Friday, February 26, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Bits of texts and emails that have come in over the past few days.

#1

Greetings,

Will anyone be traveling to the US in the coming days? I have a letter that

desperately needs to be mailed from any place in the US …

Kind regards,

Dan

#2

Dear Megobrebs—I’ ve been living in Tbilisi for about 4 years now and have never had a problem with the gas company, but this company apparently has instituted a draconian new policy that I wish to warn you about..

#3

Right before New Year, two men from the gas company came to the door..thinking that they were just checking the the meter, I let them in. They proceeded to inform me that we had not paid our bill (it was due the day before) and they were there to cut off the gas! But because I have a small baby at home, they gave me a warning and left. Then this month, again we were a day late paying the bill, and this time two women came and turned off the gas, while I was in the middle of cooking dinner. To get it turned back on, you have to go to the KazTransGas office for your district, pay your bill and a 5 lari fine. You can then go home, remove the seal and turn it back on yourself. If you tamper with the seal before paying up, you are subject to a 500 lari fine.

#4

Does anyone know if water is to be metered soon ? I quite enjoy my cheap water at the moment and would like to see the public reaction when the announce if they are introducing a new scheme...

#5

Hello Sports Fans,

So it is now official. The best place to catch Super Bowl XLIV is at Betsy's Hotel.

In addition to the joys of watching the Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints shoot it out with Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts, football fans, friends and companions dragged along, and all the rest of you who are just looking for a party at 3 a.m. Monday morning will receive:

Cheeseburgers

Salad

and chips

And your first beer free!

#6

Dear Miles,

Thank You.

Let me send you a deep appriciation from the whole staff of TSU Quality

Assurance Department. Our meeting seems to us to be a kind of symposium in

an ancient Greek tradition-an interesting dialogue, full of information

turns very heplfull to our staff.

Again planty of thanks for a web address of your home university.It would

be very helpfull also.

with best wishes and hope to see you soon.

anastasia

#7

Hello Miles, Thank you for interesting of my vision, From the experience, having shared and acquired at Nebraska university durring my stay here, I would might to have at my university the following things

1. The procedure of academic programs review

2. The procedures of evaluation of teaching quality

3. Student learning outcomes evaluation

4. Faculty governance engagement in implementing continuous quality enhancement principles within the faculty

5. Show how student can use theoretical knowledge in practice

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another Quick Time Video

This is just playing around with the options on my camera to make photos grainy and in black and white. It was a somber day when I took these. Cold, wet, and slippery.
video

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Text to go with video

Baku (or Baki in Georgian)

This is to go with the quicktime movie. From the cafeteria at the Tbilisi airport to Farida’s parents house (Rasim Aghammadova, me. Farida, Farida;s husband Akhmed, Farida’s mother Gizbike, Farida’s sister Fatima) and in the next picture Farida’s brother Orhan. The Tbilisi airport has free wifi.

The view of the market from Farida’s kitchen window and of a couple of industrious meat cutters butchering a steer which they dispatched nicely in less than an hour. Farida and Akhmed live on one of the highest hills in Baku in a neighborhood.

Then on to the museum of modern art, a beautiful building full of contemporary Azeri art—almost all of it modern and abstract in style. Downtown Baku is very modern.

If you note among the yellow photos of the works of art, there is one with the red devil like figures dancing on the tops of the buildings in Baku. The artist is intentionally critical of the huge modernization that is going on, a massive building project that transforms old Baku into a modern city full of European boutiques and very expensive chain stores from Italy and France and huge government buildings.

The pictures of the woman with the big shoulders and tiny waist is that of the president’s wife, a benefactor of this museum. (president is Ilham Aliyev) She is a very prominent Azerbaijani citizen.

On to the waterfront that reminded me a bit of Chicago although Chicago doesn’t have the hills toward the inland view. The Caspian Sea is a remarkable body of water. Wikepedia has some interesting facts about it. People told me about the sometime dramatic rise and fall of the water level. One night I was taken to a fish place in an old part of the city right by the Caspian. It was a cold, windy night with waves washing on the shore. There we ate kutum. This we ate broiled whole, we had to careful to pick the many bones out of the fish before we ate it.

The memorial to the resisters of the Soviet army’s attack on Baku’s new independence movement in 1990 sits high on a hill overlooking the city and waterfront. 137 people were killed and each one is memorialized at this place. It is quite moving. An eternal flame burns at the end of this long walkway. And 1990 was not that long ago.

