Viral Ed.


This thing, this virus, is changing things so fast it’s hard to keep up; especially when not all the news is true, and you have to “skeptify” before you can discriminate and take in just what’s useful. Woe betide us if the fake news debunking sites lose their credibility, though!

The trend worldwide is for educational institutions, from kindergarten through Harvard, to close for a while, to prevent mass gatherings of people, and switch to online versions of what they offer. Even here in Georgia, it seems unlikely that our currently shuttered schools will reopen this school year, i.e. before mid-June. What to do instead?

Our school director asked my wife and the other teachers to set up Facebook groups for their subjects, and to begin running classes from there. Various possibilities exist for English, as an example. One can offer essay subjects, such as on how the virus has affected you, your thoughts and feelings on the news as it develops here and abroad, how your plans have had to change, how you have adapted or plan to adapt. There are countless youtube videos for non-native English learners of all ages and levels, especially ones involving songs. These can start at nursery rhymes and go all the way up to today’s pop or other songs with lyrics.

There are also thousands of freely, legally available movies in the Internet Archive. While one perhaps should concentrate on those with subtitles to maximize learning, the choices are still huge. The same for scanned out-of-copyright books, at Project Gutenberg. Read and listen to the audiobook version at the same time…

Even since I first wrote this article, on March 17, things have changed for the better. There is now a site dedicated to online learning here,, advertised on TV; as well as official connections via the Ministry of Science and Education to Microsoft Office 365 with all its tools for teachers in Georgia to use. We’ll be trying out a multi-connection video call today or tomorrow as well, whole classes of 2 to 10 children (small school) at a time linked with each other and my wife. Never done this before, but it seems to be possible both in Facebook and from Microsoft Teams… Individual phone calls, with or without video, and file sharing are possible too. And the whiteboard we have may suddenly spring into much greater usefulness. Unlimited internet and phone time for a set price are key to this; long may they last as options!

What will be missing is the social interaction between children, and that between them and teachers, face to face, as part of both the formal and informal educational processes. I hope that we can make up for this lack. Parents, however, may be much more involved, the schooling being done at home, so this can only be a good thing.

I suppose that once the novelty of SO much holiday time wears off, and schoolchildren start getting bored of the loneliness and (dare I suggest it?) lack of formal education, they could come to their senses and realize that they can still continue learning; if they want to. Internet, either by nearly ubiquitous cellphone or by increasingly present computer, is cheap: I pay 5 GEL for a week of unlimited pretty high-speed Magti Wi-Fi modem connection, the best deal ever here, available since December last year. At that price, I’m not even interested anymore in when the truck bringing cable Wi-Fi will make its way up to Svaneti’s other villages than Mestia and Ushguli; what I have now is fine, thank you. Aside from the few irreplaceable paper books I still have, I now do ALL my reading on my cellphone, having even ditched a separate e-book reader. And a lot of it isn’t my beloved sci-fi, either, but good old science and history and other non-fiction that interest me.

How the grading of school results will play out is another question. There is also the matter of what all this required isolation will do to our social lives; you know, the ones we used partly to conduct in person, not via screens. Especially in the case of children. Is a whole new meeting-less generation beginning now, and will we look back on early 2020 as the Time Everything Changed? “I remember pop concerts of 100000 people…” “WHAT?! You’re making that up! [Consults Google, realizes it’s true] Even ten are too many nowadays! What was it like? Weren’t you claustrophobic, wasn’t it stinky and too noisy and simply dangerous?” “Yes, but it was band X, and we HAD to go.”

I remember, as a child, once reading kicked in, sitting and browsing the family’s set of encyclopedias, for goodness’ sake, not just a single session but months and years of it: I was insatiable, and an introvert. I suppose not everyone is. My earliest notebooks also date from about grade 2, so I was writing as well. I’ll still be learning until I’m gone.

My hope is that if this insanity we’re in now doesn’t pass soon, we will be able to live with it in ways that won’t cripple us, socially or economically. Or educationally. Yes, we’re all, the whole planet of us, stressed more than usual; that’s our new norm for the moment. But the world and universe are big old places, both magnificent and perilous, and we have to know enough about how they work and our place in them. We’ll either dumb down, or wake up to new possibilities and seize them, especially our children. Please may it be the latter, the waking up.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

26 March 2020 17:41