Fixing the Labor Shortage: Ogden on Education


Prime Minister Kvirikashvili has decided that what Georgia really needs is an education system closely modelled on that of Germany. You can see his train of thought; Germany is an economic powerhouse that for all intents and purposes controls the European Union, a country whose very name is associated with strength, efficiency and hard work (and war, but that’s not the point).

Germany and its people have demonstrated their astonishing ability to recover from national catastrophe or upheaval three times over (after 1918, 1945 and 1991), and the notion that all Germans are inexorable workaholics is not far from the truth; it’s not hard to see why Germans make such natural soldiers, and I’ve found it easy to imagine many of those I’ve known wearing the uniform of a Panzergrenadier (as their grandparents probably did, I suppose). The only part of the stereotype that I haven’t found to be accurate is their supposed lack of humor, since almost every German I’ve come across has been a jolly soul and boon companion.

A fine people, a fine country, though between ourselves I prefer English ales to German beer. I can well understand why the Prime Minister would want to attempt to replicate their success, but I doubt whether the education system alone is responsible for the Germans being the Germans. Barbarossa did not have a PhD from Heidelberg University.

There are such things as national traits and characteristics; globalization has not robbed us of our individuality just yet. The good and the bad stereotypes often have grains of truth to them: the Americans, while friendly, are arrogant; the English, though funny, are cold; the Russians are engaging in conversation, but might occupy part of your country.

Criticizing Georgian character traits is a minefield, since Georgians do not react well to criticism, either because they feel the comment is totally unfounded and inaccurate, or because they see themselves or their friends in it and hate it all the more because it might be true.

After living in Georgia for six years, I don’t see much in common between the Georgians and the Germans. A German-style education system is not going to transform this country into an Eastern European version of Germany. The way Georgians behave at school and university would probably sink any attempt to remodel the education system here. I have it on the good authority of a number of teachers here (including Georgian ones) that homework is routinely handed in late, and if a student is not graded highly, their parents will intervene (and this at a private school, too). I have also seen firsthand that Master’s degree students complain to their lecturers if their scores are not what they wanted them to be, but rarely show any inclination to try and understand why their work was graded as it was.

I can’t speak for Germany, not being a German nor having been educated there, but both of those situations would be unthinkable in England, and I doubt things are different in our Saxon sister-nation. Parents would never roar at teachers at a private school for grading their child with a C or a D; indeed, they’d be far more likely to roar at their children for not working hard at a school that they are paying for (I have first-hand experience of this, having been on the deserved receiving end of such a tirade, lazy student that I was).

That’s not to say that Georgians can’t succeed in a Western school or university. Many do, of course, if they have the chance to go and study in another country (and a few of these come back with a sense of entitlement and arrogance that would do credit to Sean Penn). But for now I doubt that the majority of Georgians are ready for the introduction of the high and harsh standards of German education.

The Prime Minister also declared that Georgia has too many people qualifying as bankers, lawyers and foreign policy specialists, and not enough aiming for careers in farming and agriculture. Having heard Georgians complain about anything they describe as being ‘village’ (meaning anything located outside of Tbilisi, Batumi or any other major settlement) more times than I can count, it’s not hard to see why many would prefer to qualify as a lawyer or banker than toil in the fields. I don’t blame them – you’ll not catch me with a hoe in my hand, either.

Still, I don’t think that this is a problem that German education is likely to solve. If anything it will only make things worse; Georgians graduating with esteemed German-level degrees are hardly going to be rushing to take to the fields. The Prime Minister complained of a ‘labor shortage’, so the solution to me seems obvious: invest more government money in agriculture to attract workers…or just use prisoners as a source of free labor. After all, that historically worked for the Germans, too.

Tim Ogden

18 February 2016 21:18