There is a lot of construction everywhere. Here Farida and one of her friends leads us through a street under construction in search of a bite to eat which we eventually found at a wonderful airy cafe overlooking the park and old city.

More eating. A large carpet that Farida owns. And, the Azeri airlines plane that took me back to Tbilisi. Note it is a prop plane. Imagine how it rolled and plunged in the high winds ( 40-50 mph) encountered. It was interesting that this plane was less than half full on the trip to Baku and on the return had about ten people in it. It felt somewhat like I imagine a trip to the remote places of the globe might be like with few travelers adrift.

Baku Photos

video

Thursday, February 18, 2010

gender equality in georgia

This article in the Weekly Georgian Journal caught my eye. It was entitled Gender Equality in Georgia. By Nugzar B. Ruhadze (an elderly gentleman by his picture). I am not going to comment on this. I leave it to your imaginations. I will say that the language is somehow charmingly Goergian.

“Gender equality has always been a big talk of the world, slightly modifying the term at times and adjusting it to various interpretations of the notion, like gender equity, gender egalitarianism, sexual equality, etc. Whatever the word, discussion of the theme is usually connected with injustices, perpetrated by men against women, and women’s rights, which will always be an issue as long as humanity continues functioning. How about gender equality in Georgia?

The level of veneration of women by men in this culture has always been extremely high. In words of course—not in deeds. I would dare say! Is the picture changing today? Yes, it is, but only in a weird way. Up until the time when westernization (Let’s not confuse it with modernization) made its way into our society things were stable—a man ruled the roost and a woman delivered in compliance with what the dominant bread winner deigned to design and speak. Not any more! And still, most of the families in Georgia are moving at a snail’s pace in this direction. The tradition of male dominance is so strong here that it will probably take a while until we are completely westernized in this respect. The situation is changing in a totally different direction though. Some of the transformations in our national way of thinking and the new trends of economic development are bringing around funny little things that were not heard of before. The result is that gender equality has totally disappeared in Georgia—women have lately become so much better than men in this country. Women have turned themselves into breadwinners—not cocky and dominant as man, by the way. They are doing their wonderful job in the role of faithful and industrious daughters, wives, and mothers, doing this without even the vestige of self-conceit and haughtiness. They are making all the money in the house and they still continue serving their husbands like slaves. They are taking care of their families and still keep being obedient servants of their kids and loafing spouses. Coeds do much better at schools than their male counterparts, trashing them academically and utterly defying the traditional thinking about the difference between male and female smarts.”

(From The Weekly Georgian Journal, Thursday 18-24 February 2010, 6(137) 1-2.

Electronic silence

I haven't been posting lately. Four days in Baku, a horde of doctoral students, laundry, and other matters have intervened. But, I should have some commentary on the Baku trip shortly.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Teaching Georgia Doc Students

Notes on Class on the Dissertation Prospectus and Research Methods

Since a part of this Fulbright calls for me to do some teaching, I want to report on progress. I had thought I would be doing some work with the Educational Management project (called GEM). But this turns out not to have been a good idea as many of the students in this program do not speak English and Georgian is the language of instruction. Furthermore, UCLA professors under a contract have been working with the assistant professors who teach the educational management project courses. Thus there was not a clear need for my involvement. But, when the word leaked out that I might do a course on the dissertation prospectus, there was widespread interest. So that is what I am doing.

This week (February 8 – 12) I met on Tuesday and Thursday. Here is the text of the email I got from Simon Janashia, the professor who has been helping me.

Your meeting is scheduled tomorrow at 6 in the Austrian Library Room #10. This is behind the building where my office is. When you are coming in through the main entrance you can go behind the main stairway to exit into the yard. The building, which looks like an apartment building is right across the yard.

It is a huge building. Apparently it was given to the university. A previous rector decided to sell it, allegedly pocketing some of the proceeds. ISU retained the use of some classroom space. As is true for most of the rooms I have seen at ISU, the interior is run down and badly in need of repair and reconstruction. But, there was a working projector and a pc (probably four or five years old—it did not like my flashdrive). After fussing endlessly with the technology and then deciding to hook up my lap top and use it, I got the class started. To make the lap top work, I had to unplug one of the heaters in the room so it was not too long before I noticed that students were slipping into their coats.

There were 27 students in the Tuesday night class. There were eight Ninos, three Tamars, and five Ketevans. Of the 27, three were men. Of the 27, thirteen work at ISU, some as Assistant Professors. There are very few in educational management, quite a few in psychology, some in policy, many who are English language teachers. Many not working at ISU were employed in government agencies or NGOs. The 27 reported nineteen different advisors which is interesting. I need to know more about this. I was told that students only have an advisor. There is no committee. Dissertations are evaluated by a college wide committee. I think this is the case. I want to know more about this as well.

