Georgia: Outgoing School Examiner Decries Reforms

Officials argue new exam system is more straightforward, while critics say it makes passing too easy.

Georgia: Outgoing School Examiner Decries Reforms

Officials argue new exam system is more straightforward, while critics say it makes passing too easy.

Khatia Dekanoidze, the new head of Georgia’s school exam board. (Photo: Robert Churgulia)
Khatia Dekanoidze, the new head of Georgia’s school exam board. (Photo: Robert Churgulia)

Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s government has announced a fresh reform of the school examination system, triggering protests from the education officials who ran the previous system.

Critics like outgoing school examinations chief Maia Mimonoshvili warn that the new system will set the pass bar too low and will not produce high-calibre university students.

Saakashvili has already reformed the exam system. When he came to power in 2003, the school-leaving exams needed for university entrance were conducted orally, making them susceptible to corrupt and dishonest practices.

The new president tackled the system as a matter of urgency. In 2004, he abolished the oral exams and replaced them with the Unified National Examination to make university entrance purely dependent on academic performance.

However, final school exams were reintroduced last year, meaning that pupils now have to take these tests in addition to the Unified National Examination.

Meeting teachers on June 7 this year, Saakashvili announced a fresh revamp of the system under which the school certification exams would be expanded so that they replaced the Unified National Examination from 2013. The new system, called “8+1”, features eight graduation exams plus a general knowledge paper for all school-leavers, not just those applying for university.

Saakashvili said the unified exam had been a successful reform in its day, but the new-style school certificates rendered it redundant. The pressure to sit two sets of tests discriminated against children from poorer backgrounds, who were less well able to prepare for university entrance, he said.

On May 28, a few days before Saakashvili announced the changes, Mimonoshvili was dismissed as head of the National Examination Centre.

The education ministry said Miminoshvili lost her job because of a “difference of opinion” over the forthcoming exam reforms.

Miminoshvili herself, however, said she was sacked because her son took part in an opposition protest on May 27.

“The decision came as a surprise to me,” she said. “I think there are political motives behind it.”

Around 70 staff at the National Examination Centre resigned in protest at Mimonoshvili’s removal.

Officials insist the personnel changes, like the new exam system, are intended to ensure a level playing-field for all school-leavers.

Gia Murgulia, headmaster of a school in the capital Tbilisi and also a city councillor, is among those who welcome the changes.

“School-leavers previously had to sit first the school exams and then the national exams, all within a short period. So unifying them was always on the cards,” he said.

Critics of the new exams, including Miminoshvili, warn that the system will become too simple, and could lead to lower standards and higher pass rates.

Zurab Vakhania, who has served both on the exam board and as an adviser to parliament’s educational committee, said universities were keen to get more students so as to bring in more money, and easier exams would allow them to achieve this.

Miriam Ninidze, who finishes school this year, said the current leaving exams were easier than the Unified National Examination, for which she is now studying in order to apply for university.

“You could say they were easy, especially in the humanities,” she said. “If I was finishing school in a year’s time, then I could become a student with my results. The Unified National Exam is a lot harder, but I think I’ll pass if I’m lucky.”

When the new school certification exams were introduced last year, the failure rate was 17 per cent, and this year the figure dropped to just five per cent.

Khatia Dekanoidze, the new head of the National Examination Centre, argues that this shows that the new crop of school-leavers are better informed than their predecessors.

Dekanoidze insisted that Georgia’s educational reform process was a success story.

“These final exams were done using special technologies. Internet connections are now uninterrupted, the schools have been repaired. New technology, qualified teachers and many other things have been introduced into the educational system,” she said. “This latest wave of reforms will help our children do well in school, and that will be just the start of their careers.”

Simon Janashia, a professor at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, argues that placing too heavy a focus on exam results leads to schools trying to offload poor performers.

“The problem is that exams are used not just to rate pupils but also to punish head teachers. If pupils don’t get good exam results, then it’s a problem for the director,” he said. “That means that means schools want to get rid of pupils with low academic potential. In the last year alone, 15,000 pupils have had to leave school because of this.”

Natia Kuprashvili is an IWPR-trained journalist and director of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters.

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists