson delivery. So, too many kids in a class means they rarely, if ever, get the chance to carry out science experiments.
2. Deficit of competencies
Public school teachers receive an average salary of about 200 USD, which, sometimes, may be about a fifth of what their private school counterparts are paid. In private schools, teaching staff is hired through a rigorous selection process, where preference is given to Western-educated aspirants. For the ordinary public schools that are ever slow to accept change and have only recently moved, reluctantly, to embrace Internet, having a staffer who’ve studied or worked abroad is an unfathomable thing bordering on fantasy.
3. Pupil behavior mismanaged
In a public school, discipline means unquestioning acceptance of a teacher’s authority. A good pupil is one who is a motionless and speechless presence in class unless they are called on by the teacher to speak up. And yes, they must be scared of the director. Just in case. Predictably, such “discipline is hardly ever productive: at the least, it does not stop teens fighting during breaks or after school, or even smoking in school toilets.
4. Bad security
Many parents choose a private school over a public one simply because they want a trained security guard, not an old janitor, to keep watch over the school entrance. Because they want classrooms and corridors furnished with video surveillance.
5. Faltering hygiene
Hygiene and sanitation norms are totally ignored in Georgia’s public schools. Even washing one’s hands properly is impossible, because the schools fail to provide soap and towels for their students to use. The restrooms are such – in terms of cleanliness – that kids avoid visiting them at all when they can. To make matters worse, there is no such thing as privacy in a public school’s restroom: the toilet stalls are not enclosed, leaving users exposed to one another.
Kitchen at one of the municipal school cafeterias in Tbilisi. Photo by Netgazeti
6. Unhealthy diet
Chips, lemonade and cancerogenic crackers are what your child can get in the way of a ‘healthy breakfast’ in a public school. Georgia has no laws controlling food offerings in schools, leaving it to the discretion of school administrations to decide what foods are sufficiently healthy for their students. In public schools, the decisions are often wrong.
7. Unavoidable private tuition
And then, circa the fifth grade, a long and costly saga of supplementary schooling begins, as parents of public school kids find themselves having to hire private tutors to improve their offspring’s academic achievement and fill the gaps left by the poor standards of public school teaching. Interestingly, public school teachers themselves become private tutors for their pupils, which makes one suspect they may have a vested interest in their students underperforming, as this gives them a source of extra income.
8. Poor value for money
Many parents end up transferring their children from public schools to private ones, having calculated that, paradoxically, private education might be, in the long run, the cheaper option: the annual fees buy them not only a properly taught and internalized curriculum, but also a host of extra-curricular activities (from sports to music, to handcraft, etc.), different clubs and after-school daycare.