I meet this group on Thursday as well (in a different classroom). We spent most of the two hours going over how to use Dissertation Abstracts, an electronic data base essential to the doc student trying to craft a dissertation. I was able to log in via my UNL account at Love Library. I don’t know if there is any where in Georgia that provides students access to this data base. They have JSTOR but I fear that may be it. My major challenge is going to be how to hook them up with research.

This class went well as I was able to anticipate some of the technology issues. Having an extension cord helped tremendously. The classroom was smaller than the first one. It had a mixture of office chairs, dining chairs, and just chairs for students. The traffic from Chavachavdze St outside the windows was loud enough to be a nuisance. There was a tiny white board (to be used with magic markers) and that was the only instructional aid in the room. I say tiny—it was about 2 by 3 feet. This made me thing of Mark van Roojen, a philosophy professor at UNL, who maintains that the ideal classroom is one with large chalk boards on all four walls. Not to be found here.

We made do with a perfectly good projector, a reasonably fast internet connection through the wireless service of this decrepit old building, and a wall with the paint peeling. I’ll try to capture some of this on camera at some point.

The students are wonderful and engaged. They ended the class with comments like, what can we do to help you. Good start.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snow












Snow came to Tblisi
recently--about 4 inches of wet fluffy snow that has since frozen to ice over sidwalks and streets. Kids throwing snowballs, boys up on the hillside below the big tower sliding and slipping intentionally down the steep hillside, cars spinning wheels. It was very quiet Saturday when I woke as cities almost always are in the early hours of a snowstorm. By mid day it had warmed up enough so that life commenced. I decided to learn how to use the black and white function on my camera and took some pictures in the area around my apartment building.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Arrajala Part Two





Arajalla Part Two

It is late for me on this Friday night. The trip to the banos (baths) has been completed. These baths in Georgia are both intense and relaxing. The protocol is to sit in a sauna (tonight’s was recorded at 81 degrees Celsius for a while), then a dip in a very cold bath, and then a soak with one’s pores wide open in the mineral springs. This is repeated a number of times with beer and water in between. And for the adventuresome there can be a scrub. I haven’t mustered the courage for this yet as the first part of the scrub looks like torture to me—the guy beats on your back and legs with something that can best be described as karati chops. Then he scrubs your body with an abrasive sponge. Those of you who have been to Turkish baths will, I think, understand. The visit to the banos is cleansing.

But I want to write about the Azeri school. This place reminded me of a school in Israel that I visited outside of Beersheva. It was a place of beautiful children and no books. This Azeris school seems to be a place of no children and no books although I think this impression was created by the time of day that we visisted (early afternoon). Clearly, this Azeri school is a school just plain starved of resources. If there were books, I didn’t see them; if there was technology, I only saw computers which were of little use (a unix operating system and no ed software and no internet connection).

I heard a talk yesterday by a UCLA professor advocating constructivist learning and the virtues of the learning organization. She is here to help train Georgian school principals. The woman principal at this school is in another universe. I wonder if she would like to write a paper for the Women in Educational Leadership journal. That would be an interesting project.

Here is a school for a wide ranging age group—from 1st to 12th grade. How to understand such a place? I showed you a picture of the teachers in the staff room, smiling and welcoming and warming their hands over a leaky wood stove. The students had left for the day and this was early afternoon. I’ve visited other schools in Georgia now and their day seems to stretch into the late afternoon if I am to judge by the kids leaving school on the sidewalks of Tblisi.

Georgia’s educational reforms ring with language about education and democracy and quality. This language attracted me here. Imagine a school system in which children are actually provided with an opportunity to practice democratic citizenship behavior! America's student councils ring hollow compared to the power this national system accords students. But, the ideal appears in many places tp be quite unrelated to reality. . The disconnect between what I saw at Allajara and the reform rhetoric reminds me of the lines from the T.S. Eliot poem, The Hollow Men: Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow. I think I am seeing a shadow realm and I am not at all sure that I will be able to conduct research in this realim.

I doubt not the sincerity of the education ministers and policy makers. But, what an incredible challenge the nation faces in schools like those in Arrajala.

