A leading pro-Armenian U.S. congressman has called for multimillion-dollar U.S. funding for public schools in Armenia which would ultimately benefit the country’s burgeoning information technology (IT) industry.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. government should allocate such assistance under its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program designed to foster reforms in developing nations.
Armenia qualified for the aid scheme shortly after Washington launched it in 2006, receiving over $170 million for the rehabilitation of rural irrigation networks. The Armenian government tried in vain to secure more MCA funding after the irrigation upgrades were completed in 2011.
Last year, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) started lobbying the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency running the program, to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in Armenia with a grant worth at least $100 million. The advocacy group’s chairman, Raffi Hamparian, said the money would “add new energy” to the Armenian IT sector, reduce poverty and strengthen U.S.-Armenian relations.
Schiff, whose California constituency is home to the largest population of ethnic Armenians in the United States, voiced support for the ANCA efforts on Thursday. “I believe the time is right for a new [MCC] compact, focusing on STEM education to help Armenia take the next step towards sustainable economic growth and a growing middle class,” an ANCA statement quoted him as saying.
Schiff said that in recent weeks he spoken with ANCA leaders as well as Armenian Embassy officials in Washington about “how to move forward on this important project.” “I look forward to continuing to work closely with all of the stakeholders to ensure Armenia receives every consideration,” he added.
IT is already the fastest-growing sector of the Armenian economy, having expanded by over 20 percent annually in the past decade. The sector employing about 15,000 people is dominated by local subsidiaries of several U.S. tech giants.
Industry executives say a lack of skilled personnel has hampered an even more rapid growth. They have long complained about the inadequate professional level of many graduates of IT departments of Armenia universities.
An Armenian IT association has been trying to address this problem with extracurricular robotics classes organized by it in more than 100 public schools across the country since 2008. The effort has attracted only limited financial assistance from local and foreign donors so far.
Thousands of other Armenian schoolchildren are enrolled in Yerevan’s Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, mainly studying computer programming, robotics and animation. The state-of-the-art center was founded by U.S.-Armenian philanthropist Sam Simonian in 2011 and has since opened several branches in other parts of the country.