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PSYCHOLOGICALLY DISTRESSED INTERNALLY DISPLACED CHILDREN AND ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION IN COUNTRY OF GEORGIA

Автор Доклада: 
D. Gamkrelidze, N. Tsereteli, K. Mdinaradze
Награда: 
PSYCHOLOGICALLY DISTRESSED INTERNALLY DISPLACED CHILDREN AND ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION IN COUNTRY OF GEORGIA


PSYCHOLOGICALLY DISTRESSED INTERNALLY DISPLACED CHILDREN AND ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION IN COUNTRY OF GEORGIA

David Gamkrelidze, Doctoral Candidate, Assistant Professor
Nino Tsereteli, Doctoral Candidate, Assistant Professor
Ketevan Mdinaradze, Phd, Associate Professor
University of International Relations of Georgia


This article has analyzed three consequences of the conflict that negatively affect access of having equal opportunities in receiving quality education for displaced children in country of Georgia: poverty, poor living conditions and psychological distress. These barriers also influence children’s school attendance and their ability to gain knowledge in class. Thus, the paper addresses the following questions: What are some challenges, obstacles, and difficulties displaced children face in getting quality education in country of Georgia? How both Georgian government and higher education institutions should cooperate and jointly solve this dilemma? What is the most effective approach to inspire and motivate psychologically distressed children to study, fight not only for their future survival but also for their career opportunities, and solve the long-term social and economic issues that prevent their access to quality education?
Key words: quality education, conflict, internally displaced children, poverty, poor living conditions, psychological distress.

