Beyond the Classroom
How interactive catch-up classes are changing academic performance for children in Georgia
At three in the afternoon, when lectures are almost over at Gori University, children can be heard chatting cheerfully at the University's Child Rights Centre. Eighteen students from nearby public schools are gathered in a large room, sitting around a big round table, with colourful folders, diagrams, and pencils placed in front of them. They are actively discussing a problem.
Their teacher asks, "If the car travels 80 kilometres per hour, how many kilometres will it travel in five hours?"
The students cheerfully shout around the table, "400, 400!"
The seventh and eighth grade students gathered here are participants in a joint programme supported by UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia and the Bulgarian Government. The programme is implemented by the National Centre for Teacher Professional Development and helps children who are not in school or are at risk of dropping out to catch up with their studies and successfully integrate back into the national education system.
"Maths is the most difficult subject for me. I especially feel it during tests. I study, but when the test comes, I forget everything," says 13-year-old Soso, a seventh grade student from Gori Public School No. 1. At the after-school Maths class, Soso is the most active student. He diligently fills in the tables given to him by the teacher, and often raises his hand volunteering to demonstrate how to solve Maths problems.
"Soso is a very intelligent child. However, when he had just transferred to our school, he couldn't get along with his classmates. During the lesson, he was shy and would not talk, afraid that the children would laugh at him, or that the teacher would be angry at him if he gave a wrong answer. With the COVID-19 school closures, he no longer had the opportunity to interact with the other students, and he shut down," recalls Tamar Maisuradze, the tutor for Soso's class.
During the pandemic, Soso’s school — like all schools in Georgia — switched to online learning. Due to the limited access to the Internet, lack of equipment and stress caused by the pandemic, many children fell behind in their studies.
"I was stuck at home and couldn't do anything. I didn't even have a computer back then and I used to attend classes on the phone. However, sometimes I couldn't do that either, because we could not pay for an internet connection. My father is the breadwinner of our family, and during the pandemic was infected COVID-19 and spent a long time in hospital,” says Soso.
Falling behind in their studies is often a reason for students to miss school and often drop out altogether.
Within the framework of this UNICEF-supported programme, children from three Gori, Kutaisi and Zugdidi gather three times a week after school in the child rights centres, established by UNICEF, at partner universities. Here, children have time to relax, eat the lunch and socialize with one another. Afterwards, they are divided into two groups and they begin intensive lessons in Maths literacy.
"At school, teachers don’t have time to approach each student individually. The lesson is 40 minutes long and I have 29 students. But here, the lessons last two hours, sometimes longer, and I have eight to nine children in one group. This allows me to spend more time with each of them, respond to their individual needs, help them gain self-confidence and address issues as they arise. After two months here, most of the students have improved their grades,” says Rusudan Mghebrishvili, a numeracy teacher.
"I thought that I wouldn't be able to learn Maths, I thought I would never understand it, but everything turned out to be easier than I expected. This programme works. It helped me a lot."
In between lessons, children play with games focused on the development of various skills including critical thinking, communication, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility.
"It is very difficult, when you are already at a high grade level, to turn back and learn what you missed. For example, I know that I should have learned the multiplication table earlier, but only now that the teacher explained it to me again, I understand it. I thought that I wouldn't be able to learn Maths, I thought I would never understand it, but everything turned out to be easier than I expected. This programme works. It helped me a lot," Soso says.