The approaching start of a new academic year may be a source of excitement for many schoolchildren and their parents, but it also comes as an additional strain on low-income families having to buy clothes, stationery and other school supplies for their kids.
It costs at least 40,000 drams (about $100) to provide a first-former with basic school supplies in Armenia – an amount that many cash-strapped parents say is a significant burden considering their meager monthly budgets.
According to official data, about a third of Armenia’s nearly three-million-strong population lives in poverty, surviving on less than $3 a day. Unemployment is also very high in the country.
Parents together with their children going around shops and markets looking for more affordable options to buy clothes and school supplies for their kids are not rare scenes in Yerevan ahead of the new academic year that starts on September 1.
Many of the parents of future first-formers shopping for school supplies complained in interviews with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that equipping their children for school proved rather expensive, considering their modest earnings.
“It costs between 50,000 and 70,000 drams (about $120-$170) to buy supplies for one child who goes to school for the first time. It’s quite a round sum of money, especially if only one of the parents works in the family... It’s really very hard,” said one parent.
“If you want your child to have decent clothes, you have to pay up to 100,000 drams (about $240), and if you cannot afford to pay that much money, you need at least 40,000 drams,” said another parent. “Many cannot afford it. It’s very expensive, but if you want your child to feel good and feel good yourself, you try to do it.”
Prices for school bags at most Yerevan stores range from 3,000 to 13,000 drams (about $7-$30) these days, while shirts, skirts and pants are available at anything between 6,000 and 15,000 drams. A minimal set of stationery and traditional flowers for teachers will add to the expense.
“You start saving up in advance, depriving yourself of something so that your kid does not fall behind in anything,” said one buyer.
Meanwhile, the start of classes does not seem quite affordable for some of the parents of higher grade pupils either. One mother of two schoolchildren, who are starting their sixth and second years in school next month, complained that one piece of clothing alone cost her 15,000 drams.
“We haven’t purchased other things yet. We estimate that the shopping cost will total 200,000 drams,” she said. “This is quite a sum. And it’s only for September. We should also consider other expenses that arise during the year.”