Five day war that took place in country of Georgia had drastic results for the nation and particularly for internally displaced people (IDPs). In times of conflict, the lives of people are lost, schools, colleges and universities are destroyed, productivity falls, and financial turmoil is to be unavoidable within the country. This war had merciless and brutal outcomes for Georgian society as the whole. These terrible results mostly touch the spirits and feelings of IDPs1 and their psychologically distressed children. As the result of war, they usually stay without shelters, schools, and adequate financial resources needed for satisfaction their basic needs and wants. In this sense I would argue that in times of crisis and conflict, children’s access to quality education is inconceivable. It is worth to emphasize that there is no NGO particularly mandated to protect and support for IDPs in Georgia. Moreover, during conflict and crisis governments do not always have sufficient capability to deal with the rights of displaced people. As the result, displaced parents lack the financial resources and adequate living standards necessary to enable their children receive quality education.
According to President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili, IDPs should have access to quality education. I would agree with president and say, firstly, access to quality education is their legal right and secondly, it is beneficial for whole country during emergencies, rehabilitation and post conflict reconstruction. International law and particularly Principle 23 of Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement asserts that IDPs retain their right to education despite their displacement. Moreover, article 35 of Georgian constitution guarantees each citizen the right to receive education, which also includes displaced people and their children (MoES 2008) [1].
As mentioned above, access to quality education is particularly essential in times of post conflict rehabilitation. For displaced children education is a mean of accessing life-saving information, attaining psychological support, and perceiving a sense of stability and peace. As their displacement entails new living conditions, internally displaced children need education about the risk of landmines, safety, water sanitation, pollution, and basic guidelines for hygiene and health care. In most cases, they witness violence, suffer the loss of family members, face aggression, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. These psychological impacts are to be mitigated through education and assistance. Therefore, investing in human capital in post-conflict situations enables distressed children and their parents to gain a sense of optimism. This also contributes to a community’s peaceful recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Contrary, it is possible that without quality education IDPs already vulnerable positions may further deteriorate. This may inflict harm for the whole society. Therefore, it is essential not to discriminate displaced children from those living in a healthy environment. All children should have equal opportunities to receive quality education. This, in turn, helps them recover mentally from psychological distress and conflict that caused their displacement.
The detrimental facts about the living standards of IDPs in Georgia allows us for a more comprehensive understanding of the barriers and challenges that displaced children face in receiving quality education. As mentioned above, Georgia has experienced two conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These conflicts have drastic political and economic consequences for Georgia and its population. According to World Bank, over 10,000 people have died and during the years of periodic conflicts 300,000 people have been displaced, mainly ethnic Georgians, from Georgia’s break away regions. Moreover, today more then 55,000 children from those conflicts still remain displaced (UNICEF 2007) [2]. As the result of war, 20,000 houses are destroyed, roads, railways and schools are damaged, and lawlessness and injustice within the collective shelters is common. The rest of the homeless people continue to live with their relatives, host families, collective shelters, former hospitals, military barracks, hotels, schools and other buildings that were never meant to be used as long-term housing. It is worth to underline that IDPs living in collective shelters are among the poorest in Georgian society. Therefore, they do not have adequate access to education, health care, and basic needs like food, cloth, and water.
As the result of war in 2008, 160,000 people left their homes and fled to other parts of Georgia, from which 33,660 were children. For post conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation U.S.A. and E.U. granted Georgia $4.55 billion official aid. Despite the fact, these people and their children continue to face the ruthless consequences of the war and challenges of security issues, destruction of their property, poverty, poor living conditions and an undecided political fate.
In order to better understand the challenges and obstacles of new and old IDPs, one should look at government’s ability to address the barriers of displaced children in accessing quality education and observe capacity of Georgian educational system.
As mentioned above, the first major war in Georgia took place in 1991. During first political turmoil educational system in Georgia experienced extensive funding cuts. Country’s overall GDP decreased tremendously and government spending on education fell from 8% of GDP to 2.8% in 2008 (MoES 2003) [3]. Moreover, government spending on education compared to other Commonwealth of Independent States was much lower. Extensive cuts in government spending in this sector caused the overall quality of education to decrease, salaries of teachers were also reduced, and curriculum professors used gradually became outdated.
It is essential to emphasize the effects of 2008 conflict on Georgian education sector. Unfortunately, during this crisis schools and infrastructures were destroyed, economic resources became constrained, and children, parents and teachers suffered from psychological trauma. It is unbelievable, but in five days ninety-nine schools were destroyed and another 171 buildings used as shelters. This has created a shortage of accessible schools and after the conflict 47,000 displaced students have to attend different schools, increasing the total population of those schools by 44% (UNICEF et al. 2008) [4].
Moreover, since one fifth of Georgia’s educational budget has been cut, government had to postpone programs such as teacher training and initiatives to improve old IDPs’ access to higher education (MoES 2008) [1]. Suspension of these programs is harmful because schools are self-governed and, without effective leadership especially in times of crisis, quality of education falls. Best practices show that these programs play a kea role in children’s access to quality education. Unfortunately, above mentioned conflicts have created environment where new and old IDPs’ access to quality education is unattainable.
The conflict had also negative impacts on pedagogy. According to UNICEF, 54% of teachers and professors stated in their interviews that they have been overstrained and overloaded since the conflict, but they did not state the reasons of their psychological problems. One main cause of distress is increased class sizes, decreased number of schools, and teaching and learning time. Usually, schools, colleges, and universities in Georgia begin in September, but due to the conflict they were launched in October, causing a loss of learning time (MoES 2008) [1]. As the result, teachers and professors may be burdened with teaching the same amount of material with a little pay and in a shortened period of time.
As mentioned above, the most effected victims of this crisis were IDPs and their children. The following section of this article explores the three interconnected obstacles for IDPs in receiving quality education in Georgia: poverty, psychological distress, and living conditions.
Due to the conflict in 2008 and ongoing world financial crisis, Georgia’s economic turmoil was twofold. Unemployment and poverty is higher among all IDPs as compared to the general population, thus 35% of IDPs rely on state allowances for support and another 24% on families and friends (Government of Georgia 2009) [5]. Disappointingly, these people earn GEL 174 (104.04 USD), while an average Georgian household earns GEL 280 (Katsitadze 2004) [6]. As the result, the state of poverty makes it difficult for IDPs and their children to access the resources like textbooks and appropriate clothing needed for participating in school (Matiashvili 2004) [7]. Moreover, textbooks are modified frequently and IDPs are obliged to purchase new additions for their children almost early. Unfortunately, 47.4% of displaced students have missed classes due to a lack of textbooks and 46.3% stated that a lack of shoes and clothes has also caused them to be absent from schools (Aslanishvili 2008) [8]. Because these poor children did not have textbooks and proper clothing for school, they were often verbally insulted and humiliated by some peers and even teachers. The following phrase was stated by humiliated child: “When I do not have textbook or appropriate clothing for school, the teacher tells me I am a refugee…Just buy it, she says…” (Aslanishvili 2008) [8]. In order to cover heating, teacher salaries and other operational costs some schools even require additional private expenses from parents. However, they can not meet this unforeseen costs and this pushes their children out of school.