Perhaps one of the measures of the modern schools could be whether or not it attends to the basic needs of children. Is there water? Is there a clean bathroom? Is there heat? Is there adequate lighting? This school had no visible water for kids, a filthy bathroom outside the building (what we in Nebraska would have once called an outhouse), poor heat, and poor lighting. So, I think of Maslow’s hierarchy and realize that the basic elements of need are not addressed in this school.

Pictures attest to this. Here is the outhouse—a hole in the ground that hasn’t been cleaned in years; here is a classroom with a leaky and smoking wood stove; here are the blocks of pressed wood the school orders from the ministry.



On the way out, Rita pointed out to me the red flags on the gates of some of the houses. These flags signify that the household has a 13 year old ready to be married. Guess how many 13 year olds make it to 12th grade in this school? Zero. Do I wonder why all the women teachers in this Azeri school are Gerogian women? Arajalla could use Greg Mortenson or Nicholas Kristof.

Prices

Found in the Messenger, Georgia’s English Language Daily

The price of some items in Georgia are very high, sometimes higher than in the USA. For instance, according to 2009 figures 1 litre of petrol costs 1.75 GEL in Georgia and 1.26 in the USA. 1 kilo of poultry costs 6.5 GEL in Georgia and in the USA 4.7 6. 10 eggs cost 2.5 GEL in Georgia and 2.3 GEL in the USA. Some products however are cheaper in Georgia. For instance, 1 kilo bread costs 1.25 GEL here but in the USA 4.95. I kilo of tomatoes costs 1.2 GEL, in the USA 5.8 GEL.

On the day I wrote this, the Lari was worth 1.729 dollars.

Also found in the February 4, 2010 Messenger

Russians buying property in Abkhazia

Research shows that 85% of the real estate purchases in Abkhazia in 2009 was bought by Russians, 10% by Turks, 2% by Ukranians and 3% by citizens of other countries.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gali

Gali Region

In the far northwestern part of Georgia is what is now labeled the Autonomous Republic of Georgia. A law passed by the Georgian Parliament in January of last year formally recognized this former part of Georgia as an occupied territory. This perhaps can be seen as an official recognition of conflict that had been ongoing, resulting in large numbers of Georgians leaving or being forced to leave their homes, business, and places. Physical evidence of this can be seen at places like Tblisi Sea where huge high rise hotels have been established for IDPs as apartments. I saw these several days ago but took no pictures. We were bouncing over potholes and the like.

I met the minister of education and culture for the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. She uses the term Gali as her name for this region. I forgot to ask about this but will. Hopefully she and a group of IDP teens and some teens from Lincoln are going to have a skype exchange. So, if that works, I’ll have a chance to find out more.

If this all seems abstract, consider some of the documented evils just in education that are taking place in Gali:

1) Sept 2008: 26 Georgian teachers were fired in one town

A student, Levan Bagatelia and a primary teacher, Izeta Torua, were killed in a mine explosion;

Lado Shonia, another student, lost both leg in another explosion

2) In 2008 in another area the illegitmate government of Abkhazia forced the removal of all Georgian language materials from the curriculum.

3) In 2008 Russian troops took over a school to use as a military hospital.

4) In Oct of 2008 Georgian language courses were taken out of the educational program in the village of Okumi and Georgian language teachers were fired.

5) In January of 2009 a local village administrator demanded that teachers in Otobaia get Abkhazian passports or be fired.

6) In March Besik Arshba demands that persons with Georgian names change their names to their “historical names.” I don’t know what this means.

There are many other documented abuses.

There are some 31 schools in Gali that were heavily Georgian in recent times. Some 4500 students attend these schools. Many speak Georgian and no Russian. But the language of instruction is being changed from Georgian to Abhkazian and Russian. One can sense quickly that this is a matter of imperial conquest—to eradicate a people’s language has to be seen as an example of such. Or so I think.

Here I want to remind readers of this blog that nothing I say is intended to reflect the views of the US State Dept. I was asked to make that disclaimer if my written words strayed into politics. Done.

The proxy government in Gali seeks to make Abkhazian one of the two languages of instruction. But Abkhazian, according to those who know far more than I about linguistics, is a very limited language and simply has not the sophistication to allow its native speakers to function well in modern society. To force children to learn a language of instruction that can't be used after about sixth grade has to be a decision made only for political reasons and not educational ones.

If the idea of a child being blown up by a landmine seems improbable, this happens in part because some families want their kids to have an education and thus have them cross the border of Gali into Georgia to attend a Georgian school. They walk. Sometimes 2-3 kilometers. Everyday. Although this may come to an end as the proxy government is alleged to be tightening passage at the border.

