The recently announced government plans to carry out the so-called optimization of schools across Armenia have raised concerns among some teaching staffs and parents, but Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchian sees no reasons to worry about the process.
“There will be no segmental, mass layoffs,” Mkrtchian has told media.
Under Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s order the Ministry of Education is due to submit a plan to optimize the work of some schools in the country. It will apply to schools that are located in cities and towns, have up to 300 students, occupy a disproportionately large area compared to the number of students they have.
Concerns have been raised in Armenia recently that the program means these schools will be closed down and their premises will be used for other purposes. Another major concern is the possibility that some teachers will lose their jobs. The Ministry still has no answers to these questions.
Ashot Arshakian, the chief of the Ministry’s Public Education Department, said that this is still at the stage of calculations. “In case of schools with fewer students enlargement schemes may be applied and there can be readjustments in the case of schools with a larger number of students. This is not yet determined,” he said.
As a benchmark the Ministry has assumed the indices of the Asian Development Bank, under which each student should have a space of 8-12 square meters.
Schools that use up to half of their territory, while the number of their students does not exceed 300, are considered under-loaded. Along with schools having fewer students, especially in capital Yerevan, there are schools that have a reputation of elite learning environments and are usually overloaded. The Ministry, however, is vague on this issue, too.
In two schools in Yerevan with fewer than 200 students that were visited by an RFE/RL correspondent principals said they were unaware of their future status. Only as a result of the closure of these two schools alone 60 teachers will become unemployed.
Teachers at the schools who agreed to talk off camera said they are not going to give up easily if optimization plans affect them. The parents of some students also said they are unhappy about such plans. They think the government should first solve social problems.
“There are fewer students in the country because families don’t want to have many children without proper livelihood,” a middle-aged woman complained.
Education expert Serob Khachatrian does not agree with the term “optimization” used by the government, considering that this term can be used only when conditions are improved. The expert, meanwhile, argues that this is not the case in the current process. “Social and economic reforms are needed first and only then optimizations in the education sector can be implemented, so that teachers or other specialists who lose their jobs in schools can be provided with alternative jobs,” Khachatrian said.
Today nearly 37,000 teachers are employed in 1,385 schools across Armenia attended by about 357,000 students. Studies have shown that most of urban schools are either under-loaded or overloaded. The number of schools with an average load makes about 16 percent.
According to the official website of the government, 20 schools have already been identified for optimization. But education officials still avoid giving their names.