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Widening participation and increasing access to Cultural Heritage and Natural Science Activities in Georgia

While working with colleagues from the Georgian National Museum (GNM) during the research for the ERC grant it became increasingly clear that a lack of funding was preventing the Education Department of the GNM from reaching as many schoolchildren and teachers as they hoped to. Therefore in 2017 a £5,000 grant from the Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) office of the University of Exeter was used in a trial to see how training events and resource packs for teachers improved staff morale and led to a better level of engagement between teachers and the GNM.

The training events and resource packs were developed after a series of conversations with Mr Mikheil Tsereteli, Deputy Director of the GNM and Ms Darejan Dzotsenidze, Head of the Education Department at the GNM. Four booklets were based on four of the galleries in the Museum and, as well as summarising key artefacts, sample activities for children of different ages were included at the end of the booklets. The aim of the resources to was to encourage teachers to move away from the passive learning model that was prevalent in the Soviet era where children (or adults) were lectured by a curator who often went into unnecessary depth about every single artefact. Rather we sought to move the methodology towards Problem-based (or Enquiry-based) Learning by engaging the children by asking a series of questions and encouraging an interactive approach to the museum displays. We also explained how picking and choosing a number of key artefacts and concentrating on them enables children to enjoy a visit without feeling overwhelmed and encourages them to return – rather than seeing museums as boring and dull.

To complement the work that we undertook with teachers, there was also detailed discussion of how to encourage more children to study Humanities and Natural Sciences subjects. Currently choices of university subject are generally linked to the future earning potential of the subject chosen, rather than whether this is an enjoyable, culturally or socially beneficial subject. Unlike in the UK where there is an oversupply of highly qualified people to work in curatorial and managerial roles in museums, galleries and similar organisations, in Georgia there is a shortage of younger people with the qualifications and desire to pursue a career in a curatorial type role. In order to explore this question further and to look at how we could enthuse children with an interest in archaeology and related disciplines we formulated a programme of study days under the name ‘Archaeology for Everyone’ so that children from the Tbilisi area were taken out to visit archaeological sites just outside the city.

The results of this first trial season and copies (in Georgian) of the teacher’s resource packs produced can be accessed at:

500 copies of each resource book (2,000 in all) was produced and copies were given to teachers who attended the training days, whilst further copies were circulated by the GNM Education staff to municipal education offices across the country so that they could be circulated to as many schools as possible. They were also posted on the GNMs publication website as PDFs that could be downloaded free of charge, but given the lack of resources in many schools – especially in the more rural locations- we were aware that a lack of computing facilities, printers or simply the money for cartridges and paper, meant that distributing paper copies of the packs was the best way to ensure that they reached as wide an audience as possible.

Having established the success of this methodology in our first trial season it was decided to apply for a larger grant and extend the approach we had employed of using study days to try and encourage children and teenagers to engage with Cultural Heritage resources. It was felt that such exposure to cultural education encouraged educational aspirations as well as improving societal cohesion amongst children from different backgrounds.

In writing our application we emphasised how we would like to try and reach children from different ethnic and religious minority backgrounds, as well as those marginalised by economic factors or because they live in remote rural locations. We also wanted to reach the children who come into the 17% of the Georgian population registered as ‘Internally Displaced People’ (IDPs). These are domestic refugees who are homeless as a result of the continued occupation of Apkhazeti (Abkhazia) and Samachablo (South Ossetia) by Russia. Finally, there are a few external refugees from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan who have been granted asylum in Georgia. The plan was to continue the training work with schoolteachers, but to move the bulk of the programme towards activity days and summer camps for disadvantaged and minority children in the hope of promoting societal and economic inclusion.

Although the application to the AHRC was ultimately successful, it was only due to start in January 2019, therefore in 2018 IIB gave us a further £1,500 in order for the Department of Education to print resource books giving teachers information on how to lead their own fieldtrips to a number of archaeological and ecclesiastical sites just outside Tbilisi in and around the ancient Georgian capital of Mtskheta. At the same time they continued to take groups of children including IDPs, Street Children, those in the care of the Georgian Social Services Department and others on activity days.

In 2019 the programme was able to expand. In August a deputation from the Education Department spent 5 days in Svaneti in the High Caucasus where they talked to local museum staff about how to improve educational provision for children from the most remote villages (some are over 2,400m above sea level). An activity day at the museum in Mestia (the main settlement in Upper Svaneti) was organised for children from the village of Murkmeli and ended with them all being taken out for a meal. During this trip the group from Tbilisi were able to assess the disparities within the region – often the highest villages are wealthier because they are tourist attractions and gain revenue from visitors, whereas villages such as Murkmeli in side valleys or lacking famous towers or frescoed churches are entirely overlooked and are correspondingly disadvantaged in material terms.

In addition a summer camp took place in early September with 13 Ossetian-speaking children (both IDPs and children from the town of Gori) spending a week in Kvareli in Kakheti in Eastern Georgia. Here they were housed in a building owned by the GNM and used for archaeological excavations in the region and they were taken to visit archaeological sites, local museums and also relaxed by swimming in a local lake and taking part in other leisure activities.

The day trips around Tbilisi continued throughout September and October and November was given over to teacher-training events. At the time of writing the programme is currently being developed for 2020 when we hope to run even more summer camps, now that the format has been established by the trial in the summer of 2019.