Online education has exacerbated and highlighted the grave social problems in the country. Up to 10,000 children who do not have Internet and computers at home have been hindered in their right to education.
According to the joint Report of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), up to 10 thousand school-age children in Georgia (15 percent of school-age children) do not have Internet at home. This happens when, due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools have been closed in Georgia since March 2020 and 661,500 children are studying remotely, online.
The Report notes that even before the pandemic, there was a problem of internetization in Georgia placing children in unequal and non-competitive conditions compared to other peers.
Although the restrictions are in many countries around the world and children are learning remotely in many places, in low-income countries the children are even further behind their peers, reads the Report.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the most vulnerable in Georgia, the socially vulnerable. It is especially difficult for families with several school-age children.
Several such families have applied to Human Rights Center (HRC) for legal aid. Among them is Gulnaz L. who lives in Kutaisi. She has three minor children: 12 and 9 year old girls and 7 year old boy.
Gulnaz is divorced and is currently raising children alone. The ex-husband does not support her financially. Gulnaz does not even have her own house. She lives with her three minor children in a rented apartment in Kutaisi. Following the coronavirus pandemic, the economic situation of the family worsened. Prior to the pandemic, she worked as a babysitter in one of the families. She lost her job after the spread of the coronavirus.
"The social allowance that Gulnaz receives is not enough for a family with three children living in a rented apartment. Gulnaz was not able to receive the one-time allowance of GEL 300 provided by the State to the self-employed people affected by the pandemic: “She, like thousands of other baby-sitters, could not obtain the necessary documents and could not prove that she really worked as a baby-sitter,” says Ana Chapidze, a lawyer within HRC. “All three minor children are of school age.” They do not have Internet at home, nor a computer, nor such a phone to attend online lessons. Moreover, in September, when the schools were open, the children did not have shoes to go to the school. The constitutional right of these children to receive an education is now violated. Although these children have a very caring and hard-working mother, the wellbeing of the family needs to be strengthened.”
HRC has already applied to the Head of the Social Affairs Service which is a primary structural unit within the Mayor's Office of Kutaisi Municipality and requested to assess the individual needs of the family of Gulnaz L. and to allocate appropriate assistance for the family.
HRC was approached also by Khatuna T. for legal aid. She also lives in a rented apartment in Kutaisi with her two minor children.
"Khatuna is an internally displaced person (IDP). She was employed before the pandemic in her own small business making souvenirs. Now the souvenirs can no longer be sold and she was induced to close the business. She raises up her children alone and faced particular hardships during the pandemic. They do not have Internet at home and because of this the children cannot attend online classes,” says Ana Chapidze.
Ana Chapidze also addressed the case of Khatuna T. to the Head of the Social Affairs Service, the primary structural unit within the Mayor's Office of Kutaisi Municipality. The lawyer is requesting the authorities to assess individual needs of Khatuna T. and assist her family adequately.
"In September 2019, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the Code of the Rights of the Child. According to the Code, the State is obliged to protect the best interests of the child and his / her rights, including the right to education. The State is obliged to study the individual needs of all the families where there is a child and to help strengthen the families if necessary. After the enactment of the Code, a division for children was established at the Social Affairs Service. Based on our appeal, the social workers operatively assessed the condition of both families. Now we are waiting for their reactions,” says Ana Chapidze.
What does the state do for children who do not have Internet and computers?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, on March 3, 2020, the educational process in Georgia was terminated. The studies resumed in September, however, for only a few days as the schools were soon closed again now for an indefinite period due to a growing rate of coronavirus infection following the decision by the Coordinating Council.
Currently all public and private schools operate remotely: children are given online lessons.
Remote online teaching is a novelty for Georgia. In the applicable legislation, there was no concept for remote education before the coronavirus pandemic.
After the schools were closed and there was no other solution but remote learning, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Georgia created several programs through which online education is provided.
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, profiles for all the programs under the Microsoft Office 365 were automatically activated for more than 600,000 students and up to 55, 000 teachers including the Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft Teams is an online communication platform that has the function of video calling and organizing teams. Many public schools now use this platform. Zoom is also a popular platform.
The TV project also started: The Public Broadcaster broadcasts the program "Teleschool", which offers children a 15-20 minute TV version of the lessons provided by the National Curriculum.
The state created the first Georgian platform for public schools Feeds Edu. The platform is free and it works on any smartphone. Its consumption does not require high speed Internet, but, Internet is still needed.
The online platforms offered by the State are not available to children who do not have Internet at home. This means that currently 10,000 children are completely or partially disconnected from the online learning process.
"Lack of Internet access prevents children and young people from being competitive in the modern economy," says Ghassan Khalil, UNICEF Representative in Georgia.
If the child does not have a computer or the Internet, the school should consider how to involve the student in the learning process. In this case, the burden is entirely on the teacher: the children who are left without the Internet should be contacted by the teacher by phone, or help with special transcripts, which depends entirely on the desire and motivation of the teacher.
Neither the Ministry of Education nor the state has so far provided real assistance to children who do not have Internet and computers and they are still hoping for the charity of individuals.
HRC implements the project Free Legal Advocacy and Human Rights Monitoring after the Coronavirus Pandemic, with a support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia. The goal of the project is to identify and raise awareness of the alleged facts of human rights violations during the state of emergency aimed at the prevention of spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in Tbilisi and five regions of Georgia: Shida Kartli, Kakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Imereti and Samegrelo.