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Georgia: The Challenge Of Training New-Generation Economists

Prague, 19 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The lack of qualified economists is a pressing problem in the Caucasian republic of Georgia, just as it is in most of the countries emerging from the Marxist system. After decades of centralised planning as part of the Soviet Union, Georgia's sudden emergence as an independent country left it lacking in expertise with which to face the new, market-oriented era.

The comparative handful of people who have returned to Georgia with a Western education have not been able to change the overall picture. Experts say the situation will improve drastically only after people trained in the new mentality and outlook take up important posts. But naturally, these young economists have first to be raised -- and therein lies the first problem.

Niko Orvelashvili, chairman of the International Council of Reforms and Development in Georgia, has studied the question of economic training. Orvelashvili is also president of the Fund of Economic Knowledge Dissemination/Junior Achievement Georgia, an organisation with international backing which aims to make available training in "best-practise" market economics to youngsters in many countries.

Orvelashvili told RFE/RL from Tbilisi this week that the deficiency of expertise was most evident during the first stage of the post-communist reform when, among those people in the government responsible for economic issues, only two or three appeared to understand the fundamentals of economics.

He says that illustrating this confusion is the fact that a recently published report of the Georgian State Prosecution's Special Committee shows that out of 20,000 standard acts implemented by the government -- most of them about economics -- some 4,500 were against the law. Orvelashvili says that nowadays the situation is improving, but it is still far from adequate -- and the present Georgian education system is not much help.

In Georgia, as in other former Soviet areas, the massive change of direction in the past decade means that so much of what was considered valuable before has now lost its value. But teaching in Georgian schools and universities has remained largely unaltered. In some cases the old courses were given new titles, but little in the content fundamentaly changed because the teaching remained in the hands of the old professors, set in their ways and cool towards the notion that they should seek outside help.

Orvelashvili says that against this background, Junior Achievement Georgia began its work in 1995. This group has the backing of the U.S.-based program Junior Achievement International, which distributes material on practical, applied economics. The Georgian branch has aimed to translate, adapt and bring into use the same school materials which have already been disseminated in more than 100 countries.

He says work that was started two years ago has progressed stubbornly, as he put it, through various difficulties, including bureaucratic barriers. He recalls that the fund had to fight for a year and a half with officials of the Ministry of Education to prove that the teaching program -- already used in so many countries of the world -- does not have anything objectionable to Georgian economists or indeed to the students themselves.

With help from various quarters, including the Soros foundation, the U.S. embassy in Georgia and Georgian businessmen, the core materials of the program have now been translated and published.

Local experts believe this program can play the role of an economic guide during this present period of relative ignorance on economic subjects. Georgia's Minister of Economy, Lado Papava, writes in a forward to the published program, that Georgian students are to be congratulated that they now have the opportunity to study business and economics on the same level as youngsters in many other countries. Papava commends the acquisition of knowledge which will be necessary for Georgia's development.

Administrators of Junior Achievement Georgia, beginning as an experiment with the new school year in September, will start teaching the new subject in 30 schools in 14 regions. According to an oral agreement with the Ministry of Education, by the year 2001 the applied economics course will be taught in all schools providing general education.

(RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report.)