We Love to Learn - UNICEF and the Government of Georgia give war-affected children a revitalised learning experience
By Sarah Marcus for UNICEF Georgia
‘If you can get onto the internet you can access so much information and this is why I really like computers,’ she adds, demonstrating an awareness of the importance of information technology in the modern world.
At two schools near the Georgian city of Gori, the education of children and young people like Nino has been enhanced by UNICEF’s donation of computers and modern learning aids and books.
A Ministry of Education-led refurbishment of Nino’s school in Karaleti village was interrupted when fighting erupted in and around South Ossetia, Georgia in August 2008.
Both Karaleti School and its neighbour Nacharmagevi School are situated near Georgia’s de facto border with South Ossetia. During the conflict this area formed part of the so-called ‘buffer zone’ and endured almost two months of occupation by Russian troops.
‘UNICEF was the first aid organisation to intervene here during the war,’ says Archil Mikhanashvili, director of Karaleti Public School. During the fighting humanitarian organisations but not government agencies could get into the buffer zone.
On 11 October 2008, 2 days after Russian troops left the area, the Ministry of Education visited the school, reassessed its needs and increased its allocations of supplies.
The refurbishment process, which was financed under the President’s Programme, with 1 million Georgian Lari allocated for the refurbishment of two schools, restarted after the troops had withdrawn.
UNICEF provided every school in the buffer zone including the Karaleti School with textbooks and learning materials so that vulnerable young people – who had already returned to school over a month late because of the fighting - would not have their learning process further interrupted.
‘UNICEF gave us a full set of all items needed for the teaching and learning process. They provided overarching support,’ says school director Mikhanashvili.
The Karaleti school was not damaged during the war despite the fact that the surrounding area suffered destruction and looting. Nacharmagebi School was not so lucky – Russian soldiers blew a hole in the wall of the building’s computer room and stole all 16 computers inside.
UNICEF replaced all the computers at this school and also provided a photocopier, a printer and computer tables and chairs. Karaleti School has been promised 25 computers by the Ministry of Education but UNICEF also supplied the school with 2 computers as well as fitting out the computer room with desks and chairs.
Walking round Karaleti School recently, the benefits of both the Ministry of Education’s refurbishment of the building – completed in the months after Russian troops withdrew from the area – and UNICEF’s support to the school are in evidence.
The building, which caters for 488 students between the ages of 6 and 17, 15 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, is now sparklingly clean, bright and warm, free of any sign of the dilapidation which often afflicts educational institutions in Georgia.
UNICEF provided desks and chairs for the entire school, considerably improving the students’ learning environment – previously there were often as many as three pupils to a chair and small, unstable desks.
The young people’s satisfaction and eagerness to learn are clear to be seen.
‘We try to do better now because our school is much more comfortable. That makes it easier for us to learn and we take better care and we will now learn better,’ says Nino Aduashvili.
Not only is the student’s learning environment more comfortable but they are also reaping the fruits of UNICEF’s donation of books and learning aids.
In one classroom, 9-year-olds are learning maths, aided by colourful abacuses supplied by UNICEF.
‘The parents are very happy about the donation,’ says teacher Marina Terterashvili.
When the donation was made UNICEF encouraged the school to implement a lending system for both the learning aids and the books so that many generations of children could benefit from them.
The pupils are allowed bring books and learning aids home, but they remain the property of the school, ensuring they’ll be there for more young people in the years to come.
In the school’s library, the librarian explains that she uses one of the UNICEF-provided computers to manage the lending system. The library was totally empty before the donation, she says, but now all the books are registered here and loaned out to students, thus facilitating independent learning.
The school’s 52 teachers have also benefited from UNICEF’s assistance – whereas before their staffroom had practically no furniture, making it impossible for the teachers to hold meetings or work on lesson plans, now it has a conference table and plenty of chairs, so the staff can plan the education process in comfort.
At both Karaleti and Nacharmagevi school the young people are thriving on their new supplies of computers and learning materials. At Nacharmagebi a class of 13-14- year-olds were adeptly working away on the new computers.
At Karaleti, a notice board where students pin up their wishes showed the scope of their optimism and dedication to learning.
‘I want to have many computers,’ read one wish.
‘I want to have a radio studio in our school.’
And finally: “ I want to meet the President to tell him what I want”
At Karaleti, the future looks bright and the students’ enthusiasm and dedication will surely help them to make their wishes come true.