Monday, March 25, 2019

Anti-western discourse dashboard: Tracking what the far-right is talking about on Georgian language Facebook

Within the framework of the Russian Propaganda Barometer project, funded by EWMI’s ACCESS program, CRRC-Georgia developed an anti-Western discourse dashboard. The dashboard visualizes what known sources of anti-western propaganda in the Georgian language have been talking about on Facebook since 2015.

The dashboard has a number of functions. It uses thematic modeling to identify what subjects people have been talking about over the years. The topics which different groups have been talking about are also provided by different sources of anti-Western propaganda. In addition, how the different groups (positively or negatively) talk about the West and Russia is provided on the dashboard’s landing page.

Besides the above, the dashboard has a wide variety of other tools. The posts page provides the number of posts on any given day as well as the number of likes, comments, frequency of sharing different sites the construction of networks between different sites, and activity levels during different parts of the week and time of day.

On the tool, the texts tab provides an analysis of the frequency of use of different words and bi-grams for different words used in connection to Russia and the West.

The tool is only available in Georgian, but over the course of the coming months, this blog will have posts describing findings from the data collected on anti-western discourse on Georgian language Facebook in English. To see a previous report from the same project click here, and an article based on that report, click here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Parents think Georgia’s schools are fine. But are students actually learning?

[Note: This article was originally published here with OC-Media. It is available in Georgian here. This article was written by Meagan Neal, an International Fellow at CRRC-Georgia. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Georgia, the National Democratic Institute, or any affiliated entity.]

Around the world, an increase in the systematic collection of education data has revealed a previously invisible problem: even though more children have access to education than ever before, it does not necessarily mean they are learning. In fact, many students are progressing through school systems without mastering the basic skills necessary to fully participate in society. The gap is so stark it has become known as a ‘learning crisis’.

Given the global trends, a new wave of controversial reforms to Georgia’s school exam system, and a planned increase in the national education budget, what do Georgians think about the quality of their own education system? And should Georgia be concerned about its own students’ learning?

At first glance, public opinion suggests that education quality is not a large problem. Surveys CRRC and NDI conducted in December 2018 suggest that most people think the government is doing a good job providing education to the country’s children.

A plurality of Georgians (50%) thought that the government did a ‘somewhat good’ or ‘very good’ job providing education to all its citizens, while 34% rated the government’s performance as ‘somewhat bad’ or ‘very bad’. Among people with a child in their household currently in school, only 4% rated their family member’s school as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.  Most said that it was ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

At the same time, most people also think that private tutoring is necessary to study well, to graduate from secondary school, or to get into university, suggesting Georgia’s schools are falling short of their basic duties.
As the chart below shows, a slight majority (55%) said that it was necessary to have a private tutor to pass secondary school graduation exams. A large majority (73%) said that tutoring was necessary to pass the Unified National Exams to gain entrance to university. Even respondents who rated their family member’s school as ‘good’ tended to agree.

These attitudes towards tutoring could change soon. In February, the government announced that they would abolish secondary school graduation exams and change the requirements for university entrance exams. According to the government, the new measures will allow secondary schools to focus less on test preparation, give universities more autonomy to choose which exams to use for their own admissions processes, and lower expenses for parents by reducing the need for private tutoring.

In March, the Prime Minister also announced that the government would increase education spending annually until 2022 — reaching a maximum of 6% of GDP, a quarter of the country’s budget.

The perceived necessity for tutors says something about the current quality of schooling, and these reforms may be missing the point. After all, abolishing tests will not fix the system if schools are not well-equipped to teach students the essentials of secondary school in the first place. Nor will pumping in more funding lead to better outcomes if those funds are not strategically allocated towards evidence-based strategies to improve learning, rather than an increase in ‘business as usual’ inputs like school infrastructure.

So how much are Georgian students actually learning? National assessment data can give some clues. Georgia has participated in the past few rounds of PISA, an international exam of 15-year-olds’ reading and maths abilities in OECD and partner countries.

The most recent results were not great. Half of the students scored below Level 2 in reading and maths, the PISA threshold for being able to fully participate in school and society. Even having made substantial improvements since 2009, Georgia was still one of the lowest performers among PISA-participating countries in 2015.

What’s more, trends from the 2009 round of PISA as well as the 2015 round of TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) suggest that most of the gains in performance are driven by urban students, while rural students continue to lag behind.

Can the new reforms help address these inequities? More funding and a reduced focus on national tests could be a good thing for low-performing students — if schools and teachers have the resources and capacity to redirect the energy and funds they would spend on test prep towards better adapting their curriculum and methods to the individual needs of their students, and if they are held accountable for the learning outcomes they deliver.

But right now, like in many countries, it is not clear Georgian schools have the capacity or accountability mechanisms to do so. As Transparency International recently highlighted, government spending on education has already continued to increase over the past eight years without any goals set around actual student learning. Abolishing exams, which, for all their imperfections, can be used as an accountability mechanism, is unlikely to help this.

Despite general perceptions that Georgia’s schools are fine, the data on student achievement and the perceived need for tutors suggest a much deeper problem of learning.

