Innovative teaching: A new approach at education

Inspiring Georgian teachers and engaging young students

By Molly Corso for UNICEF Georgia
Children at school
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Blagonravova

05 September 2018

April, 2018

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

The music changes, and the children regroup. Some run outside to play, others move to one of a dozen activities set up in the hallway: reams of paper for free drawing, books, handmade dolls, couches to relax on.

Breaks between classes at Public School #4 in Sagarejo, Georgia have undergone a major transformation in the months since school principal Neli Balakhashvili returned from a training in Estonia.

Neli was struck by how the schools she visited in Estonia used free time between classes: the children had a break but their minds stayed engaged. Music on the loudspeakers, free drawing space on the walls, safe places to sit down with friends. 

“Children need a place to rest and relax,” she said, adding “Slowly, I am doing what I can to create that kind of environment.”

Neli was one of a delegation of teachers and principals from 15 Georgian schools to attend trainings in Tallinn, Estonia last year as part of a three-year program to transform general education in Georgia.

Athree-year partnership among the Estonian Government, Georgian Government and UNICEF aims to build a highly skilled national teaching workforce and improve quality of education in Georgia. The program aims to help Georgian schools modernize teaching methods and provide children with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.

“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.

Children at school
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Blagonravova

In Tallinn, she said she was struck by the commitment to create a learning environment that attracted and engaged the children.

“School is a child’s second home...A child needs to feel that school is his or her second home and it is desirable for a child, after the school day, to spend his or her free time at school as well and not on the street,” Tamar said.

That is a big change for many Georgian schools, where the emphasis has traditionally been on repetition and reinforcing discipline, not freedom and engaging children in the learning process.

In Sagarejo, a small town located 58 kilometers from the capital, Neli and the teaching staff at Public School #4 have taken the lesson to heart.

Teachers like Mariam Shioshvili are creating lesson plans that educate children—and give them the opportunity to have a “voice” in the learning process, she said. 

Children at school
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Blagonravova

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 bees. 

There is a cornucopia of artwork dedicated to the task at hand—bees launching off the light fixtures, bees flying over the blackboards, bees circulating the floor.

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 a bit of art. Earlier lessons included math as well.

Children at school
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Blagonravova

Neli said the school is committed to showing the 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 your child works outside the class, in the hallway, that does not mean that 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, Neli points to the parents' work and notes where more changes are planned for the future.

The most fundamental shift for teachers are not the creative work spaces, however, noted third-grade teacher Mariam.

The most important change—the real key to successful lessons—she said is to "give children freedom and focus on their happiness."