How Georgia’s Training System is Making an attempt to Discover Place for Youngsters with Particular Instructional Wants – Civil.ge
by Tata Burduli, Senior Researcher at GeoWel Research
Fifteen years ago, Georgia decided to radically change its approach to children with special educational needs. The change led to the abandonment of the decades-old Soviet and post-Soviet practice of either educating children with severe needs in separate, often inadequate facilities or simply keeping them at home. Children with less severe needs were left alone in mainstream schools without additional support.
Starting in 2004, the country embarked on a journey through pilot programs that ran from 2004 to 2010 to create an inclusive learning environment for all children. Since then, Georgia has done a lot to bring children with special educational needs into the general education system. In 2009, there were 160 students with special educational needs in Georgia. In the 2020/2021 academic year, there were 9,637 children with special educational needs in Georgia’s public and private schools – roughly 60 times the number in 2009. This growth reflects an increase in awareness and access, as well as an increase in requests for professional diagnosis. It also shows the state’s increased ability to offer inclusive education: Today, 68% of Georgia’s public schools train children with special educational needs and employ around 2,000 special education teachers. After fifteen years of reform, children with special educational needs can increasingly participate in academic and social learning.
The positive change is reflected in a change in negative attitudes and a reduction in the stigma of children with special needs.
“In the beginning, the public looked different for pupils with special educational needs,” tells us a special education teacher from Tbilisi who has been working for over a decade. “They also perceived me differently, they called me ‘the special educator’. They had different ideas about what these children want. They regretted her. And they were scared, worried that their own children would learn tics from them. The teachers were also afraid. If we remember the old days, the teachers simply refused to have these children in their classes. Especially when some of them showed difficult behavior … But that was slowly overcome. “
Special educational needs vary greatly from child to child and often require an individual, tailor-made approach. In view of the almost 10,000 children with special educational needs to be brought up, the public school system therefore has a great responsibility to meet these different needs and to ensure the inclusion of all children in school and thus in public life.
As part of the U.S. Embassy-funded Georgian Educational Advocacy Project, we reviewed quantitative and qualitative data and spoke to public and private special education teachers and specialists, parents, state officials, and experts to examine the issues facing children with special educational needs in general . Research has shown that, despite significant progress in the provision of inclusive education, students with special educational needs still face numerous challenges.
Since 2004, Georgia has adopted many international best practices related to SEN. The identification of SEN is no longer tied to children with disabilities. Public schools identify pupils with special educational needs, and parents apply for a special needs teacher to the Ministry of Education, which then sets up a “multidisciplinary group” to investigate the case. On the basis of the identified special educational needs, the school is assigned a special educator and an individual curriculum is developed. Special educators work with children during and after school, mostly in specially allocated resource rooms that are equipped with additional materials and specially designed literature. Official assessment and teaching standards are provided by the ministry and additional guides are available or being developed.
All of this represents a significant positive departure from the stigma associated with SEN. However, there are significant gaps on the implementation side of the mechanism caused by a lack of sensitivity and sensitivity among teachers, parents and school administrators, which is best reflected in a case where that a special education teacher shared with us.
“Someone told me that they wanted to enroll their child with SEN in a public school and the school did not accept them, even though they had no right to refuse. The parents filed a formal complaint and the school received an official reprimand. The headmaster then called [the parents] apologized and said they would accept the child. “
Cases like this indicate that stigma is still widespread but varies from school to school or from class to class. In some cases, however, the stigma is more pronounced, especially in children with problematic behavior.
“I found out about one [SEN] Parents of the child that their class is going on a school trip and they have not been informed about it. I don’t know if it was because of the other parents or the teachers, but that’s how it happened. They said the child couldn’t keep still, ”said a special education teacher from Tbilisi.
The biggest problem seems to be human resources. In the multidisciplinary evaluation group there may be one person responsible for an entire region of Georgia or a few hundred children. This makes it impossible to monitor or follow up after the initial assessment. According to the Georgian Ombudsman for Human Rights, “the quality of inclusive education depends to a large extent on the existence of qualified teachers, the involvement of professionals in the educational process and their qualifications”. A shortage of skilled workers leads to a lack of in-depth assessment of the students, inconsistencies in individual curriculum development, gaps in inclusive teaching and a lack of monitoring. Special teachers are often general education teachers who have been retrained in inclusive education, but such retraining is considered inadequate. “We don’t have any specialists with focused specializations [in the school system]. Special educators with a master’s degree are rare, and practically nonexistent in the regions. They are mainly [regular] Teachers who have completed special education training, especially in the regions. They don’t have in-depth expertise or years of experience, just basic knowledge, ”said Diana Janashia, family and community services coordinator at MAC Georgia, a nonprofit education institution.
In addition, the stigma of parents who sometimes fail to have their child examined by a specialist hinders diagnosis and inclusion. This is particularly problematic in the regions. Most children with special educational needs come from urban centers and very few from remote villages. This suggests that more active work is needed in hard-to-reach communities. Low finances seem to be responsible for the lack of qualified personnel. Recent increases in school funding and teacher salaries could help improve the quality of inclusive education. Special education teachers have only recently been accepted into the Teacher Professional Development and Career Development Program, a career ladder that allows them to receive additional status and bonuses. Hopefully this will attract more qualified staff and increase the motivation of the existing special educators, resulting in a higher quality of inclusive education. The first aptitude test is still pending.
While Georgia has generally successfully introduced inclusive education, the qualification of special needs teachers, the number of subject specialists outside the big cities and the awareness of teachers and the public in general still require fundamental work. The system must provide sufficient incentives to attract qualified personnel and motivate them to outdo each other.
Tatia Pachkoria, Chief Specialist of the National Curriculum and Assessment Center for Inclusive Education, comments, “We need more qualifications and more belief in inclusive education. We need to instill an unconditional belief that this is an organic part of education. The more inclusion there is in education, the more successful the education system in general is. We have to see and believe that inclusion is a priori an indicator of a well-functioning education system. “
This article was written as part of the Georgian Educational Advocacy Project, funded by a US State Department grant. The opinions, results, and conclusions contained herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or Civil.ge.