Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vocational Education and Lifelong Learning in Georgia - Tusheti Region's Case Study

Making Community Schools Work  and Lifelong Learning in Georgia - Tusheti Region Case Study

Tamara  Tartarashvili

                Education needs to be responsive to communities, based on local needs and customs and opportunities for employment and sustainable economic development. “For communities to work schools must work“ - this is the encompassing conclusion reached by several stakeholder meetings held as part of the preparation of these concept notes on mainstreaming community needs into local schools and thus providing practical skills, vocational education and greater stakeholder participation, participation that is real, not the kind that only exists on paper.
                The schools serving the Tushheti region have held various community based meetings, attended by school staff, students, representatives of local NGOs, Tusheti Tourism Association, staff of the Tusheti National Park and students and teachers of Telalvi State University, which is located in the Kakheti region of East Georgia.

                It is first necessary to understand what is mainstreaming – and how to transform community needs into a developmental mode of working with locals. Too often mainstreaming is considered a way to get a governmental or development organisation’s initiative sold to locals, so to speak to obtain ‘buy-in’ and show local ownership, whether genuine or not? However, mainstreaming as a way to bring about “good change” but through a truly participatory and integrated approach, and one constructed on existing and evolving knowledge and experience; ot involves networks, both formal and informal, and seeks to join together various stakeholders. It is not a process that is only described or understood from a central governmental or narrowly defined perspective.
Background to concept

                Such a proposal initiative/concept started out as an effort to incorporate environmental educational into the mainstream classroom. However, during stakeholder meetings it was understood that more was needed, and that students, parents and community members were not happy with the quality of the education now being provided, not because it is not providing basic skills but because much of what was being taught was far from what they considered is needed in today’s Georgia, especially taking into consideration the ever-changing needs of a modern day workforce and high unemployment.

                Initially the discussions were intended as a means of defining how to develop regional tourism development plans and then seek ways to find work in this sector for locals, especially young people (particularly those just graduating from high school). However, the students, mostly in the 11th and 12th grades, soon shared that they needed more, and were graduating from school without any immediately useful marketable skills, for many the only option they really had was to continue studying at an institution of higher education with the hope of employment upon getting a degree. However, many have difficulties in this regard, as the price of education is very high in Georgia and not enough Governmental support is being provided for all students. Basically they demonstrated that there is a need to develop real skills, aside from academic ones, so they can stay in their communities, develop businesses, and take the theory that is taught in schools and apply it to find real jobs and develop lifelong skills. Education in Georiga in recent years has been transformed into teaching the test.

                Soon it was understood that what they were asking for was traditional to the local culture, and those from the Tusheti region had an understanding of traditional education and practices that had been passed down from generation to generation. Historically, and prior to the Soviet Union taking control of so many aspects of life, those living in these rural communities had been actively involved in local decision-making, managing their lands and community affairs; they had been involved in economic activities and the lives of their communities. 

          Also, there is a clear understanding that much of what has been done to develop local tourism has been based on a top-down in approach, albeit well-intentioned, and already substantial amounts of money has been spent on trying to put life into tourism in Georgia and the Tusheti region. 

                The problem, as described by some of the locals, is that economic development programmes are simply perceived as a scheme available to a select few, as so much of the funding goes on hastily thought-out projects, drawn up by outsiders, and are “grant driven” which often don’t work effectively. Such projects are not always cost effective"most always"  because local input is lacking, a thorough situational analysis of actual needs may not have been completed, or completed well, and often programmes and projects are designed for too short in duration to be sustainable. It is becoming clear that reform without results that can be measured is not reform, whether it be in the sphere of economic development or education reform.
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