By Ruzanna Stepanian and Gevorg Stamboltsian
Hundreds of thousands of students flocked to schools and universities across Armenia on Wednesday for the start of a new academic year officially marked as Knowledge Day. More than 40,000 of them attended classes for the first time in their life.
President Robert Kocharian congratulated the students, their parents and teaching personnel on the occasion. “The existence of a highly educated new generation is a necessary condition for the development of any modern state,” he said in a written statement.
Other senior government officials, meanwhile, attended welcoming ceremonies at several secondary schools. “Are you determined to study well?” Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian asked students at one of them. “Very good,” he added after a chorus of “Yes” answers.
“You are embarking on a very interesting, responsible and quite difficult period of your life,” Yerevan’s Mayor Yervand Zakharian told 6-year-old first-graders at another school in the capital. “I once again congratulate you.”
As always, preparations for the new school year placed an additional burden on the mostly modest family budgets, with many parents scrambling to buy school stationery, textbooks and new clothing for their offspring.
“The costs are quite high,” one woman in the city’s western Davitashen suburb complained. “I have brought my two kids to school today. I’ve spent 38,000 drams on their shoes alone.”
Many parents will also be expected to raise cash for the repair of classrooms and school procurements. The increasingly common phenomenon reflects the cash-strapped government’s inability to meet the basic needs of the educational institutions. Many of them, especially those located in rural areas, have fallen into disrepair over the past decade.
Yeritsian faced a stark reminder of the problem as he visited one such school in a village in the central Kotayk region. His solemn reception by its principal and teachers could not mask the deplorable conditions in which some 350 students have to learn lessons. Four computers recently donated to the school seem a small consolation for them.
“A few more years and all secondary schools in Armenia will be repaired,” the minister assured the teachers.
In the meantime, officials say, the students’ parents that will have to continue to make the informal payments. “In general, I believe that money collection should not exist,” Zakharian said. “I think this problem will be solved in the next few years. But as long as it exists, I think parents should render some assistance. They must at the same time make sure that the assistance serves its purpose.”