The majority of Abkhazian schools, in dire need of rehabilitation
“My day starts at sunrise when I get up and help my father with the cattle,” says Raimond, a 17-year-old student of Agu Bedia School, in the Tkvarcheli district of Abkhazia. “I walk 3 km to school with my four brothers and sisters. It is very difficult and cold in the winter when there is snow on the ground. We are lucky though; some children have to walk 7 or 8 km each way.”
During the 1992-1993 war, Agu Bedia School was used as a rural military headquarters. With the cessation of hostilities in 1994, the school began to function again and operated until 2000, when a new UN-sponsored administrative building was made available. However, that same schoolyear, the students were forced out when a bomb was detonated in their building during contested local elections. Almost all the windows were blown out, the equipment was either damaged or burned, and the library, chemistry and physics rooms destroyed.
There is no electricity or water supply and the latrines are in no condition for children. “We have no water in the school and our toilet is horrible,” continues Raimond. “If we want something to drink, we have to go to neighbours’ houses in the village and ask for well water. We could have a very nice sports field in the school too, but there is no fence around the property. The field is full of pigs and cows and they damage everything. It doesn’t matter though; we don’t have any sports equipment to use anyway.”
As in the other public sectors of Abkhazia, the education system – designed on the Soviet model – cannot meet the challenging needs of students. The system operated with substantially reduced resources both during and after the conflict, and infrastructure is now skeletal. The vast majority of schools are in dire need of major maintenance work, if not complete rehabilitation. Funds are scarce as schools only benefit from the fees collected by pupils' parents – who also have to contribute to the payment of the teachers’ salaries.
Most schools lack any basic or advanced educational equipment: desks, chairs and blackboards are in poor condition and in some instances unusable; basic supplies like chalk, pencils and notebooks are hard to come by; upper-level teacher and student materials, such as science equipment, are virtually non-existent; textbooks are not available in the required quantities and are frequently very old; students of the conflict zone are for the most part taught in Russian, and the only textbooks available are una tantum donations from the Russian Federation.
All schools lack qualified teachers. Support from the local authorities is minimal and salaries are often received months late, if at all. Notwithstanding extremely low salaries, teachers continue to run the schools even though, given the working conditions, there are no prospects of a generational replacement. The lack of resources does not allow any training on advanced education methodologies. Numerous qualified teachers have left the profession for better paying jobs and many of the remaining teachers are retirees who have come back because of lack of other opportunities. Within this environment, teachers are not in a position to provide psychosocial support when they detect disruptive behaviours that are due to the stressful situation children have to cope with.
UNICEF Georgia opened its first office in Abkhazia in November 2005, and has since increased its support to the women and children of the region. For the 2005-2006 schoolyear, 135 schools (20,000+ students) received essential student and teacher supplies. Together with other UN agencies, UNICEF also conducted a lead school assessment and selected several schools for full rehabilitation – one of them being Agu Bedia School. In addition to structural rehabilitation, the schools will receive new equipment, such as desks, chairs, chalkboards and stocked libraries. Teachers will be trained in life skills methodologies to help them meet students’ needs. Funding constraints have unfortunately put this important project on hold and, without substantial donor support, it will remain unimplemented.
© UNICEF Georgia/2006