Public Defender’s Statement on Educational Process
The Public Defender of Georgia is responding to the decision made by the Interagency Coordination Council on January 22, 2021 on the re-opening of kindergartens and the resumption of remote education in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Rustavi from March 1 and believes that the long-term prolongation of remote education should be the last resort, which should not hamper the effective exercise of the right to education. In addition, it is important that the infrastructure, access to water and sanitation provide the necessary conditions for the prevention of the virus in schools where learning process is ongoing or is planned to be resumed.
According to international organizations, including the United Nations, the closure of schools has jeopardized children’s right to education. At the same time, during re-opening schools, it is necessary that the needs of the most vulnerable groups of children, involvement of parents and teachers, and effective coordination with representatives of the health care system be taken into account.
The pandemic has further highlighted the challenges existing in Georgia’s education sector over the years. Children, who do not have access to the Internet or computers, are not able to fully engage in the remote learning process. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, 15 percent of school-age children in Georgia do not have access to the Internet at home, and according to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, only 61.8 percent of families have computers. The Public Defender’s practice shows that problems are particularly acute for vulnerable groups - children with disabilities, or those living in poverty, public care, regions, especially highlands, and large families.
It is important to share international practice and experience of different countries when ensuring the right to education during the pandemic. A number of countries have allocated financial resources to ensure that students have access to the necessary equipment and the Internet. In addition, in schools where educational process is ongoing, all recommendations are being taken into account, which include wearing a mask, regular disinfection of the building, special schedule aimed at reducing the flow of students, etc.
Based on the above, the Public Defender of Georgia calls on:
The Government of Georgia:
- To ensure that the decision on the long-term closure of general education institutions and kindergartens, as well as their re-opening, is substantiated in each case and is based on an assessment made by using an individual approach. Inter alia, individual needs of public schools and kindergartens, as well as the opinions and involvement of parents, children and teachers, should be considered together with representatives of the medical system;
The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Georgia:
- To ensure the readiness of general education institutions in terms of infrastructure, access to water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as to constantly supply appropriate disinfectants and preventive equipment;
- To fully assess gaps in the remote learning process across the country, including children's access to the Internet and computers, and to take into account the needs of each child when planning the process;
- To assess the school dropout risks, especially among vulnerable groups, and to take preventive measures to address the challenges identified in this direction;
- To evaluate the effectiveness of preventive measures in general education institutions and to consider their improvement through effective coordination with representatives of the health care system.
The local self-government bodies:
- To assess the needs of preschool institutions, including infrastructure problems, to plan measures to address problems and to fully provide kindergartens with the necessary resources for sanitation and hygiene, in order to prevent the spread of the virus;
To contribute to the improvement in the water supply system, in accordance with the problems existing in terms of access to water and sanitation in general education institutions, inter alia, by planning measures and repairs needed to solve problems in each school, where there is a problem with access to water or poor sanitary-hygienic condition in the toilets.