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Factors Inhibiting or Promoting Bilingual Education in Georgia

In 2010 Shalva Tabatadze, Doctoral candidate at the TSU Faculty of Humanities, studied the “Factors Determining the Efficiency of Bilingual Education Program in Georgian Reality”.

That was just the year that the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia launched multilingual education reforms, under which non-Georgian language schools would have begun reforms on their own curricula and would start multilingual education programs. Shalva Tabatadze decided to address the question of whether non-Georgian language schools were indeed ready to implement strong multilingual education programs.

The bilingual education program involved teaching academic content in two languages--in the official language (Georgian) and the minority language that had been used previously by the schools. Some subjects would be taught in the official language and others in Armenian, Russian or Azerbaijani, varying subjects or days, or in some cases the same subject could be taught in two languages. The idea of implementing the bilingual education reform sought to ensure better teaching of the official language in non-Georgian language schools. In bilingual education, the language is taught simultaneously with academic content. If the bilingual education program is well-planned and implemented, students have better academic performance and their cognitive development is much higher compared to students with a monolingual education. However, if the program is not implemented properly, it poses risks, because students may fully learn neither the languages nor the academic content.

The efficiency of multilingual education programs depends on several factors. First and foremost are staff resources, involving the school administration and teachers that must have a relevant level of training and qualification to teach in the multilingual context. The second factor is that the local community has to value a multilingual education and the third is that parents have to b   e engaged in the process.    

There are strong and weak multilingual education programs. A strong program envisages teaching two languages, and as a result students speak two languages equally well. If the program is weak, one language is taught at the expense of the other and bilingualism fails to develop--this ultimately leads to low academic performance among the students.

The researcher assessed 26 pilot schools in the Kvemo Kartli region inhabited by Azeri-speaking communities and in Samtskhe-Javakheti, where Armenian is spoken.

The analysis of the curricula showed that out of 26 schools, 19 had weak bilingual education programs and were mostly teaching either in the official language or the local language. However, in all nineteen schools the cause was a lack of the necessary staff resources. To introduce a strong program, these schools should have received financial and human resources from the Ministry. Instead they chose a program they could implement on their own. The remaining seven schools selected another option called the “strong program”.

To clarify whether the 26 schools were ready to implement the program, we studied the level of preparation of the administration and the teachers. The results proved extremely deplorable. The key problem at non-Georgian language schools is a chronic lack of bilingual teachers, a factor which is highly necessary for bilingual education.

About 60% of ethnically non-Georgian teachers who teach the Georgian language at these schools, do not speak Georgian well themselves, to say nothing about the teachers of physics, mathematics, chemistry or other subjects, who sometimes do not speak Georgian at all. The situation is no better in terms of school administration. Most minority school directors cannot speak Georgian well and thus cannot lead a bilingual education process. In fact, 93% of school directors and members of school administrations were not familiar with the bilingual education programs of their own schools and during the election of new school directors in 2007, 53% of Georgian language schools elected new school directors, while only 26 out 265 (less than 10%) of non-Georgian language schools elected new heads.  Approximately 90% of the minority candidates failed to pass the test or interviews in Georgian.  This is a clear demonstration of the low qualification of minority school administrators resulting from former Soviet policies that discouraged integration.

As for the issue of whether the belief in the importance of bilingual education is shared by the community, all the 26 pilot schools surveyed during the research indicated that the initiative on bilingual education did not come from the community. The Ministry of Education and Science notified the school administrations approximately six months in advance that they had been selected as pilot schools to implement the program.

Parents’ roles in desiring a bi-lingual education for their children were difficult, as when parents do not speak the official language and the school offers bilingual education, their assistance and support in the learning process is minimized. When asked whether they used various strategies to engage parents in the learning process, most teachers answered positively, however about 93% could give no examples. Thus parental engagement in the implementation of bilingual education programs and generally in the learning process was minimal. “Based on the research results, at this stage the bilingual education reforms should not have started at all the schools as they were not ready for this process,” the researcher stated.

In 2011, the presentation of this research on the efficiency of the bilingual education program was given at an international conference organized jointly by TSU and the Center for Civil Integration and Inter-Ethnic Relations. Fifteen experts from different countries attended the conference entitled “Issues of Teaching the Official Language”. The results were also presented at the annual conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in New Orleans in 2013. The research results and general analysis of bilingual education reform in Georgia have been included in the 2007 (fifth) and 2011 (sixth) editions of the textbook issued in the United States Human Diversity in Education; An Intercultural Approach, by McGraw-Hill Publishers, where a sub-chapter is dedicated to the problems of bilingual education reform in Georgia.

Based on the research results that revealed staff deficiencies in non-Georgian language schools, Tbilisi State University, in cooperation with the Center for Civil Integration and Inter-Ethnic Relations, has developed a new Bachelor’s degree program, to prepare teachers for bilingual primary education courses. The degree program will be submitted to the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement for accreditation, and students can enroll by September 2013. The program will focus mainly on graduates from non-Georgian language schools, who have received preferential treatment during enrollment and have been increasing their Georgian language skills over the last year. The Bachelor’s degree program will prepare the teachers for primary education courses so that they will be able to teach several subjects in two languages. Furthermore, a Tempus program has been launched with financial support from the European Union to introduce multilingual education programs in at higher educational institutions of Georgia and Ukraine. This program is coordinated by Tbilisi State University and involves 12 partner institutes of higher education in Georgia and four other countries. The program envisages preparation of future teachers at a Master’s level. Bilingual teachers will be prepared for grades 7-12 to teach physics, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences in non-Georgian language schools. The implementation of master’s program will apparently start in 2015.

The Tempus program will offer a teacher retraining program. Along with Ukrainian colleagues, Ilia State University and Samtskhe-Javakheti University are also partners, and they will introduce the bilingual teacher preparation Master’s program as well as a professional development program for school teachers.  If the Tempus program is successful the issues raised by the research on bilingual education that was conducted in 2010 can be overcome in just a few years.