By Armen Zakarian
The government has watered down its plans for a cost-saving overhaul of Armenia's secondary schools by drastically cutting the number of teachers who will lose their jobs as a result, the new Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian announced Thursday.
The government had earlier intended to lay off about a fifth of the 60,000 teachers across the country as part of its efforts to “optimize” the size of the grossly underpaid school staffs. The original plan was championed by the previous education minister, Levon Mkrtchian, who believed that “bloated” staffs are a heavy burden on the country’s education system. It was argued that larger student classes will free additional public funds that could be used for raising the teachers’ modest wages.
The plan was strongly opposed by Yeritsian’s Orinats Yerkir party which made it a major issue of its successful campaign for the May 25 parliamentary elections. Yeritsian said the new government, comprising Orinats Yerkir and two other parties supporting President Robert Kocharian, has decided to revise the planned reform.
“The number of layoffs will be three times smaller than was initially planned,” he told RFE/RL.
The policy change was effectively confirmed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian in his speech to the parliament on Thursday. Markarian said the personnel cuts will largely affect schools in Yerevan and other major urban areas. He said no school teachers will be fired in remote villages that already suffer from staff shortages.
The mass layoffs will swell the ranks of Armenia’s huge army of unemployed. For those teachers who will keep their jobs, a monthly average salary of about 20,000 drams ($35) will not be much of an incentive. They might now take some comfort from the government’s pledge this week to raise it to 65,000 drams by 2007.
According to Yeritsian, the government will attract $18 million in external loans next year for implementing educational reform and upgrading school facilities. The figure is comparable to its annual education budget.