By providing irregular funding to schools, Georgian government tried to solve the financial barrier among IDPs. Unfortunately, these one time financial packages turned out to be insufficient, and since textbooks change so often, students still do not have access to the most up-to-date editions. Moreover, in order to assist IDPs to cover the costs of the textbooks, government assured them to make subsidies available for each displaced student of GEL 100 (59.79 USD). Unfortunately, not all students have received this aid (Aslanishvili 2008) [8]. Moreover, old houses of displaced people have been illegally privatized. As the matter of fact, Georgian government’s highest compensation of $7,000 was not enough for a homeless people to purchase or rent a new home (Scarborough et al. 2008) [9]. Despite financial subsidies, poverty continues to be a top challenge and barrier preventing IDPs’ children from getting quality education in Georgia. For the additional funds to cover, the expenses for shelter, food, and clothes, displaced children are obliged to go out and pursue work instead of schooling. Moreover, some of the students enter the conflict areas in search of work, where they face the dangers of exploitations and recruitment into the armed forces. Thus, due to the poverty, some of them have decided to pursue work instead of schooling, though significant studies would need to be launched to determine the extent of child labor among displaced children.
In order to tackle the poverty-related problem of absences, Georgian authorities should provide targeted income subsidies, necessary textbooks, pencils and second-hand clothing for displaced children. The role of NGOs and educational institutions is also important in this process. In addition, the negative learning environment and humiliation imposed upon displaced children by some teachers should also be addressed. Government should provide in-service teacher training to let them better understand the financial and psychological problems that displaced children face. Moreover, school-appropriate clothing and textbooks will lessen children’s unwillingness towards school and the depressing reprimands they receive from peers and teachers. As mentioned above, Georgian government is dedicated to providing displaced children with textbooks, appropriate targeted subsidies, and in general eradicating poverty among IDPs. Yet, studies show that not all students have received grants and many still lack school materials.
Due to the conflicts, poverty, poor living conditions and psychological distress are common among displaced people and their children. This trauma further prevents them from being learners, thus denying them access to quality education. Psychological distress among displaced people is not necessarily due to the memories of the war, but may be a result of other factors that are consequences of the conflict. As mentioned above, the basic factors causing psychological trauma among IDPs are poverty and poor living conditions. Thus, we can assert that depression has negatively correlated with the students’ academic achievement (Matiashvili 2004) [7]. According to representative of UNICEF Giovanna Barberis “parent’s nervousness, displacement, killing and shelling left displaced children with deep psychological trauma and it will take months, maybe even years, to get children back to normal life” (UNICEF 2008a) [10]. In their interviews, 13% of displaced students and 45% of displaced adults stated that they needed psychological support. Moreover, in the same study it was reveled that 14.5% of displaced students reported more stress after the conflict and 40% of teachers observe more nervousness and violence among their students (Aslanishvili 2008) [8]. Another report indicates that 68% of the displaced children living in collective shelters exhibited psychological distress such as not sleeping, not eating, and crying more, (Aslanishvili 2008) [8]. This same study reveled that schooling was the effective method for recovering psychologically distressed students’ health. Thus, academic engagement has brought normalcy to their lives, which is the main reason for why schooling is important for internally displaced children in post-conflict environment.
As mentioned above, 18 out of 87 collective shelters studied in 2008 were providing psychological services for displaced children (UNICEF 2002) [11]. Fortunately, these services had a positive impact, however UNICEF recommends teachers could also be trained to spot signs of psychological distress of the displaced children. Teachers should have detailed guidelines on how to adjust their teaching techniques to post-conflict environment and particularly psychologically distressed children. In order to compliment the efforts in schools, parents should also be given guidance in understanding the psychological needs of their children.
IDPs’ Poor living standards and increased incidents of illness further prevent their children from attending school. Collective shelters have poor sanitation and hygiene conditions which eventually cause spreading of chronic diseases. A quote from a teacher shows how sickness caused by living poor conditions can affect children’s access to quality education: “The reason of spreading diarrhea was dirty drinking water. Students became so sick that they were taken to hospital (Zoidze and Djibuti 2004) [12]. Due to a lack of sanitary norms, clean water and hygiene diarrhea and similar diseases have been prominent among the displaced children. As the result, health problems caused by poor living conditions were the most common reason for children’s absences from school (UNICEF et al. 2008) [4].
Besides poor health conditions, malnourishment is also a huge problem for the displaced children. This prevents students from concentrating in class. According to the survey administered in 87 collective shelters, 64% of displaced people claimed that they were not being provided with adequate quantities of food, especially fruits and vegetables for children. As mentioned above, the lack of clean water and children’s nutrition is the main cause of waterborne diseases which in turn affects displaced children’s access to quality education. To tackle this problem, government of Georgia initiated food-for-educational program, such as providing in school and take-home meals on conditional attendance for displaced children. Although this program has been associated both with improving children’s diet and increasing their attendance in school, some have been criticized for their high cost. Nevertheless, this program is suggested to improve nutrition not only among IDPs, but also among other Georgian children who may need cost-effective nutritional assistance with accessing quality education.
Due to the resource-constrained government in Georgia, improving overall living conditions of displaced people would necessitate new approaches. One of the methods is a food-for-work program. In this innovative program displaced people would be given free food as reimbursement for using their effort to fix up and renovate their own housing (Sumbadze 2003) [13]. The same study showed that IDPs should be provided with private accommodations. In this sense, the government initiated gradual privatization of collective shelters. Consequently, collective shelters such as schools, hospitals, and sanatoriums were sold to private companies for general real estate business development2. Despite $7,000 compensation packages, IDPs could not rent or buy new housing. As it appeared, the financial packages worked the other way around for IDPs. Consequently, instead of finding new housing many of them stayed without shelters at all. Therefore, the compensation packages should be re-evaluated to see if it is a reasonable amount for IDPs for moving into sustainable private housing.
This work has analyzed three consequences of the conflict that negatively affect access of having equal opportunities in receiving quality education for displaced children in country of Georgia: poverty, poor living conditions and psychological distress. These barriers also influence children’s school attendance, their ability to gain knowledge and concentrate in class. Quality education of children should be a future investment for all countries in the world and this will definitely lead a country to a better-educated society. Providing the displaced children with appropriate living conditions, financial and psychological support must be the major concern for Georgian government. Otherwise, we may conclude that children who can not concentrate in class due to a poor diet do not have equal opportunities to learn, and thus, are not receiving access to quality education in Georgia.

