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Education Ministry Accused of Heavy-Handed Response to School Students’ Protest
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 11 Nov.'10 / 12:42

Principals of several public schools in Tbilisi lost their jobs after twelfth grade students from their schools participated in a protest rally on November 9 demanding dropping of newly introduced school-leaving exams.
 
Education Minister, Dimitri Shashkin, said on November 10 that it was not a dismissal as the ministry was not authorized by the law to dismiss heads of schools and added that principals of eight schools themselves filed for resignation, because as "it seems" they acknowledged their share of "responsibility" for thwarted classes on the day when the protest rally was held on November 9.
 
Principal of one of the public schools, Maia Giorgadze, however, said on November 10 that she had been summoned by the Education Ministry together with several other colleagues on the evening of November 9 and told to file for resignation because students from their schools were participating in the rally.
 
“We were told that such principals should not be working in the school, because our students were at the rally,” she told Maestro TV via phone on November 10 and added that she had refused to file for resignation as “my students were not at the rally”.
 
Education Minister, Dimitri Shashkin, whom President Saakashvili once described as “an important statesman” with a prospect to climb high up career ladder even hinting on presidency, is a frequent target of criticism from those opponents, who say that he is reversing from key principles of education reforms, which were started shortly after the Rose Revolution. One of such aspects, the opponents say, is stopping of decentralization process and tightening grip on public schools, turning school boards into a mere formality.

Another aspect of the case is a motive behind the protest rally, which was held on November 9 outside the Parliament followed by a march to the Education Ministry building.

Few hundred twelfth grade students, who gathered at the Facebook-generated rally, were demanding dropping of plans to carry out school-leaving exams at the end of current school year.

The school-leaving exam program was adopted by the Education Ministry in March, 2010 – five months ahead of schedule in order to, as the ministry said, give students in their final school year more time to prepare. The ministry said CAT-type tests will be held in eight subjects: Georgian language and literature, foreign language, mathematics, history, geography, physics, chemistry and biology. The ministry said tests are easy and a student will require some basic knowledge to pass it.

But those students, who have protested, complain that new exams will not enable them to focus on university entry exams, which they say, is a priority for them. They also acknowledge that it will be difficult for them to pass school-leaving exams in all eight subjects because they have not been learning some of those subjects blaming for that the system itself. Some protesters were saying that they would welcome if the exams were be held in selected subjects chosen by students themselves.

Ghia Nodia, a professor of political science at Tbilisi-based Ilia State University, who was Education Minister in 2008, said the motive behind the protest rally was “ridiculous” for him. He, however, also told Maestro TV on November 10, that the Education Ministry’s reaction to the rally by forcing school principals to resign was not right and described it as “overreaction”. “There is no need to over-dramatize the fact of the protest rally itself,” he added.

President Saakashvili intervened in the matter on November 8, a day before the protest rally was held, and referring to the protesters’ Facebook page, which has generated over 5.300 supporters, said that those students “do not want to learn.” He also said that the protesters thought Education Minister Dimitri Shashkin was weak enough to allow “revolution of bad grade students”.

Both the Education Minister and the President claimed that some opposition parties were encouraging school students to stage protest rallies. On November 9, when some representatives from the opposition Labor Party joined the twelfth grade school students’ rally outside the Parliament, the protesters immediately distanced themselves from the politicians saying that they had nothing to do with the political parties or politics.

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