CONTACT: STEPHEN PRADARELLI
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
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
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,"