“I will always stand ready to honestly answer every question that our society might have”
Interview with the Minister of
Education and Science of Georgia, Mr. Dimitri Shashkini
- Mr. Minister, society is interested in the reasons of dismissing Ms. Maia Miminoshvili from the post of Director of National Examination Center. Your position regarding this issue is interesting. What does the “principal incompatibility between the policy of the Ministry of Education and Science and personal position of Maia Miminoshvili” mean?
I was intentionally avoiding discussions regarding the dismissal of Ms. Miminoshvili. I was hoping that the society would come to a rational conclusion regarding this issue. But as recent events show, there is a need to clarify what “personal incompatibility” means and why I made such decision.
I am very sorry that things turned out this way. It should be said that we did everything to avoid this situation, but the efforts of just one side were not enough. Unfortunately, it should be mentioned that this is not the first time when a person who is frustrated because of the loss of his job destroys everything he has created before and places this personal grudge above the state interests. Such fallacies from former governmental officials are very common in Georgian reality.
I do not judge the system of education only from the perspective of a Minister but also as a father of 2 children, who cares a lot about education system in a country where his children study together with others. I want to address the society – parents, students, teachers and entrants – to people, for whom ongoing reforms are important - and assure them that we will do everything for the current reforms to proceed successfully without any barriers and obstacles.
I would like to bring an example to provide the better understanding of the phrase “personal incompatibility”. Let us imagine that there is a house that was refurbished 7 years ago. Many people live in this house and each of them has his private room, while the dining room is shared. The family decided to replenish the house with new house appliances. The family members have agreed on the due changes and invited a designer who confirmed that the changes required for the dining room were possible. The rehabilitation works started and suddenly one the workers announces that he is not going to work on this renovation. The family members know that this particular worker has relevant skills and experience, but regardless of their constant request, the worker is against refurbishment, claiming that he likes the dining room the way it was 7 years ago and does not want changes. It is obvious that in the given circumstances it is hard to come up with the joint agreement.
State and our society demand to have the adequate education system that meets modern challenges. This is not the request of just one member of the family; this is the common consensus of those people who develop the education policy in our country. As a result of long discussions and debates, we have come to a conclusion that changes are necessary and they have to take place in a timely manner. When we started these reforms in Georgian education system originally, the “house did not even have a roof and was leaking”. There was a corruption and other discrepancies along with many other problems. The first refurbishment works have been completed, but the system requires continuous renovations.
-According to the information, the disagreement between you and Ms. Miminoshvili revolved around high school leaving, united entrance and teacher certification exams.
Regarding exams - I support the idea of using strict criteria while assessing students’ knowledge; nevertheless, our starting point should be teachers and students. In other words, tests should be relevant. They should be compatible with the national curriculum and moreover; exam test should match the school program.
I will try to use allegory in this case as well. Imagine that I have a water-polo team and I am preparing them for the competition. The water temperature should be appropriate; the team must have all proper equipment including the ball; team players should be provided with all conditions during and after the game in order to win. Instead, I was told that the team should continue playing in insufficient, rather than improved conditions.
It is true, that the state requires from us to prepare the best teachers - professional teachers who will be able to meet all the challenges. At the same time, the government does not only have the requirements but it also strives to provide the teachers with appropriate conditions so that they are able to fully reveal their skills, knowledge and abilities. The National Center for Teacher Professional Development (TPDC) and the director of TPDC, Mr. Gia Mamulashvili serve this very purpose. The center promotes the professional development of teachers by offering them training and other relevant resources. Any skeptical person can visit “Teachers’ House” and see it with his own eyes.
-Ms. Maia Miminoshvili has accused you for issuing six hundred false high school diplomas. Of course we are interested in what the Minister has to say about it and what kind of high school diplomas is she talking about?
It is calumny and is not true. I would like to explain to the society that in 2011 the Minister of Education and Science of Georgia issued a decree in accordance with the “Law on General Education of Georgia”. According to this decree, school year graduates of 2011 were granted high school diplomas with special serial number which were the documents of completion of general education. Exceptions were made for those students, who did not register for school leaving exams or could not get the passing grades in subjects determined by the Minister as obligatory for granting high school diplomas.
High school diplomas with special serial numbers were granted to the 2011-2012 school year graduates of two categories and the total number of such graduates is no more than 298. Under the first category of such graduates are our fellow citizens, ethnical Azerbaijani and Armenian students, who were unable to pass school leaving exams because of the insufficient knowledge of the Georgian Language. Under the second category, these high school diplomas were granted to the fourteen extremely talented Georgian students, who had successfully passed the exams of those leading universities of the world that have very strict admission procedures. These universities have their own system of exams and these exams coincided in time with the school leaving exams in Georgia. In order to protect the rights of each of these students, the Ministry decided to grant these students with high school diplomas with special serial numbers. Students with high school diplomas with special serial numbers do not have the right to study at higher education institutes authorized in Georgia.
I was the initiator of the reform which has excluded even theoretical possibility to issue false high school diplomas. We established a new model of granting high school diplomas - before the reform the high school diplomas were filled out and issued by school principals. Now their registration is centralized and is carried out via electronic database. Only the National Center of Examinations has an access to this database which completely excludes the possibility of issuing false high school diplomas by the Ministry.
As a lawyer - and I should state that I am not a bad lawyer - I declare that according to the Criminal Code of Georgia falsification means entering false information or data in an official document. That has not happened during the process of issuing high school diplomas with special serial numbers as abovementioned diplomas are the documents of rigid registration, are registered by the Ministry of Finance and include all protective mechanisms defined by law.
I would also like to comment on a very painful and sensitive topic. Yesterday I heard an accusation as if I granted high school diplomas to Armenian and Azerbaijani students with simplified rules and I created more obstacles for Georgian students. Making such statements in the 21st century is embarrassing and shameful. We help everybody who wants to receive education. I want to mention that 4000 Azerbaijani and Armenian students decided to enter Georgian universities this year. Only 10 percent of Armenian and Azerbaijani students failed in Georgian language and literature exam this year, while their number was up to 60 percent last year.
Finally, I would like to tell you that human imagination has no limits and each of us can direct it either to positive or negative direction. Unfortunately, I expect more accusations from the former disappointed authorities and I will always stand ready to honestly answer every question that our society might have.