By Heghine Buniatian
Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, who has presided over massive lay-offs of teachers, complained on Wednesday about serious staff shortages at secondary schools in rural area across Armenia, admitting the government’s failure so far to remedy the problem.
Yeritsian revealed that as many as 250 village schools are currently short of staff due to low pay and poor infrastructure. “We do send people there, but they quit after working for one year, apparently because of difficult living conditions,” he told reporters. “We must therefore find an effective way of addressing this problem.”
The lack of experienced teachers and university graduates willing to work in villages is believed to reflect negatively on the quality of education received by rural children. Many understaffed schools reportedly have to hire non-specialists to teach them some key disciplines.
The problem is thus deepening the gap between educational standards in Yerevan and other urban centers and the rest of the country. The Education Ministry has failed to alleviate it despite the existence of thousands of unemployed teachers that have lost their jobs as a result of sweeping staff cuts in mainly urban schools launched in 2002.
More than 6,000 teachers, or roughly 10 percent of the nationwide workforce, have since been fired in a controversial “optimization” of school staffs which is part of the ongoing reform of Armenia’s Soviet-designed system of secondary education. The lay-offs were a key condition for a $19 million educational loan released by the World Bank last January.
The government says the reform will result, among other things, in a substantial increase in the teachers’ modest salaries as early as next year.