The Republic of Georgia is a relatively young democracy, there is heightened awareness of the need to nurture young people in the skills they will need to be empowered, informed citizens. School districts are encouraged, and supported, to include principles of Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Citizenship at all grade levels.
The current global geo-political situation affecting countries that border Russia highlights the sense of urgency that drives many educators in Georgia. In 2008 the Russian military occupied two of the eastern Georgian provinces, South Ossetia and Abhkazia, both of which remain under Russian control.
INTRODUCING PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE SDGs
In November, 2016, representatives from the Tbilisi City Council and Educational Administrators plus a group of Georgian high school students traveled to Chestnut Hill College, located in Philadelphia, to attend a professional development training program focusing on early childhood education. The government of the Republic of Georgia had recently doubled the budget for elementary and pre-school education, and the administrators were interested in learning about American approaches to early childhood education. As part of the conference, Words Into Deeds organized workshops that introduced key Human Rights documents followed by discussions designed to help students design and implement community outreach projects in their schools.
2-DAY WORKSHOPS FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS IN TBLISI
The following June, Words Into Deeds was invited to present workshops for high school teachers and students in the capital city, Tbilisi. Thirteen teachers and school administrators and 22 students participated in these highly interactive sessions, which were sponsored by a Georgian NPO, Multinational Georgia for Strengthening Democratic Values.
Teachers’ workshops began with participants making a list of the skills that they believed most important for their students learn in order to become informed, effective, empowered citizens. This was followed by the introduction and discussion of key documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Georgian Constitution, comparing the guarantees in each. Strategies for introducing these into different discipline-based classrooms were developed.
Linking these ideological concepts to specific actionable targets was done by examination of the Sustainable Development Goals, exploring the inter-connectedness among them and the many relevant educational resources available on line. These sessions included modeling pedagogical practices, designing grade-appropriate classroom activities, bringing together students and issue-specific experts, ways to promote interdisciplinary teams, and assessment strategies.
The second day began with proactive approaches to addressing prejudices and promoting respect, using the metaphor of a Ladder of Prejudice. The teachers then began designing a Words Into Deeds project suitable for their classrooms. As is usual for this first experience at project design, one topic relating to an issue especially relevant to their community is selected in advance, and its links to SDG’s serve as the basis for project design. The topic chosen for this workshop was: understanding and protecting the rights of people living with disabilities. Discussions and break-out sessions included defining objectives, examining primary source documents and resources, and outlining strategies to help students design then implement outreach projects, always returning to the essential goals related to helping students develop citizenship skills. By the end of the session several possible projects had been identified, but teachers were reminded that the final selections must be made by the students, who would be charged with designing and implementing the project.
Students’ workshops followed a similar agenda, with the first day introducing principles and practices related to the UDHR and SDGs, often using game-type exercises. In modeling projects, greater emphasis was placed on practical applications and skills needed to understand the many challenges, both physical and emotional, faced by persons with special needs. This also included explorations of biases and prejudices, using the Ladder of Prejudice as a framework.
The second day included presentations on human reproduction and development as related to ways to identify and avoid practices and situations that might be harmful especially during prenatal and infant stages. The workshop concluded with students suggesting informed outreach actions they might take to improve the lives of these individuals and groups.
At the conclusion of each workshop, participants were awarded a Certificate of Achievement accompanied by a celebration.
The Ladder of Prejudice
In his book, The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon W. Allport uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe how “little acts,” which often go unnoticed or unreported, can lead to more serious and disruptive individual and collective behaviors. This framework describes, in ascending order, five “rungs” of intolerance and injustice: speech, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack, and genocide, which includes attempts to eliminate groups through forced emigrations. The rise in “hate based” lethal assaults highlights the importance of recognizing and taking action to address the antecedents of these injurious actions, many of which occur during pre-teen and teen years and are manifest in school situations. In this workshop teachers have opportunity to apply the Ladder of Prejudice to grade-specific behaviors, identify resources – especially literature – appropriate to each grade level, and help students identify parallels in their lives and current events. Strategies for facilitating discussions about negative experiences and inappropriate behaviors based on prejudice and ignorance on the part of students and others, including teachers, parents, and “high profile” persons in political and popular culture are explored.