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Saturday, July 30, 2005

 

Georgia seeks to eliminate bribes with new exams

From BBC News:

Georgia's new standardised nationwide tests - similar to America's SATs - are designed to overhaul the country's notoriously corrupt education system.

Since Soviet times every university in Georgia has administered and graded its own entrance exam.

Officials believe that up to $30m - more than the country's entire education budget - was spent on bribes every year.

So a few months after the so-called Rose Revolution that ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, high school students were told to study for a new, state-administered test.

"It really came as a shock to us," says 17-year-old Ilia Karukhnishvili, as he lifts his head from the textbooks that lie open on the table.

"Imagine, all my life I was preparing for one kind of exam, and then the new government comes and changes it all," he says.

His five friends, all gathered in Ilia's living room to go over the exam material together, nod in agreement. They say preparation has been difficult, although the process seems to be much more fair.

"Before all you had to do was to pay. It did not matter what you knew, whether you were prepared. Now, we actually have to work hard, but we have an opportunity to show our knowledge now," says Karlo Kavtaradze.

Many believe it is not just the students but the country's entire education reform that is being put to the test.

And so is the man who is in charge of it.

Georgian Education Minister Alexander Lomaia played a prominent role in the Rose Revolution. Ever since then he has been trying to revolutionise the country's crumbling, Soviet-style education system.

"I hope this test will mark a cultural change too," Mr Lomaia says.

Over the past year, the school curriculum has been modernised and dozens of head teachers have been replaced. Many professors and dozens of private universities have been disqualified from teaching.

But it has been a painful and controversial process that has made more headlines and caused more street protests than any other reform.

A few months ago, thousands signed a petition asking the president to sack the education minister.

Westernising the school curriculum, many in Georgia believe, could seriously undermine national values.

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