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According to the decision of the Government of Georgia, every pupil has been receiving school textbooks free-of-charge from the start of the 2013-2014 academic year. The then Minister of Education and Science, Giorgi Margvelashvili, announced the decision on 8 April 2013. Mr Margvelashvili stated that according to the Constitution of Georgia, studying at public schools was free and the government needed to make this very fact a reality. He asserted that it was an obligation which had to be fulfilled by the state.

Pursuant to the initiative of the Ministry of Education and Science, 650,000 pupils of 2,084 public schools received their school textbooks free-of-charge (only those pupils who studied in private schools or who were not below the poverty level were exempt). The 2013 state budget of Georgia allocated GEL 16,323,630 for the school textbook project. In 2014, the Ministry of Education and Science reprinted 3,863,090 books for which GEL 13,216,000 was allocated from the state budget.

Since 2010, pupils enrolled at public schools (under the category of "socially vulnerable") have been given school textbooks free-of-charge. The Government of Georgia allocated GEL 8 million for this project. Since 2012, the number of beneficiaries of the school textbook project was increased with free-of-charge books also being given to children of those military servicemen who lost their lives in the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 as well as those from large families. According to the then Minister of Education and Science, Dimitri Shashkin, more than 180,000 pupils were given school textbooks free-of-charge without any obligation.

As a part of a Ministry of Education and Science project initiated in 2013, pupils were given school textbooks free-of-charge for a certain period of time and with accompanying obligations; namely, Decree No. 30/N (dated 5 August 2013) of the Minister of Education and Science regulated the issue of the usage and the ownership of the free-of-charge books. Following this Decree, the ownership and care of a book is assessed upon a 15-point scale according to the following criteria: a) condition of the textbook cover, b) cleanliness of the textbook and c) condition of the pages within the textbook. According to the Decree, a pupil should be given a school textbook free-of-charge provided the individual’s book is assessed at least at nine out of the possible 15 points. The textbook is not fit to be used if the assessment is at eight or less points according to the scale. A pupil is obliged to return a school textbook in the condition of at least nine points. If not, the pupil’s parent or legal representative is responsible for the damaged book and must replace it with an identical copy of similar content and edition. A pupil is also required to use the school textbook only for the purpose of study, maintain the integrity of the book, take care of it, avoid making any damages, not bend the pages and not writing inside, etc.

Of note is that according to the assessment of the Ministry of Education and Science itself, as of 2 May 2014, 76% of all school textbooks in the classes from grades 2 to 12 and 35% of the school textbooks in the classes in grade 1 were fit to be used. According to the statement of the Ministry of Education and Science issued on 24 July 2014, approximately 50%-60% of school textbooks were required to be newly purchased for the 2014-2015 academic year. According to the same statement, only 289 textbooks were replaced by the parents or legal representatives of 195 pupils. The question arises, then, that if only 289 textbooks were replaced by pupils and their parents or legal representatives, what was the reason for the purchase of approximately 60% of new school textbooks for the upcoming academic year at a cost of GEL 13 million of taxpayer money. The Ministry of Education and Science did not answer this or any of the other questions asked by FactCheck.

The free-of-charge school textbook project had a particularly painful impact upon the publishing business. Decree No. 30/N of the Minister of Education and Science regulates the rules for the printing of school textbooks. It includes a rule of approval for the textbook and a respective fee. The approval of the textbooks is carried out in three stages:

  • Acceptance of applications and textbook/series;
  • Assessment of textbook/series;
  • Granting approval/publication.

The duration of a textbook/series approval is a period of six years. The duration of the approval may be subject to change in the case if a teaching plan of a respective subject or subjects for the given class/stage is changed.

The aforementioned Decree also regulates the rights and obligations between the Ministry of Education and Science and publishers. According to Part B of Article 10 of the Decree, the Ministry of Education and Science is authorised to grant the right of usage of any approved textbook to any interested individual in the case of urgent public necessity. This means that the Ministry of Education and Science can print school textbooks without publishers.

FactCheck

interviewed Kakha Kudava, the Director of Intelekti, a local publishing company. According to Mr Kudava, the disagreement between publishers and the Ministry of Education and Science started in 2011 under Dimitri Shashkin’s ministership. Specifically, Mr Shashkin introduced a new agreement between the Ministry and publishers which included a clause giving the Ministry of Education and Science the right to print school textbooks independently of publishers. This clause quickly became controversial. After consultations and meetings, publishers were promised that the Ministry of Education and Science would only use the clause in the case of a crisis situation. If publishers satisfied every requirement (printing a sufficient amount of textbooks, supplying public schools with textbooks, putting maximum prices [capped at GEL 10] on school textbooks, among others), the Ministry of Education and Science would not activate the aforementioned clause. According to Mr Kudava, the publishing season went well, his company won a new competition in 2012 and publishers signed the same agreement, made by Mr Shashkin, once again. He stated further: "I cannot say we were in harmony with the previous government. There were cases of confrontation but, in the end, it was a creative process."

