Saturday, January 14, 2012

Teach and Learn with Georgia Program (TLG), from a Georgian Perspective

        TLG: Another Georgian Government PR Campaign: "A Georgian Perspective"

           The TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) program’s ultimate goal is to make difference in Georgia.  Its specific objective is to help Georgian schoolchildren learn English by recruiting 1,000 native English speakers (TLG official website, 2010).   The Government of Georgia (GoG) struggles towards globalization and it believes that human interaction and people-to people communication are inimitable and have far more substantial benefits and value than any other resources of communication, and therefore expects the social interaction between foreign English teachers and Georgian schoolchildren to contribute to the process of teaching and learning of the English language.  The GoG believes that the successful achievement of this program will have a thoughtful impact on the Georgian teenagers and whole country (TLG official website, 2010). This paper will seek to answer the following research questions:

             What is the aim of recruiting foreign teachers? What was the selection standard?  What are the volunteers’ duties in Georgia? What types of benefits does the GoG offers to the volunteers?  What are the requirements for teaching English in Georgia? How long will they stay in Georgia? Who is the sponsor of that project?  How long will the project last?  Is this program effective? How do Georgian people (especially schoolchildren and Georgian English teachers) accommodate foreign teachers? 


            TLG started in 2010 after that GoG declared English language the most important subject in the country and Georgia’s pro Western. The main aim of that project is to teach English language in Georgia with nature English speaking teachers from all over the World.
              The Head of   the Division of Educational Programs Abroad and the Supervisor of TLG program, Maia Siprashvili-Lee provided answers to some of the above mentioned  key questions in an article published on the website of the Georgian Ministry of Education (MoE). She stated that the program was initiated by the President of Georgia, Mikhael Saakashvili, and it is being implemented by the MoE. The program will last for minimum of five years. The foreign teachers will stay in Georgia for one academic year but an agreement will last if they wish, most of them are teachers by profession, others have working experience in similar projects in different countries. This is the reason they pass the course of methodology (MoE, 2011).
              However, just who the actual sponsor of the program is still remains an unknown fact. In the online publication Netgazeti, Siprashili affirmed that this program is not sponsored by MoE, but she abstained from saying who the donors are. Each volunteer was paid 300 dollars per month, during the two-year program exceeds 5 million dollars (
          On November 16, 2010 the BBC NEWS EUROPE wrote, “Georgians put learning English ahead of Russian”. The article mentions that of the, 1,000 volunteers who  have been invited by the GoG, not  all come  from the US; they also come from Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand as well as Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.  Also there is shown that MoE Minister Dimitry Shashkini decided to make English lessons compulsory from September 2011 and it is already the most popular foreign language among secondary school pupils. He also stated that Georgia does not have gas, oil, so Georgians main resource is human, that’s why education is so strategic for Georgia.    
            According to   Ambebi, a Georgian online newspaper, the  TLG program  is apolitical,  and is part of Georgia’s  transition process to Western values, as the GoG tries to  make the post-Soviet country into an English-speaking country, and that  the English language is  one of the best means  for Georgia to  find its  way  in the world.  The   Georgia president   stated that Georgia’s answer to Russian aggression is new reforms, education and intellectual potential (27-09-2010).
              Dimitry Shashkini, Minister of Education, announced that TLG program is launched in Georgia in order to develop teaching English language to Georgian children, its aim is to modernize our state. He and the government claimsthe   program has a great positive affect for Georgians, and that will give them more opportunities to find jobs, be successful, become a member of European family and have tightened relationship with Europe (Youtube, July 5, 2010).

However, when all is said and done, what is it really about and who are involved? In describing one of the program participants, “I met Neal Zupancic, very briefly last January but before then I had already heard plenty of things about him - all negative things. No one in TLG seemed to like him, for one reason or another. Many complained that he got a free apartment for blogging for TLG, so I went on his blog, expecting to see good things he wrote about TLG. But he didn't write anything good about TLG; instead, he criticized TLG. So I don't know what the deal is. I'm not judging him. I barely know him. But he's quite unpopular with the teachers.”
Researching a bit more it is understood that he is a Slovenian American who grew up as a suburban nobody outside of NYC, and then he got Cs at City College NYC, a pretty easy university by all accounts.

He was one of the first TLC teachers here with Footprints.  He started out to say snide things about Footprints, but within 6 weeks he was offered better teaching positions if he shut up, and was threatened to be let go if he continued in any diatribes.  I think he shortly afterwards got recruited by some wing of USAID and now is a covert propagandist

He was recommended by somebody here to their best friend in New York Times editorial offices, so his now notorious sex in Georgia link got quoted three times in a big New York times article.

