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Quality education for economic growth

By Nalifa Mehelin
Wednesday, April 17
Georgia has earned numerous accolades for revitalizing it's economy post-Soviet period. The global financial crisis of 2007-08 and the Russian conflict in 2008 slowed the economic growth for a short period of time; however, this ‘star performer’ bounced back to maintain its 4.5% annual economic growth. To add more to its crown, in 2016, Georgia was ranked 16th in the ‘Economic Freedom Index’ by The Heritage Foundation which subsequently followed by a 9th place in 2017 in the ‘Ease of Doing Business Index' by the World Bank. All these honors are duly highlighted in the neatly organized website of Georgian National Investment Agency. Proceed a bit further and one can find the potential sectors of investment opportunities: energy, hospitality and real estate, manufacturing, regional logistics hub, agricultural and food processing, and business process outsourcing.

For a beaming country with Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), it is rather surprising to see the slow, albeit non-present, growth in educational reform. Engrossed in the lucrative short-term growth through FDI is hindering the larger vision of accumulating long run advancement in human capital through education in Georgia. It’s time to address the queries of Georgia’s future; whether it will forever be sealed with FDI or Georgian workforce will become qualified and skilled enough to lead the country independently.

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”- Laozi. This proverb of the ancient Chinese philosopher proves the age-old, pan-civilization relationship of education and the skilled workforce. Much like its neighbors, Georgia is also spending a significant portion of GDP on education. In fact, World Bank data reveals the total expenditure on education as a percentage of GDPs for different countries. In 2015, the Netherlands, an FDI favored country, spent 5.4% of its GDP on education. The scenario is even more interesting closer to home where one of Georgia’s neighbors, Turkey spent about 4.3%, while the other prominent neighbor, the Russian Federation, spent 3.8%. In comparison, Georgia spent about 3.7% of its GDP on education.
Comparatively, in terms of educational expenditure, Georgia isn’t lagging behind. However, the question of quality still remains. In order to assess the quality of education in Georgia, let’s take some numbers into account. The Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) report compares student performance all across the world. The basic survey is performed on 15-year-old students and is conducted to evaluate the skill and knowledge level of the students after finishing compulsory education. PISA ranks Georgia 60th out of 72 participatory countries and economies. The share of top performers in at least one subject among science, mathematics, and reading in level 5 or 8 is a mere 2.6%, whereas the share of low achievers in all three subjects below level 2 is 36.3%.

Transparency International Georgia discloses quite a shocking fact about the teacher quality in Georgia. The report states, "As of 2017, only 30% of teachers were certified ones. In 2010-2017, only 25% of teachers who participated in certification exams could overcome the minimum threshold. The teachers of elementary schools, physics, information technologies, and mathematics have had the lowest scores.” In addition, the report claims that, in 2016-2018, on average 77% of students could successfully pass the final school exams, while this percentage was 84% in 2011-2015.
Although the state funding of schools increased, the quality did not reach as per expectation. Furthermore, Times Higher Education listed only one university, Tbilisi State University, in the overall Times Higher Education World University Rankings which is ranked at number 1001+. All of these accumulated in Georgia’s rank in the ‘Global Competitiveness Index’ of the World Economic Forum. It ranked 106th among 137 participatory countries of the world.

It is needless to say that access to quality education is imperative in today's times. Young Georgians are facing strong competition from workers all over the world, now more than ever. Although the government has announced new reforms on education, the challenge lies within its implementation. Emphasizing on investing in human capital, the “Georgia 2020” program reflects the Georgian government’s ambitious vision for the country’s development. Here’s hoping it is not too late beyond the point of forever sealed with FDIs.

Nalifa Mehelin works as an Associate Research Analyst at Innovations for Poverty Action, Bangladesh.