In theory, increased funding could be a great opportunity to address this. But unless the government pivots this spending towards strategies that have been shown to help students learn, such as more effective pedagogy and better teacher performance and accountability, it is unlikely to have much effect.

If they draw lessons from the global conversation around learning, on the other hand, the government can work to ensure that Georgia’s students develop the basic skills necessary to succeed in life — whether they need an exam to graduate or not.

Curious about perceptions of Georgia’s education system? The data used in the above article is available here.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Georgians support technical inspections of motor vehicles, even given the financial burden

[Note: This article was originally published on OC-Media. The text is also available in Georgian here. The article was written by David Sichinava, CRRC-Georgia’s Research Director, and Nino Mzhavanadze, a Junior Researcher at CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in the article do not necessarily represent the views of CRRC-Georgia, the National Democratic Institute, or any related entity.]

In 2018, the Government of Georgia decided to resume mandatory periodic technical inspection of vehicles, which was partially suspended in 2004. From January 2019, all cars are required to pass technical inspection. In 2018, heavier vehicles were required to do so. The change was spurred on by the Association Agreement with the European Union, under which Georgia took responsibility to resume inspections. More practically, the government also began inspections as Georgia’s private vehicle fleet has been recognized as the main source of air pollution in the country. A June 2018, CRRC/NDI survey finds people in Georgia overwhelmingly support the decision.

To learn whether potential costs associated with the reform such as repairing a vehicle to meet standards the technical inspections require would influence support for the reform, a survey experiment was carried out. Half of the sample (the control group) was asked, “In your opinion, is it necessary or not to have technical inspection of vehicles?” The other half (the treatment group) was asked, “In your opinion, is it necessary or not to have technical inspection of vehicles, as a result of which the car owners may be required to repair their vehicles or buy new ones?”

While these questions were randomly assigned, the share of the supporters of the reform does not differ between the two groups, which suggests that, overall, people’s support for the reform does not vary significantly when reminded of the additional costs that will be associated with the reform.
Clearly, car owners will be directly affected by the reform. However, people living in households that reported owning car(s) (41% of the population) feel enthusiastic about obligatory inspections of vehicles. Similar shares in both car-owning and non- car-owning households answered that technical inspections should be necessary.

People living in Tbilisi (96%) and urban settlements (92%) almost unanimously supported resumption of technical inspection, while residents of ethnic minority settlements were much more (62%) reluctant about the changes. There is no difference between respondents who have different perceptions of air quality. Interestingly, those who perceive the quality of air as completely satisfactory, are more likely to support the introduction of technical inspections if they are exposed to the treatment statement.

Opinions do differ along party lines, however. Those who reported the United National Movement (UNM) as the party closest to them were significantly less likely to report technical inspections were necessary (regardless of being in the treatment or control group).

There is a strong consensus among people in Georgia regarding the need for the newly introduced technical inspections for vehicles. People support the idea even when reminded of the costs associated with the reform. The survey also indicates that attitudes towards the reform significantly differ along party lines, hinting at the politicization of the issue.

The data used in this blog post is available here. Replication code is available here.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Choosing a profession: who should decide young people’s career paths?

Choosing a career path is one of the most important decisions that people make in their life. For some, it might be a complicated and anxiety-riddled experience. One reason is that the process of choosing a career begins at a young age when a person may not have thought about what they want to do with their lives. For this, among many other reasons, parents often play a role in deciding what their children study at university, which is often though not always associated with their profession.  However, there are a number of arguments about why it is better to allow a child to choose their own career paths.  Based on the CRRC/NDI June 2018 survey, this blog post describes the adult population of Georgia’s views about whether parents or their children should choose their career, and describes how opinions differ by a number of demographic characteristics.

The survey asked respondents, ”Which of the following statements do you agree with: ‘When choosing a profession [profession has a similar meaning to university major in the Georgian language], the parents [should decide] because a parent knows better what will be useful for his/her child’ or ‘When choosing a profession, the child [should decide] even if the parent thinks that the child is making a mistake.‘”

A majority (75%) of the population agreed that when choosing a profession the child should decide, while 23% answered that the parent(s) should. People living in the capital are more likely to  agree (85%) that the child should decide than people who live in rural settlements (68%). People between the ages of 18-35 are more likely to agree with the statement that children should decide than people of other age groups.  Level of education also is associated with whether people think that children or their parents should decide a child’s future profession. People who have higher than secondary education are more likely to agree with the statement that the child should decide than people with a lower level of education.  Interestingly, there is no visible difference between the answers of people who live in households with children (under 18) and people who do not. Nor is there a difference between men’s and women’s views regarding this issue. Similarly, ethnic minorities and majorities express similar opinions. These results are supported by a logistic regression analysis.

Note: Answer options “Agree with neither”, “Don’t know”, and “Refuse to answer” are not shown on the chart above. The combined share of these responses options was under 4%. 

Overall, most people in Georgia report that when choosing a profession, the child should decide even if the parent thinks that the child is making a mistake.  This opinion is supported more often by people who live in the capital, have higher than secondary education, and young people (18-35).

To explore the data used in this blog post further, visit our Online Data Analysis platform. The results of the regression noted above are available here.