The role and responsibility of adult education has increased during these challenging times of fighting COVID-19 in Georgia. The performance of eleven adult education centres across Georgia, which were established by DVV International between 2006 and 2019 and continue to be supported by our organization, speaks for itself.
Two weeks following the declaration of state of emergency in Georgia, all eleven centres started providing online psychological counselling courses for populations in different regions of the country. Hundreds of local residents are given valuable advice by professional psychologists on how to cope with the situation, how to reorganize daily activities, and how to confront stress and depression. In light of reported increase in domestic abuse cases in the wake of the crisis, special emphasis is placed on gender-based violence. At the same time, all the centres have moved their educational courses (theoretical part of vocational education, personal development, financial education, civic education and others) for youth and adults to distance-learning. One of the participants had the following to say about online courses: “Education is more important than ever. It gives us a sense of normalcy in these ever-changing times. It makes us eager to live and grow, and the hope that we will get through this situation and become even stronger as a result.”
Seven different DVV International adult education centres have spearheaded a very important project. Beneficiaries of sewing courses run by the Akhaltsikhe, Akhalkalaki, Koda, Leliani, Chokhatauri, Kharagauli and Ambrolauri centres became involved in the production of medical face masks, which are currently in high demand in Georgia. Unfortunately, the shortage of masks and other protective gear becomes more and more pressing. At the same time, many people simply cannot afford to buy a mask. Taking all of this into consideration, the seven adult education centres produced 14,000 medical face masks with the financial support of DVV International and handed them over to local municipalities for free. The local municipalities, in their turn, will take the lead in distributing the masks to socially disadvantaged populations in their respective regions. They have already posted the relevant information and photos on their websites, where they also extended a special thanks to our adult education centres and DVV International. The events were publicized by local mass media. It is important to emphasize that masks were produced in accordance with social distancing and other emergency guidelines. The centres are planning to produce more medical masks soon.
One of the ideas of DVV International Armenia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to develop and conduct a blended learning overview course to give trainers of partner adult education centres (AEC) a broad idea about blended teaching/learning and introduce them to the tools and technologies needed. In the aftermath of introducing a state of emergency in Armenia on 16 March (currently prolonged to 13 June 2020), educational activities were prohibited, among other limitations. While schools and universities shifted their educational mandate to some extent to online formats, the adult education sector was confronted with many challenges. One reason for this is the lack of digital capacities among trainers, especially those teaching vocations such as cooking, hairdressing or manicure.
The blended learning course was developed and delivered by Misha Tadevosyan and Alla Gevorgyan, both experienced trainers. In preparatory discussions, the AEC management and DVV International Armenia agreed that a single course is not enough and that there should be a follow-up service helping the trainers adapt their courses. This is how the idea of a mentorship evolved. The role of the mentors is to help the training participants in using technology and digital tools for adult education purposes.
Eighteen participants attended the three-day blended learning overview course. Four out of the group were mentors. It was delivered online. The topics included educational platforms, models and structure of blended learning (BL), and many more. The first and second day of the course ran consecutively, while the third session was organized a few days later in order to give participants time to work on individual tasks, such as drafting a simplified BL program outline for their own courses. In the month following the training, the mentor-mentee pairs have to work on the outlines to develop comprehensive course programmes and to introduce new tools.
The online feedback form indicated that over 83% of the participants have improved their understanding of BL and their online communications skills, and 44% acquired technology skills.
As we ventured into the programme, the need for additional capacity building became clear, both through our own observations, the feedback from AEC trainers and the mentors. Thus, the BL programme and mentorship will be followed by a course on the basics of adult education and methods, piloting the new tools by the AEC trainers and other initiatives.
The partnership between DVV International Armenia and the Khachmeruk Adult Education Centre in Gyumri is long, solid and trustful. It started back in 2007, benefiting the over 3,000 persons who learned much needed skills at the centre.
As a centre affiliated with the Shirak diocese, Khachmeruk offers a wide range of community services to its beneficiaries, including child care support, social and psychological counselling, tutoring for struggling school students, and much more. As such, it is always at the forefront of community support, and can mobilize very quickly during times of crisis. When COVID-19 started spreading through Armenia and hit Gyumri, the second largest city in the country, it took colleagues only a few days to overcome the initial shock of the situation until they started to do what they do best. Their response has been on different fronts and was supported by DVV International.
From provision of humanitarian assistance, to explaining the government’s social policies, to sewing face masks and bed linens for hospitals, they do their best to help overcome the situation. DVV International’s support has made it possible for the centre to bring back all the trainees of their previous sewing classes and teach them new skills to prepare the much needed masks and bed linens.
With Easter approaching, the adult education trainers prepared videos on colouring Easter eggs and baking cakes in order to give free online master classes to their learner beneficiaries. In a few weeks, the trainers will attend an online class offered by DVV International Armenia to learn about blended teaching and how to adapt their courses to the demands of the time. Some of this may work, some may not, but what matters to these instructors is being there for their community and beneficiaries, thus keeping hope and optimism alive.