My source of information for this post comes from a report prepared by the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia entitled, Education in Emergency: Situation Report in the Occupied Region of Gali. and from a conversation with its Minister of Education. Georgia has appealed to the UN claiming that these events violate international humanitarian law. I think they have a point.

Jewish Hesed Center



The Joint (Joint Distribution Committee)

Because the news leaked out through synagogue channels that I was going to Georgia, I got a call from a Sam Horotwitz who does work in New York with the Jewish Federation about the Hesed Eliyah in Tblisi run by the Joint Distribution Committee. He wondered if I would like to make contact and see about this organization. Finally this week I did, after several canceled meetings. There are many displaced persons in Georgia because of various conflicts. Some of these are Jews. And this Chesed center provides a pre-school and regular Jewish school for the children of these families plus a center for adults in need. Part of their work is to help train adults for careers and occupations.

I went there thinking perhaps there was something I could do to link them with resources in Nebraska and Lincoln. Their building was nice—clear, relatively new, well maintained. The director of their school and cultural events spoke with me for a while. She only speaks Russian. And, I think she was not sure why I was there and what I could offer them. So, in spite of good intentions, I have to agree with her. Like an organization offering help to poor displaced people, the organization could use financial help. Beyond that, I don’t see much opportunity for us in Lincoln.

I did meet the wife of the chief rabbi (I think that is what he is) and do plan to go to services probably on a Friday. Saturday they start at 7 at the sephardi shul and that is a bit early for me since it is a trek to get there.


Pictures: the building and a delightful group of pre-school kids who are there from 8 to 3. Long day for them.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Teaching at ISU


Teaching and Lecturing

The Fulbright is a teaching and research Fulbright. I never had much confusion about the research part. Georgia has an amazingly ambitious set of school reforms intended to transform the schools of the nation. Improving quality, teacher competence, student performance, and equity are all key in these reforms. Reducing corruption was one clear goal. And now that I have visited a few poor schools, it is clear that this is an incredible challenge, one I hope to document. Just to give some indication of this, twenty years ago Georgia’s schools enrolled over 900,000 students. Today the number is around 600,000. There are half empty schools all over the country. That building I show in Allajara with the broken windows on the top stories should not be seen as too unusual. Why repair windows when there are whole floors of schools that are not used? I hope to return to this school to learn more, particularly as this school does or does not relate to the national reforms. Schools get money from the national government based in large part by how many students they enroll. So, as these schools loose enrollment, they loose. Anyway, while complex, I understood some of the research projects I wanted to begin. The teaching part was more confusing.

It was never clear what assignment I might take on that would be of help to Ilia State University. And I now see that I had to become something of a known entity before this part of the Fulbright would even begin to take shape. I am indebted to Siko Janishia and Kete (his wife and Ed Program Director) for being patient and letting matters evolve. Last week I was planning to teach a course in program evaluation to masters level students and a few doc students. This week I have the following email which reveals much about the state of higher education in Georgia:

As for the courses, I have advertised both of them and the situation is following. There are 35 (!) PhD students that have already asked for the registration and only 2 from the MA for the program evaluation. I have consulted with Keti and others and maybe it would be more helpful if you could have more (and also larger ?) groups for the PhD seminar if possible. As for the program evaluation, we could sacrifice that course as there is not much interest in it. Seminars for the PhD students would be more useful as there is not much to offer them in contrast to the MA students. Besides, obviously PhD students seem more motivated too.

At a lecture last week I had announced that I would teach a course in program evaluation and possibly offer a seminar in writing the doctoral dissertation. Well, the masses have spoken. I thought I might have escaped the business of helping doc students create dissertations but clearly this was not to be. I have sensed a lot of anxiety in the few doctoral student with whom I have spoken. This anxiety is all too familiar. If I could figure out how to do it, I might try to create a buddy system with UNL and ISU students. That could be interesting.

Here is a some picture of my talk last week. The woman in the light sweater is a former Muskie student who studied with Jim Guthrie at Vanderbilt last year. Behind her is Pavle who has spent time in Nebraska with Joe McNulty’s exchange efforts. Pavle has an impressive record as a person who provides teacher development in Georgia. I think he and I share an interest in project based curriculum projects. There were at least three other people in the room who had been to Nebraska on various programs. I was prepared for a freezing room. An hour after I started the room was boiling with all radiators pumping out heat full force. Hard to figure. This audience was exceedingly polite--I didn't see anyone nodding off. At UNL, a room this late at night at this temperature would have meant serious snores.