By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
About 60 teachers gathered in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri on Friday to protest against massive staff cuts in public schools across the country which have cost them their jobs.
The lay-offs are part of the Armenian government’s controversial cost-saving overhaul of the educational sector which was initially due to affect about a fifth of the country’s 60,000 school teachers. The plan, drawn up last year, was watered down by the new minister of education, Sergo Yeritsian. He has said that only about 4,000 teachers will laid off as a result.
The participants of the Gyumri protest are among them. “We demand that the changes carried out in the educational sector be reconsidered by the government,” said one of its organizers, Norayr Sargsian.
“Please take care of us; this is not fair,” pleaded another schoolteacher.
Officials say over 450 teachers in the Shirak region, of which Gyumri is the capital, will lose their jobs as part of the government efforts to “optimize” the size of the underpaid school staffs. According to the head of the education department at the regional administration, Sahak Minasian, most of them have reached the retirement age and already get pensions. He said some 130 other teachers will be provided with other jobs.
The teachers, however, said they will continue their protests and will draw a larger crowd next time.
The government in Yerevan argues that the school staffs are bloated and hamper a more efficient use of scare public funds spent on education. It plans to gradually raise the average teacher salary from the current 20,000 drams ($35) to 65,000 drams by 2007.