By Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia is gradually extending the length of study in its public schools to 12 years, in line with an ongoing reform of its system of primary and secondary education supported by Western donors.
Officials confirmed on Monday that Armenian children who were born after June 2000 will study longer than the current students who need 10 or 11 years to finish school. The transition to 12-year school education, the norm around the world, will get underway with the start of the next academic year on September 1, they said.
Armenians have for decades gone to school at the age of seven and needed ten years to complete their secondary education. The Armenian government reformed this Soviet-era system in 2001 when it lowered the age of first-graders to six years and prolonged the duration of school instruction by one year. The government made it clear at the time this is only the first step towards brining the country’s education system into greater conformity with Western standards.
Officials at the Ministry of Education say lengthier instruction will ease pressure on students and allow for the introduction of new, non-traditional subjects that were not taught in Soviet times. “Naturally, the school curriculum for 12-year first-graders will be much lighter and easier,” said Onik Vatian, head of the education department at the Yerevan municipality.
The structural reform enjoys the strong backing of the World Bank which disbursed a $19 million loan to support it two years ago. The bank is expected to provide tens of millions of dollars in additional funding in the coming years.
However, the reform has also raised concerns among many parents and schoolteachers who believe that children below the age of seven are too young to be taught reading, writing and other skills. “I am against 11-year and 12-year instruction,” said one teacher. “The previous system was much better.”
Parents of small boys also fear that their sons will be drafted to the army when they finish school at the age of 18 before being able to try to enroll in a university. But Narine Hovannisian, head of an Education Ministry department on secondary education, sought to dispel their fears. “I think every graduate will be given a chance to try to enter a university [before doing compulsory military service],” she told RFE/RL.