         What is more important, however, is to understand how the TLG program perform in public schools?   Did this project increase school children’s English language level or not?  As Georgian TV channel Imedi announced this project was very discovered very effective, however, that station is a governmental mouthpiece. The Times (NYT) published   an article about volunteers’ observations about Georgia:  
         Foreign teacher Rhonda Gibson, 24 from (New Orleans) states in the article that the quality of Georgian English teachers is very poor.   Many of them cannot speak English, and neither have they conducted an entire class in the language. (NYT, January 23, 2011).  
        Meanwhile 23 years old Meg Bell, from Texas, was placed in the town of Rustavi, not far from the capital.  Bell expresses her dissatisfaction with Georgian English teacher, about the standard of education and disciplinary methods. She thinks that Georgian teachers could not transition from a “Soviet style of education system to more nuanced methods of teaching”. The classroom situation was extremely out of control (NYT, January 23, 2011).
          These may appear to some as very offensive comments. We don’t know who these volunteers are because nowhere in the NYT article does it say if these teachers below have any real quacking, and if they even have a community college degree or not.
            Now let speak about volunteer’s less than professional education. Our TV Chanel or newspapers do not write about it, because it does not make the program look good to the GoG. TLG is something that they need to raise the bar and to show that they are doing something productive. However, being a native speaker or knowing English fluently does not mean the person has the ability to teach. Some volunteers even cannot speak English clearly because they are from villages and they have dialects. Many of them know “street language”, and some of the teachers I met personally did not even know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, cannot form plural’s exception, and so on. A teacher must know language grammatically and have the ability to communicate, especially in  a cross cultural situation.
Such kind of projects is not only in Georgia.  There are special agencies which arrange such programs. For instance Reach to Teach is a FREE ESL Teacher Placement Agency.  It has its Agencies in different countries: US and Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.  That company offers a diverse array of opportunities and fined great ESL teaching jobs across Asia, among them are Taiwan, Korea, China, Thailand, Chile and Georgia. Here I met one interesting advertisement that to teach English in Taiwan, Korea and China you need a full university degree and a TEFL certificate, but in Thailand, Georgia and Chile teachers just to have sense of adventure and great imagination.  (Reach to Teach, Teaching Adventures Abroad, 2012)
             The main problem of that project is that Georgian   English teachers are unemployed and it has great negative effect for the Georgian population because Georgians have a belief that the economic situation is better if not the best in the US and that is where all the jobs are, not in Georgia.  As stated earlier by the foreign teacher Rhonda Gibson that Georgian English teachers cannot speak English fluently, it is government’s blame, not people, because the MoE must care about the native teacher’s quality. To bring foreigner volunteers don’t mean educational development, they humiliate native teachers, and locals who have high education don’t have worth in their own country, and someone who even doesn’t have college degree they know more than Georgians! This is awful situation!
               There are also problems in tradition, I mean that foreigners don’t know Georgian tradition and it seems them very strange, which is a little bit offensive for Georgian society.  One of the volunteer, who is anonymous, comments: “Georgia is the most enigmatic and the absolute craziest. I don’t think I could ever figure it out.” She states that Georgian culture is overwhelming in the best and most fun way (Georgia, part II: Culture!, July 4th, 2011).   
            Georgia is poor country; the average salary is 597 GEL (National Statistics Office of Georgia’s official website, 2010).  However, Georgian people want someone cooler to show them how to look. Men driving beautiful BMWs, even though they didn’t have enough money to eat well, buy school books for their kids. Georgians love the west, and they try to move from East to West and to be European!  As Georgia’s late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said:  “We are Georgians therefore we are European!” The same is true of claiming to know English.
In the video “summer in Georgia”, which was posted on Youtube demonstrates how the TLG program fits into the GoG’s overall PR campaign for the country: .  The aim of the video is so when a foreigner watches it, she/he will imagine happy parts of Georgia:   great friends, food, dancing and music.  You can hear the wonderful   adjectives: “delicate,” “breathtaking” compared with “untamed,” “wild,” and “exotic.”  And also which is very funny:  Modern infrastructure! The Georgian infrastructure is deplorable.
 The main message  of the GoG is that everything looks okay, everything looks developed! However, the reality is different. Exactly such situation is in TLG program! Maybe the GoG doesn’t want to spend so much money in volunteers, but they have to do it because good PR is not cheap. They throw cash in the eyes of the Georgians.
This project also addresses the political and mental problems.   In early time Soviet Union tried to close all way toward West, civilization and oppression Georgia of political as well as mentally, and economically. After the Rose Revolution, a mental transformation began, which was connected with westernization. The TLG project is one of way for Georgia to become member of Europe and to stop Soviet style of education system. But the important question is how the implementation is. As Shaskin stated earlier TLG program is apolitical, but I think it is exactly the State's policies to forget Russia and move to west. However, in the final analysis - it may be turning the population back towards Russia, as they understand that it was not designed and implemented with good intentions and with the public good in mind.

If we observe this project objectively,   we can see that this project has both positive and negative sides.  The positive side is that it is very good and easy to learn foreign language by foreigner “teacher”, but not by the people who have sense of adventure and great imagination! Also, the English language is a global language and it is generally thought that knowing English increases ones chances to find jobs and to be successful. This is not only in Georgia, but all over the world.
As it was the case in the Soviet era, Russian language was very popular and obligatory because it was discussed as a global language.  Russian language was important for our ancestors based on their situation, as Russia was a dominant country.  Recently, however, westernization and globalization has become a dominant movement and English is at the forefront, “the main language” in the world so that it is necessary for more and people to learn English perfectly in order to have successful futures.
One of the main outcomes of this program is that our government cannot estimate the true value of Georgian English teachers.  Although GoG would rather send Georgian students of English philology abroad to get high qualification, it can be considered an attempt to just make PR by recruiting foreigner volunteers. As stated earlier, the main aim of that project is to modernize Georgia and move this country from the East to the West. A big question in moving forward is, to what extent PR money will be able to accomplish this objective and who really benefits in the end.

1.     BBC NEWS EUROPE. (16 November 2010). Retrieved from
2.     Reach to Teach, Teaching Adventures Abroad. (2012) retrieved from
3.     Georgian chanel Imedi. (2010)  retrieved from
  1. Georgian online newspaper Ambebi. (27-09-2010). Retrieved from
7.     National Statistics Office of Georgia’s official website, (2010).  Retrieved from
8.     Official website of Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia (26.08.2010 ). Retrieved from
9.     Official website of teach and Learn with Georgia (2010). Retrieved from  
10.          The New York Times online newspaper. (23.01.2011). Retrieved from
11.         Youtube.  (05-07-2010) Retrieved from 
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