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On the road in Georgia – through past, present and future

Mercy Tembon's picture
What an experience! It started bright and early on a Thursday morning as we boarded the car in the basement of the Word Bank office in Tbilisi and set off for a two-day visit to the Imereti region in the west of Georgia.

The first stop along our route was the Gelati Monastic Complex – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which is an impressive conservation and restoration project supported through the World Bank’s Second Regional Development Project (RDP), the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and the State Municipal Development Fund of Georgia. Our contribution is to help build infrastructure around the monastic complex that will facilitate tourist access to this historical site, and by consequence help further develop the local economy.

Inside one of the monastic academy buildings we listened to a status report on the project, while conservationists and restorers from the Academy of Arts continued their important, painstaking work outside. Local clergy and other beneficiaries from the community were also present to ask questions and share their views on the progress of the project.
Gelati Monastery
Gelati Monastic Complex, UNESCO heritage site.
Photo credit: Tamar Kobakhidze/World Bank
Visibly, much work has been done already. We saw near-to-complete kiosks at the entrance to the complex, parts of the monastery roof that had been re-tiled, and stonewalls that had been restored. The monastic complex is very special and sacred to Georgians – it is the burial place of King David IV (1073–1125 AD), also known as David the Builder.

On the road again and next stop was Tskaltubo. Here we visited the rehabilitated “Tsivi” (cold) lake and the adjacent park – its infrastructure was financed by the World Bank. While the area around the lake is indeed picturesque, our walk was probably most memorable for the “soundtrack” of croaking frogs and toads – a sound so harmonious that I could not help but record it on my phone!

And, although not yet the season for tourists, it was good to see activity: the lakeside coffee shop was open for business, a group of school students were out on a nature walk, and several men were fishing at various points around the lake.
Tsivi Lake
Guided through the revitalized town by the counterpart from the Municipal Development Fund.
Photo credit: Tamar Kobakhidze/World Bank
After Tskaltubo, we made our way to Kutaisi, where we visited Public School 14. We were greeted by the head-teacher, who told us that the school has about 50 teachers – most of them women – and an enrolment of over 700 students. You could see that the school building was old – it was built in 1952 – but it was clear that it was kept tidy and well organized, and that it presented an attractive learning environment for the children.

Passing by the staff room, we saw teachers busy at their computers, and when the school bell rang, children walked in an orderly fashion from their classrooms looking confident and cheerful. I was especially attracted to the display of students’ artwork on the walls in the classrooms and the hallway. One piece of artwork really stood out – a map of Georgia made from paper hands of different colors each representing the country’s 13 regions.
Handmade map of Georgia
A colorful map of Georgia, handmade by schoolkids.
Photo credit: Tamar Kobakhidze/World Bank
You could tell that this was a high-performing school, judging by the number of winning trophies and certificates from regional contests displayed in the hallway. The head-teacher informed us that she had benefitted from attending some of the teacher professional development courses that the World Bank has supported, and that she is now a trainer herself.

We spent some time in the fourth-grade Mathematics and sixth-grade English classes, and saw up close how studious and attentive the children were. I sat next to one very confident young girl who was not in the least perturbed by my presence.
 
Kutaisi school
When the class ended, I was thrilled to have a photo taken with the children. But what brought an even bigger smile to my face was when a nine-year girl called Anano walked up to me and politely asked, “what is your name?”
 
Mercy and Kids at the Kutaisi School

The school’s curriculum follows a highly inclusive pedagogic approach. For example, children with special needs or those who do not attend the mainstream classes have a dedicated area with adaptive learning materials. And, on the third floor, there is a mini-library with books and three computers for students to access electronic libraries. I left the school that day with a highly positive impression of the leadership and quality of the teachers, not to mention the positive interaction between them and the children.

The fourth and last stop on our trip was Baghdati, where we visited the town’s new Innovation Center. Housed in the municipal library, it is one of three pilot centers that opened in September 2016 and is financed with support from the Georgian government through the Georgia Innovation and Technology Agency.

The Innovation Center provides training classes and workshops, as well as access to technology for adults and children of various ages. For young people, activities include Web and Google applications design, Lego robotics, computer programming, and ‘‘technovation” challenges. Lessons for adults include blind-typing, how to access Web resources, and Internet surfing, among others.
Kids at the Baghdati Innovation Center
During the visit, we watched a visual presentation of the Center’s activities and were amazed to learn that as many as 82 youths visited in just one month. Indeed, we met students as young as eight years old designing and programming robots from Lego pieces. A particular highlight was our encounter with Saba, a nine-year-old boy who apparently has never missed a day at the Center since it opened six months ago. It was fascinating to observe him interacting with other boys as they tackled a project. Saba was even featured in the presentation, saying, “I love coming to the Innovation Center! It is much better than going to school.”

As I reflect now on the two-day trip, I find myself thinking that it somehow represented the “past, present, and future” of this fascinating, beautiful country.

But it is Georgia’s future that remains in my thoughts.

I try to imagine how the Baghdati Innovation Center might look like ten or fifteen years from now – when Saba and his friends will be in their twenties – and I wonder how children all over Georgia will be prepared for a future where digital development and technological advancement will drastically change the way we live and work.

I think about our institution and how our work can support Georgia in ensuring that future generations are ready to integrate and compete successfully in a more technologically complex and demanding world. And I ask myself if Georgia is fully ready to invest in its own future? I guess time will tell.

Comments

Submitted by Betsy on

Thank you for a delightful blog, Mercy. I'm a big fan of Georgia's amazing church architecture but the description of your visits to the school and innovation center were equally captivating and brought a smile to my face.

Submitted by Ahmed on

What a lovely blog, Mercy. It is touching and thoughtful. I love the integrated WBG offer in one region; best practice to address poverty and unemployment issues in the lagged behind region of Imereti indeed. I'm proud to be part of the WBG team supported the region.

Submitted by Eiweida on

Very thoughtful and rich blog, Mercy. Powerful WBG integrated development in a lagged region. Proud that I was part of the team helping Imereti.

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