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Release: May 15, 2001

UI helps Republic of Georgia develop civics curriculum

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- In the Republic of Georgia, democracy is still in its infancy. Since declaring its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country -- bordered to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia and to the east and south by Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan -- has been beset by civil conflict, massively negative Gross Domestic Product growth and hyperinflation.

Despite the turmoil, one thing that has remained constant is the value placed on education by the republic's citizens. Which is why a delegation of seven educators from Georgia -- a country with a nearly 100 percent literacy rate -- has spent the past three months at the University of Iowa developing their country's first-ever comprehensive civics curriculum for ninth-graders.

"Education is very valued in Georgia," says the team's coordinator, Vika Kuprashvili, Ph.D., an English teacher, a member of the English Teachers Association of Georgia (ETAG) and director of the Civics and Debate Teaching Centre in Georgia's capitol, Tbilisi. "People give up nice clothes and other luxuries so their children can go to college. And most people do go to college."

Working under the guidance of faculty and staff in the UI College of Education, the educators have conducted in-depth research using university computer and library facilities, sat in on university and local K-12 classes, consulted with U.S. educators, and traveled to several educational and cultural sites around the country, including Mark Twain's childhood home in Hannibal, Mo.

Their primary objective has been to assemble a civics curriculum that covers such subjects as democracy, human rights, constitutional issues, citizenship and social problems, a curriculum that could replace older materials obtained and translated from neighboring Russia. The group has also drawn up guidelines for employing more interactive methods of teaching in the classroom, such as using games, skits, role-playing and debate.

"This is important material that can assist young people and teachers of Georgia as they try to make their country more democratic and assist all to be aware of each other's rights as they interact," said UI special education professor Paul Retish, who is also director of civic education curriculum and training grants for Georgia and Moldova.

With less than a week to go before they return to Georgia, the educators say the curriculum is almost completed. The group will seek volunteers in their country to use the curriculum as part of a pilot project. Other members of the delegation who will help "spread the word" include Marina Mshvidobadze, an English teacher; Bella Kopaliani, a law teacher; Tamar Khatiashvili, a teacher of pedagogy; Tamar Kaldani, a lawyer; and Tea Gvelesiani, a psychologist. The group will be assisted by Rusudan Tkemaladze, director of ETAG, which is a partner in the civic education and curriculum development effort.

The project has the endorsement of, among others, Georgia's minister of education, who praised the group's efforts during a recent visit to the UI. But the group faces some challenges.

While Georgia's people prize education, rewards to teachers are few and far between. Partly because of the flailing economy, teachers earn on average only $16 a month -- if they get paid at all, according to another team member, Nino Tokhadze, Ph.D., an English teacher and research associate with the International Language Academy in Tbilisi. Some educators may be reluctant to try new teaching techniques or incorporate new materials into the curriculum. And while Georgia is "wired" to the Internet, technology resources are scarce in classrooms. In the school where Kuprashvili teaches, there is only one computer for 2,000 students, making widespread dissemination of materials difficult.

Still, the group is hopeful of its chances for success, not only in improving Georgia's civics curriculum, but also in fanning the flames of democracy.

"The next generation will be the real builders of democracy in Georgia," said Kuprashvili.