Projects / Language Policy in Georgia

Projects/ Language Policy in Georgia Phase II

August 2005- March 2006

The second phase of the project builds on the results of the policy research paper and the discussion of the workshop of the prior phase. These revealed that language education stays a politically highly sensitive and controversial issue in the Georgian society. The discursive lines of the controversy can be defined by the concepts of integration versus assimilation. While the central government sees Georgian language education as a tool to support the integration and participation of ethnic minorities, many of the minority representatives fear that assimilation is the aim of these efforts. As a consequence, the first project phase has shown the necessity to pursue a constructive political dialogue in order to prepare the introduction of multilingual education as a common approach profitable to all parties involved.

The Multilingual Education in Georgia pilot project aims at three general objectives:
This second project phase aims at two general objectives:
    Pursue the political dialogue between central authorities and ethnic minority leaders and within the ethnic-linguistic communities.
    Reach a political consensus on a Georgian model for multilingual education

Activities and Results
    October 17-22 2005: the project team has conducted 6 focus group discussions on the issue of language policy and education, 3 in the region of Samtshke-Javakheti (Akhalkalaki) and 3 in the region of Kvemo Kartli (Marneuli). In each region, the focus groups were composed by parents of schoolchildren, teachers from different schools and representatives of NGO's and regional authorities.
    March 2 2006: in Tbilisi, the conference "Language Policies and Education in Multilingual Societies" gathered together representatives from the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia and other state officials, education professionals and civil representatives from the Kvemo Kartli and Samtshke-Javakheti regions, foreign multilingual education experts and international organizations. The aim of this conference was to bring fresh insights into the issues at stake relating to the on-going education reform and broaden the understanding of the new challenge Georgia faces, by presenting language education policies implemented by other multilingual societies.
    The conference was followed by a two-day workshop during which education specialists from the Ministry of Education and teachers from the regions discussed alternative models of language education.

    End of September 2006: the presentations given at the conference will be published in Georgian, Russian and English and distributed to education specialists and major stakeholders in the field of education, in Tbilisi and in Samtshke-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli regions.


Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

Projects/ Language Policy in Georgia Phase I

The project aims to study the current education patterns among minorities in Georgia, state policy towards language education aimed at linguistic minorities, and to elaborate an approach towards multilingual education for the largest ethnolinguistic minorities - Armenians and Azerbajanis. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia went through violent territorial conflicts with two of its ethno-linguistic minorities, the South Ossetian and the Abkhaz people. However, the two largest communities have not attracted attention because relations between them and the central government remained peaceful, if tense at certain occasions. The two communities remain, nevertheless, at the margin of the Georgian society and are cut-off from the mainstream political, social and economic developments of the country. One of the main reasons for this is that they live in an ethnically compact manner in southern Georgia and a large majority of them do not speak the Georgian language. However, language plays an essential role in order to access higher education institutions or to participate in public life. The fear of assimilation and a lack of political will as well as an inappropriate language teaching methodology and negative cultural stereotypes hinder linguistic integration. A multilingual education policy in the concerned regions facilitates the learning of the state language (Georgian), while maintaining the ethnic mother tongue (Armenian, Azeri) and is therefore a means to increase their possibilities to participate in public life.

The project "Language Policy in Georgia" aims at evaluating the conflict potential by analysing language and education policy. On the basis of this analysis we will issue recommendations and elaborate an appropriate language policy based on multilingual education

Analysis of the current language and education policy
Elaboration of recommendations with the relevant stakeholders
Revival of public debate around language and minority issues
Concept for the implementation of an adequate language policy

Expected results

A Policy paper, which analysis the background and challenges of language policy in Georgia since independence, including recommendations regarding language and education policy at central and regional level will have been issued.
Policy recommendations will be addressed to the relevant stakeholders and discussed in workshops and press briefings.
A concrete solution for a multilingual education approach in pilot schools is elaborated in form of a project proposal.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Peace Policy and Human Security fund the project.

See also:
Multilingual Governance
Tbilisi Workshop of February 9
More on Workshop
Policy Paper
Language Policy in Georgia: the project

CIMERA: Language Policy in Georgia: Tbilisi Workshop of February 9

CIMERA has conducted a workshop on 9th of February, 2005, in Tbilisi in which possible approaches for the linguistic integration of ethnic minorities were discussed with representatives of the ministry of education, international organizations, and the relevant stakeholders of civil society. It has become clear that bilingual education is an option for Georgia. The implementation of bilingual education will be elaborated in cooperation with the ministry of education in the next project phase.

Workshop discussions

According to official data Georgia is populated by different ethnolinguistic groups that amount to approx.16% of the total population. In particular Armenians in Samskhe Javakheti (approx. 6%) and Azeris in Kvemo Kartli (6.5%) feel that their rights as Georgian citizens have suffered since independence. They fear that the right to education in their mother tongue will be diminished due to a strong Georgification policy which has set in after independence. Due to lacking language competence in the state language - Georgian - and the thereof resulting lack of information the minority populations are also cut off from political life in Tbilisi.

In order to solve problems of communication and integration the government stresses Georgian as the language of wider communication for every Georgian citizen. At the same time the minority schools continue instruction in the respective minority language, Azeri or Armenian, or in Russian, without any structural state support. The ministry of education has also envisaged the introduction of bilingual education in Georgian and minority languages in some of the minority schools. This policy is perceived by some as an attempt to assimilate the minority population. Although the current education law guarantees education in the mother tongue, little is done to actually achieve sustainability in mother tongue education. These contradictions give rise to misunderstanding, and conflict potential. In addition to the conflict between the regions and the center, misinterpretations of the concepts of integration and assimilation policy seem to heat up the debate even further.

Language education in public schools is a particularly controversial topic, since the obligatory Georgian classes have so far not shown the expected communicative results and are furthermore used by the government not only as a tool to teach Georgian, but also to promote Georgian identity and a Georgian state ideology among the students.

Many ethnic minority speakers do now acknowledge that Georgian is an important tool for integration into Georgian society, but fear at the same time that the ethnic minority will be assimilated and lose their identity. Nevertheless, the will to learn Georgian has increased. Georgian classes for adults are attended by a high number of students and the number of students in Georgian schools has increased.

Policy paper

CIMERA is currently preparing a policy paper for further details on education and language policy in Georgia.

Workshop Programme

This project is funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Peace Policy and Human Security.