Teachers Move to Village Highlights Education Disparity in Regions
The general trend in the last couple decades in Georgia has been of citizens leaving behind the rural villages and towns that they are from and rapidly moving to the capital, Tbilisi. As a result, many rural areas have been left with a lack of resources, economic opportunities, and disparities in education.
Against this trend, Mzia Tolordava opted to do the opposite when she chose to move to the countryside two years ago. Despite having international experience as a teacher and promising career prospects as a result, she moved to the village of Mukhuri with her husband to work as an English teacher.
Tolordava first made the decision to leave the city when she returned to Georgia after working at an American school in China and realized that she preferred a more peaceful life. Upon arriving, she discovered that her experience as a teacher was of much more value in the village than in the city.
“I was tired of the endless routine. We made our decision quickly and moved to the village without thinking too much about it. I was worried that there would be no work for me here, that no one would want my English in the village. But, I was wrong. I have a lot of students. They are more motivated than those in the city and always expect something new from me, so there is no time to be bored. They are very loving, kind, open-minded and well-organised,” Tolordava told IWPR.
Although Mzia is originally from Ochamchire, where she also went to school, after the Georgian-Abkhazian war Mukhuri became Mzia and her husband, Levan’s, new home.
“Life here was unbearable at that time. There were no basic living conditions, but we had no other choice. Seven months later we moved to Tbilisi, where we shared an apartment with three families. It was a very difficult time.”
The village of Mukhuri is where Levan’s ancestors come from and is situated in Chkhorotsku municipality of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region. When they moved back there, the couple chose to turn part of their traditional Megrelian wooden home known as the Oda, into a school. The school is located in the Tolordava settlement, which you enter through a gate and onto a flowery path lined by other Megrelian-style homes.
Levan is a retired football player who currently coaches two childrens teams in Mukhuri, with 10 players in each. Levan coaches for free, even paying for the teams’ uniforms and equipment out of his own pocket.
“We have the same students, we are both teachers and we just like being with these children. I think we are useful here,” said Mzia.
Eka Tsakhnagia is a parent of one of Mzia’s students. She said that Mzia and Levan are a real gift for the Mukhuri community.
“We are so grateful to them, and all the parents are going to support them in anything which might be needed for our children and our village. Along with sports and English, they teach our children how to be better organised and how to overcome difficulties. The children love Mzia and Levan so much,” Eka told IWPR.
Mzia started working at 21, when she took a job as a 5th grade English teacher, who she continues to keep in touch with today. Since then, she has worked in public and private schools, universities, international training centers where she prepared students for exams, even at the embassy as a trainer for American teachers.
She first decided to open her own school in 2008 – The Prep School for Leaders, where she taught a range of subjects besides English, along with leadership skills. Unfortunately, in 2019, the school was closed due to financial difficulties. Following the close, Mzia moved and worked in China for a year.
“Of course, I had a good income in China, but I decided to come back and stay here, with my husband, in this nature and peace. This is what I always wanted.”
Now, she has 45 students in Mukhuri, who have loved the classes so much that they have opted to continue studying during the summer. Mzia decided to open the summer program, which runs for the month of July, when she noticed a rising demand for it from both local students and others from Tbilisi as a result of the considerable disruption students experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a survey by the National Statistics Office of Georgia (Geostat) on the impact of the first COVID-19 wave on the well-fare of families, when asked about the online schooling students received during the pandemic, a combined 25% of respondents said that they were either more or less dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with distance learning. 43% said that they were more or less satisfied, while 5% said that they were satisfied.
Mzia hopes that with time, she will be able to add services such as housing and catering, so that students from all over Georgia have the chance to attend the program.
“This is a summer school. It would be good and interesting for local children if we could invite students from Tbilisi too, but in this case it would require housing, catering and other things, which are impossible until the situation in the country gets better. There is a Lugela recreation complex in the village, which covers a large territory. It can host football teams. It has a canteen which now serves as an event hall. The nature is beautiful here. There is a river and sea nearby, everything for young people to spend amazing time and combine their studies with leisure,” said Mzia.
Part of the inspiration for Mzia comes from the fact that she knows how seminal such programs, which intellectually challenge students while connecting them with each other, can be for children. She recalls how many interesting activities she took part in during her trips to Sokhumi as a child.
“I learned a lot from them, including a foreign language. The same can be done here, by gathering together children from the capital and the villages.”
Lado Abkhazava, a teacher and recipient of the National Teacher Award, also stressed the need in regions for new educational approaches, more teaching resources, stronger teachers, interesting projects and activities.
“If we want our students to respond to future challenges, changes are needed. Students living in the regions must become active citizens. It is appreciated that young people go to their home villages to teach and do amazing jobs there. By applying various activities they introduce elements of non-formal education and diversify school life,” Lado said.
Abkhazava mentions an issue that can be seen in many, if not most, schools in Georgia. In a 2018 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report, which assessed 15 year old students, Georgia ranked below average among the 77 participating countries. They were tested in three categories: Reading, Math and Science.
The country’s average score in reading was 380, 398 in math, and 283 in science. Unfortunately, in all three categories, Georgia received worse results than three years before in 2015. It also falls behind many countries such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia.
The children at Mzia’s summer program have two-hour classes every day with multiple activities.
“We have discussions on various topics, we learn through games, we sing. Sometimes we are outside, sometimes – inside. The older students are the first ones to come, then the classes start for high-school graduates – they have different courses, and finally – the little ones. I do not give assignments. I prepare all the necessary material myself and give it to my students.”
Sixth grader Tako Tolordava, who lives in Mukhuri, has been attending Mzia’s classes for two years and has now joined the summer school.
“I liked the summer school with teacher Mzia very much. We have just finished the course, at the end of July and I can say that I can already speak English well. The public school teacher praises me too,” Tako said.
When asked what she needed for her students at this point, Mzia said that the means of transportation would be very good as she often visits other villages with her students. They organise meetings and discuss various topics in English. These meetings are attended by young people as well as the older generation. The discussed topics include how to be more self-confident and better organised.
“My students are like my coworkers. I have mostly eighth graders and senior students involved in this activity and they help me with translation, they translate from English into Georgian for older participants. The meetings are very interesting for both sides.”
Mzia believes that teaching is her calling. She likes and enjoys working with little ones and adults as well. Her mission is not only to prepare students for national exams, but also to provide them with skills and knowledge that will help them to build their future careers.
“I think teaching is a noble job and I feel very comfortable here.”