Issue 1, 2013. February-March



With more parents seeking an alternative to public schools for their children, the market for private education is booming. While there was a limited variety of private schools open a few years ago, today there is a growing number of choices with a range of services, prices and conditions.

Keti Khukhunashvili

Large class sizes, low teacher salaries, and incomplete reforms in the schools have inspired a growing interest in private education.

The Georgian private K-12 education market is ripe with competition. Parents, it seems, are spoiled with the diversity of choice between Georgian, American, British, Italian, French, German, Turkish and international-style education. There are more than 110 registered private secondary schools in Tbilisi alone, and an additional 128 in the country, according to the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement.

What has prompted such an increase in the number of private schools, and is the rising competition due to the lucrative profits that this sector promises?

Study abroad programs could be one factor pushing parents to pay for their children's education: nearly 500 Georgian students chose to enroll at higher education institutions in the U.S. in 2012, up by five percent from last year and a 36 percent increase from six years ago, according to the Institute of International Education Open Doors 2012 report.

Admission to overseas colleges and universities is no easy feat, especially if the applicant aims to secure financial support. Some of the private schools in Tbilisi boast a track record of graduates who win scholarships to study abroad - a valuable commodity that allows schools to charge high tuitions and, consequently, become especially alluring business opportunities for both local and foreign entrepreneurs.

Mariam Kutateladze, director of the XXI Century School, said greater demand has spurred this extraordinary growth in the supply of private schools. "We believe that the growing community of well-educated and successful parents in Tbilisi is looking for a school that builds onto [Georgia's] traditions [of higher education] and provides an education that is ideal for students who wish to continue their studies in Georgia or would like to apply to universities abroad. It is important to be versatile and responsive to market needs."

See the table separately.
Notes to the table: Schools are listed in the alphabetical order. N/A indicates that the information was either unavailable on the school's website or was not provided by the school contact person. Price ranges provided in the original currency quoted by the schools - please contact each respective school for exact pricing information.

Director of QSI International School in Tbilisi Tom Tunny stressed that there is bigger demand for higher education in general. "The number of private schools has grown tremendously in the past few years due to the increased interest of students who wish to go on to University study, either in Georgia or abroad," he said. "Whether or not it is an attractive business sector, there is a real need for private school education."

Head of the European School (International Section) Robert Thorn added that the accelerated pace of economic integration within the region has created special demand for English-language education.

"Georgia has made attempts to attract investors and it [has] a strategic position in the region. It is, for some businesses at least, a place to be successful," he said.

"Also, regional politics has had an influence- with Turkish, Azeri and Iranian businesses moving into the area. With this, business people and other ex-patriots like to come with their families and so we have seen a huge growth in ex-pat students applying to the school."

Gary Crippin, head of the Guivy Zaldastanishvili American Academy in Tbilisi (GZAAT), noted that the increased supply of private secondary education institutions in the city is closely tied with business development - high-quality educational institutions are essential for attracting and retaining investments within the country.

According to Crippin, "good private schools are essential to a healthy business climate. If business owners and managers cannot find top quality schools in which to enroll their children they will consider relocating or will be forced to pay sizable fees to send their children to boarding schools abroad."

Unlike more traditional business areas, however, competition among the schools is more complex. Many parents measure good private education by the quality of the faculty and their availability to students. Libraries; science and computer laboratories; well-equipped classrooms; dedicated theater, arts and music rooms; and sports halls are also all part of creating a stimulating educational environment that allows children to test their exciting new skills and knowledge in action.

When asked to define their market advantage, most private education providers emphasize highly-qualified teachers, a student-oriented learning environment, and activities that include community service, arts, music, and sports. Others concentrate on providing professional development skills that make for more open-minded and well-rounded young adults. The Georgian private education market has evolved to include schools with ambitious aspirations and impressive curricula. As with all business, competition makes for a better value offering to the parents. Nevertheless, this is one product that does not wholly depend on the producer. Tamar Karchava, Education USA adviser at the International Center of Education, stressed that students play an equally important role in making sure they utilize the opportunities that private schools provide.

"A lot of the students from both public and private institutions come to our center for additional help and guidance. We have a very good record for both types of schools. Although there is no magic formula or easy answer - good education is a lot of work, and none of our students have attained easy success," she said. "It is not possible to make up for years lost in the elementary and secondary school systems during the final grades of high school. Consistency is the key."

Keti Khukhunashvili is the alumna of GZAAT and the founder and administrator of the GZAAT Summer School Program. She also worked as the IB Diploma Programme CAS Coordinator at the European School and has assisted the XXI Century School with special projects development.