I think this blog entry will be split into two parts as there is a lot to talk about. Part one will discuss the school building, both outside and inside. In part two, I will talk about the teachers, students and general teaching experience.
It’s difficult where to start with the school. I’ll start with location. The school is only about a three minute walk from my home. I think most of the children in Gldani (the area of Tbilisi where we live) go to this school, although I think there is another one nearby somewhere. My host-mum is a music teacher there, and my brother used to be a student, so they told me what it was like before I went there on my first day.
Schools in Georgia do not go by names such as ‘Mackie Academy’ (the school I went to) or ‘Banff Academy’. In Georgia, all schools go by numbers, and so I go to school 173. Not sure why they wouldn’t want to have their own unique name but this is Georgia after all and the government may have their reasons.
The school itself is massive. It turns out it was actually two separate schools next to each other, before the government decided to merge the two together and have one great big school. As a result it has way over 2000 students and makes it the second biggest school in Tbilisi (and I would reckon this means in Georgia, too).
The school is majorly run-down compared to Western standards and is massively in need of re-development. Graffiti covers a lot of the building on the outside and it just looks like it’s crumbling down. Inside follows the same pattern. It’s absolutely freezing inside and must certainly lack central heating. The flooring throughout the school is wooden and it creaks as you walk from A to B. The staircases are made from concrete but with years of wear and tear it’s actually pretty dangerous and you have to be careful during periods not to trip on the dodgy surface.
The quality of the classrooms varies from each part of the school. In some classrooms, you’re lucky if a light works and sometimes the heaters don’t work. Even when they do, the heat they give off is minimal. Other classrooms are better, but the desks and chairs vary from one classroom to the next. Some would resemble desks and chairs used by our parents when they were at school. In other classrooms they are much more modern - it really just depends.
I really need to point out at this juncture that I am not criticising the school, not for a moment. It may look like I have written a lot of negative comments about the school, but the truth is my observations are just matter of fact. The school is what it is. It’s an old school and because Georgia is still in many regards a developing country, it is clear the government has not had the money to fund such large-scale redevelopments, which is probably the case not just for schools in Tbilisi, but Georgia too.
Next, I should mention the school’s toilets. Yes, the school, along with pretty much every other school in Georgia, has Turkish toilets. For those who are unaware of this concept, please Google/Wikipedia/YouTube it. Unlike almost all Western toilets, these Turkish toilets do not have somewhere to ‘sit’. Instead of ‘sitting’, the main verb you’ll be doing is ‘squatting’. There is a place to put your feet and beside this is a whole in the ground. Yup, that’s right. If you checked the net for images you’ll probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about.
I guess I have two comments on these Turkish toilets. Firstly, this is the norm here. I know the idea of these toilets make most Westerners shudder, but this is the way it’s always been at these schools, for both teachers and students alike. Secondly, I cannot understand why the government have not replaced these toilets with Western ones, and I can only guess this is due to financial restraints. For a country which is striving to become a more Western society (the fact they’re employing thousands of English teachers from around the world to teach in schools, for example), I’m surprised they haven’t started with the one of the major indicators of a country’s development; sanitation. The Turkish toilets in school look dirty and smell horrific, especially later on in the afternoon. This is all part of the experience, I guess, and it will take time to get used to.
I think that’s the fundamentals of the school building covered, and in part two I’ll discuss teachers, students and the overall teaching experience (thus far).