Monday, December 29, 2008

Reading in Georgia | PIRLS International Student Achievement in Reading

In 2006 Georgia participated for the first time in the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assessment. PIRLS began in 2001 and looks at literacy trends and reading education for 4th graders in 40 different countries around the world (Armenia and Azerbaijan did not participate) and is administered every five years.

In terms of Reading Achievement, Georgia -- with an average of 471 -- fell below the PIRLS international average of 500. However it did score better than some post-communist countries like Macedonia (442). But Georgia's giant neighbor to the north fared much better. The highest performing country assessed in Reading Achievement was Russia with 565 followed closely by Hong Kong SAR (564), Singapore (558), Luxembourg (557) and several Canadian provinces (the Canadian provinces have traditionally taken the exam as separate entities).

Interestingly, the scores and rankings of the countries of the former Soviet Union varied greatly. While these countries had the same education system during Soviet times their current systems produced very different results in the PIRLS assessment. It would be interesting to add several Central Asian countries to the mix as well.

Acrros the board, girls had higher reading achievement than boys in every country and province in the assessment and Georgia was no different. In Georgia girls outscored boys by 17 points, 480 to 463. The international average difference between the genders was also a 17 point difference. On the theme of gender, 100% of the 4th grade reading teachers surveyed in Georgia were female.

PIRLS presents a wide variety of data related to literacy and reading achievement. According to PIRLS, a large percentage of Georgian students, 33%, come from homes that have less than 10 children’s books. And very few have access to technology; only 10% of students go to schools where there are computers available for student usage and only 3% have internet access in their schools.

On a positive note, Georgian teachers were some of the most educated of the countries surveyed with 98% having university degrees -- though what that degree means of course is open to interpretation. Interestingly, despite the low wages, Georgian teachers are among the most satisfied with their career, with 83% reporting that they had a “high level of career satisfaction.” Only Norway reported higher levels of teacher career satisfaction than Georgia. Perhaps this has to do with the ability of teachers to earn significant incomes from outside of school tutoring? It would be interesting to find out more.

PIRLS provides an interesting insight into literacy in Georgia and the Georgian education system. However, unlike in some other countries where the assessment was given in multiple languages in order to assess all 4th grade students, in Georgia only Georgian-speaking students were tested. This leaves out a significant population of Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian schools. Most likely including these schools would have changed the results.

For the full PIRLS report click here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Math and Science in the South Caucasus | TIMSS 2007

TIMSS, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, has released their report for 2007. TIMSS is conducted every four years and it reports on mathematics and science education for 4th and 8th graders in 59 countries. In 2007 Georgia participated for the first time in the study. Armenia participated again in 2007 (you can read our previous blog posting about Armenia in TIMSS 2003 here).

So how did the countries of the South Caucuses fare? Armenia and Georgia fell below the international average in all subjects and grades except for one group. Armenian 4th graders performed just at the international average (500) in mathematics.

Armenia did much better than Georgia in both math and science, but both of the South Caucasus countries were outscored by several former Soviet and Eastern European countries. In 4th grade math scores for example; Kazakhstan (549) and Russian (544) ranked 4th and 5th overall. Several former Soviet and Eastern European countries performed at or above the international average including: Latvia (537), Lithuania (530), Hungary (510), Slovenia (502) and Armenia (500). Below the international average were the Slovak Republic (496), the Czech Republic (486), Ukraine (469) and Georgia (438).

Georgia was outperformed by all other participating former Soviet Countries and Eastern European countries in both math and science for 4th and 8th graders. What should be done? Reader input and discussion is most welcome. How much the ongoing reforms have showed up in the test results in the Georgian case would be worth of further study.

On a positive note, Armenia is doing better than it was four years ago in all categories and at all grade levels.


The full 2007 TIMSS report is available here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Freedom House Report | Democracy in the Caucasus

In June Freedom House released its 2008 annual Nations in Transit Report covering January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007. The Nations in Transit Report covers the democratic performance of the former Soviet Union, the former Soviet satellite states and the former Yugoslavia.

Let’s take a look at how the nations of the South Caucasus have been depicted this year. Georgia has worsened on several of the indexes this year. This is not surprising given the events surrounding November 7, 2007 (the police violently disrupting protestors, the institution of a nine-day state of emergency and the state taking control of one media channel). Note the counter-intuitive grades: 1 represents the best level of democratic performance and 7, the worst.

Georgia Country Report 2008

After two years of slight improvements in performance, Georgia slid backwards in three categories: Electoral Process, Independent Media and National Democratic Governance. Overall Georgia (4.79) fares far worse in the rankings than the Baltic States (Estonia 1.93, Latvia 2.07 and Lithuania 2.25) and the Eastern European States (i.e. Czech Republic 2.14). Georgia is also worse than the former Yugoslavia (i.e. Macedonia 3.86 and Bosnia 4.11).

In comparison to the other non-Baltic, former Soviet countries however, Georgia is only bested in the rankings by Ukraine (overall 4.25). And while Georgia’s ranking for corruption (5.00) is impressively the best among the non-Baltic former Soviet states it still clearly struggles with both local and national democratic governance according to this rating system.

The non-Baltic former Soviet states rankings have deteriorated towards further authoritarianism and curtailment of media freedoms and the South Caucasus nations are no strangers to these trends.

Armenia and Azerbaijan’s rankings remained exactly the same this year as last year with the former receiving an overall 5.21 ranking and the latter a high, 6.0, putting it in the company of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

A separate question remains as to how we can compare these ratings over time. Georgia interestingly has a better overall rating in 1999 than now and the corruption levels after spiking in 2004 have now returned to the level of 1999. Perhaps current assessments are based on more skepticism than in the past?

For more information and the complete reports for each country see Nations in Transit 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Exploring Azerbaijani Views on Alternative Energy

We have written previously about the World Public Opinion project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The project has recently released interesting data on energy issues based on the poll conducted in 21 countries. According to the publication, the majority of Azerbaijanis favor alternative energy development. 64% (compared to 77% average of 21 world countries) think that solar and wind power should be promoted more strongly in the country. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is also favored, while opinions split on the expansion of coal/oil-fired and nuclear power plants.

At the same time, Azerbaijanis are not quite prepared to pay a higher price for cleaner energy: while 48% of respondents (69% average of 21 countries) favor requiring utilities to use more alternative energy, even if this would result in higher energy prices, 43% are against it. This could be explained by the fact that energy prices are already quite high and often beyond affordability for the poorest population groups in Azerbaijan.

The population is even less prepared to pay more for goods produced with cleaner energy: in Azerbaijan, 55% of respondents would oppose spending more on such efficiently produced products, while 38% would favor it. Among the 21 countries surveyed, this view puts Azerbaijan in a minority with only 4 other countries. Maybe this is not surprising, given that annual inflation already is running high in the country.

The overall attitude towards an extra charge for appliances and cars that are not energy efficient is slightly less negative. As in all other surveyed countries, most Azerbaijanis believe that a major shift to alternative energy would save money in the long run. Explore the survey results at