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In April 2014, the Ministry of Education and Science and Georgia introduced a new initiative for six years to be set as the age for children to start school. The Ministry’s justification for the proposed change included both local and international recommendations to this end.

On 28 April 2015, a group of parents gathered in front of the Ministry of Education and Science to protest the six-year age requirement for students to be able to start school. The Minister of Education and Science, Tamar Sanikidze, in her interview with the media declared that the majority of the demonstrators were former school directors, former heads of regional resource centres and representatives of various political factions who were trying to escalate the process and prevent parents from having access to unbiased information. Member of the Parliament, Koba Subeliani, also participated in the aforementioned demonstration. Tamar Sanikidze reminded journalists that members of the United National Movement themselves voted last year for six years to be set as the starting age for school. Ms Sanikidze stated: "Koba Subeliani has fled from the responsibility in front of everyone… Why did the United National Movement vote unanimously for the bill when it was introduced in the Parliament one year ago when they are protesting against it now?"

FactCheck

took interest in Tamar Sanikidze’s statement and verified its accuracy.

On 18 March 2015, the Parliament of Georgia discussed MP Koba Subeliani’s legislative initiative. The initiative envisaged certain amendments to the Law on General Education. According to those amendments, every parent has the right to enrol his child in school for the first stage of basic education provided that the child has reached the age of six years before 31 December of the year of intended enrolment. The Parliament of Georgia voted for the bill at the first hearing with 62 votes cast in favour but voted against it at the second hearing.

Protests against changing the age for starting school to six years were also organised by local celebrities and social figures who circulated a video recording entitled, Let Kids Go to School,

on social networks and called for the Ministry of Education and Science to permit children of the age of five years to also be able to start school. However, the Ministry of Education and Science rejected the demand and left its decision unaltered.

To verify whether or not the United National Movement did indeed vote for six years to be set as the age for starting school, FactCheck

asked the Parliament of Georgia for the results of the third hearing of the bill determining the change in age. According to the reply we received, the final hearing for the aforementioned bill was held on 4 April 2015 and the Parliament of Georgia passed the bill with 78 votes cast in favour whilst 0 votes were cast against. Of note is that the members of the United National Movement were not present at the hearing and, consequently, did not vote.

In the framework of this research, FactCheck

contacted Koba Subeliani. According to Mr Subeliani, the United National Movement did at one point support the proposed initiative of the Government of Georgia and this was reflected in the results of the first and second hearings. In regard to the third hearing, he explained that its timing presumably coincided with the period of a boycott against some other law which explains why the party was not present at the last hearing.

In addition, Koba Subeliani clarified that his present legislative initiative covers children aged five years and ten-to-11 months who turn the age of six years in the immediate period following the start of the autumn academic year. Mr Subeliani believes that the Ministry of Education and Science should make an exception for these particular children and allow them to start school. He added that Georgian Dream MPs also supported his initiative at the first hearing but then remained loyal to their party when Minister Sanikidze did not change her position, subsequently voting against the bill at the second hearing. Mr Subeliani indicates that the firm stance of the Ministry of Education and Science is presumably one of money in that the state is required to give each first-grade student a personal computer and so the Ministry is trying to save money. He is going to put his bill up for vote once again and, in the meantime, is asking parents to become more active to get it passed.

Of further mention is that the Ministry of Education and Science elaborated the changes in the age for starting school with the consideration of advice and recommendations from two different research studies:

  • Research on Teaching Problems in Pupils of the Age of Five Years
  • Assessment of Readiness for School (Report)

The first research study puts forth a recommendation that children under the age of five years should not be allowed to start school owing to the lack of a proper environment in Georgia’s general educational facilities. The second research study emphasises that school programmes should be tailored to the particular abilities of five-year old children and respective methodological textbooks on teaching specifics should be developed for the teachers of five-year old students. Neither of these research studies states bluntly that a child must be six years old in order to begin school.

Conclusion On 4 April 2014 the Parliament of Georgia adopted an amendment which envisaged six years to be set as the age for children to start school. Members of the United National Movement were not present for the voting.  However, the United National Movement did support the bill at the first and second hearings. Koba Subeliani has confirmed this fact in his interview with FactCheck. FactCheck concludes that Tamar Sanikidze’s statement: "Last year, the United National Movement voted for six years to be set as the age for children to start school," is MOSTLY TRUE.
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