Further in our interview with Kakha Kudava, he commented that the change of government brought new hopes for publishers. That said, the Ministry of Education and Science did not maintain contact with publishers for a period of several months which prompted the publishers themselves to request a meeting with the Minister of Education and Science. At one of the meetings held in February 2013, Ministry representatives announced that they wanted to launch the free-of-charge school textbooks project and expressed the desire to negotiate with the publishers on the subject of textbook prices. The publishers offered a 30%-35% discount to the Ministry but it was not accepted. Mr Kudava presumes that at some later point the Ministry of Education and Science discovered the clause in the aforementioned Decree No. 30/N, which authorised the Ministry of Education and Science to print textbooks independently of the publishers, and then decided to use the right which it granted. The rationale behind this particular decision was deemed to be the widespread poverty in the country. Mr Kudava believes that such a step could have been understandable in 2008, when the country was invaded and experienced a real crisis, but there was no such necessity in 2011, 2012 or 2013. He added that the free-of-charge school textbook project was in the interest of the former Minister of Education and Science and the then presidential candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, and stated: "Ivanishvili’s authority alone was insufficient for him to become President.  He had to enter each and every family and [through the free-of-charge school textbooks project] he managed that."

Kakha Kudava says that publishers are not against the idea of the free-of-charge school textbooks but this should not be accomplished at their expense. "What the Ministry of Education and Science did is create a war on books. This step taken by the Ministry is sheer robbery. When a book is approved, it means that it represents the intellectual property of the particular publisher for a period of six years. The computer discs which we submitted in the approval process and which contained the content of a certain textbook were given to some other printing companies," he stated.

As of today, publishers are printing school textbooks only for private schools. Of Georgia’s schools overall, private schools comprise 7% of the total number of schools and their publishing needs are divided among 18 publishers. Additionally, the aforementioned decree regulating the rights and obligations between the publishers and the Ministry of Education and Science clarifies that if the Ministry prints a book and bypasses its publisher, the Ministry is then required to pay 10% of the book’s printing cost to that publisher. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, the price of printing one school textbook is GEL 1.80 which means that a publisher receives GEL 0.18 per one textbook whilst the author gets GEL 0.01 per one textbook. "Books have been taken away from us and were disseminated on their behalf," added Kakha Kudava.

Of note is that publishers have produced two books on the issue of school textbooks and the Ministry of Education and Science in 2013-2014; namely:

  • How to Take a Book away from a Publisher and an Author (a free-of-charge manual for new ministers)
  • The Publisher vs the Ministry of Education and Science: The Fight Continues

These books cover all of the events which have started since the Ministry of Education and Science began the free-of-charge school textbooks project.

Of further note is that the Ministry of Education and Science did not hold tenders for the printing of school textbooks in the years 2013-2014. The decisions to refrain from issuing tenders were made upon the basis of a Prime Ministerial decree in both cases. Pursuant to this decree issued on 22 May 2014, Part D, Point 3, Article 10 of the Law of Georgia on State Procurement, the Education and Science Infrastructure Development Agency was given the right to purchase textbook printing services via a simplified purchase procedure.

Point 3, Article 10 of the Law of Georgia on State Procurement establishes the conditions for the aforementioned simplified procedures for state procurement.  Part D, Article 10 indicates that conducting procurement was prescribed under the Government of Georgia’s legal act in order to implement an event of state and public importance without hindrance within the restricted timeframes. The Ministry of Education and Science has not replied to our question regarding the necessity of holding a second simplified tender in consideration of the fact that the free-of-charge school textbooks project started at the beginning of 2013.

The Ministry of Education and Science, however, did answer our question concerning the criteria used to select the printing companies which were authorised to print school textbooks. The information provided indicated that market research was carried out in order to establish a fair price based upon the practice of 2013. As a result of this research, United Georgian Printing House – Favourite and Print and MVP was selected again. The respective contract was concluded on 6 June 2014.

The free-of-charge school textbook initiative created real problems in the local publishing business and pushed publishers towards financial risks. In parallel, there is the question of whether or not the free-of-charge textbooks are really free, considering the GEL millions which have been spent for the project. This is an issue for separate discussion.

FactCheck again addressed the Ministry of Education and Science with additional questions before this article was finalised. A representative of the Ministry of Education and Science’s press service clarified that the Ministry had already commented upon the topic and there was nothing more to add. Therefore, our request for another interview was rejected. Additionally, according to the aforementioned Ministry representative, it is still unknown which course of action the Ministry of Education and Science will take in regard to publishers. It has not been decided whether or not a tender will be held to print school textbooks.