The ‘Oscars of Education’: How a Competition is Helping Boost Prestige for Georgia’s Undervalued Teachers
Author: Tata Burduli, Senior Researcher at GeoWel Research
Teaching is not a popular vocation in Georgia. Since 2011 only 1 to 3% of university students study in the field of education, compared to social sciences and business which attract 37-40% of university students each year. This is a very low indicator, especially considering that it includes all fields and levels of education, not just school teachers. According to a 2019 study, in the 2018-2019 academic year there were only 536 university students on primary school teacher training programs. Moreover, the profession fails to attract the brightest students: in 2014 those seeking to study education had the lowest admission scores of any field.
Teachers themselves are aware of the negative perception the public has of the profession. According to one major survey from 2018, almost two-thirds of Georgia’s teachers believe that their profession is not valued in the country.
The worst part is the media. Any time there is an issue on TV the school and the teacher are shown as wrongdoers and society’s negativity is directed at the teacher. Usually, only bad things are shown to the society, never positive ones,” said a teacher from Oni municipality.
Although public attitudes might lag behind, recent years have seen many improvements in the Georgian education system – both for students and teachers. For around a decade the state has implemented multiple reforms and programs in an attempt to boost morale and encourage people into teaching. Steps tried so far include introducing a career entry and advancement scheme and progressive teacher statuses, retirement awards for pension-age teachers, salary add-ons, ongoing skills development trainings, and project grant competitions, to name but a few. Teacher salaries have gradually been going up: they now vary from between GEL 385-2000. Senior teachers, who comprise 60% of the current teaching body, receive between around GEL 900-1200, another quarter – between around GEL 400-600 and the rest 15% (lead and mentor teachers) between around GEL 1600-1900. The salary of teachers with statuses is decent in Georgia, especially in rural areas. But despite the continuing efforts, in interviews we conducted as part of the U.S. Embassy-funded Georgian Educational Advocacy Project, it is clear that teachers feel undervalued.
As a tool to counteract this image of teachers and teaching, in 2017 an NGO, the Education Coalition (EFA), started the National Teacher Award. The NTA is a part of a global campaign aimed at promoting the teaching profession, increasing the prestige of teachers and, simultaneously, identifying successful teachers and presenting them to the public.
“The idea came about when our partners told us about the Global Teacher Award show, presented by [Hollywood star] Matthew McConaughey with a prize of one million dollars, which is super high. They call it ‘the Oscars of Education’. The goal of creating the National Teachers Award in Georgia was for the teaching profession to become more prestigious… We wanted to change society’s perception of the average teacher. We realized that many children had not even seen a ‘good teacher’. We wanted to present a ‘good teacher’ to the public, for the profession to be prestigious and valued, and to show that in this profession it is possible to achieve success, a career, be different, have a family, everything,” said EFA’s director Giorgi Chanturia.
Every year since 2017 a jury of twenty education experts, journalists, professors and other stakeholders consider around 100 applications. To be eligible for the competition, a teacher first has to be nominated either by themselves or their community members. Candidates fill out an application form and present a three-minute video before being assessed according to their students’ results, teaching methods, values, civic activism and community recognition. The jury then assesses the top five candidates based on a presentation on an educational issue and meets with the nominees’ community members. Finally, the winner is chosen, who receives a GEL 10,000 prize and gets a better chance to win the Global Teacher Awards, whose top prize is USD 1 million. Since 2017 years some 6,500 teachers have been nominated, out of which 750 went through the application process, and four have been granted the national award.
The National Teachers Award has garnered significant media coverage in Georgia, especially when the winner of the 2017 award Lado Apkhazava, a Civic Education teacher from the village of Chibati, made the top ten in the 2019 Global Teacher Awards, hosted by actor Hugh Jackman. This international success helped popularize the competition, and since then Apkhazava has become a well-known figure in Georgia, actively participating in various public issues and fronting public information campaigns. Apkhazava, along with the next two winners Giorgi Chauchidze and Manana Kapetivadze, have Wikipedia entries in their name, and biographies on the National Public Library of Georgia website.
Manana Kapetivadze, English teacher and the winner of the 2018 Award, has also become an ambassador for the teaching profession, engaged in conferences, research and experience-sharing.
To say the least, it has let me meet so many teachers. When I was coming back to Baghdati from Tbilisi after winning, I checked and I had so many friend requests, so many messages, everyone asks you privately to share your experience, asks me to help them, and this is a hugely positive and joyful thing that you can help someone.
Teachers who reach the top ten also receive a monetary reward (GEL 2,000 for the top five, and GEL 1,000 for the top ten), and membership in the Top 10 Club – an alumni-type group of teachers acting as a go-to when the Coalition or other stakeholders, including state bodies or NGOs, need teacher involvement in education-related working groups, research focus groups, interviews or opinion, including for the educational policy reform analysis.
“Top 10 [teachers] have become a significant resource for others [in the field]. Basically, these people have undergone the society’s validation and legitimization” – says Giorgi Chanturia – “It is important to create a core with these teachers, to show that this is not a single-event award show, but we continue cooperating and provide an arena for experience-sharing and having their voices heard in wider area.”
Being in the Top 10 of Club adds to a teachers’ resume and opportunities for self-development, it also helps their school. Tiniko Zardiashvili, STEM teacher and top 10 teachers at the 2017 Awards, has been actively involved in multiple projects ever since. She won a GEL 17,000 grant designed for the top 10 teachers, helping her school to renovate the STEM laboratory and buy new computers. She is now an official Teacher and co-created a STEM Association in 2021. Zardiashvili thanks the recognition she received at the awards for this.
I still wear the award participation badge on my jacket. It says “the future is education”, I’m wearing it right now. Obviously, your self-esteem increases. It’s like a jump-start for moving forward.
After four and a half years, it is clear that the National Teacher Award has done a lot to empower the individual teachers who get nominated and their communities. It has also been successful in terms of publicity, EFA claim 50% of Georgia’s population has heard about the competition and thinks it promotes teachers’ professional development. However, given current salaries, the high number of vacancies, problems in the career advancement scheme, and an ongoing problem of low prestige, it will take more systemic changes beyond a glamorous competition to attract the best and the brightest to the profession.
The top ten candidates of the 5th National Teachers Award will be announced on June 10th, and the winner on October 5th this year.
This article is written under the Georgian Educational Advocacy Project, which is funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State, or Civil.ge.
This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian)