Georgian and Armenian schools face radical changes to their foreign-language learning. Whilst Armenia opted to open 15 foreign-language schools, Georgia has announced plans for all 597,800 of its schoolchildren to have English as their second language by 2014. Meanwhile, Armenia’s Education Minister, Armen Ashotian, has insisted that ‘knowledge of Russian is simply a matter of Armenians remaining competitive in today’s marketplace.’ His comments were not universally applauded in a country in which only 25% claim ‘advanced’ knowledge of the Russian language. Georgia, looking westwards, will place 1,000 native English-speaking volunteers in schools by 2011 with a total of 10,000 expected by 2014. There are currently about 200 volunteers in Georgia with a further 300 expected by the end of the current academic year.
Across the European Union, recent Eurostat research (24th September 2010) revealed that in 2008, 80% of all children were studying a foreign language. Of these, the most common foreign language was English, followed by French and German. However, when asked about their levels of proficiency, only 13% of 25-64 year olds declared themselves proficient in their preferred foreign language. Such statistics lend impetus to the Georgian plans which assume that English, rather than Russian, will remain the global second language of choice.
Armenian foreign-language schools were closed in 1993 on a wave of nationalism. In contrast to Georgia’s westward orientation, Education Minister Ashotian declared in 2009 that Russian would be the language of a common future within the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to Transitions Online. Whilst the debate highlights tensions between alternative visions of the political and economic futures of the two neighbouring countries, they also reveal the tension between national identity and international ambitions.
As Georgia opens up its educational system, one can expect that there will be Christians among the newly recruited volunteer language assistants. The Georgian Teach and Learn programme requires no prior teaching experience and offers a short orientation to Georgian language and culture. Volunteers are placed with host families and have their return ticket and a €250 monthly allowance. Critics caution that preparation to receive and support volunteers is not as robust as it needs to be. The strategic focus on rural placements is also likely to contribute to a general sense of isolation and lack of information available from Teach and Learn’s office in the capital Tblisi.
The Teach and Learn co-ordinator, Maia Siprashvili-Lee, counters that the success of the scheme will rest on interaction outside of the classroom as much as inside it. She welcomes the fact that volunteers will bring a perspective from outside of Georgia, ‘showing that there is a whole other world out there’ to young Georgians. We can pray that where appointed, Christian volunteers will serve with a Christ-like attitude that seeks to learn from Georgian traditions, history, and its people, as well as expressing humility when sharing their experiences of vital and evangelical Christian faith in other parts of the world.
(Source: TOL 23rd June & 22nd September 2010, Eurostat 24th September)