By Emil Danielyan
The World Bank released late Thursday a promised $19 million loan designed to support further reforms in Armenia’s cash-strapped system of secondary education that will involve introduction of new curricula, school computerization and teacher retraining.
The low-interest funds are part of the bank’s ten-year program of helping the country boost its educational standards and bring them into conformity with the needs of a modern society. It is tied to the implementation by the Armenian government of unpopular measures like sweeping cuts in school staffs.
“The project will make the school curriculum more suitable for the Armenian economy and society and make the way students are tested more objective and reliable,” the World Bank said in a statement. “The project will also provide computers and other materials and help teachers use them effectively in the classroom.”
A large part of the money will go to pay for the opening of computer labs in as many as 600 schools across Armenia. About 150 of them are to be connected with each other through a special online network, the statement said.
The final terms of the loan, repayable in 40 years, were agreed during Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian’s visit to the World Bank headquarters in Washington late last year. According to one of those conditions, the duration of studies in the Armenian schools is to grow from the current 11 to 12 years in the near future. Yeritsian says the change will bring them closer to international standards. Some local teachers have questioned its wisdom, however.
Toby Linden, a World Bank official in charge of the project, admitted that the ongoing reforms are “in some cases controversial,” but insisted that their ultimate effects will be “concrete, visible and significant.”
Causing the greatest controversy are mass lay-offs among the approximately 60,000 Armenian school teachers. At least 4,000 of them lost their jobs last summer in what government officials refer to as an “optimization” of bloated school staffs. Some media have reported thousands of more such redundancies in recent months.
The government and its Education Ministry in particular argue that the painful cost-cutting will also enable them to triple the average school wage to 65,000 drams ($115) within the next three years. They say that an unspecified part of the World Bank funds will be used for helping the teachers made redundant. The assistance could take the form of financial compensation, training and counseling, the bank’s statement said.
This is the World Bank’s second long program for Armenia’s education sector. The first one was completed in 2002 and deemed successful by the bank’s governing board and the government in Yerevan.