eferences:
1. Ministry of Education and Science (MoES), Government of Georgia. 2008. ‘The development of education: National report of Georgia’. Unpublished. November 2008. Tbilisi.
2. UNICEF. 2007. ‘Georgian conflict zones: Abkhazia and South Ossetia’.
3. Ministry of Education and Sciences (MoES), Government of Georgia. 2003. ‘First monitoring cycle under the framework convention for the protection of national minorities’. Unpublished. 8-14 December 2008. Tbilisi.
4. UNICEF, International Rescue Committee, Charity Humanitarian Centre Abkhazeti, Terre des Hommes, Save the Children, and Halo Trust (UNICEF et al). 2008. Educational needs of conflict-affected children in Georgia: Rapid Assessment. (unpublished draft).
5. Government of Georgia. 2007. Decree # 47 of the Government of Georgia on approving of the State Strategy for Internally Displaced Persons – Persecuted. <http://www.internal displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpDocuments)/0860F04B3162B38CC12572950056DBED/$file/State+Strategy+for+IDP+-+ENG.pdf> (accessed 8 December 2008).
6. Katsitadze, I. 2004. ‘Estimation of fairness in health financing among internally displaced persons and local population in Samegrelo Region of West Georgia.’ Central European University Centre for Policy Studies.
7. Matiashvili, A. 2004. IDP Education Profile Review in Georgia. UNDP Tblisi
8. Aslanishvili, T. 2008. Interagency child protection assessment of collective shelters for internally displaced persons. (unpublished).
9. Scarborough, G., T. Tavartkiladze, and A. Arganashvili. 2006. ‘Rapid assessment on the protection and livelihoods situation of internally displaced youth living in collective centres in the Republic of Georgia’. UNICEF, Tblisi, Georgia.
10. UNICEF. 2008a. ‘Nearly 40,000 children in need of urgent assistance in Georgia’. August 2008. United States Fund for UNICEF. <http://www.UNICEFusa.org/news/releases/nearly-40000-children-in.html>
11. UNICEF. 2002. ‘Defining quality in education’. UNICEF. Education programme division. Document No. UNICEF/PD/ED/00/02.
12. Zoidze, A. and M. Djibuti. 2004. ‘IDP Health Profile Review in Georgia’. UNDP Tbilisi.
13. Sumbadze, N. and G. Tarkhan -Mouravi. 2003. ‘Working paper on IDP vulnerability and economic self-reliance’. UNDP, Tbilisi.

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I wish peace and prosperity to your country!

Dear David Gamkrelidze, Nino Tsereteli, Ketevan Mdinaradze! In the article you have analyzed three consequences of the conflict that negatively affect access of having equal opportunities in receiving quality education for displaced children in country of Georgia: poverty, poor living conditions and psychological distress. These barriers also influence children’s school attendance and their ability to gain knowledge in class. Our country, fortunately, has not experienced war during the last 65 years, but I think the issues that are described in the article are relevant to the Ukrainian education system too. We also have some problems regarding equal access to quality education. Thank you for your article. I wish peace and prosperity to your country! Olexandr Josan, Kirovograd, Ukraine
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