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Who Is threatened with School Reform?(Part I)

February 22, 2008
What should teachers think about-their contract terms or children’s education? 

Journalistic Survey
Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

Directors and teachers of Georgian Public Schools have sign employment contracts. The stipulated terms of the contracts vary in among schools from 1 to 6 years in duration. However, what would otherwise seem mundane has experts concerned. They claim that those contracts under such stipulated terms are in contradiction with the Georgian Constitution and international law. It is not that the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science that made the requirement to indicate the duration when contracts are signed.

The circumstances begs the question as why did directors decide on their own initiative to indicate terms of the employment in the contracts? Was it demanded from high officials, or was some other motivating factor involved, and this was done under their own free will? The first question is who and why will there be a benefit from the mass reduction of teachers? And finally, what has bee the actual outcome and what are “real results” of the much proclaimed educational reform in Georgian schools?

One of the classrooms belonging to Public School # 71 is over crowded. All the teachers working here are asking Ramaz Supatashvili, the school’s direct about the conditions of their employment contracts, and wonder if they will be finally able to agree to the terms and conditions of their employment contracts.

In answering, the director started to explain to teachers that the text of the contract and the term are drawn upon the mutual agreement that was reached between both parties. The Human Rights Center also attended the meeting when this was discussed. We explained to the teachers that they can sign permanent contracts. We introduced them with the opinion of Independent Trade Union of Experts, Scientists and Teachers who claim that indicating the term in the contract infringes upon their legal rights.

In addition to what was discussed during the meeting we expressed our readiness to answer all their questions. However, the director pointed out that it might be inconvenient to ask questions in his presence. Consequently he decided to leave the room in order that the teachers would not be influenced by his physical presence. However, before he departed the room many other teachers left the room in order to demonstrate their loyalty to Mr. Supatashvili. Only nine teachers remained in the room! Why? Do not they care about their rights? Or maybe they are afraid that by staying that they might face some problems with the director and this could be professionally damaging to their reputation if they would have remained in the room?

Contracts were signed in almost every Georgian public school before former Minister of Education and Science, Kakha Lomaia had provided the format of the contract…

Manana Nikolaishvili, the head and founder of the non-governmental organization “Georgian Education League” said that she had to cope with many obstacles and problems until ‘contract term” was deleted from the Georgian Law on Education by the Ministry of Education and Science.

“Lomaia finally realized what to do. I had a great influence on him too. Consequently he deleted the contract term within the law; three years later when he issued the contact format, as the term was not indicated in the draft as well.”

“I demanded that that the article about  signing contract with stipulated durations be deleted from the law as it was contradicted the Georgian Constitution, Articles 14, 17, 21, 35 (paragraph II) and Article 38 (paragraph I).”

Manana Nikolaishvili does not see any need to sign contracts. She said that there are a lot of other measures to control the activities of the teacher. For example, commissions can attend lessons to see how well a teacher is doing. If a teacher cannot conduct normal lessons, then it will not be difficult them to have their employment terminated.  A teacher can be fired if s/he beats a pupil or breached rules of teacher classroom ethics. Teacher should not be controlled by time-limited contract for another reason; every teacher is required to takes exams once every 8 years. If s/he fails the tests, then that is immediate grounds for automatic termination. This argument is so important that even the directors and officials from representing the Ministry of Education told that all due diligence should when contracts were signed so that only qualified teachers would be hired. Why should be someone appointed on the spur of the moment to background check the qualifications of a teacher when there is already in existence a special commission for this very purpose?

Georgian Law on Compulsory Education still contains several paragraphs that can have a negative impact, such as Paragraph 26-z; Article 59 paragraph 5 (the teacher can be fired as soon as a new director is appointed). Manana Nikolaishvili considers that these articles were inserted in the law in order to get rid of old staff from schools under the banner of educational reform.

The Trade Union of Scientists and Teachers, as well as Manana Nikoleishvili herself, fought against the short-term contracts. However, they were ready to accept three-year-long contracts. Manana Ghurchumelidze, the chairperson of the Trade Union speaks that education is one of the hardest professions in the world and it requires psychological strength. Teachers should not be bothered with having to think about contracts every year.

Although Georgia is the member of the International Labor Organizations and UNESCO, teachers are not protected under the governing law. However, those organizations claim that everything must be done to protect the teacher from the self-interested of the school administration. Generally, the problem is not found within the law that deals with teachers but in how the Labor Code that deals with every employed Georgian citizen is applied.

Manana Ghurchumelidze: “Our Labor Code states that director can fire a teacher without explanation. In our country teachers are afraid to resist their employers. ”The head of Georgian Education League pointed out that the slavery code is added with the law dealing with Compulsory Education and it creates an even more difficult situation for teachers. “Pupils and teachers have substantial rights; “teachers’ rights” - if they have any, are now being restricted by the law.”

The teachers have not been provided information about their rights yet. But before going further, let’s return to Public School # 71…. Ia Zirakishvili, member of the Trade Union of Scientists and Teachers, teacher of the same school attended the meeting. She completely contradicted the Trade Union that she represents. She could not understand why permanent contracts should be signed in the first place. She thinks that six-year-long contract is completely acceptable because it coincides with the provided term of elections for school directors.

Maia Lipartelianni, lawyer for the trade Union of Scientists and Teachers, said that labor relationship between teachers started before the new director was appointed; it means that they had already started working at school.

“A director cannot fire a teacher who worked at school before s/he came to that school and the old teacher could refuse to accept any paragraph from the proposed contract. New teachers might be facing different situation. Director can now sign a contract with them according to his/her own wish and expectations.”

When we explained that time-limited contracts and how they breach the rights of the teachers and this was not necessary there were some who took exception. Ms. Zirakishvili is one who is responsible for protecting the rights of teachers. She told us in response that six-year-contracts were signed with teachers based upon mutual agreement. Moreover, teachers present in the room at the time confirmed her statement.

However, it was soon apparent to us that teachers did not actually have any information about the permanent contracts that they were going to sign. Naturally we then tried to find out the actual situation and soon discovered that most Georgian Public Schools are facing similar problems. It is difficult to blame either the teacher union or school directors themselves because teachers did not make the effort to learn about their actual rights. Moreover, the chairperson of the School Tutorial Board said that the teachers that she knows regret not having already agrees and make a similar statement about the utility of permanent contracts. The chairperson of the Tutorial Board of the Public School # 71 makes concurs. “It is strange why teachers are now having second thoughts about having signed permanent contracts when they have been working in their current position for many years already.”