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 aims to include children who are not in school and are at risk of dropping out of the educational process.
"Mathematics is the most difficult subject for me. I especially feel it during tests. I study for them, but when I used to sit down for the test, I forgot everything," says 13-year-old Soso, a seventh-grade student from Gori Public School No. 1. Here, at the after-school mathematics 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 the mathematics problems.
"Soso is a very intelligent child. However, when he had just transferred to our school, he was having trouble; he couldn't get along with his classmates. During the lesson, he seemed to want to say something, but he was shy, thinking that the children would laugh at him, or that the teacher would be angry at him if he gave a wrong answer. The COVID-19 pandemic also coincided with this period. He no longer had the opportunity to interact with the children at all, 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 Internet, lack of equipment and stress caused by the pandemic, many children faced serious problems affecting their academic performance.
"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 Internet. That happened because my father is the breadwinner of our family, and he was diagnosed with the virus and was taken to the hospital. In the end, I didn't understand the fifth and sixth grade material that we were supposed to learn online," says Soso.
Falling behind in their studies is often a reason for students to miss school and, in the end, drop out of educational institutions. Lack of access to compulsory education is a particularly severe problem for children from socially and economically disadvantaged families.
This project, helps children at risk of dropping out from school to catch up with their studies and successfully integrate them back into the general education system.
Within the framework of this project, children from three cities in Georgia — Gori, Kutaisi and Zugdidi — gather three times a week after school in the child rights centres, established by UNICEF, at partner universities. When children arrive at the centres after school they have time to relax, eat the lunch provided to them, and socialize among themselves. Afterwards, they are divided into two groups and they begin intensive lessons, under the supervision of teachers, in the subjects of literacy and mathematics.
"At school, teachers don’t have time to approach each student individually. The lesson is 40 minutes long and I have 29 students. The lessons here last two hours, sometimes longer, and I have eight to nine children in the group. This allows me to spend more time with each of them, to respond to their individual needs, to help them gain self-confidence and to eliminate problems as they arise. After two months here, most of the students have improved their grades, and all the teachers in school note their progress," says Rusudan Mghebrishvili, a mathematics literacy teacher.
Before the groups change subjects, during a 30-minute break, the children are entertained with various games provided by university students who are involved in the associated teachers’ assistant programme. The games are focused on the development of various skills including critical thinking, communication, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility.
In the pilot version of this programme, 50 children have been included. It is important that afterschool classes are available throughout the country for more students who need them.
"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, do I understand it. I thought that I wouldn't be able to learn math, 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.