Free, fun and relaxed – how schools in Georgia are making lessons child-friendly

UNICEF teams up with Governments of Estonia and Georgia to strengthen new teaching techniques

By Molly Corso
A boy smiles as he and his classmates take part in an interactive lesson in Georgia
UNICEF/Georgia-2018/Blagonravova

04 July 2018

An impromptu dance lesson is underway outside Mariam Shioshvili’s third-grade classroom. Down the hallway, another group of children are huddled around a chalkboard while their classmates thumb through a handmade encyclopedia.

Music plays on speakers, free drawing spaces are set up on the walls, and there are relaxing places set up for children to sit with their friends. The music changes, and the children regroup. Some run outside to play, while others move to one of a dozen activities set up in the hallway.

This is an ordinary snapshot of what happens now between classes at Public School #4 in Sagarejo, Georgia, which has undergone a major transformation in the months since school principal Neli Balakhashvili returned from a training course in Estonia.

“Children need a place to rest and relax,” she says. “I am doing what I can to create that kind of environment.” Balakhashvili was struck by how the schools she visited in Estonia used the intervals between classes: During the lesson breaks, the children relaxed but their minds stayed engaged.
 

Children hug and play in the hallways of the school during breaks.
UNICEF/Georgia-2018/Blagonravova
Children meet and play in the hallways of the school during breaks.

Balakhashvili and other principals and teachers from 15 Georgian schools attended the training in Tallinn, Estonia last year as part of a three-year program to transform general education in Georgia.

UNICEF supported this partnership between the Estonian and Georgian governments, with the aim of building a highly skilled national teaching workforce and improving the quality of education in Georgia. The programme seeks to help Georgian schools to modernize teaching methods and provide children with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life.

“A child needs to use the knowledge he or she has learned at school for his or her future,” noted Tamar Khorava, the principal of Public School #18 in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. She explains that in Tallinn, she was impressed by the commitment to create a learning environment that both attracted and engaged children.

“A child needs to feel that school is his or her second home so it must be a desirable place for them to be. After school, we encourage children to spend their free time here as well and not on the streets,” added Khorava.

Lessons include practical skills such as working with a computer.
UNICEF/Georgia-2018/Blagonravova
Lessons include practical skills such as working with a computer.

In Georgian schools overall, the emphasis has traditionally been on repetition of information and the reinforcement of discipline, rather than on more freely engaging children in the learning process. But clearly at Public School #4 in Sagarejo, a small town 58 kilometres from the capital, Balakhashvili and her teaching staff have taken the lessons of Tallinn to heart. Teachers are now creating lesson plans that educate children — and give them the opportunity to have a “voice” in the learning process, she said. 

A major part of that revolves around creating integrated lessons — using a single topic to teach a range of subjects.

Down the hall, second grade teacher Irma Shvelidze’s classroom is dedicated to the current topic of study: Bees. The children are physically and mentally immersed in everything about bees. In the span of a single lesson, Irma uses music, cartoons and a Georgian folktale to educate the children about the characteristics of bees. The lesson threads together assignments that deal with science, Georgian literature and art. 
 

Children learn all about bees in an immersive class at a school in Sagarejo
UNICEF/Georgia-2018/Blagonravova
Children learn all about bees in an immersive class at a school in Sagarejo.

Balakhashvili said the school is committed to showing parents that these new methods can make a difference. They invited parents in for a presentation about the changes in September, before the start of the school year. 

"We gave the parents a presentation to explain that when children work outside the class in the hallway, it doesn’t mean the teacher has lost control," she noted as children stepped out of a nearby classroom and spread out to work in groups in the hall. 

They have also tried to involve the parents in the process, tapping into their creativity and art skills to make some of the decorations that help the children learn. Walking around the school, Balakhashvili points to the parents' work and notes where more changes are being planned.

But as one third-grade teacher noted, the most fundamental shift for teachers is not the creative work spaces. The biggest change is in how “we now give children the freedom they need to focus on their own happiness."

 

See the lessons in practice: